Computers / Hands-on Review

Why You Should Care About the New Apple MacBook Air


What's 0.11 inches thick, weighs 2.3 pounds, and can stay powered-on from its battery for up to 30 days? I'll give you a hint: it's not a new tablet computer with a robotic-sounding name. These impressive specs belong to Apple's new MacBook Air. But if you look beyond the bragging rights, you'll find a construction and an operability that's going to redefine notebook computing.

As we've come to expect from Apple, the details surrounding the New MacBook Air sound like the stuff of pure science fiction. It's an impossibly thin computer with no hard drive, a blazingly high-resolution display and a large glass trackpad that responds to multitouch. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth come standard, but in 2010, features like this are barely even newsworthy. Where this computer really shines is the manner in which it bridges the gap between Apple's ferociously popular handheld portable devices and the more powerful computing abilities of the full Macintosh OS. After years of wild success and division at Apple, the new MacBook Air symbolizes convergence.

If you've ever tried out one of Apple's iOS products, then you've experienced the behavior of a device that's "Instantly On." You pick it up, touch the display and in an instant you're cranking away. With a tap of the thumb you open some apps, play a few games, listen to music and so on. But just as quickly as you began you can close it, put it down and walk away. It's flash memory that makes this operation possible and the new MacBook Air will allow you to carry over your impulsive and erratic computing habits to a full-blown notebook. I'm fairly certain that this is great news!

The tough exoskeleton of the new MacBook Air is ready for battle (and backpacks).

The most reassuring thing about flash memory is that it doesn't have any moving parts, so it's much better suited for the bumps and bangs of everyday mobile computer use. In the place of a spinning hard drive or a typical SSD enclosure, the new MacBook Air is equipped with an array of flash drives mounted directly on its incredibly small motherboard. This consolidation is one of the key attributes which will help blur the line between gadget and workstation for years to come.

But the memory isn't the only component that's rock solid. The body and display housing are both cut from single slabs of aluminum, making it the strongest "Unibody" Macintosh yet. When you strip this computer down to its bones, it looks like the blast shield from a futuristic tank, or a robot designed for battle (a killer android, perhaps). It's clear that this machine has been designed for everyday use; designed to live in a backpack or a large purse, to be constantly at your side and always on.

There are two different-sized models that are going to tempt you to open up your wallet. One model has a "large" 13.3-inch display. This one is roughly the same size as the last generation MacBook Air. One of the most exciting things about this announcement is the introduction of the 11.6" version. It's the ultra-portable Mac that many longtime Apple devotees have been waiting for.   

When the original MacBook Air was first introduced, one thing that left many scratching their heads was its overall size. If the idea was to create a computer that was as light as air (yet made out of metal), why not offer a smaller model as well? It's great to still have the option to choose a 13.3" model. More screen real estate is a wonderful thing. But having the option to get a super-compact model that could painlessly slip into the bag you carry everyday is the clincher. That's the Macintosh for which people were waiting.


While its size and overall vibe may remind you of a netbook, this is not role that the MacBook Air was designed to play. This is a computer with a full-sized keyboard that can run all of your day-to-day applications. Its Core 2 Duo processor, while not bleeding edge, still has plenty of teeth to handle most of your non-intensive graphic design, audio and video production needs. It's going to be a sweet mobile computer for photographers, DJ's and all of those people you see at your local cafe. However, there's a chance that the folks at the hardware store may opt in as well.

The introductory price for a new MacBook Air is just a hair shy of $1000. You have the option of selecting the 11.6" version with 64 or 128 gigs of flash memory. On the 13.3" model you can get either a 128 or 256 GB version and they're all available for pre-order right now at B&H! The slightly larger body of the 13.3" model includes an SD Card slot. All models have stereo speakers, a built-in microphone and iSight camera, a headphone output and a MagSafe power adapter.

One of the more interesting new innovations is that instead of getting installation discs (there's no optical drive), software comes on an included USB installation thumb drive, which can easily be popped into one of the two USB 2.0 ports on the new MacBook Air. If you have other software on discs, Apple provides you with a wireless method for loading them onto the MacBook Air. Or you can pick up the external MacBook Air SuperDrive, which is an optical DVD drive that plugs into a USB port.

If you want to take a break from staring at its compact display, all of the new MacBook Air models feature a mini-display port. This enables you to attach a second monitor, or to connect to an HDMI input on your TV. The mini-display port can deliver resolutions up to 2560 x 1600 pixels. However, the MacBook Air itself has an NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics processor, so while it's awesome to be able to plug into a larger screen, the display built into this computer is still pretty sweet on its own.  

So why should you care about any of this? Well, in the years since the first MacBook Air was announced, the Apple family has undergone some considerable changes. A new relative named iPad showed up out of nowhere (outer space perhaps), and really broadened our perception of what a computer can look like and act like. More importantly, it informed the designers at Apple of what was most important to people who needed an ultra-mobile computer. They wanted a computer that's ready for use at the blink of an eye. They didn't want to be concerned with battery life. They wanted a machine that's durable. You should get this computer if don't want to have to buy another one for a long time, or concern yourself with maintenance. That is why you should care about the new MacBook Air.