Free As A Bird: Initial Thoughts After A Day With The New MacBook Air

I’ve done it. I’ve worn the battery completely down on one of the new MacBook Airs. As such, I thought I’d post some initial thoughts about the machine. This isn’t a huge all-encompassing review — I haven’t even used it outside of my apartment yet — but rather my initial thoughts for those of you thinking about rushing out to buy one.

All day, I’ve been testing out the 13.3-inch model. After playing around with the 11.6-inch model in the demo area after Apple’s event today, I decided that while it is freakishly, insanely small, I’d rather carry the extra .5 pounds and get the extra 2 hours of battery life that the slightly larger model offers. And I think that was the right choice, I’ve been using it all day and the battery just wore out.

The iPad has spoiled me. I often look at my 5.6 pound MacBook Pro with dread now. It’s simply too bulky. And considering I have never used the optical drive on the thing, I can’t figure out why I need some of that bulk. This new MacBook Air eliminates it.

Bottom line: so far, I love this thing.

In my initial view, the MacBook Air is a killer product both literally and figuratively. The optical disc is now all but dead at its hands for the reasons I laid out here. But the Air is also a killer product because I think it’s the type of computer that a lot of people are looking for. Namely, an ultra-portable Mac that’s affordable.

Some people will point to the fact that the original Air wasn’t a huge success as a reason why this won’t be either. But while they may look similar, the two are really two different machines. The original MacBook Air was underpowered and overpriced. This new MacBook Air definitely has enough power for most consumers and with prices starting at $999, it is priced to move (this model costs $1,299).

After using it pretty much non-stop for the past 7 hours or so, I’m happy to report that I couldn’t find one task in my regular routine that the Air wasn’t able to handle with ease. I did some work, I did some regular browsing, I edited some pictures, I played some videos, etc.

To be honest, it makes me feel a little silly. Why on Earth have I been lugging around a machine that’s twice as heavy if I didn’t need it? I’m not sure. The lure of the 2.8 GHz i7 chip, 8GB of RAM, and dual graphics cards got to me, I guess. But I really don’t need that. And I’m sure most people don’t either.

Of course some people will. And that’s why Apple sells the various MacBook Pro models. But at this point, I’m thinking Apple should just replace the standard MacBook with the Air. It’s better in pretty much every way. Unless you’re an optical disc aficionado, I’m not sure what the reason is to buy one.

The 13-inch Air’s 1.86 GHz Core 2 Duo with the standard 2 GB of RAM and single NVIDIA 320M graphics chip seems to hum along. I keep thinking I should look into the model that has been upgraded to the 2.13 GHz chip with 4 GB of RAM, but again, all day this configuration has been just fine.

In fact, the only thing that ever seemed to stress the system out a little bit was, what else, Flash. But that only meant that a few times when I had a couple YouTube windows open, the machine started to heat up a bit. When I closed those windows, it cooled right back down. Humorously, Apple doesn’t include Flash in its pre-installed software on the Air, so you’ll have to download it on your own if you want to use it (or download Chrome, like I did, which has it built-in).

Speaking of heating issues, Flash heat-ups aside, the Air sits noticeably cooler in the lap than the MacBook Pro does. And the thing runs absolutely silently. Even when I had Flash blaring, there was just heat, no noise.

As promised, the boot up time of the machine is awesome. I find that from power-on to computing takes about 10 to 15 seconds — significantly faster than any of my other Macs, by far. This, of course, is due to the machine’s new flash (not to be confused with Flash) memory. This also allows the device to go to sleep and wake up instantly as advertised. In fact, the only thing you have to wait for is for your WiFi to reconnect.

The keyboard and trackpad are both rock solid. If I didn’t happen to be sitting here with 2.5 pounds less of machine on my lap, it would seem just as if I’m typing on my MacBook Pro.

And the most surprising thing about the 13-inch Air may be the screen. At 1440-by-900, the screen basically matches the one on a standard 15-inch MacBook Pro. I even opted for the higher-resolution screen on my MacBook Pro, and this smaller screen still seems to suit me just fine. I was pretty surprised by that. I thought I’d miss the extra real estate, but I barely notice it’s gone.

One thing I will say is that because there is no glass in front of the screen as there is on other MacBooks, the Air does feel slightly cheaper if you touch the screen. Of course, that lack of glass also helps keep the weight down and eliminates a lot with the glare problems that the other MacBooks with glossy screens have.

The 13-inch Air also comes with an SD card reader built in to the side. This is a nice perk over the 11-inch and I’ve used it a few times already — that’s how I pulled in the images for this post.

Basically, after one day, this new MacBook Air seems to be the exact laptop I was looking for. At least in my daily workflow, it’s just like using my MacBook Pro, but much, much lighter. It’s hard to exaggerate just how light it really is. I already can’t see myself going back to the MacBook Pro.

We’ll see how I feel in a week. Maybe I’ll feel cramped by then. Maybe I’ll feel the need for more horsepower. Maybe I’ll really want a way to play that old Gin Blossoms CD. But I doubt it.

MoreGoodbye, MacBook Pro. The New MacBook Air Is That Good.