Apple MacBook Air User Review

by Reads (31,410)

"The world’s thinnest notebook" is the catchphrase Apple uses to try and sell you its new laptop, the MacBook Air. But is it much more than that? Or does being thin all it has going for it? At 0.16" at its thinnest point, it is indeed thin, but what compromises had to be made in order to fit an entire Mac into a package this thin that weighs only 3 lbs? Indeed, lots of compromises had to be made, but it’s up to you decide to what extent these compromises will affect you.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the MacBook Air at MacWorld San Francisco back in January, the reactions were quite mixed: while many stood in awe at how Apple managed to shoehorn an entire computer into such a compact design, a great number of people expressed disappointment: "too many compromises," people complained. Not enough USB ports, a lack of storage, a non user-replaceable battery, no ethernet jack, and no internal optical drive are just some of the other shortcomings that many have noted. But do those matter?

Before we kick off this review, here are the specifications of the machine being reviewed:

  • Mac OS X 10.5.2 Leopard
  • Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 1.6GHz (4MB L2 cache, 800MHz frontside bus)
  • 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • 80GB 4200 rpm parallel ATA hard disk drive
  • 13.3" glossy widescreen TFT LED backlit display at 1280 x 800
  • Intel GMA X3100 graphics (144MB of shared memory)
  • iSight webcam
  • Airport Extreme WiFi (IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate)
  • Micro DVI, USB 2.0 port (480 Mbps), Audio out
  • Dimensions : 0.16-0.76", 12.8", 8.94" (H, W, D)
  • Weight: 3.0 pounds (3lbs 0.6oz actual)
  • Integrated 37-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
  • 45W MagSafe power adapter with cable management system (6.5oz)

Reasons for Buying

I switched to Mac OS X in January 2007 with a new iMac, so this isn’t my first (or even second) Mac. I still use XP and Vista sometimes, but my OS of choice is Leopard. A problem with many online reviews I find is that the reviewer brings the whole Mac vs. PC debate into the review. Which OS is better is of zero importance here.

Nobody "needs" a MacBook Air, but I wanted something smaller than my previous 15.4" notebook, and I had a great offer from someone to buy it. So why not? The MacBook Air was almost half the weight, had a smaller footprint, and had enough power for me. Best Buy had a six hour "special" online sale and I was able to get the base model of the MacBook Air for $1,699.99 (Canadian). For the potential buyers out there: don’t forget that if you are a student, you are eligible to receive a $100 discount on the MacBook Air. Also, it is a good idea to buy it in the summer, before school starts, because at that time, Apple gives you a free iPod Nano and a free printer. Well, you need to pay the tax, and the rebate forms are among the most annoying I have ever experienced, but they do pay you back, eventually.

What’s Inside The Box?

Apple takes great pride in its packaging. The box is similar to that of the iPhone, except larger. Personally, I’d rather have Apple cut $50 off the price and have the machine come in an ugly plain box, but that’s neither here nor there. Inside the box, you will find (hopefully along with the MacBook Air itself) a 45W MagSafe power adapter along with an extension cord for it, micro-DVI to DVI and micro-DVI to VGA cables, a cloth with which to clean the screen, OS X reinstall disks, and some manuals. Notably absent from the box is the ever popular white Apple remote that can be used to control Front Row (Apple’s version of Windows Media Center) and also as a clicker in Keynote presentations.

Instead, Apple offers this as a $19 add-on. Weak. Back in the day, when you bought a 3G iPod, you’d get a dock, a remote, a carrying case, etc. Now, you will find none of those in the box. Well, Apple is going towards the same strategy with their computers, unfortunately. There are two reasons why Apple chose not to include the remote (please note that it is no longer included with their other laptops, either): the first is because many people already have remotes because they own other Apple products (I already had two of these remotes before buying the MacBook Air). Another (and more likely) reason is simply because they can. It doesn’t bother me that they don’t include the remote, but it might bother other people. So if you were looking forward to playing with the little white Apple remote, be prepared to shell out an extra $19 for it. Apple is a profit-maximizing company, and many would argue it would be foolish of them to include something for free if many people are willing to pay for it!

