Lucky 13: A MacBook Air Review

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When Apple announced the new MacBook Air at their ‘Back to the Mac’ event my jaw dropped. I have always thought the MacBook Airs represented this delicate line between something very beautiful and something wondrously impossible. Turns out that with the first round up of MacBook Airs they weren’t entirely possible – they were too slow to be a primary computer for most people. When I started to look at the tech specs on this current round up of MacBook Airs I got this uncanny sense that perhaps Apple finally did it – finally made an impossibly thin machine that you could use as your primary Mac.

At that point I had a MacBook Pro (2.8 GHz 6GB RAM 240GB SSD) that was my only Mac – it was only a couple of years old and ran blisteringly fast. Yet I started to get an urge to switch it out for a new MacBook Air. Everyday I commute from Seattle to Tacoma, WA – about 45 minutes by car, each way. That means that everyday I load up my computer, iPad and iPhone, go down five flights of stairs, drive to the office, up a flight of stairs and unpack. I do the reverse on the way home. In between I attach my computer to a 24” LED Cinema display where it sits in a BookArc for the rest of the day.

That last bit is what I am hoping to change. For meetings and quick errands the combination of iPad + iPhone is superb, there are times when I have to go and do what I call ‘babysitting’ where I wait somewhere for someone to finish their work. Ordinarily I would use the iPad and stay up to date on news feeds and Twitter – recently though I have been writing a lot more, and I want to be able to do that during these times. An iPad + keyboard just seems silly to me, and like one more thing that I would have to carry. That is where the MacBook Air enters.

The second part of the decision was the knowledge that I will be traveling a bit more in the coming year, and while going iPad only will be fine for some trips, it will not be for all of the trips.

I took a gamble a bought a maxed out 13” MacBook Air (2.13GHz 4GB RAM 256GB Storage) and these are my thoughts about ‘lucky 13’.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, this is not about what the machine doesn’t have, but rather about what it does with what it does have.

Why a 13

The big reasons for getting a ‘slower’ computer for me were: size and weight. I am of the mindset that the best [insert any tool here] is the one that you have with you, not the one you left at home. A 13” screen was as small I was willing to go after playing with the 11, I knew that there was no way I could work off that 11” screen long-term and be happy with it. The 13” model seemed like the best compromise between size and speed of all the Macs, so that’s what I chose.

The MacBook Air line also fits another yearning I have to become a bit more minimalist in my lifestyle – I find that I just don’t need as much stuff as I constantly think I need. The same was true of the CPU power that my MacBook Pro had – I never need it, but was paying the price for it everyday in size and weight.

The last factor was price. The MacBook Airs now seemed affordable especially after you break them down next to the MacBook Pros – for the performance you get it just seemed silly to buy another computer based on its performance so that I would leave behind when I wanted to be ‘mobile’.

Packaging

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A review of an Apple product is never complete without talking about the packaging that it came in. These are usually works of art, and the MacBook Air’s was no disappointment in that regard. The look of the visuals on the outside are exquisite and clean. Nothing can best the presentation of your new MacBook Air, pop off the lid and there it is with only a thin clear piece of plastic to protect it.

I love the way that Apple has moved to presenting you with your new devices, instead of burying them under install discs and warning booklets. As I am sure you are already aware of by now the MacBook Air ships with just the power brick, normal literature, stickers, and an OS Restore disk in the form of a USB flash drive.

It’s not just any USB flash drive though, it is quite a work of art. I have good mind to reformat that sucker and use it everyday – I would love to know if you can order a replacement one from Apple so I could do just that with one.

The only thing about the packaging that threw me was the size – it is a rather large bit of packaging given how small the MacBook Air is and I am quite surprised that Apple left so much room under the machine. It seems like they should be able to shave off a half inch all the way around the box. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but you will see what I mean if you ever see one of these boxes next to what they contain.

The Design

Since the introduction of the first MacBook Air I have been in love with the design of the computer. It is sleek. It is svelte. It is tiny. It is rock solid. You feel like you are carrying the computer that Oddjob from Goldfinger would be carrying – a deadly sharp weapon. Every time I pick up this computer I expect it to be heavier and flimsier than it is.

