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MacBook Air 11in (Late 2010) - Features and Performance

By Hugo Jobling



Our Score:


As with the 13in MacBook Air the 11in system’s flash storage means that it boots up in record time and loads programs with almost alarming haste. Battery life is also excellent, with Apple’s claim of five hours falling short of the six we were able to squeeze out of the Air with the brightness turned down half way, and nothing more taxing than Word 2011 and Safari running. We think that’s a fair representation of how the average 11in MacBook Air will use their system.

Its display is another area where the 11in MacBook Air meets our expectations for a premium system of its size. The LED-backlit unit gives accurate, but vivid colour reproduction and its 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution provides plenty of desktop real estate, proving a definite improvement over those similarly sized, portable laptops that only offer a 1,280 x 600 pixel display. Lest we forget, however, Sony was pulling the same trick back in 2007 with its Vaio TZ (and was well ahead of the competition at the time), so Apple is hardly a pioneer in this area.

One aspect of the 11in MacBook Air we can unconditionally praise is its keyboard. Despite fitting into a confined area, the keys are surprisingly well sized and, like countless other MacBook keyboards before, give an excellent, crisp feedback. The only concession to the space restrictions we noticed was the shrinking of the arrow, power, escape, and F1-F12 keys, but we use those rarely enough that we never found it a problem.

To our delight, Apple’s now-ubiquitous multi-touch enabled touchpad has found its way into the 11in MacBook Air. Although noticeably smaller than the example in the 13in Air, and the rest of the MacBook range, it proves no less excellent an input device on this system. In fact, because of the lesser space in the 11in chassis, it’s possible that being able to eschew buttons was some help in finding enough space for the excellent keyboard. Regardless whether that is true or not, we're definitely fans of the numerous multi-touch gestures available to a MacBook Air user – they really do make navigating OS X and its programs so much easier.

What the 11in MacBook Air doesn’t do so well is connectivity. We’re happy to accept that there’s no disc drive, despite laptops smaller than this offering such features five years ago (the Vaio T1XP to be precise) – it’s an omission that seems to have become standard in this class of laptops. What we aren’t so pleased with is the inexplicable lack of an SD card slot on the 11in Air; there’s space for it, and it would clearly be useful, so we really don’t understand why it’s missing from the smaller of the Airs.


November 26, 2010, 1:57 pm

While it seems nice i much prefer the 13" version.


November 26, 2010, 2:27 pm

No benchmarks in this review? From what I've read elsewhere, the extra performance of the MacBook Air (especially the GPU) is what sets it apart from the competition, and goes someway to justify the price.

I'm looking to buy an 11" notebook, but really can't justify spending £850 on the Air, so I'm considering the Dell M101z. Nowhere seems to be selling the 1810T any more.


November 26, 2010, 2:37 pm

The real omission for me is embedded 3G data connectivity. It seems a shame to spoil the lines of such a device by having to plug in a 3G dongle for anywhere data connectivity. Of course it would possibly me more SKU's for different markets. They could have also set themselves apart on this device by maintaining the same screen resolution as the 13" model.


November 26, 2010, 3:32 pm

@speedyuk: The real omission for me is embedded 3G data connectivity.

I think a MiFi device would be better anyway, especially as network operators would most likely rip you off supplying a SIM for it. :)

I think this only has USB2, that's my main worry. Backing up using USB2, or connecting an external Ethernet adaptor would have been much better with USB3.


November 26, 2010, 4:02 pm

Here's the thing I don't understand when it comes to premium laptops: why oh why is Apple seemingly the only company to realise that asthetics are just as important these days as the internals? Where's the competition to products like the Air that use premium materials, offer genuinely interesting (and in the case of the Air, jaw dropping) design and something... well... different to the mainstream. The Dell M101z is a good example, nice little machine but good lord it's just a sea of plastic, real commodity stuff.

No wonder Apple does so well in the premium space, no-one else seems to want to play.


November 26, 2010, 4:42 pm

@InformalAlchemy I have an 1810 and like you say they have disappeared, my wife has the 1825 - touch screen and turns into a very nice pad. They are still about.

Better still in this line would be the 1830/1835 but they don't appear to be released in the UK, so far any way.

I have a lot of time for these Acer's - never had a moment of trouble with them and more than powerful enough for the odd bit of photo and HD video editing.


November 26, 2010, 5:17 pm


I honestly think that Apple are the only company that can get away with charging such a massive premium. People have consistently shown they are prepared to pay way over the odds for anything Apple.

