Screen and speakers
Much has been made in the past of the screen quality found in Apple laptops, but the notebook market has come a long way. The display on the MacBook Air is really good, though not exceptional; like any modern TN panel, it boasts great horizontal viewing angles and mediocre vertical ones.
The resolution offered on the MacBook Air, at least, is a definite improvement over prior generations of MacBooks. Previously, the 13-inch MacBook or MacBook Pro was only offered in a 1280×800 resolution; to go any higher required the purchase of a 15-inch MacBook Pro, which delivered 1440×900 or 1680×1050 options.
Contrast testing faired well, with an average contrast ratio of 755:1 when the backlight was at minimum (but not disabled); it dropped to 696:1 with the backlight at full. At its brightest, the panel reached 354 nits, which bodes well for bright office or even mild outdoor environments.
The Air delivers 1366×768 pixels of resolution, with the 13-inch model jumping up to 1440×900. While it’s nice to see Apple (finally) supporting higher resolution panels, it is nicer still to consider what it means for the next revision of the MacBook Pro lineup. The display is glossy, but not too glossy. It’s a nice compromise between matte screens that can muddy colors and glossy screens that can double as really annoying mirrors.
The other noticeable change in terms of the notebook’s display is a distinct lack of glass. No doubt a means of shaving off some of the weight that a glass cover would invariably add, the edge-to-edge black-bordered display is replaced with more aluminum. It’s still attractive, and appears to be the same treatment customers receive who order the 15-inch MacBook Pro with an antiglare screen.
The speakers don’t fare quite as well as the screen. They’re definitely functional, and in fact they’re pretty good for such a small laptop. Bass is unsurprisingly scarce, however, and while music is listenable, it would be better served by a pair of headphones or external speakers. On the plus side, they do seem to get pretty loud.
Ports and features
The sides of the wedge-shaped notebook showcase what inputs there are; on the right is one USB 2.0 port and one mini-DisplayPort…port. On the left is a second USB 2.0 port, the MagSafe power adapter, combo headphones/microphone/remote control jack and an integrated microphone.
It’s unfortunate that there isn’t any high-speed storage for the MacBook Air – given its limited storage capacity (64GB, in this instance), USB 3.0 or even eSATA would be a welcome addition. Apple would probably never add an eSATA port to any of their notebooks, however, and USB 3.0 will likely be added in the next revision.
Fortunately, the MacBook Air does fully support 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Bluetooth 3.0 would have been another nice addition as the protocol allows for much faster transfer speeds (since it essentially uses Wi-Fi).
The 13-inch MacBook Air also gives users an SDXC card reader on the right-hand side of the laptop. That slot is omitted from the smaller model, to pretty much universal frustration.