One of my absolute favorite things to do is to set the MacBook Air on my glass desk, nothing around it, lid closed and just marvel at how small and beautiful it is.

AnandTech really hits on this point in their review:

The 13-inch MacBook Air feels more like a regular notebook. It’s like one of those cartoons where you see the character straight on and he looks normal sized, but turn him 90 degrees and he’s pencil thin. When viewed from above you’d think you had a 13-inch MacBook Pro on your desktop.

That so very perfectly sums up the design of the MacBook Air that you need not say anything more.

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I do though hate this:

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Stretching that cable across the width of the computer just looks silly – not at all Apple-like.

Setting Up

Without fail every time I get a new computer I dread having to set it up – there are many geeks out there that revel in this part – I figure I have just had to setup too many computers in my life. Setup always bores me. The MacBook Air though apparently wanted to keep me on my toes.

My initial setup failed.

Initially I took the SSD out of my MacBook Pro, put in a USB drive enclosure, booted off of it and cloned it to the MacBook Air’s flash storage. This process took about 2.5 painfully slow hours. When it was all done the MacBook Air booted and ran fine, except that none of the function keys worked.

I suspect that the MacBook Air ships with a custom version of Snow Leopard, that or the beta of Snow Leopard I was using was the culprit. Either way it was all sorts of wrong. This though did let me test out that handy restore USB drive that Apple provided.

I decided to wipe the system clean the second time around and reinstall 10.6 – this process took about 30-45m. 1 After which I hooked up the drive again and ran migration assistant. Once everything was said and done the 13 was now up and running.

Using migration assistant is the recommended method by both me and others – don’t waste your time trying to be lazy like I did. Though I was told that an archive and install would have probably worked on my cloned drive.

Typing

One thing that reviewers have mentioned quite a bit about the 13 is the keyboard – specifically the lack of a backlit keyboard. Interesting, for most of my Mac computing experiences I have had backlit keyboards – would I notice the lack of one?

Indeed not having a backlit keyboard is a bit odd, I never used it very much on the MacBook Pro, but then again I never used the MacBook Pro much as a ‘laptop’ computer, instead it usually just sat on my desk. The MacBook Air though begs to be taken off the desk, in fact it is a shame to leave it on the desk.

The very first night I noticed the lack of light, and was annoyed by it a little. I guess Mac users are rather spoiled by those lovely backlit keyboards.

The overall taper of the computer’s base also makes a difference when you are typing – have you ever noticed that most standalone keyboards are higher in the back that they are in the front? So too is the MacBook Air’s keyboard due to the natural taper of the machine, I would assume that the angle is even greater on the 11” model than it is on the 13”.

What this means to the user is that you have a more comfortable feeling experience than you do on those flat (retro) MacBook Pros. Just as important is the thickness of the computers base. I have never been very comfortable typing on the unibody MacBook Pros, the edge of the computer is very acute and I find that if my hands hang over the edges it can become a bit uncomfortable. Not to mention that you arms cannot rest of the desk when you are typing because the base it much higher than the desk.

The slimness of the 13 really lends itself to comfortable typing in my opinion. You just don’t have the ‘ledge’ that you have with the much thicker MacBook Pro models. This keyboard, even without the backlight is massively better to type on than any other Apple portable I have used. 2

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Trackpad

I’ll keep this short – it is the same glass multi-touch thinga-ma-jigger that you get on all new Macs these days. It is as large as a MacBook Pro’s and just as perfect.

‘Nuff Said.

The Screen

The screen represents one of the more interesting aspects of the new MacBook Airs – it is a glossy display, but not the same all glass display you get on MacBook Pros. The bezel is aluminum, not glass. The glare is less than what I experienced with the MacBook Pro’s screen. The clarity is excellent, the resolution comfortable.

One of my favorite parts about the screen is the aluminum bezel – inevitably when I opened my MacBook Pro’s lid, at some point, I would touch the black bezel causing a smudge on the glass. With the 13 though metal surrounds the screen, so even when I touch it there are no greasy paw prints on my display. This is such a small little thing that really helps to make the computer look clean at all times.

