Macbook Air 11.6 Inch Review

Last year, I purchased an iPad and after about 2 months, ended up selling it. As much as I liked the iPad, I couldn’t find a place in my world for it. I have my iPhone for when I’m away from home. I have my Macbook Pro as my main workstation. When I am at home, the iPad was nice to have for surfing the web on the couch, or for reading my RSS feeds while I ate breakfast. But being a web developer, there was little I could use it for to get work done. The device is certainly capable of performing these tasks, but the software doesn’t exist yet to accomplish this. The software might never exist, as Apple is adamant about not allowing other language processing software (read: Ruby, PHP, Perl, etc) on the App Store. And if you aren’t on the App Store, you aren’t on the iPad.

macbook air 11 1 Macbook Air 11.6 Inch Review

Enter the Macbook Air.

The 11.6 inch Macbook Air satisifes many of the iPads portability features – small, lightweight. Of course, it’s a little heavier (2.3 lbs. vs. 1.3 for the iPad 2) and has about half the battery life. But it also is a fully capable development machine.

The 11.6 inch version of the Macbook Air features an 1366 x 768 display. This is a higher resolution display than the 13″ Macbook Pro. It is a very crisp display. However, due to it’s small size and high resolution, type is noticeably smaller on the Air than what you would normally be used to on a Macbook Pro or iMac. This is easily rectified in many apps like Safari by zooming in, or increasing the font size. Some apps don’t offer this feature, so it’s not a universal fix if you find the display difficult to read.

macbook air 11 2 Macbook Air 11.6 Inch Review

Keyboard

The keyboard is very close to full size. The top row function keys are slightly thinner than the normal Macbook Pro keyboard. The arrow keys are similarly thinner. Overall the keyboard has a good feel, and if you like the standard Macbook Pro keyboard, you will probably enjoy the Airs keyboard.

Processor

I opted for the 1.6ghz version of the Air. Of all the upgrade options, this was the choice I was most torn about. At $200 more than the 1.4ghz CPU, it’s not entirely clear to me whether I will see much benefit from the increased horsepower.

Speed

The amazing thing you first notice when using this computer is how fast it feels. Startup is in the 20 second range. Applications launch nearly instantaneously. Obviously, anything that taxes the CPU or GPU is going to run slower than what you are probably used to. The odd thing is, you don’t realize how important disk speed is to your computing experience until you use an SSD equipped computer. Unless you spend your day rendering video or running CPU intensive Photoshop filters, chances are the Macbook Air with it’s pokey CPU and it’s bare metal SSD will feel much faster than your current non SSD computer.

Audio

I can not find where Apple placed the speakers on this thing. I see no speaker grills, but it sounds like the audio is eminating from underneath the keyboard. Either way, audio is plenty loud, and sounds amazingly good for a computer this size with no speaker grills.

Screen

The 11.6 inch Air has a 1366×768 glossy display. It is very sharp. Obviously, packing this many pixels in to a display this size means that most objects are going to be smaller than what you would be used to if you have been using a 13 or 15 inch Macbook Pro. When I’m typing on the Air while sitting at a desk, the screen resolution is comfortable and easy to read. When I’m sitting back on the couch, and I have the Air on my lap with the screen a few inches further away, the resolution can feel a bit too tiny at times. This could be due to my horrible eyesight. Either way, it’s a easy fix. Either bring the screen closer, or zoom in the screen if using Safari.

Battery

Apple claims 5 hours of battery life in their web surfing tests. I have been able to get 5 hours in my testing, which involved just using Safari to load a web page every minute until the battery ran out. When it comes to battery life, the Air isn’t going to best the iPad. But for a machine that is nearly as light, and infinitely more capable than the iPad, battery life is very good. In normal usage of performing work – which involves having Coda, Safari, Terminal, MAMP and Firefox open – I get just about 4 hours at about 50 percent screen brightness.

Wrap Up

The 11.6 inch Macbook Air is an amazing machine. It’s small. It’s fast. It’s light. It’s infinitely capable for many tasks including word processing, programming, web surfing & email, and lighter games. About the only people I would not recommend the Air too are those that work with 3D graphics, video, or Photoshop as their main tasks. In those cases, the power versus portability trade off probably isn’t as easy to digest. But if mobility is your primary concern, the 11.6 inch Air is the most mobile Mac ever made.

