The 11

The 11-inch MacBook Air comes with a 1366 x 768 display (16:9) measuring 11.6-inches along the diagonal. Ports and features are near identical to last year's model. Up top there's a 640 x 480 camera. Along each side is a USB 2.0 port. Mag Safe and headphone jack are on the left, while Thunderbolt is on the right. There's a single fan inside the chassis that vents between the keyboard and the display hinge.

The 11 is still an amazing form factor. It's painless to carry around and you end up with a tablet sized device that makes no functional sacrifices. To make things even better, now you get a full blown Sandy Bridge CPU inside the ultra slim chassis.

There are really only two things that the 11-inch MacBook Air lacks. For starters, the lack of an integrated SD card reader means anyone looking to do photo work on the go will either need an Eye-Fi or an external USB card reader. Neither is too much of a pain however an integrated reader would be much appreciated.

The second issue with the 11 is its screen size/resolution. At 1366 x 768 you get great pixel pitch on the 11-inch 16:9 screen but there's just not a lot of vertical resolution on the display. The 13-inch model gives you only 5% more horizontal resolution but 17% more vertical, and that's noticeable.

Lion does alleviate some of this problem thanks to its full screen mode. Viewing Mail or Safari in full screen is almost necessary on the 11. Thanks to the 16:9 ratio of the panel, watching movies on the 11 is nearly equivalent to watching them on the 13-inch Air.

The base $999 configuration only comes with 2GB of DDR3 and a 64GB SSD. The latter is excusable if you just don't do much with your system (and technically it's something you can upgrade down the line if you'd like) but the former is a major problem. Memory on the MacBook Air is soldered directly onto the motherboard. Not having to build in a socket helps keep the z-height of the system down to a minimum, but it also severely limits flexibility. For most users interested in a dual-core machine under OS X I'd say that 4GB is probably good enough. While I'd prefer the option of upgrading to 8GB, I think 4GB is livable; 2GB is not. If you're considering the entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air I'd strongly recommend at least upgrading the memory to 4GB. The only exception is if you're just going to spend your time doing very basic tasks on the machine and plan on upgrading again in a year or two. If that's the case save your money and enjoy a 4GB version with Ivy Bridge next year. For everyone else, make sure you get the memory upgrade.

The 13

While the 11 is almost tablet-like, the 13-inch MacBook Air still looks and feels like a normal notebook. A really thin, really light notebook. You get a 1440 x 900 (16:10) display that measures 13.3-inches along the diagonal. The port layout is identical to the 11 although you get an integrated SD card reader along the right of the machine.


From top to bottom: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, 15-inch MacBook Pro

The 13 is really a pleasure to use, despite feeling a lot like a traditional notebook. The biggest difference for me between it and the 11 is the height of the display. Seated on a couch with the notebook in my lap the 13 doesn't force me to look down as much to see the screen. I still have to tilt my head down a bit, just not as much as with the 11.

The 13-inch screen maintains a relatively high pixel density, just shy of the 128 pixels per inch you get from the 15-inch MacBook Pro with the upgraded 1680 x 1050 display. I find the 13 is a bit easier to look at than the 11 with its 135 PPI display, but that's a personal preference. Apple really needs to increase the resolution of its 13-inch MacBook Pro which is a paltry 1280 x 800.


13-inch MacBook Air (left) vs. 11-inch MacBook Air (right)

The 13's base configuration is actually really good. You get 4GB of memory (neither Air supports more than 4GB of RAM) and a 1.7GHz Core i5. The 1.7GHz part here is a bit more interesting than the 1.6GHz chip in the 11 because it supports much higher max turbo frequencies (2.4/2.7GHz vs. 2.0/2.4GHz). If you don't need more than 128GB of internal storage, my recommendation would be to go for the base 13 at $1299.

A New Thunderbolt Implementation It's Back: The Backlit Keyboard
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  • draoug - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Thanks a lot for this great review. I'm very interested about the new 13' MacBook Air (i5 version) but I have also seen the 13' MacBook Pro (i5 too). In the comparisons, we see that the 13' MBP with the i7 is much more efficient than the MBA, but what about the 13' MBP with the i5 processor ?

    I think there isn't a big difference so I'm more on the MBA.

    What do you think ?

    Again, thanks for this review :)
    Reply
  • LuckyKnight - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Whatever happened to your review of intels 23.97hz fixed driver? Reply
  • ghigh - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I bought a 13"/1.8/256gb last week at an Apple retail store. I unfortunately got the slower Toshiba drive. I can confirm the benchmark numbers of 160mb/s write and 205mb/s read.

    I exchanged the unit but got another Toshiba. :( Store won't allow any more exchanges. Called AppleCare and was unable to get any kind of resolution. I even got a call from Apple Corporate. At this point Apple is saying it is not an issue since these are just OEM parts and no performance numbers are stated.

    So buyer beware--if you are set on getting the Samsung be willing to do a bunch of returns/exchanges and multiple stores until you get what you want.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Most sites are agreeing that the 13's are getting the slower drives, the 11's the faster. Reply
  • h00ligan76 - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I bought the 1.8/256 13" and have the samsung display and drive. The rub is, I am not sure this is the right machine for me. So expensive to perform at last year's level. OTOH, the 15"s get way too hot for my taste, and obviously are heavier. I guess I shouldn't complain and I should get on with enjoying it. :) I don't however see the need to keep an iPad with a laptop this light, though whatever bug is causing the long wake from sleep is sure annoying. Reply
  • Rasterman - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Good to know they do actually come in the 13", maybe they are only in the upgraded 13"? I would hate to spend top dollar for this and get the slower drive. Reply
  • versesuvius - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I've never had an Apple product, and I don't think I ever will, but I have always thought of Apple as a software company, maybe as a result of its rivalry with Microsoft operating systems. It is always like, Windows is like that, but Apple: Never. Now I see that it is really a hardware company, or rather a company that makes a couple of gadgets that look very nice and are built with quality in mind and are priced accordingly and then some. A hardware company with only three gadgets at a time does not have a strong future, but Apple has always come through. Very good.

    I have one question. Can you install Windows on this?
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Yes, and the article even benchmarks Windows 7 on the Macbook Air. You need to read the article before responding. Reply
  • versesuvius - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Thank you bji. The boot camp!

    Actually I was under the impression that boot camp runs Windows inside a virtual machine. Looks like it is not, but it has to have the Apple OS installed before one can install Windows so that it can emulate the BIOS. And you cannot install the Windows XP x64 on an Apple, but you can 7 and Vista. And since I am using Windows XP x64, the answer turns out to be "no". I should have been more clear in my question.

    It would be a nice touch if Apple included dual Bios for its gadgets, so that people could install Windows on its raw hardware without the need for BIOS emulation.
    Reply
  • Jamesbsc - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    This website makes the reviews by engadget and Cnet look like kindergarten stuff. These are some brilliant people behind this website and brilliant reviews Reply

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