As I mentioned before the screen is glossy, but not the same as MacBook Pros. As such the glare factor is orders of magnitude different. The glare on a MacBook Air sits somewhere between the anti-glare screens Apple used to equip portables with and the current glass front, black bezel jobbers that Apple is in love with these days. I have heard people say that the screen is close to what you get in an older Macbook in terms of glossiness and glare – that seems about right to me. Sitting this next to a black Macbook the level of glare seems about the same under office lighting conditions (full fluorescent tubes).

The color of the screen does not seem to be on par with the MacBook Pro screen that I was accustomed to. Color certainly renders differently, but it is important to note that no computer monitor renders color perfectly unless it is calibrated with expensive tools such as the EyeOne. That said I find the color representation to be good but not great when viewing and editing my photos. The color is not a deal breaker for most people, however if you heavily work in a field where excellent color is a must, this will not be the screen for you (Photographers) – though you can always hook it up to a better monitor if you want.

1440 x 900 pixels is what you see when you lift open the 13’s display – the same as a standard resolution 15” MacBook Pro. An impressive feat in itself, but this does not mean that the screen sizes are a wash – just that the pixel count is. It will take a lot more time to tell if the monitor begins to feel cramped – but as of my testing to date the screen is a very comfortable size. You only begin feeling cramped in menu intensive apps such as anything by Adobe.

The last bit I want to mention about the screen is that I have been told the maximum open angle has been increased on this round of MacBook Airs and thank Apple for that. When using the 13 on my thighs I find that I have to open the screen all the way to get the right viewing angle.

Overall I am pleasantly surprised by the screen on this computer, for the price and size I expected lesser results.

One last note: the top lid when open is unrealistically thin, most cardboard box walls you get from Amazon will be thicker than this lid – crazy.

Storage (formerly known as Hard Drives)

We used to have hard drives then about 6-8 months ago I began a journey into the world of SSD replacement drives and eventually settled on purchasing a 240GB SSD drive by OWC for my MacBook Pro. The speed difference that you gain with this type of storage medium is impressive to say the least.

The new MacBook Air doesn’t use an SSD drive in the sense that most of us are used to, though they use the same solid-state technology (Flash based). Where it differs is that they don’t package the memory inside of a case that resembles a traditional hard drive like most SSD drives do. That means that you essentially get what looks like a stick of RAM that is really your storage medium.

There have been a lot of benchmarks done on the new MacBook Air comparing it to the 13” MacBook Pro and showing that it is often a faster machine than it’s larger sister. 3 Most of the speed gains that the MacBook Air holds over other Macs is due to its storage. Flash storage is inherently faster at random read/write tests. That is why Flash storage like what the MacBook Air has often feels instant.

AnandTech took a very detailed look at the Flash used in the MacBook Air and was overall pleasantly surprised by its performance. I want to note a couple of things that AnandTech discovered that I think are very important.

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They found that the Toshiba flash memory that Apple chose seems to hold up well in situations where there is no TRIM support by the OS. 4 The Toshiba chip that Apple chose shows in AnandTech’s testing that this memory only gradually slows down over time – a marked improvement over many other SSD options on the market.

This is hugely important for the longevity of the MacBook Air line. Once your drive starts to age you will most likely notice slow downs as the drive has a harder time staying optimized, but again this takes quite a while.

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AnandTech suspects that Apple is running some sort of custom firmware developed to optimize the performance of the MacBook Air and Mac OS X – just like they do on all their systems. I would agree whole heartedly with this assessment. There should be no reason that my old MacBook Pro w/ SSD would take longer to boot or sleep/wake-up than the slower MacBook Air does.

We are not talking about a small difference here, it is on the magnitude of 9-13 seconds difference. The only thing that makes sense is that the firmware in the MacBook Air has much tighter optimization and integration with the OS and hardware than the MacBook Pro did with its 3rd party SSD drive.

Whatever Apple has done the difference is obvious and very welcome.

The Amount of Storage

The storage options on the MacBook Airs are limited, the 13 only has an option of 128GB or 256Gb. This alone has lead to many complaints, and I have in a past article written why I think once you get to 250GB storage becomes irrelevant. To save you, my dear readers, from having to read the whole post it boils down this (to quote myself):

There is certainly a large contingent of Mac users that have an overwhelming amount of data storage needs, but if you fall in that group then I doubt that even a 500GB hard drive will suffice for you. So let’s go ahead and just throw out the ‘needing more storage space’ arguments against the MacBook Air, most people can and will figure out how to deal with that if it is even an issue for them, even then I don’t think it is an issue for the average user.

