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My 11-inch friend: working with a Macbook Air

My 11-inch friend: working with a Macbook Air

Last year Apple released a major update to an old dog in the Mac line, the Macbook Air. The new unibody case, high resolution display, solid-state drive and design tweaks brought about a huge swathe in change that ignited a new love for the little brother in the Macbook line.

Some months later, it’s time to give a full account of what living with it is like. Full disclosure here, I use a 15-inch Macbook Pro (i7, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB 7200RPM drive) daily for work, home and play. Moving to the Air is difficult for someone who is used to 15-inches of real estate (or my previous 24-inch iMac!). Text and image detail feels very squashed, though rendered very smoothly. HD video playback is perfect, too. The resolution and screen size makes everything look incredibly dense and rich.

Naturally, the biggest ‘wow’ moment is turning it on. While Apples claims of ‘instant on’ are a little over-shot, seeing the Apple logo pop up with the spinning action cog only doing one, singular rotation before booting into the desktop (which is completely useable!). Booting it next to any other Mac (my Macbook Pro, a fully spec’d Mac Pro, anything!) shows off the sheer speed of using a solid state drive. It’s most likely the single most used test to show off how great it is!

In-use it is just as fast. Very slick, very quick and nice to use. In college it’s ideal as it offers the best solution for sitting on those horrid desks that fold over in lecture halls, allowing both a nice computer and room for an a4 refill pad. My 15-inch Macbook Pro certainly dominates a desk, and with a 7200RPM drive it makes more noise than is necessary for word processing or basic programming tasks. The air offers the perfect college/work mate because the power and speed it offers are comparable to any other machine on the market, but it also is easier to use in the college or work scenarios than an iPad with a proper keyboard.

Speaking of, anyone interested in programming and development will be glad to know that Xcode works great, but the likes of Java – while they run fine – do not come pre-installed anymore.

The black keyboard is very sexy

Where it falls down is simply the gut-wrenching power it has to compete with in the ‘big brother’ line of Macbook Pro’s. While the Air is nice, fast and appropriately powerful, it is still aimed at a very specific market. If you want to do spreadsheets on aircraft and have a nice, light device to carry around it’s great. If you want to read spreadsheets on aircraft, the iPad is probably more up your alley. For most things the 11-inch screen won’t quite cut it as looking at it for hours on end in a working day gets monotonous.

It still has a huge ‘wow’ factor, months after release, but I would still wager that most people will get more out of their Macbook Pro’s than those who own the Air. I lived with the 11-inch model for some time, which is a great device for what it is – but there is a bigger ‘wow’ factor with the iPad (once you get over the keyboard for taking notes/writing documents). The 13-inch model is just as fast and nice to use as the 11-inch, but is simply not worth the cost because the grey bezel is far more pronounced on that model, in a bad way. The black bezel hidden behind glass on the Macbook Pro line is far, far sexier than the Air. The 11-inch gets away with it because it’s so small, but the 13-inch is dangerously close to looking hideous. The unibody case and black keyboard save it, though.

Some omissions are annoying on both, too. No backlit keyboard is one that people switching to Mac won’t notice, but previous Macbook Pro owners will miss the LED backlight on their keyboard. Battery life is excellent, but under stress it does tend to drain faster than a Macbook Pro.

The big kicker for me, is simply that the Air – while good in its own right – still feels like the younger sibling of the family. Very nice, very cute, and very good – but just not quite a Macbook Pro.