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It's strange how Apple of late seems to be using early adopters as prototype testers. The original iPhone launched sans many of the features we now take for granted (3G, the incredible App Store) , the iPad has sold by the boat load, but in spite of its flaws as much as because of its merits, and the MacBook Air, the latest 13in version of which this very review is being typed on, has taken three generations to become a system we could really recommend to anyone.
Even If nothing else impresses about the MacBook Air, you’d have to be mad not to appreciate the elegance of the system’s industrial design. The aluminium unibody enclosure not only looks and feels fantastic, but also imparts a feeling of quality that plastics can only dream of. For many, the £1,099 entry price will be justified purely by the design of the Air, and you only have to use one to understand why.
Obviously the most prominent aspect of the construction is the MacBook Air’s incredible slenderness of form. You might not think that reducing the Air from its previous 4.1mm to 19mm thickness to the new 2.8mm to 17mm dimensions would make much perceptible difference, and yet the new Air does feel thinner than the older. At 1.32kg it’s still reasonably heavy but not too much so to carry around daily.
Letting down the aesthetic slightly is the thin strip of rubber around the very edge of the screen section of the MacBook Air. It’s necessary to have some padding when the display is closed, but we’d have loved to see the all-glass front of the MacBook Pro replicated on the Air.
At its thickest point, the MacBook Air’s lower half is just about as thin as it possibly could be while still accommodating its USB ports. These mark another improvement; where the old Air only sported one, the new model has two, placed on opposite sides of the chassis, avoiding conflict between devices plugged into adjacent ports. The right edge of the Air also houses a a mini-DisplayPort and an SD card reader, which will please many buyers, and the left side is home to the built-in-microphone and 3.5mm headphone jack.
The move to Apple’s multi-touch trackpad removes one of the criticisms we had of the previous MacBook Air (namely the lack thereof) – it really is a significant improvement over the old trackpad, making your day to day interactions with the system that bit nicer.
The 13in system’s size means that the flat aluminium areas either side of the trackpad make very comfortable wrist wrests when typing. The keyboard is as good as we’ve come to expect of Apple laptops, with a crisp, tactile response but we’re very disappointed to discover that it is no longer backlit - we can’t think of a single good reason why.
If you get the impression that these improvements all sound iterative rather than innovative then you have the right idea. But then, Apple didn’t need to make any sweeping changes to the Air; it’s made the small tweaks that were needed and otherwise not messed with a successful formula.