Two Weeks With Apple’s Powerful & Ultra-portable 13-Inch MacBook Air [Review]

Two Weeks With Apple’s Powerful & Ultra-portable 13-Inch MacBook Air [Review]

Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Air might look just like last years model, but don’t let that fool you the insides have been almost completely replaced. Powerful new processors and upgraded internal components make Apple’s powerful and ultra-portable notebook computer even better than last years model. I called it blazing fast last year, but this year I have to say it’s smoking fast. Its performance leaves some MacBook Pros in the dust.

I’ve spent two weeks with my new 13-inch MacBook Air putting it through all kinds of real world tests, using it daily for a variety of tasks like word processing, web surfing, image manipulation, and running various applications including Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit and Mac OS X Lion virtualization.

I’d like to share with you what I experienced during the first 14 days I used this new 13-inch mid-2011 MacBook Air.

Hardware

The model that I purchased was the $1,699.00 model featuring a 1.8Ghz Intel Core i7 with 4GB 1333 Mhz DDR3 RAM and  a 256GB SSD. This is the build-to-order 13-inch MacBook Air which is this years high-end model and by comparison last years high-end model cost $100.00 more.  That isn’t to shabby when you consider all the improvements you are getting between this year and last year.

Two Weeks With Apple’s Powerful & Ultra-portable 13-Inch MacBook Air [Review]

The physical specifications are unchanged, since Apple’s ultra-portable is still under three pounds, 0.68 inches at its deepest point , and 0.11 inches at its thinnest point. It is so small and compact that it fits in practically any bag and it is so easy to carry you almost forget that you have it tucked under your arm as you walk from place to place. Once you use a MacBook Air for any length of time and then use a MacBook Pro things will feel pretty awkward due to the thickness and weight of the MacBook Pro. It is actually a surreal kind of feeling.

The system runs silent due to the most part because it uses a solid-state drive (SSD) versus a traditional hard disk drive, but occasionally when there is a lot of demand on the system the one and only fan in the MacBook Air can be a bit vocal. Loud in fact, but that is rare and not as frequent as last years model.

The 13-inch MacBook Air suffers from the same lack of expansion as its predecessors, but after a while you get used to having only two USB ports, a Thunderbolt/display port, SD card slot (13-inch model only), and headphone jack. The USB hub I stuffed in my laptop bag last year has gone unused — testimony to the fact the more isn’t necessarily needed or even better. I’ve been just fine with access to only two built-in USB ports.

Two Weeks With Apple’s Powerful & Ultra-portable 13-Inch MacBook Air [Review]

I found the hardware to be just as pleasing as last years model, but my only wish was that there were more Thunderbolt accessories out there — especially affordable ones. Unfortunately, for the time being, there aren’t that many Thunderbolt accessories out there.

I missed the lighted full-sized keyboard in last years model so I was glad to see it return this year. It can come in pretty handy if you happen to find yourself in a darkened room. It even self-adjusts the keyboard brightness based on the lighting in the room.

The software and hardware support included this year for the Bluetooth 4.0 specification was nice, but I’m not quite sure what good that will do for me yet. I haven’t really had time to worry about it.

The screen resolution 1440×900 was perfect for my needs and matches that of a 15-inch MacBook Pro. It was crisp and clear. I had no problems using it for lengthy periods of time and I never saw any reason to attach the computer to an external display. I seldom do that with any portable computer I’ve ever owned. After all a portable is a portable. I always thought that tying a display to a portable computer was akin to adding a boat anchor onto it. I prefer a separate desktop like my iMac instead.

The sound in this years model was adequate for something as small as the MacBook Air, but it doesn’t come close to the sound you’d expect from a MacBook Pro or iMac. It was more than acceptable for me and probably will be for you too. Plus you can always use the supplied headphone jack to add external speakers if you absolutely had too.

Battery Life

Two Weeks With Apple’s Powerful & Ultra-portable 13-Inch MacBook Air [Review]
The largest internal space inside of the 13-inch MacBook Air contains a custom battery that Apple says lasts for 7 hours. I got more than that out of it so far. I used it all day and it just kept going and going. It wasn’t until late evening before it finally needed to be charged. I was pushing it hard and used all the defaults for screen brightness and energy saver. Standby, according to Apple, is supposed to be 30 days. I doubt I’ll leave it alone long enough to find out if that is true or not.

Related

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  • ctt1wbw

    Hmmm, I remember initial reports of the first MacBook Air.  It was worthless because it didn’t have an optical drive.  Remember those reports?

  • cliqsquad

    Hold up that was 2008, this is 2011. The world is very different, it is more about the cloud and more about digital content. Those complaints have been proven invalid most likely.

  • Elliot George

    I believe he was basically saying ‘Look how wrong the haters were back then. The MBA is kicking ass and will most likely become Apple’s only laptop in a few years, and the best laptop in the world’. Suck it hater :)

  • cliqsquad

    Opps, sorry about that… It is the best laptop man, my 11″ was backordered with MacMall just came in today… Loving it

  • atticusrex

    Seeing how I am clueless, how does one go about connecting 400 or 800 firewire external HDs?

    Interesting that it also only relies on wi-fi.  At times I like connecting w/ethernet for a FASTER web experience.

    I still use a non-uni-body MBpro.  w/ lion now.  However with only 2 gigs ram.. it does process slow.  But I could keep it as my ‘desktop’ and perhaps the Air as my portable… Oh, so without an ethernet connection how would I connect/sync the two laptops?

    See I told you all I’m clueless.  lol  and thanks in advance for any replies.

  • TechTeich

    As long as you have Wi-Fi in your house and those 2 machines are connected to the same network you can “sync” them through file sharing/air drop. As far as I know, there are no firewire to USB or thunderbolt cables (correct me if I’m wrong). So if your firewire HD doesn’t have any other type of connector, I don’t think that it can be connected.

  • Starman_Andromeda

    Three questions.

    1.  How does the *size* of the 13″ screen compare to that of the 15″ MacBook Pro?
    I have one of the MBPs and am leery about switching to a smaller sized screen.

    At one point when we shopped for iBooks, we definitely felt that the 12″ was too small and so picked the 14″.  I’ve been spoiled by the 15″‘s screen, but really dislike the hard drive noise.

    2.  How hot does the bottom of the MBA get?

    The MBP can get hot–and is certainly not compatible with shorts!  The legs get red.  Has anyone given the MBA a shorts test yet? 

    3.  Is it really quiet?  That is, under most operating conditions– say, just some web surfin’ or word processing?

  • Sam Parmenter

    Well then he is wrong, they were perfectly valid in their criticisms when it was launched. It wasnt powerful enough and most software still came on physical media. Just because times have changed doesn’t magically render a past judgement incorrect.

    Eventually we may not need any local processing power as it is all processed elsewhere and streamed. A device released today would still be crap regardless of the future adoption of that method of computing.

    I would never have bought a macbook air when it was launched but it will probably be my MBP replacement when I need to update.

  • ChristianNewman

  • lsls67
  • lsls67
  • Terrance Joseph

    I just paid $21.87 for an iPaad2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, http://to.ly/aT8h

  • Apple_News

    Check out this great apple blog!

    http://applefanboynews.com/

  • lsls67
  • lsls67
  • otheronetruegod

    I have to disagree. I bought a first-gen Air, and I think I’ve used the remote optical drive function once. If you had a need for an optical drive, it wouldn’t have suited you, but for the (sizable) target market, they never even noticed it was gone.

  • newser-52007115

    Wonderful, real-world, tell-it-like-it-T-I-S review, but I have to correct you on one point: the Air handles virtualizations incredibly WELL not incredibly GOOD.

  • AnupR

    Ans 1: Due to Hi Res, you will not feel it is 13″. It is really good ! 15 ” macbook pro std resolution is worse that hi res 13″ macbook air

    Ans 2: Not much at all. However, I have noticed that while installing (like Lion), it did get warm !

    Ans 3: Yes. Under normal circumstances, you won’t hear a thing. Again heard some fan noise only when doing a huge install like LION.

  • GDal

    How about proof-reading… Grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors should be unacceptable.

    And redundant words are silly…
    “The largest internal space inside …” – Internal IS inside. It’s not outside.

    “It was clear that the MacBook Air filled a niche or it did.” – Huh???

  • GDal

    You have broadband that’s faster than 50Mbs?

  • GDal

    The DVD drive in my MacBook hasn’t been used more than 3 times in the past two years. I could have done with an extra hard drive instead.

  • GDal

    I’ve been without optical disc software for years now. Since at least 2001 (around the time 250GB IDEs became available). I have all my software on hard drives. If it came on disc, it was copied and the discs were lost. Only those stupid Windows discs remained.

  • HerbalEd

    NO … it wasn’t powerful enough for you. Don’t speak for the millions of people who bought and were happy with what you were not.

  • lsla38
  • wakao71
  • SpongebobUK

    Hi,

    A search on Amazon shows a number of adapters for Firewire to USB if you need one. My Lacie D2Quadra was made redundant when I got a Time Capsule last year. I didn’t miss the FW800 – the Time Capsule was so easy to set up for every aspect including Time Machine and everything connects through it. And it’s almost silent.

    I got the USB Ethernet adapter for those times when you feel like you need a direct connection but it’s only a 100 megabits/sec rather than the gigabit on the MBP. Nonetheless, I use the wireless most of the time – I love the no wires operation.

    My disappointment was finding the Airdrop isn’t available for my iMac because it’s too old (pre 2009) but I’m expecting that iCloud will keep everything in sync. Connecting is straightforward using Bonjour especially if the two are on the same network AND if you’ve set up Sharing (through Preferences). I had problems with Migration Assistant (because I messed up – again!) but with Bonjour I dragged over everything I needed.

  • Starman_Andromeda

    Appreciate your taking the time to respond–and on point!  That doesn’t always happen in the Internet world. :-)

    I’ll have to go look at a 13″ in the real world.  My worry sometimes about higher resolution screens is that the text ends up so small.  I have to do all sorts of tweaking in Safari, Word, and other programs to increase font size or zoom factor (in the program itself) to make things readable.  So, I’m hoping it will work.

    Cool and quiet are really appealing!

  • shucai96

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  • Jenniffer

    yes i agree

  • ravi@tablet

    It’s really good explanation man. The most people like the long life battery and advance logo design so you detail,13-inch MacBook, 7 hours, really very useful.

About the author

David W. MartinDavid W. Martin has more than 20 years of experience in the industry as a programmer, systems and business analyst, author, and consultant. David has written for CNET's iPhoneatlas.com, MacLife.com, CultofMac.com, BYTE.com and recently for aNewDoman.net. He comes to Cult of Mac's website with deep knowledge and passion for the all things Apple. Follow David on Twitter @david_w_martin or see what he's up to now at davidwmartin.com.

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