Tech review: Apple's new 11-inch MacBook Air tested

November 21, 2010

Apple has recently released an update to its MacBook Air line of computers.

The upgrade includes a new unibody design, an all new 11-inch model to be sold alongside the 13-inch model and speed upgrades.

I am reviewing the 11-inch MacBook Air base model, which includes a 64 GB SSD (solid state drive), a 1.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of memory and an NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics processor.

At .68 inches at its thickest point, the Air is barely thicker than an iPad and weighs 2.3 pounds.

The left side of the 11-inch MacBook Air contains a MagSafe power connector, USB port, headphone mini-jack and microphone. The right side contains a Mini DisplayPort hookup capable of driving a 30-inch external display and another USB port. The 13-inch Air includes an SD card slot.

The ports on both sides of the Air are extremely close together, and large peripherals can get in the way of each other.

The 2010 MacBook Air, like its predecessor, lacks a CD drive. Apple sells external USB CD drives for those who need one.

The MacBook Air is extremely well-built. It is small, light and solid. The Air should hold up well.

Opening the Air reveals a full-size keyboard, multitouch trackpad and an 11.6 inch 1366 x 768 pixel display.

While the keyboard is the same size as on all other Mac laptops, it doesn’t feel the same. The keys don’t press down as far and feel a little mushy. Noticeably missing is keyboard backlighting. Still, these are small gripes, and overall the keyboard is solid.

The Air’s trackpad is the same multitouch, buttonless, glass trackpad found on all of Apple’s other laptops, only shorter and squatter. It is usable, but it feels a little cramped.

The 11.6-inch LED backlit display is beautiful.

It has a wide-screen aspect ratio of 16:10 and a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels: that’s 2.45 percent more pixels than the 13-inch MacBook pro, which has a display resolution of 1280 x 800.

What that equates to is a display that feels large despite its small size. The downside to the display’s high resolution and small size is that on-screen objects and text can be very small, and you will probably want to increase the font size in applications that support it.

It takes 12 seconds for the MacBook Air to boot up, and it wakes from sleep almost instantly.

This speed is a result of the Air’s incredibly fast SSD, which replaces the typical spinning hard drive. SSDs contain no moving parts, making them harder to break and giving the Air an extra layer of toughness.

The main downside of using an SSD is size—only 64 GB on the entry level 11-inch air, upgradable to 128 GB for another $200.

On paper, the Air’s specs look extremely lacking, but the fast SSD and relatively powerful GPU go a long way toward making up for the Air’s slow processor. Still, the Air is not meant for heavy lifting.

Programs open almost instantly due to the SSD, and browsing the Web in Safari is a pleasant experience. I opened up ten tabs without any problems.

Apple has chosen not to preinstall Adobe Flash on the MacBook Air. Flash is still available, but installing it will degrade browser performance and can shorten battery life by up to an hour.

With Flash installed, 720p YouTube videos played smoothly, but put noticeable strain on the Air’s processor. Switching the video to 1080p or opening another window with 4 more tabs noticeably slowed performance.

This might be an extreme case for most users, but it is a significant limitation nonetheless.

Opening too many applications can quickly deplete the Air’s 2 GB of RAM. An extra $100 gets you a more roomy 4 GB, but the Air’s RAM is not user-upgradable. However, because of the fast SSD, most users won’t notice, and only power users should need to spring for the upgrade.

I was not able to test battery life. Apple claims approximately five hours for the 11-inch and 7-hours for the 13-inch without Flash installed, numbers confirmed by other reviewers.

I was unable to test iPhoto. GarageBand performed well for small audio recording and editing.

iMovie ran slowly, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anything but extremely short and simple video editing tasks.

I was able to try both Microsoft’s Office 2011 and Apple’s iWork 2009. All applications in both software suites performed very well, making the MacBook Air a great productivity machine.

The 11-inch MacBook Air is a very good laptop.

It is not a performance powerhouse, but it makes up for it in overall fit, finish and battery life. For those with light needs, it is a great machine. For those who need to edit photos or video or who are heavier computer users, it is hard to recommend as a primary machine.

It is a great companion to a more powerful computer—something to take on short trips or to use around the house. For those with the money, I would recommend it over an iPad.

The 11-inch MacBook air is an extremely attractive package despite its flaws.

<a href="–Apple%E2%80%99s-new-11-inch-MacBook-Air-tested?,2005:cluster=–Apple’s-new-11-inch-MacBook-Air-tested?instance=home_news_lead_storyThu, 18 Nov 2010 10:04:44 GMT 00:00″>Tech review: Apple's new 11-inch MacBook Air tested

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