Of course, with every new Mac you get iLife ’08, which is essentially iTunes-like software but for pictures, movies, etc. Also, note that there is no advanced word-processing software right out of the box. Only "TextEdit" is included, a primitive, WordPad like application. Microsoft Office 08 is available for Mac, and it runs native on Intel, but personally I find it just as sluggish as the old version on both the MacBook Air and my 24" iMac.

Problems Right Out Of The Box

Battery charge time woes

I was excited while taking the MacBook Air out of its beautiful packaging. My first goal was to drain the battery of the MacBook Air fully and then let it charge overnight. I’m not sure if that’s the "Apple" way to calibrate the battery, but it has worked well for me in the past.

It must have been charging for at least 7 hours when I asked myself why the charge indicator was still orange! Why is it taking so long? Past experience has taught me that a laptop will charge in 4-5 hours (max!). I turn it on and to my surprise it’s only about 65% charged! I figured it was just "this one time" and after more use the charge times would descend to more reasonable levels. Was I ever wrong! After 10 battery cycles, the battery was consistently taking more than 8 hours to charge, sometimes as long as 10 hours. I was growing old waiting for the thing to charge.

Apparently, I was not the only one experiencing abnormally long charge times. A quick search on Google will point you to many frustrated users who experienced identical issues. As of the time of this review, supposedly there is a new firmware update that fixes the issue but I cannot confirm as my original MacBook Air was exchanged for a new one that charges just fine right out of the box. After more than a week of usage I couldn’t get the battery of my first unit to charge in a decent amount of time. Thankfully, the replacement charges very quickly – on average it takes less than four hours to charge from zero percent.

Click, click, click

Another problem, you ask? I don’t know if this was really a problem, but on my first unit, the hard drive made a notable "click" every 20 seconds. Again, a quick search on Google will reveal many people who are experiencing the same issue. The sound was by no means loud or obtrusive. Many people said the sound was normal and it was just the hard drive parking its heads. The sound is supposedly characteristic to this particular type of hard drive, which is the same used in the iPod. However, my second unit does not click at all. Strange. I’ll let the reader decide on this one.

Enough about the initial problems. Let’s examine this machine in greater detail.


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Design

Apple really hit the nail on the head with the design on this notebook. Firstly, it is built like a tank. It does not feel fragile or flimsy at all, and is extremely solid. You need to hold it in your hands to understand how solid is really is. The build quality is impeccable. It feels like a solid block of aluminum. The screen is pretty well inflexible and shows no ripple when bent. Every detail on the MacBook Air was engineered so as to obtain the highest level of quality: you can tell that the engineers did not skimp anywhere in terms of build quality. The notebook is thin (obviously) and very light. It feels like almost nothing in a back pack. Even when compared to the MacBook (around 2 lbs more), the difference is remarkable. There are pictures all over the internet of this notebook and you need to see one yourself to judge, so that’s all I have to say about the design.


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Processor

When designing the MacBook Air, Apple looked at its competitors and borrowed from them what they thought was good, and improved upon what they thought was bad. For starters, they thought the 3.0 lb weight was a good target, but they felt that too often did the other companies compromise on speed. Therefore, Apple decided to go with a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo processor from Intel. Problem is, however, that this chip was physically far too big to fit into the small case of the MacBook Air. At MacWorld, Paul Otellini of Intel explained how they custom designed Apple a state of the art chip that was a 60% smaller, was the width of a dime and as thick as a nickel, yet still packed in the same power as its full-sized bigger brother.

Pretty impressive! What it amounts too, though, is an overall fast computing experience. The MacBook Air does what it’s supposed to do very well. The bottleneck for the MacBook Air in terms of speed is most certainly not the processor, but rather the hard drive.

Hard Drive

Spinning at 4200 rpm, the MacBook Air doesn’t include the fastest hard drive on the market – in fact, far from it. Most other notebooks will utilize a 5400 rpm or even a 7200 rpm drive. Consequently, the MacBook Air is pretty slow to boot, and once booted, opening programs for the first time can sometimes be quite sluggish. After an application has been opened once, however, opening it the second time is much faster. Even for a novice user, it is noticeable that the MacBook Air uses a slower hard drive. The difference isn’t huge, however, and I suggest you to try it out before buying.

