The 2011 edition of the MacBook Air 13in comes with OS X Lion preinstalled. This is the latest version of MacOS, launched in July 2011. Some recent notable additions to the system include the Mac App Store, which opened to the public in early 2011. What this has brought to Apple’s computers is lightning-fast access to software, especially games. MacBooks are still the poor gaming relation – compared to PCs – but benefiting from an easy access Steam-style interface and plenty of iOS ports has brought Mac gaming a vibrancy it hasn’t known before.
The core MacOS experience will be immediately familiar to any previous MacBook fans though, not least because the core software remains largely the same – but so do the trackpad and keyboard. The new MacBook Air features a black chiclet keyboard and a very large multi-touch trackpad.
At first it appears as though the trackpad is decked-out in the anodised aluminium used for the laptop’s body, but it’s actually a very thin transparent layer of treated glass laid on top of the metal “skeleton”. As might be expected of a design-led company like Apple, it’s superb. The surface offers a slightly smoother, softer, higher-friction feel than the surrounding aluminium, and is immensely comfortable to use.
Like all recent MacBook models, there are no separate mouse buttons. Instead, you press down on the trackpad itself to click. Virtually all of the area of the pad is clickable, apart from a 1cm dead zone at the top. As any buyers not used to this setup will likely be used to PC trackpads, which keep their buttons at the bottom, this is a non-issue. MacOS features plenty of multi-touch commands built-in, to make use of the trackpad multi-sensory capabilities too, from the basic two-fingered scroll (which oddly works the opposite way to a PC laptop), to three-fingered gestures that access the Mission Control app selector and the widget screen.
The MacBook Air 13in keyboard has effectively been lifted directly from the larger MacBook Pro. Its white-on-black look is a rare break from the silvery consistency of the design, but this is one area where a concession to practicality is entirely welcome.
The action is light and fairly shallow, but definite enough to make typing comfortable, accurate and quick. This is one area where the latest-gen model improves on its predecessor, too – not in the keys themselves, but underneath it. Where the white backlight lives.
The keyboard backlight switches on automatically when needed, governed by the light sensor that hides just to the left of the webcam. You have to look pretty darn hard to see it. The intensity of the lighting is controlled using the secondary functions of a pair of F-keys. Although the backlight is pretty much identical to that seen in MacBook Pro models, that the Airs now have one (again) is an important step for the series, since it was an advantage many premium ultraportable rivals had.