Though you could always moan about the relative lack of processing power and ports on previous builds of the MacBook Air, there was never any denying that it was a slick looking piece of kit. Quite remarkably, Apple have not only managed to slim down their size-zero range even further this year, but have also managed to give its internal specs a much-needed kick up the proverbial backside too.
While there is also a 13 inch model being launched, we’ve got our hands on the 11.6 inch version to test. No more than 0.68 inches at the rear and tapering to an axe-head like 0.11 inches at its front, it’s a sight to behold. At 1.06 kg it’s similar in weight to an iPad, and will fit quite comfortably in a messenger bag or handbag. It’s a completely metal build apart from four rubber stoppers on the bottom too, but once bought you wont be able to upgrade any components, so make sure you get your configuration right before you leave the Apple shop.
The choice between 1.4 or 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo processors, and 2 or 4GB RAM may seem a little behind the times, but the decision to make solid state flash drives the de-facto storage option in the new MacBook Air gives the machine a very snappy feel. In either 64GB or 128 GB flavours, the 11.6 inch model boots up in a fraction of the time a HDD sporting Macbook Pro would, with the the Air arriving ready for action in under 20 seconds. It’s also near near silent in operation, with next to no fan noise at all.
Our test machine provided was the basic model, that comes equipped with 2GB RAM. While the device never felt like it was running out of puff during everyday tasks, at this price and in this day and age it seems a little miserly for the device not to come with double this amount of memory as standard, particularly with upgrading at a later date not being an option.
In terms of connections, there is thankfully a USB port on either side of the Air now, though the SD Card reading port is exclusive to the 13 inch model. Both a webcam and microphone are built in, as well as a headphone jack and miniDisplay port for hooking up an external monitor. Again, there is no optical drive onboard, but most frustrating is the omission of an Ethernet port. You’ll have to make do with the 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, or sacrifice a USB port and some extra cash for the sold-separately Apple USB Ethernet Adapter. The keyboard and multi-touch trackpad though are both very comfortable to use; despite being only 11 inches across, you still get a full size keyboard with keys spaced sensibly enough for extended typing sessions.
Battery life is very impressive, itself aided by the less power-hungry flash memory drives. You’ll get a reasonable 5 hours worth of use when connected to a wireless network, but pop the Air into sleep mode and it’ll sit in standby for as many as 30 days. The “Instant-on” feature means it’ll boot straight back to the state you left the laptop in right away too.
The LED-backlit screen is also very impressive. Bright and vibrant, it’s running at a native resolution of 1366×768. It’s great for watching videos on, though we did notice the Air chug a little when dealing with the odd 1080p clip, but this appeared to be down to the lack of onboard RAM rather than the graphics card not being up to the job.
By beefing up the specs a little and slimming down the size even further, Apple have made genuine improvements to a range that could previously have been accused of weighing in favour of style over substance. Though it remains incredibly expensive (£849 for the entry model) and is still by no means a powerhouse of a machine, this latest revamp of the MacBook Air will handle most everyday tasks with ease, and is sure to make you the envy of your pals with its stunning design.
By Gerald Lynch | October 25th, 2010