The 80GB of storage in the MacBook Air is enough for me, but I anticipate that a good fraction of users need more than that. On my MacBook Air, I have installed Adium (a great chat program), Apple iWork ’08 and Office ’08. I have a few audio recordings, a couple word documents, some keynote presentations, and my e-mails. Most of my hard drive is empty. For more advanced users who want more HD space, you can gain quite a bit of space by doing a reinstall of OS X and removing the other language packs (the machine comes preloaded with tons of different language packs that most people won’t need, and they take up valuable space). Also, you can opt not to install parts of iLife. For example, I opted not to install iDVD. There’s no reason for me to have that program loaded onto my laptop which doesn’t have a DVD burner! Also, I uninstalled iMovie and Garage Band. The MacBook Air isn’t ideal for video editing, which I hardly do anyways, and Garage Band, although is fun to fool around on, isn’t something I want wasting my scarce HD space.

For $999 (U.S.) extra, Apple will include a 64 GB SSD. Other reviews suggest that this option is not as fast as anticipated and that the hefty price tag for this option is in most cases not worth it. These drives supposedly offer safer data storage and faster boot times, but it’s not "instant on" as many had hoped for. Also, the gain in battery life that the drive offers is small (some say only 15 minutes longer). Personally, I think it’s ahead of its time, and that in a few years down the road, these drives will be mainstream and won’t cost a thousand dollars to add on. I chose not to be an early adopter on this one. Supposedly, it is possible to change the hard drive in the MacBook Air yourself, but it’s nothing a novice user would want to attempt.

RAM

The basic 2GB of RAM is pretty standard these days and is nothing to celebrate. In fact, a major criticism of the MacBook Air is that the RAM is non-upgradeable. So in the future, if you decide you need or want more, you’ll be out of luck. It is important to note that virtually all other notebooks on the market offer this kind of upgradeability. This was a compromise that was made by Apple in order to make this machine so small and lightweight. I’m not the kind of person who will open up their machine and upgrade it, but there are many such people, and they will be disappointed by the MacBook Air’s lack of upgradeability.

Ports (or lack thereof …)

Perhaps the most common criticism of the MacBook Air is its lack of ports. On most notebooks, you’ll find an integrated DVD-burner, a couple of USB ports, a card slot, an SD card reader, firewire, and more. The MacBook Air, however, has only a single USB port, a micro-DVI port with digital and analog video, and a headphone jack. Let’s examine this in greater detail.


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The USB Port

Once you flip the little door down, you will expose the ports. For me, I found it pretty impossible to plug in my USB key without lifting up the entire computer. The problem is that the USB port is simply too close to the surface on which the MacBook Air rests. Given the thickness of the machine, I don’t really see how they could have made it more accessible, but the point is that it’s quite difficult to insert some peripherals into the USB port. The space around the single USB port is very cramped. Once you manage to hook up the USB peripheral, however, it works as expected.

But is a single USB port enough? It depends. If the MacBook Air is going to be your only computer, then no, one USB port is not enough. You’ll want to have at least two, preferably three. But the MacBook Air wasn’t really designed to be an only computer, but rather to act as a companion. The only time I actually used the USB port was when I was testing the machine to make sure everything worked! Seeing as I use the computer for e-mail, internet browsing, taking notes, etc., there is little need for even the USB port that is there. At the end of the day when I need to transfer my work to my desktop at home, I use my wireless network, and that saves me a bit of work and is much faster (yeah, I’m lazy…). As a supplemental computer, most people will be content with the MacBook Air’s single USB port – but if you plan on using the MacBook Air as your only computer (which I do not recommend), don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Headphone Jack

Just like with the USB port, it’s pretty well impossible to plug in headphones without lifting up the entire unit. Thankfully, this notebook is extremely light so it’s not a hassle. The headphone jack works as expected, except unlike other Apple computers I’ve used, the MacBook Air will exhibit a sort of beeping sound (much like a siren) every time you either stop or start playing something. It’s a pretty awkward sound that’s hard to put into words, but I wouldn’t call it obtrusive at all; it’s just something I noticed that was different on this laptop (both MacBook Airs I had exhibited this issue). I’m not sure whether it’s a problem, but it doesn’t bother me enough to return this machine again. My Shure SE210’s fit in fine, but the jack is slightly recessed and you may require an adapter for certain models of headphones.

