Apple's new MacBook Air: is this the ultimate travel notebook?

By danwarne, July 21 2011
Apple's new MacBook Air: is this the ultimate travel notebook?

Apple is touting its just-released MacBook Air as "the ultimate everyday notebook", but like its second-gen predecessor, the new Air could just as easily be tagged as "the ultimate business travel notebook".

Here are the top five reasons that Mac users, and maybe even a few Windows users, will be looking at the latest MacBook Air as their new travelling companion.

#1 It's still one of the thinnest notebooks on the planet

If there is one thing Apple is absolutely exceptional at doing, it's in shrinking technology down smaller than just about any other company is able.

At its thickest point, the MacBook Air is 1.7cm. At its thinnest, it's 3 mm. Many "thin and light" notebooks are 1.7cm at their thinnest point but the manufacturers then forget to mention that they're well over 2cm at their thickest.

And then there's the weight. 1.35kg for the 13" model, and 1.08kg for the 11". It's the laptop you can easily pick up with one hand, which makes all the difference to how much it really feels like a travel notebook.

(To be absolutely fair to Samsung, it has the thinnest notebook on the planet at the moment at 1.63cm -- its impressive Notebook Series 9.)

#2 It's incredibly fast for a thin-and-light notebook

The thinnest notebooks often trade speed for battery life -- an essential compromise because they have such small batteries built in.

Apple has upgraded the new MacBook Pros to Intel's latest generation of Core i5 processors, with an option to step up to the top-range Core i7 chip.

They are admittedly the ultra-low voltage Core processors, which are slower than the full-strength laptop chips, but Apple has partnered them with extremely fast flash memory for the storage -- much quicker than the mechanical hard drives, which for years have been the speed bottleneck in everyday computing performance.

#3 The backlit keyboard is back

One of the most underrated and surprisingly useful features in a laptop is a backlit keyboard, so you can see the keys in the dark –- or under the dim cabin lighting of aircraft flying at night.

The new MacBook Air sees the return of the backlit keyboard which debuted in the original 2008 model but was dropped for the second-gen series.

#4 It comes with Mac OS X "Lion"

The new MacBook Air is one of the first Macs to come with Lion built in.

Mac OS X 10.7, codenamed "Lion", is a great operating system for many reasons that we've covered in detail in this article.

There are a few key innovations like "App resume" -- any time you close an app and reopen it later, it comes back to exactly the spot you were working.

Autosave in every app, not just apps that have it built in, is another extremely useful improvement.

AirDrop makes it easy to share files between two computers that are close together, over a secure wi-fi link -- something that can't be said about any form of networking built into an operating system before Lion.

#5 An unbelievably good price

Normally notebooks in these super-slim form factors carry a hefty price premium. The original MacBook Air was a case in point: the lowest-priced model cost $2,500 and came with a hard drive. If you wanted the model with an SSD the ticket jumped to almost $4,350.

Today's new models begin at just $1,099 for the 11 inch MacBook Air, which runs a 1.6GHz Core i5 chip  with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage. The beefed-up 11 inch version, with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage, costs $1,349.

(We'd suggest avoiding the $1,099 model because there's no way to add extra RAM after you've bought the notebook.)

The 13 inch models, powered by a faster 1.7GHz Core i5 chip, start at $1,449 with 4GB of memory and 128GB of flash storage; $1,799 sees the storage doubled to 256GB.

Those prices are actually $100-$150 cheaper than the just-superceded MacBook Air.

If you want a little more grunt from the MacBook Air you can order it with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor – the extra cost is $160 on the 11 inch model and $100 on the 13 inch model.

Don't forget that you can shave an extra 10% off these prices by buying your MacBook Air 30 days before you fly overseas and then claiming the TRS refund at the airport.


04 Nov 2010

Total posts 670

What's the battery life on these new laptops, is it still the same as the previous ones? The newer Intel chips should be more power-efficient so maybe there is a bit extra battery life now?

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