Final Words

I started this review by defining the expectations of a notebook like the MacBook Air. The problem is that Apple's mainstream popularity has made a device like the MacBook Air, which would normally be targeted at a very small niche, appeal to a much wider audience. Most who are considering the MacBook Air would probably be sorely disappointed by it, because they want a smaller MacBook - not an ultra portable. Apple doesn't offer a smaller MacBook and thus I find myself writing a conclusion for a wide variety of people.

I'll start with the general populace and drill down to the intended audience of the MacBook Air, and how the notebook fares when presented to each type of user.

As a standard notebook, the MacBook Air falls short in the most obvious of ways. It's hardly expandable, it has no integrated optical drive and it's got a fairly small, low performing hard drive.

I've already talked to far too many people that are allowing emotion to cloud better judgment and are considering the Air when they shouldn't be. If this is going to be your only notebook and you plan on using it as your main computer, chances are the Air isn't for you. It does look very cool and it's incredibly light, but ultra portables are the exotic cars of the notebook world. If you own an exotic it's generally not your only car, you've got other things more practical in the stable so you don't end up driving a Ferrari in two feet of snow.

Part of the problem with the MacBook Air is that it's designed for a world that doesn't exist yet. Wi-Fi access just isn't ubiquitous, you need to rely on a combination of Ethernet, WiFi and a 3G modem if you really want connectivity. The portability of the Air starts to be challenged once you look at carrying around various dongles and such. Apple has a great relationship with AT&T right? Why not allow the iPhone to tether to the MacBook Air or at least let you stick your SIM card in it to enable a 3G modem. I expected more from Apple in this regard, which brings me to my next point.

Apple had the chance to really revolutionize the ultra portable world, but instead it provided its own sheep for the flock. It's not a bad notebook by any means, but Apple's constant praise in the media also means that it must be held to a higher standard of scrutiny. I'd be blown away by the Air if it were built by Dell or Gateway, but from Apple I expect more than a nice design.

The iPhone was the result of very clever engineering, it was a hardware and software solution to a problem that impacted many. The same could have been true for the MacBook Air; it could've revolutionized mobile computing and raised the bar for how thin and how light we expect our notebooks to be. The MacBook Air is an amazing chassis coupled accented by good hardware choices but with very little added innovation or engineering. You may think I'm being too harsh on Apple, but the fact of the matter is that I wanted the iPhone of ultra portables and got a thin MacBook instead.

Now if you're specifically looking for an ultra portable and are part of the willing to sacrifice/spend niche that the Air should be targeted at, then we need to be having a very different discussion.

Sure expansion is limited, the thing is expensive and at least two accessories should be included from Apple but aren't - but would you look at this thing?

The build quality of the Air truly stands out among all of the incredibly impractical notebooks I've used in the past - it's excellent. Generally you see an ultra portable and are impressed, then you hold an ultra portable and are scared. The same just isn't true with the MacBook Air; it feels just like it looks and it's surprisingly sturdy.

As the MacBook Air is the only ultra portable Mac around, in many senses it doesn't really have any competitor. Sony, Dell and more recently Lenovo all have similarly equipped notebooks but none of them run OS X. When I first reviewed OS X on a notebook I talked about how many of its strengths really came in handy in a cramped screen environment, which is what you get with a notebook. On an ultra portable machine like the MacBook Air, especially one with a fairly low screen resolution, the window management strengths of OS X grow even more important.

The full sized keyboard is a must for any writer and it's a decision that I'm beyond glad Apple went with on the Air. This entire review was written on the Air and it was done even faster than if I were at my desk typing it all out, mostly because I could be in whatever more comfortable environment I wanted to be in while writing it. If you need something ultra portable it's generally because you want to carry it around with you all the time and presumably use it for something. The CPU and keyboard choices Apple went with made it so that you can actually get work done on the MacBook Air.

Apple did sacrifice a lot with the Air, the lack of an optical drive and limited expansion both come to mind. But honestly, it's all made up for by the form factor, build quality, CPU speed and keyboard decisions. Apple may have given up a lot but these four factors have made it so that the MacBook Air will be my desired travel companion from now on.

That's just me however, if you're not a fan of OS X then the MacBook Air loses one of its biggest assets and you have to start looking at things a little differently. Had the Air been more revolutionary it would've been the ultra portable that pulled in Windows users, much like the iPhone reached out to more than just Mac users.

