Since the original Macbook Air, Apple has introduced some improvements to the ultraportable range. The latest portfolio (from the second half of 2011) consists of 11 and 13-inch versions with Intel Core i5 and Intel Core i7 processors, SSD drives have gone larger with 128GB and 256GB available. The body had undergone the slight facelift and is now slicker, sockets on the side look amazing and are machined out of the solid aluminum body. Displays are beautiful and of high quality with resolutions up to 1440×900 pixels. Apple finally made the backlit keyboard a standard issue previously only present in Macbook Pro models. Macbook Air as the whole feels amazingly solid, I don’t think any other tested ultrabook feels this way, also is very light though not as light as some of the ultrabooks.
Apple touchpad is a masterpiece and became my benchmark. The touchpad feels amazing, is very accurate and all the new iOS-like gestures work really well, to the point that after a couple of days using it I’m unable to use the standard laptop touchpad from other makers anymore. Touchpad is definitely largest I have reviewed and to be I’m trying really hard to find any faults with it and apart from single click which personally I would not complain about and this is kind of Apple’s iconic feature this may feel a little weird for Windows laptop users, but trust me you will get used to it, and if you need a “right-click” you simply click with two fingers to achieve the same effect! Yes, it knows when you use multiple fingers.
The keyboard is as good, the decision to have a backlit keyboard was a must, this was missing from the original Macbook Air and if anyone used a Macbook Pro or Alienware laptop before, then you know what I’m talking about. Keys are nicely spaced and of good size and just about deep enough, the way you use shortcuts may seem a little difficult for a day to day Windows users (remember Macs Command key which essentially does a lot of what Ctrl- control key would do) So again apart from a concept and feature of the keyboard being different to what you would be used to with Windows laptop I can’t really find any faults with it.
Performance is generally a very strong side of Apple’s Macbook range and Macbook Air is no difference. The Core i7 version with 256GB SSD 4GB of RAM I’m reviewing is simply fantastic, and together with Apple’s latest OSX Lion, everything is nearly instant. You can easily run multiple applications without a single choke. By multiple applications I mean: Photoshop CS6, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, TextWrangler. Skype, iTunes, Mail, Facetime, RDP connection to my windows servers at work and I can start Xcode, Pages and watch a movie and it is still going!
In last few days of trying to test its limits, I have heard fan noise (if you can call it a noise) kicking in once or twice when I was streaming an HD movie and that time I decided to turn all applications above and flicking between them. 99% of time Macbook Air is noiseless which is a definite bonus for ultraportable laptop and Macbook Air is staying fairly cool most of the time so your lap will not get burnt.
I’m told that the Core i5 128GB SSD model is equally impressive and most of us probably will not notice increased performance of Core i7 model but if you are a professional needing the ultraportable experience and ultimate power, the Core i7 is definitely for you though mind the steep price tag!
Also At this point if any of you guys a worried that the Macbook Air is not good enough to use for you work, whether you are web designer, SEO manager, graphics designer, web developer, app developer or any other creative profession don’t, Macbook Air is perfectly good enough to replace your Macbook Pro in most scenarios and will probably be better than most Windows laptops you might be using at the moment.
Battery life is fairly impressive. I manage to squeeze almost 6-7 hours of medium work out of it, meaning I will be writing this review, preparing some pictures in Photoshop, browsing and checking bits in other browsers, answering email and writing some code in TextWrangler and very occasional FaceTime or Skype.
May I just mention at this point the brilliant idea of the charger plug or the socket being magnetic so you are never going to damage the socket and if you accidentally pull your Macbook away with the charger still connected this will just un-clip!
The display is of really great quality and this is another area where Apple excels, 1440×900 resolution is not the biggest one and we have the seen greater resolution in ultrabooks though none of them had this quality display which definitely beats any ultrabook. Factory calibrations and the contrast greater than 600:1 is delivering a perfect depth of colors, beautiful pictures and really good, outstanding movie quality.
Audio is very average and speakers are definitely a bit disappointing but if you think about the size of them then you cannot really the complaint. The only attempt of improving the audio in this size of a laptop was made by Asus ultrabook Zenbook UX31e by putting Bang & Olufsen bits and it sort of worked but I don’t think this was worth a hassle. If you want to improve the sound quality out of your MacBook Air simply get decent external speakers or nice pair of headphones and connect to the Audio output) but don’t get me wrong it is perfectly usable and not worse than others)
Connectivity, same as with any ultrabooks is one may say limited but I mentioned this in my previous reviews it does not or should not really bother you unless you insist on using a lot of your legacy equipment. The whole thing with the connectivity as I see it, is that times are changing, technology improves and the concept of connectivity also has changed, we are moving into to the Cloud and most our appliances are networked so that is why we do need physical connection between our laptops, ultrabooks, tablets and other auxiliary devices.
Dual-band 802.11n Wifi is perfectly good enough for anything you want to do in terms of networking and if you really insist on having ethernet socket then buy a USB Ethernet Adapter. Macbook also incorporates Bluetooth 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0 ports and almighty Thunderbolt port which are 3 times faster than latest USB 3.0! In Macbook you will also find SD card reader, headphones/microphone jack socket, built in mic and camera.
Top specification models are expensive and there is no other word for it. Though if you are a student you will get a good discount up to 15% and free 3 years warranty upgrade so it makes sense to go for slightly better spec models I suppose. I am mentioning discounts before I mention the prices as in my opinion buying an Apple Macbook even though is a very expensive experience it is a far better investment than any other laptop. To explain, if you buy standard lets say HP laptop with slightly better than average for today’s standard specification you expect to pay anything between £500-£800. Two years later when you are ready for an upgrade, this laptop will be worth £200-300 on eBay or £150 cash back when you buy a new one from HP… This is a lot of value wiped off the device. Apple Macbooks are different, they tend to hold the value better, and given initial expense two years later most Macbook are holding on to more than 50% of its value so you will get the most money back when you are ready for an upgrade.
Pricing starts from £1099 for Macbook Air 13 with 128GB SSD and Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, upgraded version with 256GB but still same Core i5 will be £1349. The top specification of Intel Core i7 256GB 4GB of RAM I’m using to write this review is £1449.
So just to summarise on pricing, Apple Macbook Air is expensive, especially when you look at the top spec model but it will hold value better and you get more money back than you would get from box standard laptop when you ready for a new one and on top of that you will get generally a better quality product.
There is a lot of similarities between Macbook Air and the Ultrabook range promoted by different manufacturers, though technically Macbook Air is not a ultrabook and technically we are comparing two different products a MacOSX and Windows 7 laptops.
Macbook Air is a lot more mature and refined than some of the new Ultrabook entries but don’t forget that Apple was a pioneer in this sort of portability and Macbook Air enjoyed few years of evolution and tweaking which makes it very, very good and I must say, better than any ultrabook so far. The only ultrabook which comes close to it at the moment will be New Dell XPS 13 or Asus Zenbook UX31e but the rest of the competitions has a long way to go yet.