I could never see Dell/Acer/Asus managing to pull off the same trick. The perceived value of their brands just isn't as strong no matter how good the product. Even Sony has moved a bit downmarket recently. Sure you can still get £2K Vaio Zs but they must be extremely niche.

But you're right, it definitely seems like there are a lot of people who value style over substance. I find it amazing (and extremely impressive) that Apple can charge so much more for old components as long as they're covered in Alumiunium and have a backlit logo.

I think their laptops are great products but if I was going to spend that premium I'd expect up to date i3/i5/i7 processors at the very least. And seriously, 2GB of RAM?

Doc. Caliban

November 26, 2010, 5:56 pm

I don't tend to speculate much about what it shoulda/coulda/woulda been; I just accept that the choices are what they are, and this laptop is perfect for *me* and *my* needs. Minimal size and weight are paramount for me, and the chance to get an actual Mac / OS X in a near-netbook size form factor was enough to justify the price for me.

I would not chose it for my main computer, however.



November 26, 2010, 6:51 pm

@rav: well, what if there are some advantages of using "old components" - like the machine is perhaps running cooler (and therefore quieter), or maybe you can have a decent GPU, which is quite handy if the OS and applications can take advantage of it. It's certainly powerful enough to run Lightroom and Final Cut Express smoothly. Could I get a comparable (or should I say 'equally well balanced'?) but less expensive notebook elsewhere? Frankly I don't think so.


November 26, 2010, 8:12 pm

I thought long and hard about a 13 - 11 inch portable, in the end opting for a m101z from the dell outlet (they're few and far between there!)

I adore the 11" air, but my practical mind took over. I ended up with a machine I'm not afraid to take out of the house, and fits my budget. I even got the 4gb ram model (albeit with the slower, smaller 250gb hdd) for £250! It'll tide me over until Apple refresh their MacBook pro 13".

Great review covering all angles, thankyou Hugo.


November 26, 2010, 9:13 pm

This is a weird review because of the precedent set. The ghastly underpowered, under-connected, over-priced 13" Air was given 8/10 - even implying that it's barren lack of features was part of the charm. (The second gen 13" was also 8/10 but that was fairer because they sorted out the price and added a USB and SD.)

This is a smaller computer, which means the limited connectivity is much more excusable here than on its bigger brother. It's sort of odd - the criticisms in this review are essentially all the ones that should have informed the verdict of the very first Air. Now that it's truly more portable than an MBP, they've cut the price and added an essential port, now it loses points? If anything one of the glaring omissions for the lucrative student market, who might want to get a light, sub-£900 Mac into dark lecture halls, is that of the backlit keyboard - that really is a huge backwards step. Personally, I think it is an understandable concession on the smaller 11" model but to "unconditionally praise" it is silly for the removal of such a huge feature from a premium machine.

In summation, I suppose I sort of agree with the score on absolute terms, just not relatively speaking.


November 26, 2010, 11:28 pm

It's not a machine for me but it's quite cheap for what is essentially a luxury piece of industrial design, for people who can afford this kind of things. I think they could actually get away with charging way more for these kind of machines, the same way Bang & Ollufsen and Loewe do in the home entertainment space. Just a thought.


November 27, 2010, 12:38 am

@BOHF UK - you read my mind. I'm looking to upgrade my X300 Thinkpad and Lenovo hasn't upgraded the X301 in two years - and I understand has no plans to do so. *facepalm*


November 27, 2010, 2:57 am

@Gordon: Ah Lenovo, handed the best Windows laptop range there's ever been (at least from a System Manager's POV, I swear those things are blessed in an elaborate ceremony by the god of reliability themself before they leave the factory) and content seemingly to bimble along ignoring the innovation the range used to be famous for. I can still remember coveting that butterfly keyboard in my misspent youth.

And here's the thing... how many small manufacturers are out there offering high end gaming rigs? At least a dozen just in the UK I'd have thought, many more worldwide. Yet not one of them seems willing to take a risk and go for a high-price consumer laptop where performance is secondary to looks, portability and battery life. I know it's harder to do so as they need to commission the case design but look at the profit margins Apple makes on its high end stuff, you'd think someone out there would compare 40% to the usual single digit PC market and decide to take a punt.

To be fair, Dell had a stab with the Adamo and that design has now filtered down to their normal range but part of the problem with that concept is they went so... odd with the design. I do wish they'd take another crack at it, even if only in the way that motor companies do and show concept cars, uh, laptops until they find something that works with the public.


