Apple's new 11.6-inch MacBook Air is its smallest, lightest, and cheapest laptop to date and as such we think it's one of the most exciting products the company has launched since the iPhone 3G. So not content with waiting for a review sample we popped to our local Apple store and had a brief gander at this aluminium clad beauty.
As we've come to expect from Apple's notebooks recently, the new MacBook Airs look and feel amazing. The precision machined aluminium chassis is simply unmatched for fit and finish and feels great in the hand. It's also strong and dense, making the Air feel deceptively heavy, though in reality it's a piddling 1.06kg in weight.
The original selling point of the MacBook Air was it's thinness, and so it is with this model. Apple rather sneakly claims it measures from 0.68in to 0.11in in its advertising blurb but neither if these figures represents the true thickness of the majority of the chassis. In fact it's more like 1in to 0.4in. Nonetheless, these are very low figures that few laptops can match. The key with this 11.6in model, though, is that where this skinniness felt a bit pointless on the relatively large bodied 13.3in MacBook Air - you still need quite a large bag to carry a 13.3in notebook no matter how thick it is - here it feels like a proper step towards another level of portability. In this sense it truly is the netbook of the Apple range.
It's the little touches that instantly please as well. The lid, for instance, can be opened with a single finger, with no need to hold down the bottom section. There are a few oddities though.
In order to cushion the lid when closed there is a thin strip of black rubber that runs about 2mm in from the edge of the bezel. While undoubtedly an important addition in terms of toughness, it does break up the sleek lines quite considerably. Also, though connectivity has improved from the original Air, which had only one USB, you still miss out on essentials like an Ethernet port for wired networking and a memory card reader, as well as more esoteric options like HDMI, eSATA, and USB 3.0. Also missing is a backlit keyboard: you'll have to make do with using the light of the screen to light up the keys.
Otherwise the keyboard seems very good with a nice light but crisp key action that allowed me to touchtype from the off, though as someone that's used to a UK Windows layout, the small Enter key and unfamiliar command buttons kept me guessing.
The trackpad uses Apple's single-button Technology as found on the rest of its laptop range. This allows you to press "anywhere" on the touch surface and have it register a click, while the surface itself can sense up to four fingers for a variety of gestures; two fingers for scrolling, three for back and forward, and four for exposé. You can also rotate two fingers to rotate images and such like. The pad works superbly, being as good to my mind as any over MacBook I've used. The matt glass surface is smooth and easy to glide your finger, while the click is responsive.
The screen didn't make quite as much of an impact as we hoped, looking like a lesser quality panel than those of other MacBooks; contrast, colour saturation, and viewing angles all seemed worse. That said it is still a more than nice display for general use. Moreover it's resolution of 1,366 x 768, although not record breaking (the Sony TZ was doing it way back in 2007) is a combination of screen size and resolution that seems to have fallen out of favour so we're glad to see it return. Essentially, to our minds it's the perfect balance of portability and practicality.
Above the screen sits a webcam that you can of course use for Apple's, FaceTime, video calling service, which does seem to be gaining in popularity.
One of the things Apple made big deal of at the launch of the new MacBook Airs was their use of flash memory, which provides weight, size, and performance benefits over hard drives. While a fair degree of this was rhetoric, what was clear from our quick play is that despite a relatively slow CPU, the 11.6in Air felt really snappy. While it certainly won't be replacing your desktop for gaming and video editing tasks, it felt more than adequate for day to day activities.
One interesting nugget was the browser's lack of support for Adobe Flash. The machine does support it but Apple isn't shipping them with it installed. Just another episode in the ongoing saga between those two companies (actually, it's because Apple has chosen not to ship its computers with a potentially outdated version of the software, so it's not really related to the issue of the lack of Flash on iPhone).
All told, if you're looking for a truly tiny yet powerful laptop then the Apple MacBook 11.6in should go straight to the top of your list.
We'll be getting a model in for review a soon so keep your eyes peeled for that. in the mean time, what do you think to the new MacBook Airs? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook.