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MacBook AirHead: why Apple's new laptop is basically useless

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First, let me just say that the Air is an extremely impressive piece of technology. The miniaturization, the optimization of space, the blatant disregard for current standards — it’s everything a revolutionary machine should be. Except it isn’t one. It’s a flight of Apple vanity that is completely impractical for anyone who needs to do more than the most basic functions with their computer. Find out why inside.

Let’s start with the obvious: no optical drive. I don’t think I need to list the many things that are available in spinning disc format exclusively, and the idea that you should pack around an extra drive (however compact) or piggyback on someone else’s kind of defeats the purpose of having an “ultraportable” notebook. I don’t use my drive that much, but in fact it’s indispensable even when I have enough USB drives to fill all my pockets.

Next, the processor. It’s fantastic that they’ve managed to micro-size the Core2 Duo, but for any kind of serious work — video and audio editing, watching HD video, playing games or emulating Vista for work — even my MacBook Pro is barely pulling it, and it’s got the Air under its thumb processor-wise. Not to mention that RAM is totally un-expandable; serious Photoshoppers will spend a lot of time waiting while they use that nifty multi-touch to zoom into their 400MB uncompressed PSDs.

And the inputs. One USB, one Franken-DVI. Hope you like plugging and unplugging things! It says it’s built for the wireless world – yeah, okay, but that world is make-believe right now. Sure, you could bring a hub along, but this goes along with the earlier complaint: what’s the point of a mega-portable laptop if you have to bring along a whole support team? It’s like a ditzy model-actress’s entourage: you just want to take the girl out, but she has to have her make-up guy, her photographer, her PA, and she’s totally incapable of doing anything on her own.

And lastly, let’s be honest: did we really need things to get that much thinner? My MBP is a great size, not too heavy, and it’s thin enough that there’s quite a lot of leftover room in the laptop compartment of my bag. The Air is whisper-thin but it does still weigh three pounds and its not like you can fold it up and put it in your pocket. What is losing that last half an inch doing aside from attracting stares?

There’s no doubt in my mind that a lot of people will buy this laptop, but its capabilities are really more in line with the Eee PC than a MacBook, and the Eee costs thousands less and actually is ultraportable. The price point is so far removed from this machine’s potential that it makes the iPhone look like a bargain. I’m glad Apple is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with current PC tech, but right now this computer looks like a bit of a lemon. A sexy lemon, though.

Edit: Apparently I’ve stirred up the hive, so I guess I need to address this one point more clearly. (I already did in a comment but who reads ‘em?)

The MacBook Air is not a subnotebook. The Eee and Everex, and Redfly are subnotebooks. They are tiny, basic, and are designed from the ground up to be micro-sized and limited. The Air is trying to be a regular notebook but failing – what Apple has done is take a regular notebook and flatten it (very well I might add), while simultaneously crippling it. Everything about it is a compromise except the width, and even the width doesn’t make it small; a real subnotebook is more than thin, it’s small in the other ways too. It may be thin, but with a 13.3-in. screen it’s not going in any cargo pockets. Look, it’s a sexy little thing but at that price it’s an atrocity and it is not a subnotebook or ultraportable. Sorry, but size, price, and hardware put it in budget laptop territory, and it’s simply not competitive there except in sex appeel. (Sexy lemon — get it)

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