Buy the Macbook Air – 1.4ghz, 64GB SSD, 2GB RAM from Amazon.com.


Category: Hardware,Reviews

Want an iPad 2? Try Radio Shack.

If you’ve been scouring your city looking for an iPad 2, salvation may have just come from the most unlikely of sources. Radio Shack has confirmed that about 500 of their stores (although they won’t confirm which ones) are set to get stock of the iPad 2 tomorrow.

If the Shack is in your neighborhood, and you’ve been trying to land an iPad, this might be your best opportunity.


Category: iPad

Intel releases next gen SSDs

Intel has released their next generation SSDs, the 320 series. Available in capacities from 40GB to 600GB, these new SSDs are actually less expensive than their predecessors. Starting at $89 for the 40GB, these drives top out at $1069 for the 600GB, which amazingly enough, is quite the bargain in today’s SSD market.


Category: Hardware,SSD

WWDC 2011 Sells Out…

WWDC 2011 tickets went on sale today, and a scant 10 hours later, are sold out.

Last year it took 4 days.

And this year, it did so with a persistent rumour that there would be no new hardware announced at the event.

If this doesn’t speak volumes about the popularity of Apple’s OSes, I don’t know what does.


Category: Apple,Developers

AT&T to Acquire T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom

$39 billion acquisition to bolster AT&T’s network offering and add about 46.5 million users to the AT&T family. Assuming of course that this passes regulatory hurdles, which could be difficult, giving that this gives AT&T an effective monopoly on GSM networks in the United States.


Category: News

iPad 2 vs. the Motorola Xoom

I was in my local Best Buy yestereday checking out the new iPad 2. I had seen them briefly in the Apple Store the previous week, but I wanted to get a few minutes of hands on time, and the Best Buy was right there.

While I was playing with one of the two display units, a Best Buy salesman was answering a woman’s questions (badly) about the iPad 2. “How many books can it hold?”. “How much music?”. “Can I get by with the 16GB version?”. The salesman was obviously trying to steer her towards the 32GB version. I interjected and asked her how many movies, music and books she had in her iTunes library. She answered that she had no movies, a few albums, and a couple of eBooks. I explained to her that the 16GB would probably be enough for her. She was sold. Unfortunately, Best Buy, like every other retailer, doesn’t have any stock of the iPad 2 at the moment, and doesn’t know when they will receive any. The salesman made a feable attempt to recommend the Motorola XOOM, but the woman was more interested in getting the original iPad.

I walked over to the Motorola XOOM display to see what the fuss was about. Unfortunatley, the unit was non functional. It was rigged up to work, but either the battery had died, or it wasn’t plugged up correctly. Either way, I found it a little ironic.

Remember in the 90′s when Best Buy carried Macs, and they were usually in a sad state of display? Most of the time they were turned off, and relegated to some row where no one would ever go. It was clear back then that Best Buy had little interest in trying to sell them.

This is the same impression I got about the XOOM. How bad is the XOOM that the sales geeks don’t even bother to have a working display unit? How sad is it that even though the iPad 2 is near impossible to get ahold of, it and the original iPad is still beating the XOOM?

I don’t know how long Apple will have a near lock on the tablet industry, but I don’t see Android eating Apple’s lunch anyime soon. HP has a shot with webOS tablets, if they execute properly on experience, ecosystem, and price. But that is really what the challenge is for someone getting in to the tablet space: You have to have all three bases covered if you want to compete seriously with Apple.

Price is difficult enough, since Apple buys components in quantities larger than most others, and gets the better discounts. Experience is something Google has just started taking seriously, yet with Honeycomb, the consensus is that it still is a disappointing experience. Ecosystem (apps and accessories) is the toughest nut to crack, mainly because you can’t will thousands of developers to create apps for your device. All you can do is create compelling tools, a vibrant sales channel and large user base, and hope that the developers bring their A game to write apps for your device.

I don’t belive Apple will have the tablet market to themself forever, but I don’t see anybody shipping anything this year that has all three legs (experience, ecosystem, price) of the formula.


