Review: Apple 11-Inch Macbook Air

Don’t call the MacBook Air a netbook: Steve Jobs will slice you with it, ninja-Frisbee style. Assault by turtleneck-loving CEOs aside, the new Air is designed to hang in the category of cheap, low-power consuming netbooks. But can it justify its thousand-dollar price tag? Not really.

Apple’s Air taps a few sweet spots that most netbooks never come close to. The widescreen display gives room for a standard full-sized keyboard and glass trackpad, so it doesn’t feel crampy; the clickety-clackety of the keys are nice and Apple-y. The screen is a higher resolution at 1,366-by-768 pixels (compared to 1,024-by-768 pixels on most netbooks) to give a sharp, clear picture. It’s also disconcertingly quiet — there’s virtually zero fan noise.

But, even though the 11-inch Air is roomier and sexier than a netbook, it still feels claustrophobic over extended periods of use. Staring at a crisp 11-inch screen induces squinting, and the idea of doing any serious work on this note is painful. (When attempting to write this review on the Air, I wound up getting eye-fatigue and switching to a 13-inch MacBook Pro.)

Maybe that’s not the point though: The processor is quite slow (1.4-GHz Core 2 Duo), and the Air ships with 2 GB of RAM (4 GB is optional for some extra scrill) so it’s not meant to be a productivity powerhouse. The flash drive somewhat compensates: App launch times are extremely fast (a fraction of a second to load Safari; just 1.5 seconds to open iTunes, for example), and booting into Mac OS X takes just 13 seconds on average.

But more processor-intensive tasks like editing photos or copying files aren’t as snappy. And that’s why it’s difficult to avoid comparing the 11-inch Air with a netbook: With this smaller screen size and slower CPU, you’ll likely be doing much lighter tasks like web browsing, chatting, punching out Word documents. If you plan on doing much more than that, the 13-inch Air is a better option (or a 13-inch MacBook Pro, for that matter).

The Air’s battery life is great: From testing, the Air ran about six hours over a Wi-Fi connection until it powered off. However, we’ve seen plenty of cheaper netbooks with batteries that last just as long.

The flash drive crammed into the Air isn’t very big; the base model ships with just 64 GB. Get ready to live your life “in the cloud.” (Pro tip: download Dropbox.)

Who is the Air for? People who travel a lot for work will like this setup: Deal with e-mails, light document editing and spreadsheet crunching on an Air, then when you need to do serious work, plug it into an external display. Spoiled students who tote their computers all around campus will probably like the Air too.

However, if you’re the type who doesn’t mind using Windows, we can’t justify purchasing the 11-inch Air versus a netbook. A netbook on average costs $300 to $500 and isn’t much worse than the Air when it comes down to what you’ll be using it for — less work, more play. An Air will cost you at least double the amount of a netbook, and unfortunately it doesn’t deliver twice the performance.

And as for hardcore Mac heads, again, we prefer the 13-inch Air to the 11-incher. (And yes we’ve heard the “that’s what she said” joke like a thousand times already.) That tiny difference in screen real estate is actually substantial, and it provides a much more comfy experience. As to whether you should get an Air or a MacBook Pro, that depends on what you plan to do. If you barely edit photos or videos, for example, you won’t need the extra beef of a Pro, so you’ll appreciate the light and skinny form factor of the Air.

get-gadget So slender, so sexy. Ridiculously fast app launch times. Excellent battery life. Comfortable keyboard and trackpad.
TIRED Size does matter — 11 inches is too small, no matter how nice the screen is. Sluggish with some media-heavy tasks.
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