Micro-DVI

Thankfully, Apple supplies with the MacBook Air the appropriate adapters to output the video either through VGA or DVI. Nothing else to note about this.

Magsafe Power Connecter

Apple ships a smaller, 45W power adapter with the MacBook Air. The brick is pretty small compared to even the MacBook charger, which is a nice thing considering this is supposed to be an ultraportable. The design of the cable has changed on the MacBook Air, and the change is in my opinion, for the worse. I had an easier time connecting the cable to the machine on other Apple notebooks. This power cable requires a little more "guidance" in order to magnetically latch into its slot. I know I’m being picky, but I’m sure those contemplating this purchase will appreciate the details. For those wondering, no, the previous point is by no means a deal breaker.


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Wireless Capabilities

According to Apple, the MacBook Air "is the notebook that allows for a fully wireless lifestyle." Well, not really. Although it does integrate the newest 802.11n wireless technology as well as Bluetooth, it stops there. Unless you’re in a wireless hotspot, it’ll be difficult for you to get onto the internet. There are several USB add-on modems available but many have reported that such devices are too large to fit into the MacBook Air’s cramped USB port.

Life without an internal optical drive

Apple sells an external, USB-powered SuperDrive for $99 (U.S.). The drive appears to be quite lightweight, but still, what’s the point of having an ultraportable if you have to lug around an external optical drive? Well, according to Steve Jobs, most users won’t miss the optical drive. In his presentation at MacWorld, he described the major uses we have for our optical drives: we play movies, make backups, burn music CDs for the car, and install software. According to him, there are better ways to do all of these things.

Firstly, Apple has a service on iTunes that enables the users, for a small fee, to wirelessly rent movies. That takes care for our movie-watching needs, but what about us Canadians? I can’t seem to find the rentals section on iTunes…Secondly, Apple has a better way of making backups – it’s called Time Machine, and as I’m sure you’re all aware of, it gives the user a simple and effective way to backup the computer. Apple also has a new device called Time Capsule which essentially is a wireless router with a built in hard drive. It allows the user to make wireless backups without plugging into an external hard drive.

Who burns music CDs for the car? According to Jobs, most of us have iPods now, so that is taken care of. What about installing software? Well, we can now do that wirelessly, too. Apple innovated and created something called "Remote Disk." Click on it in the finder of the MacBook Air and it shows Macs and PCs in the vicinity that have special software loaded on them that comes on a disk with the MacBook Air. The software is Mac and PC compatible. It amounts to the user picking a machine and asking to borrow its optical drive, and when you do that, the machine that will lend its optical drive gets a request to accept, and once accepted, the user on the MacBook air will be able to see what’s in their optical drive. In fact, you can even load the Mac installer disk into a PC and send it over wirelessly to the MacBook Air!

The remote reinstall works well – I was able to do it without a hitch. However, you must be warned that without 802.11n, it will take a lot longer. On an 802.11n network, it took pretty well overnight. I didn’t test it on an 802.11g network, but I’m assuming it will be far slower. Oh, and forget about playing DVD movies on the Air via Remote Disk.

Because the MacBook Air is my second computer, I only need to use Remote Disk to occasionally install software and to reinstall the OS every now and then. So far, since February, I’ve used remote disk twice – once to reinstall the OS and once to install Office. I can live without the internal optical drive, but can you? It really depends on your usage.

