While not technically an Ultrabook, the Macbook Air could be seen as a prototype for the wave of new PC counterparts currently hitting the market. The first Macbook Air model was released in 2010 and offered something that had not been done successfully before then – combining the power of a full-sized laptop with the streamlined look and feel of a netbook.
While not at first a big seller, the Macbook Air has been updated frequently since its initial release and with a lower price point than the Macbook Pro and a number of powerful upgrades over its predecessors, the Macbook Air is a clear leader in the field of streamlined, ultra portable laptop computing.
The Macbook Air at a Glance
In mid-2011, Apple did away with the Macbook – the plastic, white entry level device in its Macbook lineup. The Macbook Air took over and received a number of upgrades to make it more than just a smaller and slower version of the Macbook Pro.
While it may look the same as its predecessors, the 2011 Macbook Air is loaded with powerful features including the entry-level Intel Core i5 processor (upgradeable to Core i7), Apple-only Thunderbolt I/O port for connecting to an external display, high speed flash storage and up to a 13.3 inch display.
Essentially, when compared to the line of Ultrabooks hitting the market, the Macbook Air is fairly close on most technical fronts. It’s entry level model is a little smaller at only 11.6 inches (closer to a netbook than a true laptop) and the $999 price point will net you only 64 GB of SSD storage and 2GB of memory, it is as sleek and accessible as any computer built by Apple.
Honestly, when comparing an entry level Air to a full sized Pro, the main differences are really just in size, weight and raw performance numbers for things like graphics. The Pro has the hardware – a disc drive, standalone graphics card, and traditional hard drive with a lot more storage. The Air does not – it is lightweight and fast, designed to be used by people who need something small and easy to access.
In terms of battery life, the Macbook Air gets a respectable 6 hours of active battery life, up from the 5 hours it got in its previous model. While not exactly eye-popping compared to other devices, it is solid overall.
The Drawback of a Macbook Air
This is the part of the review where I tell you in great depth why an Apple computer is not always the best option and why you must decide between Mac OSX and Windows 7.
Let’s skip the Apple and/or PC bashing for now and look at the machine alone. It’s hard to look past the cost of an Apple computer. You’re paying at least an extra $500 compared to comparable Ultrabooks. If you’ve owned a Mac in the past, you know this to be the case; if not, you should be prepared for it. To get the full sized Macbook Air (13.3 inch screen, 256 GB storage), you need to shell out $1,599.
Things like Thunderbolt are nice but until they become a more standardized format in devices, it will be a novelty that requires a Mini-display adaptor to actually use with most monitors (save the massive $999 model Apple sells).
And of course there is the Windows issue. If you want to run all of your heavy duty software, you’ll need to either purchase a version for Mac or install Windows on your machine using Bootcamp (or another comparable piece of software).
The Bottom Line
If you have owned a Mac before and liked it, then the Macbook Air is a fantastic laptop that offers the performance of OSX in a lightweight package. You won’t be doing much in the way of gaming or video editing on a machine like this and if you opt for a lower-priced model, you will soon have storage issues, but in terms of performance, appearance and overall appeal, this is Apple’s best lightweight effort yet.