November 27, 2010, 4:10 am

@berio: Please don't compare this over-styled vanity project to B&O and any of their kit - the materials used by the Danes in their products alone rule out any such comparison.


November 27, 2010, 4:50 am

@ffrankmccaffery: o_O If you want to label the MacBook Air as such, I see no way in which B&Os products could escape the same criticism.


November 27, 2010, 6:35 am

Fantastic review. I know people usually come here to air complaints, so I just thought I'd add that in. You didn't miss credit to machines that have done what this does before this one tried it, and you compared it well to its contemporary peers.


November 27, 2010, 9:25 am

The Macbook Air is what I had hoped the iPad would be - it operates with the full Mac OS. I'd be getting one now if I had not purchased a 17" MBP recently. The Air is something I would tote almost anywhere - especially given the solid-state drive. So it occupies its own space, being very portable with an acceptable compromise in performance.

Apple's hardware price would be too high if I were just buying hardware. But I'm primarily buying a machine that runs Mac OS 10, and that is my strong preference. That I get a bit of mechanical engineering style is a fringe benefit.


November 27, 2010, 1:43 pm

You write: "The small screen size is likely to preclude you from multitasking before the speed of the system does."

Try spaces - it is like having as many different screens as you like. I typically have somewhere between 6 and 12 programs running at a time, grouped by project in 6 different spaces. Browsing, photography, stocks, writing, research it is almost like having 6 different computers. I am not running an Air (MBP 15" with i7 chip) but you could still do it on the Air with a smaller work load.


November 28, 2010, 12:35 am

Mr Jobs is God - that is all ^_^


November 28, 2010, 3:22 am

I have read many reviews, play around the MBA 11" & 13" at the Apple store for weeks. I have concluded to purchase MBA 13" with extra CPU's power i.e. 2.13GHz and added additional Memory, to beef up to 4GB. My honest opinion, despite there are always the "Pros & Cons" of anythings. I have evaluated all options and the 13" MBA is divinely, usefully useful. It was a superb machine with ultra portable in weight when travelling or sitting on your lap, big screen with great resolution, flash storage with impressive speed and very sexy....I'm happy and love the fact that I have been waiting such a beautiful machine for years. Great job Apple.


November 28, 2010, 4:47 am

@Ed: Fframkmccaffery is spot on, actually. B&O isn't just about style. There is solid audio technology in their speakers that is a good bit above cheaper speakers - for example, room adaptation, their acoustic lens technology, the amplifier tech, the use of active directional speakers... I could go on, but you get the point. They're not just a shiny exterior and a sparkly interface. The innards of their speakers and the electronics are of a far, far higher quality than stuff which costs half the price. This simply isn't true of the MacBook Air - Apple've used the same bog-standard electronics as everyone else, including ultraportable laptops which cost half the price. The hardware innovation you see in B&O simply isn't there in Apple's recent laptop and desktop products. If Apple'd come up with a new motherboard architecture that let them put a graphics card twice as close to the processor without making the whole machine too hot, then it'd be comparable with B&O.


November 28, 2010, 9:03 am

One important fact which everyone tends to forget is that all MacBooks are capable of running two operating systems, i.e. OSX and Windows, thus giving the benefits of both the worlds. Which other brand allows that?


November 28, 2010, 4:58 pm

@lensmann: So you're seriously telling me Apple deserves no credit for pioneering its aluminium chassis design and construction, its tiny motherboard, its surprisingly powerful speakers and its multi-touch touchpad, and that it should have gone into CPU/GPU design and created its own chips? Within the confines of the space that Apple works in, i'd say its done a pretty good job. For all that B&O is worthy of praise for some of the stuff it creates, it's just as guilty of overcharging for products just because they look nice.


November 28, 2010, 8:21 pm

@Ed: Maybe this is just my innate pan-Scandinavian loyalty to a good Nordic brand, but the way I see it: Audio systems are about sound. B&O produce systems that look great *and* sound significantly better. Of course, if you're really into sound you'd get M&K - which costs thrice as much - or the Epos Mi range or some such thing, but you'd be hard pressed to find speakers that were significantly cheaper and sound as good in ordinary non-specialised settings.

Computers are about... well... computing. Apple produces computers that look great but do *not* compute significantly better than the competition. You can get cheaper computers that are about as efficient and about as portable as the MB Air, but don't look as good.

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