Being used to a 240GB on my MacBook Pro I have had no problems working with the extra 16GBs that the 13 has given me.

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SD Card Slot

I had one of the first revisions of the unibody MacBook Pro models, which means that I had a 15” MacBook Pro with an ExpressCard slot in it. I always thought that was pretty neat, the ExpressCard slots are so fast and versatile that I couldn’t imagine why Apple would do away with them and opt for an SD card slot instead. To me it always made sense on the non-pro line due to the fact that most pro-level dSLRs shoot with CF cards, not SD. 5

Having said that I used my ExpressCard slot on the MacBook Pro for exactly one thing: downloading pictures from my G9’s SD card. Oh and that versatility – yeah manufacturers never came around to making anything that was very cool to use in those slots.

I was rather indifferent about having an SD card slot on the MacBook Air, but in just the short time I have been using this machine that slot has come in very handy. I only have one camera that uses an SD card – my G9 – but it seems that camera is the one that I use most often.

The SD card fits very snug, but much to my initial confusion the SD card does not click into a spring loaded mount, nor does it sit flush against the side of the 13. That means that you slide in the SD card until it stops and you get to stare at the bit that sticks out. It is all rather inconsequential – except that I had hoped to use that as another little bit of on board storage. This is not a deal breaker, but it would be nice if the card was flush with the edge of the computer when it was seated in the reader.

Sleeping & Waking

Normally sleeping & waking wouldn’t get its own section, but it is so different on this Mac that I would be remiss not to briefly talk about it. A big feature that Jobs advertised about the new MacBook Air was the fact that they are ‘instant on’ machines. Of course he is referring to the machine waking from a sleep state not the boot time.

Most Mac users will tell you that it takes a few seconds for their machines to get up and go after having been in the sleep state. That time is further reduced to about a second with an SSD drive installed. Again though on the MacBook Airs this time is reduced, not to instant, but by the time you get the lid open and your hands on the trackpad the MacBook Air has been waiting for you.

The largest difference is in the time to sleep. My MacBook Pro w/ SSD took anywhere between 5-15 seconds to sleep fully. Which was incredibly annoying, if like me, you wait to stow your computer in a bag until you are sure it is asleep. When testing how fast the MacBook Air slept I ran into one huge speed bump – Apple has removed the LED light from the computer that indicates it is sleeping.

In order to properly test the sleep speed I ran the MacBook Air ‘headless’ attaching it to a keyboard / mouse / monitor and closing the lid. When I did this with the MacBook Pro it took the normal 5-15 seconds before the computer would wake back up and only be using the external display. In testing the MacBook Air this was I noticed that it takes anywhere from 2-5 seconds – a very nice improvement.

The last notable bit about the sleep state of the 13 is that it can theoretically sleep on a full charge for 30 days.

30 days.

Apple has engineered a special super low power sleep state, one that most say kicks in after an hour of the computer being asleep. I slept my computer before I went to bed and about 7 hours later woke up and checked to see how fast the computer would wake from this new sleep state.

No matter which way you slice it this Mac not only likes to sleep, but it is very chipper when you wake it.

Weight

Now here’s something you are likely to really care about – the lack of weight on this machine. My first Mac the 12” PowerBook weighed 4.6lbs, my later MacBook Pros weighed over 5.2lbs, the 13 weighs in at 2.9lbs. The difference is immediately noticeable. Both on my lap, and carrying the 13 in my bag. The 13 is not as invisible to carry as an iPad is, but the weight is so minuscule in comparison to what the machine can do.

Size

The best way I can describe the size of the machine is: ideal. I always felt that the 15” machines were just a tad too large to carry, and that the 13” Pros looked a bit to chunky. The 13 though is round about perfect for my needs. I would say that if you don’t have an external monitor to use when you need/want it that over time you would be better served with a 15” screen. Having said that I have yet to feel uncomfortable working on this computer.

