Macbook Air 11.6″ Review

Apple’s been touting the 2010 Macbook Air as the thinnest and lightest notebook ever. With the 11.6″ MBA out in stores and an entry-level unit coming in at Php52k, it’s actually one of the most affordable Macbook in Apple’s line-up. Check out our full review after the jump.

macbook air

The original Macbook Air almost got me, but the size and the prohibitive price was something I could not chew on. This is practically my first full review of any Macbook line so I don’t have any priors to compare it with. I have had short encounters with previous versions of Macbooks, Snow Leopard, and even applications like Aperture. They never really attracted me much to go and make the switch.

As such, I this that this purchase was prompted by the form-factor and system build rather than the Apple logo. That should put me in a safe position to objectively review the unit. Besides, I got it for a discounted price of Php45,000 at iStudio just to sweeten the deal.

Just like any other aluminum unibody Macbook, the new Macbook Air has a pretty solid build quality. The super-thin body might give it an impression that it’s fragile but on the contrary, it’s surprisingly sturdy and tough. I think it can handle some serious load or pressure with the aluminum body. I would not hazard a drop test but from the looks of it, the device can handle a good beating.

The Air is almost completely built out of aluminum — from the lid cover, to the bezel and keyboard panel and down to the bottom end. The display lid is lined with a thin strip of black rubber to serve as cushion when you close the lid while the bottom end has four large circular pieces of rubber padding on each corner. I was actually not expecting any screws in here (as the term unibody gives an impression it’s screw-less) but turns out around 10 small pieces of them are buried neatly around the back.

The full-sized keyboard features chiclet-type keys, a standard for all MacBooks, which are comfortable to use especially when you’re touch-typing (it’s the typical Macbook keyboard). The arrow keys at the bottom right corner are much smaller though and are cramped close to each other. The trackpad is large and easy to use; and also spacious enough for two-finger scrolling. One has to get used to the entire surface as the clicker though.

The Macbook Air addresses a specific need for a specific type of users. It’s not an end-all, be-all solution for an ultraportable computing device but it has great advantages as well as some shortcomings too.

The device is among the lightest we’ve used in the sub-notebook category. There’s the Core 2 Duo Acer Timeline that’s under 3lbs with the same 11.6″ form factor; and the Sony Vaio X which is ultra-thin but underpowered by an Atom Z processor and then the Vaio P which is the smallest and lightest but does not hold enough battery power to last 3 hours.

The 11.6″ Macbook Air fits somewhere in the middle — it’s very light at under 2lbs., good enough screen size and resolution at 1366×768, ultra-thin so you don’t need much extra space for it, enough processing power for HD video playback and other semi-intensive tasks and pretty good battery life which lasts between 4 to 5 hours on normal use (although one can easily extend that to 6 to 6.5 hours when not connected to the internet but I rarely do that on this machine).

It’s got its shortcomings as well, mostly due to the fact that Apple had to compromise some features over the form factor. For one, it doesn’t have a built-in LAN port so if you travel a lot, you might encounter the need to hook up to one when WiFi is not available. There’s not VGA or HDMI port either but all those extras can still be had if you get the appropriate accessories or adaptors for them (and that will cost you extra money too). It comes with the newer display port though.

As a long-time Windows-only user, I must admit there’s some learning-curve when shifting to a Mac. I realized it’s not that big of a deal although for those who missed the comforts of a Windows UI, one can always dual-boot using Bootcamp or run Parallels Desktop for Mac just to get to that familiar Windows environment.

The MBA’s internal specification isn’t that very impressive considering they used an old Intel chip (a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU 9400) instead of the faster and newer Coe i3 series. However, they’ve paired it with an NVidia GeForce 320M which is a decent graphics chip. That might seem like to good strike of balance between the CPU and GPU although I personally would have preferred a Core i3 380UM 1.4GHz with its built-in Intel HD Graphics. The latter combination might have helped extend the battery life a little longer too.

Storage is also another problem. The base configuration only comes with 64GB of SSD. That’s pretty small when netbooks these days come with 250Gb or 320GB storage. Upgrading to 128GB SSD is very expensive (~Php10,000) so the only work-around is to bring an external/portable USB HDD. The absence of a SD card reader is worth noting especially if you also own and use a camera a lot.

I have not clocked the boot time of other Mac laptops before but with this one, I’m pretty impressed with the 15 seconds of cold boot. Sleep mode to wake-up is like almost instant too (1 or 2 seconds tops). I haven’t encountered this kind of performance in any laptop before. I think it has got to do with the embedded SSD in the board. I’m really curious how it would perform in a Windows environment too (mostly the scores on Windows Experience Index). I’ll reserve that on another post and share my findings.

With a retail price of Php51,999, the Macbook Air 11.6″ is still on the expensive end of the price spectrum but I’d argue that it’s not the system build that you’re paying for but rather more on the design and engineering. The closest comparison I can think of is the Atom-powered Vaio X at Php65k. In my opinion, the 11.6″ Macbook Air is well worth the investment.