As it stands, if you're an OS X user the MacBook Air is a solid ultra portable. If you're a windows user with no interest in OS X, the Air just doesn't make sense - luckily you have many more ultra portables to choose from.

For Apple the iPhone changed everything, we must now grade both the hardware and Apple itself for the product. The MacBook Air gets the nod and although Apple gets a B for effort, we expect more. You've gotta earn that stock price Steve.

Thermals & Strange Issues
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  • bsozak - Monday, January 18, 2010 - link

    For the price difference between the two it seems hard for me to justify the SSD version, though intuitively it would seem like the advantages would be greater. The odd thing to me is the number of people who claim to really notice the difference, even though the benchmarks don't seem to be that drastically different in a lot of areas.

    I also wonder if the type of SSD makes a difference? I've heard great things about Runcore SSD which has some really good pricing here - but if I end up dropping that kind of coin for moderately better performance, I don't think I'd be too happy.
    Reply
  • bsozak - Monday, January 18, 2010 - link

    That link didn't seem to take, so let's just try this: http://bit.ly/6Yz3cU">http://bit.ly/6Yz3cU Reply
  • steveyballmer - Tuesday, July 08, 2008 - link

    It is amazing to me that so many people can't seem to see through the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field! Everytime he gets up at one of his sissy-boy "conventions" he performs cheap magic tricks for the faithful, sometimes he even drags well meaning journalist along with him!
    The platter he is serving on in this picture is a "Macbook" (even though it's thinner than a magazine) Hot Air.
    Think about it, you are getting less for more! Skinny for plenty! Scrawney for money! Slim for uh, um, I can't think of a rhyme but if I could it would be something bad.
    PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE!
    Big is better! They have the iPhone, we have a CoffeeTable!

    C'mon!
    http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com">http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com
    Reply
  • pink78 - Friday, April 11, 2008 - link

    I've heared that next-gen MacBook pros are to recieve the multitouch trackpad: http://www.maconair.com/next-gen_macbook_pros_to_g...">http://www.maconair.com/next-gen_macbook_pros_to_g...

    is that true?

    Reply
  • RedWolf - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    The start of the review comes off as a bit too pro-apple. It was quite thorough and by the end, I didn't feel the same pro-apple bias. I thought the comparison to the Ferrari was excellent. The MBA is a luxury. If you can't afford two laptops you should get a more practical laptop and skip the MBA.

    I was dissappointed in the lack of a mention of Windows on the MBA. My Dell Inspiron 700M is getting a bit old and I'm looking for a replacement. I have a need to run windows regularly. How does the MBA run windows in bootcamp? Does the drive sharing work?

    I can see the MBA working for people who have the money to spend on a third computer (second laptop) and for anyone who does a lot of typing but needs a laptop that can be carried around. I can also see it working for my wife (the primary user of our 700M). She wants something that is light and easy to carry around the house. One of my biggest complaints about my 700M is the cramped keyboard. A full size keyboard would be wonderful.
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Tuesday, February 19, 2008 - link

    1 button trackpad? Lame! Reply
  • kac77 - Tuesday, February 19, 2008 - link

    I feel the review was good overall. But really I think the MBA was put in the most positive light as possible. Everyone says it's a niche product, well what niche is that?? Once you start to go deeper the whole niche theory, or "Its not made for you" aspect starts to appear rather light in common sense. Lets look at the supposed markets:

    College Students

    OK the MBA could possibly work it here. However, how many of you had two computers when at college? The MBA really does require a companion PC in order to assure the buyer that he/her can reinstall the OS if problems arise. In addition, having 1 USB port in college would be insane. When I was in College mine got a thorough work out. I transferred files to and from via USB drives, logging onto the network, installing software which was apart of the class. That one USB would be a hindrance no matter how you look at it.


    Traveling Managers (Marketing or Sales I presume)

    These people use their laptops even more than college people do. They are designing presentations. Most of them require the need to VPN into their office network in order to retrieve misc files they might require. They are downloading email often from remote locations so having 3G capability would be mandatory. Since there isn't a express port or PCMIA slot they are stuck with WIFI?? Trust me on this the sales guy isn't sitting in Starbucks in order to download his/her email or work on the latest spreadsheet.

    These points are what I'm talking about. When you just scratch the surface it appears fine but when you go deeper the lack of ports, no drive, no 3G, no Ethernet, (and no, being in IT I am not going to have the Marketing department change their own battery or hard drive) I think it makes the MBA become more of a product you get to do small work on a weekend when you happen to want a latte.