Traveling

I won’t be taking the 13 on an airplane until December and I won’t even be taking it out of state until Thanksgiving. I did take it on an adventure to Starbucks and a couple of those ‘babysitting’ trips – mostly I wanted to see how it fit working out of a small space. Since getting my iPad I have been spending Fridays working out of a Starbucks 6 for a couple hours a day. Recently this Starbucks decided to change tables and they either got much bigger or much smaller 7, never having taken my MacBook Pro I thought I would try taking the 13 to see how it faired.

The bottom line: the 13 fits so very neatly in very cramped quarters – a great companion when you don’t know how much room you are going to get. I only have 3 upcoming trips planned: In-laws over Thanksgiving at the Oregon Coast, Miami for my sister-in-laws wedding over New Years, and SXSWi in Austin, TX. Prior to buying the 13 I had already planned on just taking my iPad with me, now though I know for sure that I will take both the iPad and lucky 13 with me. Writing on the 13 is just too good to try and get by on the iPad, and if I am going to bring a keyboard, why not just bring the 13 – the size requirements are not that much more. 8

Off-loading Media

When I initially posted about using the 13 as my primary machine one of the most common emails I received was just how I was managing all of my media. Fair enough and since it directly affects how I am able to ‘get away with’ using the 13 as my primary Mac I thought I would take some time to talk about that setup. I manage four types of media that I don’t keep on the 13 full time: documents archives, photo archives, music and video.

Documents

Let’s start with the document archive. I use three methods all together to manage my document archives which consist of any past work (personal, professional, academic) that I want to keep long term. I store these items between: iDisk, External HD and Egnyte. All of my work files go to the Egnyte cloud server so my colleagues can access those files. All of my recent archive data goes to iDisk – this is the stuff that I have done within the last six months, or that I find my self wanting to reference occasionally (such as past designs or layouts that I may want as a template). Everything else that doesn’t fit in those two categories gets stored on the external HD, and if it can be organized into a project I zip that folder for long term stability.

Photos

My photo archive storage is a work in progress now. I used to exclusively use Aperture so archiving was easy, I kept a new library for each calendar year. I would keep very recent photos on my Macs main drive and then import those Aperture projects into the other libraries for archiving. This way I could easily access all my old photos when I wanted and needed too. I have switched now and am mostly using LightRoom for my photo needs. I archive folders of images (in a loose project format) on the external drive out of LightRoom. I am looking at a better method as this one is cumbersome, to say the least, but for now that is how I am doing it. My photo archives stand at around 150GB right now.

Music

Music is simple, I keep the iTunes library data file on my Mac’s internal storage and the actual music/apps/backup files on an external drive. Apple has detailed how to do this here, and I recommend using that as a starting point. The plus side to working the library the way I have it is that I can check what music I have on my computer by opening iTunes at any time, this also prevents the library link from getting messed up when you open one of those annoying iTunes Store links sent to you. I am currently managing a music/apps library of around 110GB right now.

Video

This is a much more simplistic setup – all of my video media stays on an external HD that is attached to a Mac mini in our living room. I keep every piece of video there until I need to put it on a device for traveling purposes. I just don’t find the time to watch a lot of the movies and TV shows that I have on my primary computer so I have just removed it all. Currently my video library sits at 180GB.

Backups

I back up everything except my iDisk – there may be a day when I lose all my data on it, but it is way too slow to try and back up. All of the other drives are cloned to another drive, and the cloned copies sit in a fire safe in our house. The pictures are again cloned to a large mobile drive that lives off site at my office. It would suck to lose my documents/music/videos – but I would be heartbroken to lose my photos again. 9

A Couple of Additional Thoughts

Off loading your media from your Macs primary drive is a must for anybody wanting to use a MacBook Air as their primary machine. It is not easy and not without its downfalls. When new iOS updates come out for my devices I need to wait until I get home to plugin to my HDs before I can update – this can be massively frustrating when I want to start playing with the new updates.

Further there is no ‘it just works’ setup that I have found. iDisk is painfully slow, Dropbox requires space on your actual HD, external HDs are big and don’t travel well. The bottom line is that if you want to use an Air as your primary machine you need to get used to not having all of your media with you all the time. With a little planning though you can greatly reduce the hassle this may cause – I try to keep a huge library of media on my iPod/iPhone/iPad so that I can get to that data if I really want to.

