Apple launches are curious things. Their products tend to look more like the previous-gen models than almost anyone else's, yet the energy of excitement they exude could be meausured in megatons. The latest MacBook Air is part of the third generation in Apple's super-slim laptop series. Having been perilously thin in the past, the new 13in model hasn't lost any girth, but does offer the latest Sandy Bridge processors, Bluetooth 4.0 and a natty backlit keyboard. It's the best Air yet.
At this point, it almost feels redundant to harp on about the design of any Apple laptop. Not just because the anodised, cohesive metal body style is now familiar to all and sundry, but because there's nothing to criticise. Like marking the homework of a student who never gets a question wrong, never forgets to dot an "i", Apple's design team is infuriatingly good.
The 13in third-gen MacBook Air is gorgeous. 17mm thick at its thickest point, it's deliciously svelte. The rounded corners and the lightly contoured bottom and top offer a pleasant counterpoint to the severe, almost sharp, edges. It's a glorious piece of design - like an unlikely concept design brought to life. At 1.34kg, it's significantly heavier than the lightest of netbooks and the (just over) 1kg of the 11in MacBook Air, but when this 13.3in model offers a much more convincing "real laptop" sensibility, this weight toll seems a token gesture to pay.
Its body uses the same unibody aluminium construction style as previous MacBook models. Of course, this being a computer rather than something hatched in a laboratory (much as Jobsian rhetoric may convince some otherwise), there are some seams. But they're helpful seams. 2mm away from the underside edges of the laptop is where the bottom panel meets the "unibody" part of this device. It's held on by ten screws and offers access to MacBook Air innards including the SSD drive and gigantic, but slim, battery.
Our review model featured a 1.7GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM (2X2GB DDR3 sticks) and a 256GB SSD. This particular setup will set you back a rather distressing £1349, but you can save £250 by opting for the 128GB edition.
So unwilling is the MacBook Air design to compromise on aesthetics that it ends up compromising significantly on connectivity - not that Apple would admit such. On the right edge there's a USB 2.0 slot, SD card slot and a Thunderbolt port. The left edge houses the second USB, magnetised power socket, 3.5mm headphone jack and tiny microphone port.
That neither of the USB sockets is 3.0-compliant (boosting potential speed from USB 2.0's 480Mbit/s to 5Gbit/s) is political as much as anything else. Apple is backing Thunderbolt technology instead - but in fairness it is jolly impressive. Thunderbolt offers a current maximum bandwidth of 20Gbit/s, and acts as the MacBook Air's video output by sharing a connector with its mini DisplayPort. It's not quite as versatile as a VGA or HDMI output in real-world use without an adapter, but for dedicated Mac fans that won't be an issue.