Once again we have to also lament Apple’s use of a mini-DisplayPort video output. On Apple’s more powerful systems, a DisplayPort port is indeed useful, as it enables connection to a high-resolution display, but on a laptop of this size being able to easily connect to a TV would be much more useful. Last, but not least, the presence of only two USB ports is disappointing. Again, we appreciate that space is at a premium on such a small system, but more ports would fit if Apple gave the Air a slightly more rectangular cross-section, which wouldn’t actually make it thicker in any meaningful way.
To take an example: the Acer Aspire Timeline 1810TZ, our Best Portable Laptop award-winner in 2009, has the same resolution display, is hardly less portable (20mm-30mm thick to be specific), and offers an SD card reader, an HDMI-output, and three USB ports, giving it more connectivity that the 11in MacBook Air for some £400 less money. And that’s ignoring the eight and a half hour battery life – almost half again what the Air manages.
It’s a similar case with the Dell Inspiron M101z; again the specs match or best the Air, for a lot less money and the build quality for the most part is impeccable, if not quite to the level of the Air. The M101z even looks pretty sharp, although unlike the 1810TZ the Inspiron doesn’t have MacBook Air-beating battery life, but it is the handsomer and sturdier of the two systems.
Even accounting for the inarguably superior build quality and aesthetics of the unibody chassis, and the use of super-fast flash memory in the 11in MacBook Air, it’s hard to see quite how Apple intends to justify the massive premium it carries over rival 11in laptops. One almost expects that a not insubstantial chunk of that money is there intentionally to dissuade those who want a cheap cheerful netbook; a metaphorical middle finger directed by Steve Jobs toward those who can’t or won’t buy a ‘real’ laptop.
As much as the MacBook Air is a beautiful machine, you really do have to think carefully before buying one. There are myriad alternative laptops that are no less portable, and that almost universally offer better specs than the 11in Air. If, therefore, you’re the kind of person that cares purely about what you physically get for your money, this isn’t the system for you.
However, if you think value is in more than just the price, have the money to burn, and want an ultra-portable laptop that, as well as being capable of performing all he every day tasks you throw at it, makes you feel satisfied just to have used it, then you should definitely consider an 11in MacBook Air.