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MacBook Air 13in (Late 2010) review

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Our Score:

8

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.

Gecko

November 5, 2010, 3:50 pm

"Whether intentionally, or as a by-product of slimming down the MacBook Air’s chassis, the RAM is not user upgradeable. This makes the default 2GB all the more lamentable, as although that’s enough currently, if you do end up needing more you’ll have to upgrade your entire system"





Or you could go for the 4GB RAM Option when ordering for an extra £80, which if you can afford the laptop in first place is probably a good idea.





Still not sure to go for the 13" Air or wait to see what they do with the 13" Pro which is due for an upgrade in the near future I believe.

Hugo

November 5, 2010, 4:32 pm

Oops, I thought I'd mentioned a 4GB option was available (not in-stores though oddly enough) - I've now added that, cheers for the spot.





And I agree, if this resolution were available on the 13in Pro I'd be very tempted.

BOFH UK

November 5, 2010, 6:16 pm

Got to play with one of these while killing time in Bath last weekend and it really is a lovely system. Yes, it's expensive, but I struggle to think of any other laptop that looks so good and feels so solid. Performance was more than adequete for daily use, the keyboard and trackpad were comfortable and the 11" model causes your brain to go into loops as you try to figure out where the rest of it is. If I hadn't transitioned to an iPad for my day to day computing this (well, the 11" version anyway) would have been right at the top of my list.

Hubert Richard

November 5, 2010, 7:40 pm

Amazing!!! I enjoy my iPad immensely, however had I not bought it, I would be running to the store to buy myself my first and full MAC! That too the MBA..... A missed opportunity... Nah!


Written on an Ipad

rav

November 5, 2010, 7:45 pm

I'd love the 11" but the accountant in me just can't get over the price.





For the size 5 hours of battery life is great but in reality it's not quite enough for me.





Just saw a guy at lunch sitting next to me with one and it really was spectacular.





A Pro just seems so much more sensible and not exactly a bad option.

GoldenGuy

November 5, 2010, 9:00 pm

That review made sense, so by comparison it makes further mockery of the overpriced, under-connected vileness you *also* rated 8/10 last September.





Irritating to see the backlight go as forcing higher screen brightness will drain the battery quicker, plus this Jobsian vision for all future laptops still hinges upon the falling price of flash storage and how quickly we can live without discs (I can't yet). But good improvement Apple - this is certainly closer to a logical proposition this time around since it's £1099 compared to a 2.4GHz 4GB RAM Pro with an equivalent 128GB SSD for £1279, finally adhering to a simple principle - You Want Less, You PAY Less.

GherkingTR

November 5, 2010, 10:50 pm

Fair, thorough review. Thank you!





I though about an Air 13" for a while, but will wait to see if the smallest Mac Pro gets updated. I wouldn't mind at all if they got rid of the DVD drive to make room for a basic discreet GPU - it would certainly sidestep Intel/nVidia's chipset licensing quarrel. Oh yes, as a comment said above: would love this high-res screen in the small mbp as well.

MilleM

November 6, 2010, 4:32 am

I've just purchased the 11"Mac Book Air. As well as the Apple Cinema Display, it's also possible to connect the new MBA to the iMac's 27" display.





I seriously considered the iPad, but with it's productivity focus; these are my work tools, I felt the new MBA would better compliment my iMac. I travel frequently and with space at a premium I'm only taking two devices. For me that's an iPhone and now a 11" MBA, which replaces an aging 12" Powerbook G4.

Marjo

December 15, 2010, 10:56 am

I have been reading several review of the MBA and most of them tell about how expensive it is. But take a Windows ultra-portable notebook with a 256GB SSD, you pay $3,500 to $4,000 easy. I admit you would have more processor grunt than the MBA offers but it's all about individual choice isn't it?

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