The Keyboard

Although my old Dell Inspiron was very portable, the keyboard was cramped. Although I was able to adapt quite well to it, it always felt more comfortable typing on a larger keyboard. The MacBook Air ships with a keyboard pretty well identical to the keyboard of the MacBook. This makes sense, seeing as they’re both 13.3" notebooks. Apple decided not to compromise on the keyboard and include a full size one. This was a good decision, in my opinion, as many ultraportables cut the weight down and decrease the dimensions of the machine at the expense of a comfortable keyboard. The keyboard on the MacBook Air is extremely comfortable, and you could pretty well type on it all day without feeling uncomfortable.


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The keys on the MacBook Air seem to be slightly more responsive than those on the MacBook, but my Apple Bluetooth keyboard is by far the best keyboard I’ve ever used in terms of feel. That being said, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is in between the two, but still far superior to those found on most other laptops. The closest competitors in terms of keyboards would have to be found on the Thinkpads. All in all, the keyboard on the MacBook Air is a pleasure to use.


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To add to this, the keyboard is backlit. On an angle, the backlighting is kind of ugly because the light pokes through the sides of the keys where it’s not supposed to, but overall the keyboard backlighting is a desirable feature. Only in a really dark room do I ever choose to activate it, however, because your battery life will suffer.

The Trackpad

The track pad on the MacBook Air is often noted as being "generous" and "huge." You would think this is a good thing, but I found it really to be more of a nuisance than anything. Yes, there is more space to move around on, but I found the MacBook and the MacBook Pro to offer trackpads that were the perfect size. But isn’t bigger always better, you ask? Well yes, the larger trackpad on the MacBook Air does offer many advantages in terms of speed while moving around, but there is a nasty side effect. Because the track pad is so large, often when I’m typing, my cursor will randomly shift 3 or 4 lines up. Seeing as when I’m typing I normally look at the black board or the professor in class, etc., by the time I look down at my screen, I’ll have inserted an entire paragraph somewhere else in my document! D’Oh! I thought I would get used to it, but I still make this error even after a few months of ownership. I will admit that it happens much less now than it did when I first got the machine, but I think that had the track pad been made slightly smaller I would not be making this error! This is especially frustrating when typing longer documents. I suppose what happens is that while resting my wrists on the MacBook Air while typing, my arms rub against the trackpad and the trackpad thinks it’s a "click" so my cursor moves. I have not tried experimenting with the track pad sensitivity – perhaps lowering the sensitivity will fix this problem.

The track pad was most likely made so large so that the user has ample room to make use of the Multitouch gestures implemented by Apple first in the iPhone, and now in the MacBook Air. Also, the new MacBook Pros have recently adopted this new feature. These gestures are not as big a deal as they were made out to be. They are still somewhat helpful under certain circumstances, however. For example, suppose you’re viewing a PDF document and the text is too small to read. Simply place two fingers on the track pad and spread them apart to magnify. To zoom out, simply pinch your two fingers together. In the control panel of the MacBook Air, Apple has included some helpful videos to show you how to work the touch pad. Another useful gesture is the triple finger swipe in Safari – this gesture allows the user to go back one page. These are examples of very simple gestures that allow the user to accomplish common tasks. I wouldn’t use the gestures as a way to sell someone the Air if I had to, though. Although it’s a leap forward, it’s only a small add on from what the MacBook has. There’s also a simple gesture that allows the user to rotate an image, but seeing as I rarely need to rotate images, this isn’t a very useful feature for me, but may be of use to the reader. Overall, the gestures are a nice add on, but nothing to stop the presses for.

Upon inspecting the MacBook Air, you will immediately notice the tiny track pad button. The button is very small and takes some time getting used to, but I assure you that it won’t cause any problems for most people in the long run. I mostly use the track pad to right click, left click, and drag things around, but I still use the button instinctively every now and then and have no problems with its small size.

