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It is difficult to find a technology market niche not dominated by Apple right now. It is as difficult to find a trend that has not been started by Apple. It is almost impossible to find a computer product, a smartphone, a tablet or a digital music player that is more appreciated and better sold than Apple’s Macbook, iPhone, iPad and iPod.
Therefore, when a new class of laptops, ultrabooks, has been for the first time mentioned, it was almost natural to go at Apple to find a similar product already released on the market. That product is the Macbook Air, an ultraportable computer available in 11.3-inch and 13.6-inch versions that has sold in great numbers and has been met with great enthusiasm in the past months.
It is time for us to review the newest version of the Macbook Air, released a few months back, and to find out if all the hype surrounding it is based on true power and quality. And if you want, you can also read our post on the best ultrabooks right now on the market, as alternatives to the MBA.
Exterior and design
While the new Macbook Air changes a few things in terms of hardware, features and performance, the overall design is pretty much the same as the original Air. After all, you can’t fix what is not broken.
The Macbook Air was called by some ‘’aesthetically perfect’’ and indeed it is very difficult to find something wrong with this laptop’s looks and build. The aluminum casing is strong, sturdy and solid, but at the same time feels very nicely and looks very elegant.
The so-called unibody construction provides a simple, yet distinguished look and the lines and curves blend perfectly to offer a laptop that is neither tacky looking, nor stiff. In terms of dimensions and weight, the Macbook Air is not the best notebook of its size on the market, but comes pretty darn close.
Apple’s 13.3-inch Macbook measures 12.8 x 8.94 x 0.68 inches and weighs about 2.9 pounds( 1.3 kg).
Keyboard and touchpad
You might think that at a portable computer as good-looking as this, you can’t find anything better than the design. Well, think again, because the keyboard and touchpad are absolutely perfect.
The keyboard, on one hand, is well-sized, backlit, comfortable to use, accurate and responsive, while the glass trackpad is very large and enjoyable, even though it doesn’t have separated and dedicated buttons to replicate mouse clicks. Both the keyboard and touchpad are extremely good-looking too, adding mystery and finesse to the Macbook’s overall design.
The 13.3-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen display sported by the Macbook Air is a beauty, offering an excellent image quality at a 1440x 900 pixels resolution. The brightness and contrast are great, the viewing angles are impressive and the colors are extremely crisp.
While generally we would prefer a matte display finish, we are willing to forgive Apple’s slight overlook thinking at the resolution, which is higher than all other similar laptops available on the market right now. Then again, the upcoming Asus UX31 could feature a screen with 1600×900 pixels resolution, which would mean that the Macbook Air could soon have some serious competition.
Hardware and performance
The newest version of the Macbook Air provides some very interesting changes in terms of hardware. The 13.3-inch laptop comes with a very snappy 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor and 4 GB of installed RAM, which is significantly better than what the Samsung Series 9 brings to the table at the moment. On the other hand, the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 is not the best choice when it comes to gaming, for instance, and will unfortunately not make the best out of that excellent chipset.
The internal storage unit is, of course, a Solid State Drive, which will make the overall performance of the laptop even snappier. In terms of capacity, the SSD comes in two versions, a 128 GB one and a 256 GB.
Battery life, connectivity and others
When talking about a very strong and fast portable computer running a top of the notch operating system, as it is the case of the Macbook Air, you might not have the greatest expectations regarding battery life. And while it doesn’t disappoint per se, the Air’s battery is not what you could call revolutionary or extremely surprising.
According to the MobileMark 2007 test performed by pcmag.com, the Air’s battery scored 5 hours and 46 minutes of autonomy, while according to Engagdet’s benchmarks, it scored between four hours and five hours and a half. Either way, the Macbook Air is decent in battery life, more capable than the Samsung Series 9, for example, but will probably be beaten by some of the ultrabooks set to hit the market this fall.
In terms of connectivity, the Air provides two USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot, a Thunderbolt port, Bluetooth 4.0 and Wireless-N networking. However, Apple’s laptop still doesn’t come with USB 3.0, which is kind of a downfall.
Pricing and availability
While Apple’s products have always been hailed for their build quality, excellent software and good performance level, they have also been criticized for something. The pricing. That has always been Achilles’ heel when talking about the iPhone, iPad or Macbook and that is also the biggest problem of the newest Macbook Air.
This is available right now at Amazon for 1699 dollars( the 256 GB SSD model) or for 1294 bucks( the 128 GB version). You can also find the old version of the laptop, available at $1089, but this comes with only 2 GB of RAM, no Thunderbolt port, only Bluetooth 2.1 and 128 GB flash memory storage.
For those of you who would like a plus of portability, the MacBook Air is also available in an 11.6-inch version. While looking pretty much the same as its bigger sibling, the 11.6-inch model of the Air only comes with a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor. Furthermore, the storage unit is a 128 GB flash memory one and the LED-backlit glossy widescreen display comes with a more modest 1366x 768 pixels resolution.
Even though you can’t say that the Apple MacBook Air is the perfect computer device, it is pretty difficult to find its weak points. The battery life is not impressive, but is above average nevertheless and the gaming performance is not perfect, but then again this is first of all a computer for business purposes and a computer for when you are on the move…
It doesn’t feature a 3.0 USB port, but let’s be honest and say that most of us would never have noticed that if we hadn’t taken a look at the complete product specifications. It’s expensive, that’s true, but that kind of quality, strength and speed could never come very cheap.
Above all, though, the MacBook Air has something that the Samsung Series 9 or the upcoming ultrabooks will never have. The guarantee of a very powerful brand, a brand that breathes professionalism and quality. And that, my friends, is something that can’t be manufactured, nor bought, but is something that is gained over years through hard work and most of the times matters more to the customer than a USB port, a half an hour more in battery life terms or a tenth of an inch less in the computer’s depth.
For a more complete and comprehensive review of the Apple MacBook Air, you should check out this following video clip from mobiletechreview.com: