Review: 2010 MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Verdict: Stellar)

The second-generation MacBook Air (released on October 20, 2010) is a welcome upgrade and addition to the MacBook lineup. The new Air designs are both a worthy successor to the original (13.3-inch) model and a surprise subnotebook category entrant (11.6-inch). In fact, the new 11.6-inch Air is the closest thing to an Apple netbook that we’ll ever see. And with a starting price of only $999 Apple smacked it out of the park on this one.

I settled on the new 11.6-inch MBA configuration largely because I already own a 15″ MacBook Pro and want my second notebook to be as thin and light as possible. The new 11.6-inch screen packs 1366 x 768 pixels, which is 25,000 more pixels than the first-generation (13.3-inch) Mac Book Air. The new 13-inch MacBook Air comes with a 1440 x 900 pixel display. Although it’s glossy — the bane of my existence — Apple didn’t cover it with glass like it does with all of its other displays, so it’s not quite as reflective. Luckily TechRestore offers a matte finish screen replacement for $200.

Whichever MBA suits you, I highly recommend that you purchase it with 4GB of RAM because it’s soldered directly to the main board and isn’t upgradeable. I can’t emphasize this enough: spend the extra $100 on 4GB and order it online. 2GB of RAM simply isn’t enough these days and you’ll eventually max it out and regret that you didn’t upgrade to 4GB when you could. (I’d get an 8GB model if Apple offered it.)

Apple specs five hours of battery run time on the 11-inch and seven hours on the 13-inch MacBook Air. Five hours is attainable on my 11-inch MBA with modest conservation but I use four hours as a benchmark of whether or not to bring my power adapter.

Despite Apple’s claim that it neglected to preload Flash on the new MacBook Air for security issues (ahem!) the real reason appears to because it can reduce your battery runtime by as much as 33 percent. Ars Technica discovered that the 11-inch Air could achieve six hours of web browsing when Flash wasn’t installed and only four hours with Flash installed.

The primary culprit was Adobe’s penchant for using CPU cycles to display animated ads, which were typically replaced by static imagery in the absence of the requisite software.

One way to mitigate the Flash battery drain is to install one of the free blocking extensions for your browser i.e., ClickToFlash (Safari),  FlashBlock (Chrome) and Flashblock (Firefox)

My biggest complaint about the new MacBook Air is its Core 2 Duo processor. As I said before and after it came out, shipping an âupdatedâ MacBook Air with a Core 2 Duo processor from 2008 that is bigger, slower and hotter than the current generation Core i3 is a mistake. I still haven’t heard a reasonable rationalization for this (Apple didn’t respond to questions about the processor) so I can only assume that it’s planned obsolescence at its finest.

The lack of backlit keyboard is the MacBook Air’s second flaw. I didn’t realize how much I relied on it until it was gone. I doubt that it was a cost issue, so it probably got removed because of battery. Either way, I want it back and will deal with the battery penalty. Besides, you can always turn it off if battery drain is the issue. The internal speaker in the new MBA is unacceptably underpowered. With iTunes and OS X on full volume the MBA11’s speaker isn’t loud enough to watch a movie or TV program more than a foot or so away. My iPhone 4 seems louder by comparison.

Update: In further testing the MBA11 was able to output a maximum of 84 decibels (c weighted) which about the exact same as the iPhone 4 on full volume.

Aluminum may have great tensile strength and rigidity, but it can also scratch pretty easily. I recommend a vinyl film if the thought of having a scratch on your new MacBook Air irks you. Nick Santilli posted a list of seven notebook film makers for GigaOm (although I haven’t been able to find one that offers a die cut that exactly fits the new 11.6″ MBA).

PROS

  • Price
  • Size/weight/form-factor
  • Instant-on
  • Battery life (sans-Flash)

CONS

  • Dated Core 2 Duo processor (versus newer Core i3)
  • Non-backlit keyboard
  • Speaker is whimpy

There are simply times when the benefits of a subnotebook outweigh the obvious compromises that miniaturization presents. The Air is perfect when you need to quickly send an email or write a blog post, or read some RSS feeds and peruse FaceBook. The MBA is a lifestyle or weekend computer, something to use when you don’t want to lug around a larger machine. The Air is a great companion on a trip to the park, friends house or the dreaded “shopping” trip with your spouse. The 11-inch MBA is also perfect for day, overnight and weekend jaunts. My 15-inch MacBook Pro instantly felt about 10 times heavier the day that my Air arrived.

I use my 15-inch MacBook Pro when I need VMWare, Photoshop or Aperture and connect to it remotely via OS X screen sharing if I need to access all of my data or run a resource-hogging application. iTunes and iPhoto sharing are key too, allowing you to listen to and view your media libraries on the MBA while hosted on larger machines on the network.

For me there are a lot of similarities between notebooks and digital cameras, the smaller they are, the more likely I am to bring them with me — and thus use them. As the size and weight climb it becomes harder and harder to justify lugging them around. For example, I am most likely to take photos with my iPhone (because I always have it) with my Lumix LX5 compact camera coming in a close second, while my dSLR only makes it out on special occasions.

All-in-all the new MacBook Air is the best second Mac that you can buy, and deficiencies aside, it’s the perfect companion for a larger notebook or desktop Mac. If you really need the screen real estate, go for the 13.3-incher, but the smaller 11.6-inch model is the sleekest thing to come out of Cupertino since the iPhone.

I’m still very much in the honeymoon stage with the new MacBook Air, so I’m sure that I’ll eventually find something else to quibble about. But, for the time being anyway, it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

What’s your take on the new MBA? Do you see one in your future?


Read the original post on The Apple Core Blog RSS | ZDNet

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