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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  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    35W is maximum draw I think. On average you don't use that much, and on idle you save even less. My Z, as an entire system, draws 22W on average during browsing. Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    If you had actually read the review or knew anything about the Sony Z you would know that this is a different ultra low voltage i5 processor that was just released. You would also know that Sony's are higher priced, poorly made, little service and support, and run Windows. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    I would know that my Z runs fast, plays my games, carries around just as light as an Air, is built to last, never needed support, and cost me less. And people still have their 3 gen old Z's running core duos going strong.

    The Z does not want a ULV processor. ULV is only good if you want to increase your battery life at the cost of performance. The Sony Z does not lose to Air in battery life at all. Just because something just came out doesn't necessarily make it ideal. Would there be a market for the new Z with ULV? Maybe, and it will then kill the Air in battery life and probably cost even less.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    As usual, a nice and thorough review. Thanks for the comparison to the i7, as well.

    Apple did a nice job with this one. They have created a mainstream "ultra book" months before the others come out with their blessed-by-Intel versions. It isn't as powerful as the Vaio X, but is more reasonably priced. It beats the relatively new Samsung Series 9 (which still relies on an i3 and less powerful graphics) while maintaining similar pricing. The i7 available in the 128GB 11" is a good deal at $1349. I opted for the 256GB 11" and got the Samsung (though the Toshiba would have been fine - I had one in my 2010 MacBook Air).
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    I hope you mean the Vaio Z. The X was amazing but it was a paper weight. Reply
  • iwod - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    The next gen of tech, Haswell, PCI-E 4.0, Thunderbolt 2.0, Faster SSD will be perfect fit for Macbook Air. Reply
  • lokiju - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I wonder if Sony's Air challengers external GPU would work with this if you could get the physical ports adapted to fit...

    A external GPU would probably be more than it's worth for me but still a cool concept.
    Reply
  • mschira - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    That last sentence made me think. Why not integrate the external graphic card into the external display?
    That would be neat.
    M.
    Reply
  • wicko - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I think I would still prefer an external GPU kit or something. This way you still have choice in GPU and in monitor, including existing ones. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I'd prefer a separate box for the GPU so you don't have to toss the display when its outdated. With thunderbolt you could potentially connect the Air to the display, then daisychain the display to the GPU. Reply

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