Having said that, external storage is dirt cheap these days, you can pick up a couple terabyte drives for under $200 total and that should meet most peoples needs. I need to stress yet again the importance of backing up your external media, I have had several external drives get fried from power outages while my Mac was connected. Music is replaceable, video memories and photo memories are not – back it up.

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The MacBook Air As My Primary Mac

All of that brings us to the meat of the issue – the question I have been getting asked by readers since I posted I was going full time to a MacBook Air: how does it work as a primary Mac?

I don’t want to jump the gun and say that this is the best Mac I have ever owned – but this is my favorite Mac that I have ever owned. 10 The question though isn’t whether I like this machine 11 but whether or not one can use it as a primary Mac.

The short answer is absolutely.

I am not going to be addressing any specific performance factors, I will link to a bunch of other reports you can look at for raw data below, but I think it is most important to address how I compute – this way you can see how you compare.

Work

At work I use my 13 hooked into a 24” LED Cinema Display, running closed so that the 24” screen is my only screen. During the day I use a mixture of these apps: Parallels 6 booting Win XP Pro, Yardi Genesis (windows app), TextMate, Transmit, Tweetie, Mail, iCal, Safari, Dashboard, OmniFocus, NetNewsWire, MarsEdit, Ulysses, Soulver, Dropbox, InDesign, Pages, Numbers, Yojimbo.

I have never been one of those Mac users to just leave everything open – I only leave open what I actively use. So you can safely assume that Parallels, InDesign and Soulver are not open all the time. My rough estimates are that during the day I average about 2GB of data in Swap and about 300MB of RAM free.

Home

At home I use all the same apps, we just need to remove Parallels and add in iTunes, LightRoom, Aperture and Photoshop. Again these apps are rarely open all the time, but often they are open, all at the same time. Thus I use almost all RAM during these times.

Noticed Pitfalls

I have only noticed one rather annoying pitfall since owning this machine: photo exporting is much slower. It is not unbearable, but what once used to be a rather instant affair now takes a noticeable amount of time. The lack of a backlit keyboard was odd at first, but turned out to be a non-issue for me, but I can see how it would be troublesome if you like to work in dark environments.

The last frustration that I have run into is that 4GB of RAM is not the same as 6GB. An obvious observation, but an important one, it is not that I have 2GB less RAM, but that 6GB is actually 50% more RAM. That is a noticeable difference. I would suspect that the majority of people reading this don’t have more than 4GBs of RAM and truly you don’t need more than 4, but when you have had more, you notice the moment you scale back that RAM.

Realistically 4GB of RAM is plenty and I don’t notice the swapping until I really started to push limits. Most of the swapping that occurs on my machine can be limited by a quick restart of Safari (I say quick because a CMD+Q and a relaunch with LaunchBar is all it takes, no icon bouncing needed). However if you are someone who lives in Creative Suite, or whom just hates to quit apps you may want to look at the MacBook Pros so that you can get the full 8GB of RAM. When swapping does occur you will notice a 2-3 second delay before you get can get rolling again. Over all not to shabby, but again 4GB is not 6GB.

The performance Pitfalls that an i5 or i7 Intel user will notice is in tasks that really get the CPU going, or in tasks that get the GPU going. This is not a machine for gamers, nor is it a machine for people that want to quickly edit thousands of photos. Editing a few hundred from a vacation every now and then is no problem.

Pluses

The pluses greatly outnumber the pitfalls of the 13, I truly love having a notebook that once again feels portable. Yes, I could take the MacBook Pro just about anywhere I can take the 13, but I would be far less comfortable doing that. The MacBook Pro is more money, it is heavier, and it is physically bigger. The 13 is less of all those things.

The biggest pluses of the MacBook Air is that you get the best portability, while maintaing great speed and screen resolution. On top of that you get more bang for your buck. By that I mean that the maxed out 13” Air I bought was $1799 before taxes. To get a 15” MacBook Pro 12 I would have to spend $1799 to start, I would want to add an SSD and more RAM in order to justify the MacBook Pro over the Air, otherwise why would you need the Pro? Assuming that you start with the base model 15” Pro and you add the 8GB RAM option, and an equally sized SSD it would cost you $2949, or about $1100 more than the Air.