The Screen

Both units I used suffered from no screen problems, thankfully. For every Apple device besides the iPod touch, I have never experienced any dead or stuck pixels. Aside from having no pixel anomalies, the two MacBook Airs I used had large viewing angles and very sharp pictures. I prefer matte screens, but that option is not available on the Air. The glossy screen makes the colors look more vibrant, but the reflection is sometimes annoying, and this type of display has more of a tendency to show dust and dirt. The MacBook Air’s screen is evenly lit and suffers from no backlight bleeding. Overall, one of the best screens from Apple I have used. The colors on it are brighter than on my 24" white iMac, although I prefer my iMac’s screen because of its much higher resolution and because it is matte. However, place the MacBook Air next to a MacBook, and you will notice that the MacBook has a pretty narrow viewing angle compared to the Air.


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Overall, I would say that the MacBook Air has a display superior to that of the MacBook. I prefer the screens of the MacBook Pro and iMac because they offer a higher resolution. The Air has a 1200×800 resolution, which offers great readability and crispness, but I’d prefer a higher resolution screen. I don’t think we’ll ever see that, though, because if the resolution were any tighter on a 13" screen, surely some users with poorer eyesight would have difficulty reading it.

Speaker

What can you realistically expect in this department? The integrated speaker works well enough to show someone a funny YouTube video as well as to hear routine system sounds. If you’re serious about audio, don’t depend on the integrated speaker. It is moderately loud and the quality is not bad, but like any laptop, the sound is weak compared to external speakers.

Heat

Many users are experiencing overheating problems with the MacBook Air. A reported issue is that as the machine heats up, it shuts down one of its processing cores, and a sluggish computing experience results. In general, neither the first or second MacBook Air I used suffered from frequent overheating. After, say, an hour and a half of use, the MacBook Air would get hotter than it should be getting, but I wouldn’t be worried about it. Most laptops I’ve used get hot after using them for a while, and the Air is no exception. Even on a hard surface though (not a bed or a couch), the MacBook Air would get warm enough that my palms became a little sweaty (gross, I know), but I still wouldn’t call it a problem. MacBooks and MacBook Pros that I’ve used all get hot, too, and unless your MacBook Air is burning you or damaging your furniture, I wouldn’t worry about it. I would conclude that for less than an hour of use, the Air will run very cool, but after that, particularly with WiFi on and the screen bright (i.e. maximum power usage), it will get warm, but it will never (and should never) become uncomfortable.

Noise

In general, the fans on the MacBook Air will run at 2500 rpm. Under normal usage, the MacBook Air is actually the quietest computer I’ve ever owned. At 2500 rpm, the fans are pretty inaudible, even if you put your head right up to the machine. In a very quiet room, you can hear a kind of "whine" but it’s pretty inaudible and not very annoying. So in that sense, the machine is not 100% silent, but it’s pretty close. It should be noted that my first machine did not "whine". It’s not quite annoying as a "whine" (and it’s nothing like the CPU whining described in some early MacBook Pros), it’s more of a "beeeeeep," but the issue isn’t severe enough for me to call Apple. In a normal room, it appears to be silent, but the sound is audible in a library.

Occasionally, under heavy usage, the fans will crank up to >6000 rpm. I don’t think this is anything to worry about because for me, it happens very rarely and only under intense usage. Many users have reported fan speeds in this range while viewing YouTube videos, but neither of the two MacBook Airs I used suffered from this problem and I can confirm first hand that I have yet to see a MacBook Air that revs up its fans under such light usage. At 6000 rpm, the fans are obviously audible, but nothing that will drive you crazy when it does happen. It does not sound like a rocket ship about to take off from your desk. The sound is pretty annoying, though, especially in a quiet room.

Battery

Unfortunately, the battery in the MacBook Air is not meant to be replaced by the user. This was probably done in order to save space – that’s the only advantage I can think of with respect to having such a battery. When it dies, you’ll have to take it in to Apple to get it changed. Supposedly, however, the battery is very easy to replace by the user – it merely involves removing a few screws. Personally, when I eventually need to replace my battery I will be taking it in and not experimenting on my own. It’s something I don’t really have to think about now because the computer is so new, but I’m sure I will be bothered by it in the future. Knock on wood, my battery still has a long way to go! The fact that it’s non user-replaceable isn’t really a problem for me, and it probably won’t be for a large number of people. Realistically, how often do you swap batteries? I don’t even own an extra battery, so it wouldn’t even be an option for me! But many frequent travelers surely must carry a spare with them, and they will be disappointed with this aspect of the notebook.