Category: iPad,Opinion

The iPad 2 Rant

Jeff Lamarche nails it:

Two days ago, the Xoom looked like a decent, almost finished and slightly overpriced tablet. Two days ago, it had a couple of quantifiable advantages, including native CDMA support and a better GPU. Two days ago, you could make the Xoom look better than the iPad on paper. Though marketing based on tech specs hasn’t proven to be a very effective strategy in mobile computing space, at least they did have that for them. They had grounds for claiming you should buy the Xoom instead of an iPad. The arguments were thin, but two days ago they existed.

Today, simply put: The Xoom is fucked. So, I suspect, is the unreleased Samsung Tab 10.1 and the RIM Playbook. I can only imagine the discussions that are going on inside those companies today.

What strikes me as comical is that these companies must have known that the product they were releasing was any better than Apple’s product from 2010, and Apple would have something even better lined up for 2011.

I’m hoping for a true competitor to the iPad, because competition is good for everyone, including Apple. But right now all the tablet manufacturers look like the keystone cops.


Category: iPad

Is the Mac App Store an opportunity for devs?

Great article at TechWorld:

“Apple very clearly considers the customers to be ‘theirs,’” Nanian says. “You don’t get any information about them. In fact, while the customer can post reviews about your software on your store page, you can’t respond to those reviews, either online or offline, because there’s no way to contact those users.”

This, I think, is the biggest drawback that developers have to face (apart from the 30% cut Apple takes). When Apple improves in this area, and allows for developers to respond to criticisms in the user reviews, many developers I know will be ecstatic.

I don’t think that Apple will ever give developers information about the customers who buy their apps through the Mac App Store, as Apple seems to be holding ground on that decision pretty firmly at the moment with content providers. But Apple is a smart company. I believe it has to see that devs who are unable to provide good customer service to Mac App Store customers ultimately means a bad customer experience that might hurt Apple in the end.


Category: Apple

iPad 2 thoughts

The iPad 2 looks like a solid upgrade over the previous generation iPad. Apple has addressed many of the shortcomings of the previous iPad – weight, width, lack of cameras. I understand the resistance to putting a capable iPhone level camera in the iPad’s back facing position, but I had hoped for something a little higher res than VGA on the front facing camera. Still, dual cameras are a very welcome addition, and with FaceTime and iMovie for iPad, it should become an incredibly useful tool for video conferencing and movie editing.

The internals upgrade isn’t a slouch either. The dual core A5 with improved graphics performance looks to give the iPad 2 plenty of horsepower for games and other intensive computational calculations. The (rumored) 512MB of RAM is a bit of a disappointment though. Using smaller RAM modules must be one of the main ways that Apple keeps the cost down on the iPad (the previous iPad had only 256MB of RAM). I’ll be interested to see if the increase in RAM translates in to being able to keep more windows active in Safari. The 9 window Safari limitation on the previous iPad was frustrating at times.

While we’re talking about Safari, the inclusion of the Nitro Javascript engine looks to seriously improve Safari on the iPad’s performance. Early indepedent tests using the SunSpider test suite confirm a 4x improvement over the previous Safari.

As someone who bought the first iPad and used it for a couple of months before selling it, I’m asking myself if I see enough in the iPad 2 to purchase. My problem with the first iPad was that I had a hard time finding a place for it in my day to day usage. It was too locked down to be used as a development machine. And with two laptops in the house (one shared between my wife and I, and one as my main work machine), and an iPhone, it felt like overkill. I don’t know that the new iPad has changed anything in that regard for me. I’d like one, I just don’t know how practical it would be for me to own.


Category: iPad

Get well Steve

There’s little left to say about Steve jobs 3rd medical leave from Apple. There’s no point in speculating about what the cause is. All we need to know is that Steve’s health is in danger, and he needs a leave of absence to take care of the issue.

Apple is in capable hands during his absence. I’m sure Steve’s editorial control over products/services is still in effect, even during his absence.

Here’s hoping that absence is brief and temporary.

Get well Steve.


Category: News,Opinion,Steve Jobs

About the author

A user of Macs since they had silly names like Performa and Centris, Theodore Lee is a techie who prides himself on his vast knowledge of all things Apple. OS X Factor was started in 2001 (originally as macosxcentric), and continues to churn out tips, tutorials, reviews and commentary on the tech sector.