So for all that extra money you get a machine that will probably last a bit longer (given the increasing CPU requirements we seem to have), but one that will weigh more and that, because of that, will force you to leave it behind at times when you would take a lighter laptop with you.

That is the big plus of the Air for me: portability. Being a person that loves to take a computer with him and does so everyday portability is just as big of a factor as speed is to me. If you carry a computer to and from work, you really should think about looking at the 13” Air, I would guess that most people could make it their primary Mac with only a few tweaks to how they store their media.

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Final Thoughts

The best analogy I can think of is with cars. Having a MacBook Pro feels like buying a high-performance SUV, something like a Porsche Cayenne or a Supercharged Range Rover. You are buying that car because you want the versatility that an SUV offers, without sacrificing too much of the performance you would get with a sports car.

The 13 though is more like a sports sedan 13 it will do most everything that you do in your SUV, but there will be things that it can’t do as well. Things like huge Costco or Ikea trips, off-roading, towing a boat and driving in the snow. Most people though will never use their SUV for such things, making the extra money they paid for it a waste. The few times that you may do those things you seem to always find a way to get by without the SUV.

The 13 is a wonderful Mac and I can do just about everything on it that I could on my MacBook Pro. 14 Somethings are not as fast as they used to be, but those are things that I do infrequently and that when I am doing them I am never in a rush to finish them.

I couldn’t be happier switching to the ‘limited’ 13” MacBook Air as my primary Mac.

Miscellany

A few notes that didn’t really fit in anywhere else:

  • The MacBook Air is too thin to properly fit in the Rain Design mStand I use at home. The front edge of the computer sits below the rubber stoppers at the front of the stand. I am probably going to sell the stand.
  • I hate the way the Cinema Display cord attaches to the Air, you have to stretch the cord across the width of the machine to be able to use all the cables. This is unsightly and rather silly looking.
  • There has been a few times when I really liked having the USB ports on each side of the computer, and a few other times when I have really hated it.
  • A couple of people wanted to know how LightRoom felt and I can say that it feels about the same as it did on the MacBook Pro. The most noticeable differences is when you have to export a file, especially when you export to open in Photoshop CS5 – there is a noticeable difference in speed there that may impede a photographers workflow. If you are coming from a slower or slightly faster, but platter HD based machine you won’t notice this.
  • I have received a bunch of comments from people agreeing with me and then saying that they purchased an 11” MacBook Air to use as their primary machine. I don’t doubt that you can do that, but that has never been what I have argued – I am just not confident that the 11 is fast enough to do that (plus that 11” screen will become annoying mark my words on that).
  • The computer is so light that when sitting on the couch cushion and charging I am not at all confident that the MagSafe would release before the computer would get yanked to the floor. I thankfully have yet to test this in the “real world” but in giving it a few tugs it seems to be that 60% of the time the MagSafe pops loose. It really depends on the material the Air is sitting on as the lack of weight in the machine means that it needs some friction to help that MagSafe release without pulling the Air to the ground.
  • The battery is insane – love it.
  • These are just my initial thoughts, I don’t think one can accurately gauge whether a computer makes a good replacement until about the 1 month mark, I’ll post additional thoughts then.

Performance Benchmarks

Some More Pictures

mba-8

If you want to see some more pictures head on over to the Flickr Set that I have created.

  1. I forgot to time it and it was very late.
  2. This includes the beloved 12” PowerBook.
  3. By larger I of course mean ‘athletic’
  4. Apple’s OS X has yet to support TRIM.
  5. This is something that appears to be changing though, just a little.
  6. The one on 2nd and Lenora in downtown Seattle if you care to join.
  7. Two person tables smaller, four person tables – huge.
  8. I am still bringing the iPad because for movies, games, and reading I love using the iPad.
  9. My un-backed up Laptop was stolen in college, all I have are scans of printed images before that time.
  10. I have owned the following Macs: 12” PowerBook G4, Original G4 Mac mini, Mac Pro, original MacBook Pro, original unibody MacBook Pro, and now the 13” Air.
  11. Because I love it.
  12. Because I wouldn’t buy a 13” MacBook Pro over the Air.
  13. In this analogy the 11 would be the two seater.
  14. I say ‘just about’ because I did have to switch an external HD with my wife because the drive was FireWire only.
Originally posted for members on: November 3, 2010
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