The Screen: Very Good

Many netbooks and notebooks have shipped with 11.6 inch screens. They deliver a good balance between screen size and portability. But the 11.6-inch displays we’ve encountered in the past have been crap. It’s not rocket science, but rather a matter of cost. The majority of users will pick a cheap, bright, glossy display over something with better viewing angles, higher resolution or more accurate colors. And when you’re competing mostly based on price, it’s tough to make a decision that won’t increase sales (I’d argue that it makes the most important part of your customers happier but then again, I don’t run Acer/ASUS/Dell/Gateway).

Apple opts out of low margin competition. The cheapest MacBook Air starts at $999. You pay a premium, and part of that premium goes towards the best 11.6-inch display we’ve ever tested.

Notebook LCD Quality - Contrast

Notebook LCD Quality - White

Most 11-inch screens don’t get very bright and have sub-par contrast ratios. The 11-inch MacBook Air has neither of these characteristics. It’s 127% brighter than the Alienware M11x R2 and has twice the contrast ratio of anything in its class. It’s not the most amazing display we’ve ever seen, but it’s way better than the majority of what’s out there. In actual use it does look good. The contrast ratio in particular sells the display.

Notebook LCD Quality - Black

The 13-inch panel is pretty close in performance. The max brightness is a bit higher and black level a bit lower. The resulting increase in contrast ratio is appreciable. For the most part you don’t make any quality tradeoffs when going with one MBA over another. It just boils down to screen size and resolution.

Both the 11 and 13-inch MBAs use TN panels, but they are better than your standard TN panel. Viewed above center the display washes out, viewed below center the display gets very dark.

The dark underside of TN panels

Color reproduction is above average, but not quite as good as the 15-inch MacBook Pro we reviewed earlier in the year.

Notebook LCD Quality - Color Accuracy

Color gamut isn’t very impressive at all. It’s in line with what you’d expect from a panels of these sizes though.

Notebook LCD Quality - Color Gamut

The SSD: Not Half Bad The 11-inch MacBook Air: Faster than the old 13-inch MacBook Air
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  • tipoo - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    I'm wondering if the larger SSD options would be faster due to more chips/parallelism? And if you could throw the SSD results from the Adamo into the test results?
  • philipdygeus - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    I am looking for a new laptop and the choice is between the forthcoming 13" MBP and the new 13" MBA.

    The "heaviest" work I do is Photoshop CS5. I also "multitask" in the sense that I have Word, Chrome and Bridge open simultaneously, though I would only use one at the time.

    What battery life can I expect from the 13" MBA when using CS5?

    Thanks for any real-world insight!
    info [at]
  • bailwill - Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - link

    Hi when you reviewed the 2008 Air you helpfully stated that trying to watch 2 dvd's back to back failed after about 3 3/4 hours. Sadly I could not find this test for the 2010 air - and as I fly a lot it would be useful to know how long the battery will last in DVD watching mode.
  • redslap - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - link

    I have to say that I have never been as satisfied with a computer purchase as when I bought my Acer Timeline with SSD back in August 2009. Granted, I bought it on a trip to the states so I really got a sweet deal for 800 dollars instead of euros. However, the netbook has performed well over expectation. I have been using it everyday. The Macbook Pro 2008 Im currently writing on had a hard drive failure in early June and I only got around fixing it yesterday (with SSD ;-), mainly because I was doing fine with my timeline. It has no where near the processing power but I used it a ton for surfing the web, taking notes in class and the SSD must have really made a difference because it felt as snappy as my macbook pro in these instances. Furthermore I had no problem using Traktor and Virtual DJ as well as sound recording and editing with Adobe Audition. Coupled with a good screen, half the weigh of my macbook, the ability to fire up a strategy game like civ 4 or medieval 2 in class or on the road has been awesome and with a battery life of 7 hours; it will surely be missed now that the screen broke during my holiday travel. Alas, I will not give up on my Timeline...
  • NYCPHOTO - Sunday, February 20, 2011 - link

    I own a MacBook Air 13" and the battery life just wasn't good enough for me. I got only a few hours per charge and that is if I was lucky. My eventual solution was to get an external laptop battery from Novuscell Batteries. So far, no regrets because I'm now getting an extra 12+ hours of battery runtime per charge on my Air.

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