Five hours of battery life with WiFi is what you will get out of this thing according to Apple. Well, not really. Usually Apple underestimates the battery life in order not to get flamed by reviewers, but this time, they haven’t done that. I feel like if I really tried had to conserve battery life by turning my wireless off and dimming down the screen, I could maybe squeeze out 5 hours, but realistically, with WiFi on and my screen on medium/low, I will get between 3.5-4 hours, depending on usage. Again, sometimes I’ll get more, like 4.5 for example, but on a day like that, my WiFi will rarely be on. But on a day where my WiFi is on constantly, I probably won’t get more than 4 hours. Apple should have quoted the battery life at 4 hours in my opinion. Seeing as this laptop is meant to be brought everywhere, I’d prefer to have more battery life. Six hours with WiFi would be optimal. I usually bring the charger with me because it weighs almost nothing and my university is very saturated with plugs. During a full day of school, I’ll usually be typing and I’ll only turn the WiFi on for maybe 15 minutes each hour or so, and I am able to get a good 4-4.5 hours, but this number will vary drastically based on the usage. But again, you will most likely not get 5 hours like Apple says.

iSight Camera and Microphone

The iSight camera on the MacBook Air is not as high quality as on the MacBook or the iMac. I don’t know whether it’s the resolution or not, but video definitely seems slightly sharper on the latter machines. The performance on the MacBook Air, however, is acceptable. The microphone performs great. I am able to record lectures using Quicktime Pro with ease. The microphone picks up everything, including my typing.

Warranty

The MacBook Air, like other Apple laptops, comes with a one-year limited warranty. Accidental damage is not covered.So far, this sounds like a pretty standard warranty, except with Apple you only get 90 days of free technical support, because $1,700 isn’t enough to give me more phone support. Thankfully, there are really great internet communities out there (like notebookreview.com) and you’ll be able to get help there. Apple also has a pretty decent online help web page with user discussion forums and troubleshooting articles. You can purchase Apple Care to extend your coverage, but I will note that when your battery is worn and needs to be replaced, Apple Care won’t pay for it because the battery is a "consumable". Only if your battery is defective (i.e. holds a 30 minute charge only after three months of use) will Apple replace it. I wouldn’t buy Apple Care for personal reasons (the cost of it being one of them), but many Mac users swear buy it.

Conclusion

I must say that as much as I enjoy using my MacBook Air, I can confidently say it appeals to a very specific audience. Specifically, a prospective MacBook Air owner should have another, more powerful machine. Likewise, anyone considering the MacBook Air should not care about changing the battery and only needs this notebook to do basic tasks. Video editing or gaming will not do too well on this machine.

This laptop is also pretty expensive considering the features you’re getting. Go price up a Dell and see what you get for the same price as the Air – I guarantee you’ll get a faster processor, larger hard drive, better graphics, etc. But the Air isn’t meant to be a budget computer, and the user is paying for the design. If you want a small, lightweight, extremely durable, and good-looking machine, I wholeheartedly recommend the MacBook Air if you don’t mind the price tag. Keep in mind that on average, Macs have great resale values. Check eBay to see for yourself. For most users, though, I would probably recommend the MacBook or the MacBook Pro if this will be their primary computer.

A big problem is that people are judging the MacBook Air for what it is not rather than for what it is. In my opinion, this is one of the best-valued ultraportables money can buy. Sure, the new X300 from Lenovo has way more features, but the price tag will make you gawk when compared to the baseline MacBook Air. Even though the MacBook Air is an excellent product, it does have its limitations and quirks as discussed in the review. What can we expect, though? This is a first generation product, and surely it will improve with time. That being said, I would rate the MacBook Air an 8/10 overall.

Pros

  • Great design: rugged, lightweight, and thin
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Bright screen with a large viewing angle

Cons

  • Lack of upgradeability
  • Expensive
  • Problems out of the box on the first unit, so it doesn’t really "just work" like Apple says it does


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