    Finally what wasn’t touched on at all, transferring files from the host PC. Most likely you are going to want to put some music on your computer, or just sync those files that you need for work. I’ve heard reviews from other sites that this process can take way more than 2.5 hours more like 5 or more. Some weren’t even able to complete the process without using the Ethernet dongle. In addition, you can’t use the one USB port with the Migration Assistant. Just how much weight would have been added to put on FireWire anyway???

    The overall thing with this device is that in order to achieve a baseline of functionality you are conceivably carrying around an Ethernet dongle, possibly the Super Drive (probably not in college, but most definitely if you are traveling) a USB extension cord, plus some sort of 3G device if you really want to be mobile. Once you are carrying around all of these things have you really saved any weight? With 3G this product really would have made some sense. The argument to looking forward where all information is on a network somewhere or at home would have held some weight. Without it the product comes off as trying to sell a drowning man a glass of water.

    This device really has one market …the CEO. This is a person who checks email at home or in the office isn’t really going to be accessing the VPN much from a remote location. Having 1 USB port would be fine. He isn’t doing the presentations, someone else usually is. At best while on the go he’s taking notes. For this person this device makes perfect sense but for anyone else I just don’t see it.
    Reply
  • MacTheSpoon - Saturday, February 16, 2008 - link

    Thanks very much, this was a really comprehensive, excellent review! Reply
  • Phrozt - Friday, February 15, 2008 - link

    Two comments about the benchmarks, one question about the battery.

    First, about the battery. It's been said that one of the shortcomings of the iPhone is that there are a limited number of times the battery can be charged. Does the Air suffer this same fate? Obviously this would have less of an impact than the iPhone situation, because the battery can clearly be removed and therefore replaced, but I'm still wondering about it's limits (especially after the mention of the 8 hour bug).

    As for the benchmarks, I think something needs to be said about the differences of expectations in real world use (in regards to the SSD vs. stock HDD argument). You said that you noticed everything starting/working quicker w/the SSD, but the benchmarks showed that in write situations, it showed an obvious disadvantage. I think it's important that you stress real world expectations in this situation. The more you use a computer, the more your expectations change. You *want* a program to start up at the snap of your fingers, but you *expect* saves/exports/transfers to take a long time. Therefore, from a real world useability standpoint, the SSD would be much better experience, because it improves in the areas where you have high expectations, and only falters in areas that you already have low expectations.

    Finally, about the usage tests. All three of these tests are heavily read reliant with almost no writing. Since the SSD takes longer to complete write projects, and therefore more energy overall to complete the process, I would be interested to see what the usage time would be if you were to script out a process that included a lot of PDF/image/file conversions/saves.

    All in all, a very good, in-depth and objective review. Wonderful job.
    Reply
  • totenkopf - Friday, February 15, 2008 - link

    "Thinner and lighter" only covers about two thirds of ultraportable, It's still basically the same footprint... how is that helpful? Can you not handle two extra pounds and the oppressive thickness of the mac book? When you open it up it's the same size as the rest of the mac books! If you take an old walkie-talkie cellphone and make it lighter and slimmer and than call it ultra portable... IT STILL DOESN'T FIT IN YOUR POCKET! , They completely missed the point of the ultra portable! The asus eee can operate as an extension of your desktop by allowing you to write, surf and accomplish minor tasks away from your primary machine. Yes, it is not the most comfortable on the eyes or the hands... It's not supposed to be! Apple was afraid to make the necessary sacrifices to make a true ultra portable computer.

    As a thin laptop it's a failure! No removable battery? What if i want to use some optical media on a train/bus/plane? I have to plug in some stupid portable optical drive? that isn't convenience that's a tragedy. I don't care how nice the display looks if i'm looking at a machine with worse specs than a $700 cheaper mac book. Once again, Apple is selling form over function... that's right, you get nothing extra for your money, just the envy of other iNerds.

    And to the author: describing it as a ferrari is laughable. True, it isn't fit for use as your primary machine, but isn't it supposed to perform better than your primary machine? I'd call it the mac book "airhead". It's like that blonde, oxygen thief piece of arm candy you always wanted to make you look good around your friends!It doesn't actually do anything very well, but at least it's inadequate for everyday use.
    Reply

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