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
POST A COMMENT

103 Comments

View All Comments

  • mschira - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    well you are not thinking apple enough for this. saving 100$ is no reason accepting a mess on your table...
    besides who sais you need to toss the display when the gfx is outdated? what's keeping you from connecting the display via A dedicated GPU box once the internal GPU becomes to slow?
    M.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    In the display? So when the card is obsolete you get a new display? How about outside the laptop and the display but in between both. Reply
  • AJ Driver - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Thanks Anand :)

    The irony for me reading your review and others around the internet is the comparison in performance between these MBAs and other models (both new and old).

    My personal laptop is a 5, going on 6, year old Macbook and for what I use it for it's more than good enough. It's pretty incredible the way technology is advancing, and if the current pc stays the course I wait as long as I can before taking the leap.

    It's hard to deny the urge to upgrade though!
    Reply
  • Marand - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Well I thought I was finally clear that I was going to buy a MacBook Pro 13 but now I am not so sure.

    I mainly use my laptop for software development. My previous one was MacBook pro 2007 model which served me well.

    My issue with the pro line is that because of their weight, it just ends up becoming a desktop that I don't take with with me and always plugged into a large screen.

    But having the ability to put 8 gigs of ram and update the hard drive on the new MBPro is a nice option to have.

    I really hoped that apple was going to release MBAs with 8 gigs of ram at least and even if you can't upgrade the hard drive (although I heard you can with prev gen from OWC) you could always plug in bigger drives through thunderbolt if and when drives comes out.

    The big selling factor for the MBA for me was the weight. I figured it would be super easy to take with me where and when I want without treating it like a desktop.

    I know the MBAs are not targeted to developers. Ut I know plenty who were hoping for "more" from MBA

    So now I have a tough choice because the MBpro 15 with quad core and the hi res anti glare screen is packed with power even if it's heavier and likely has more long term capability.

    Oh well, can't have it all I guess...
    Reply
  • A5 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    If the 15" MBP is too heavy for you, you may want to get a more supportive bag or something. I would've killed for a 5.6lb 15" laptop 8 years ago :P Reply
  • Uritziel - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Remember, you're not supposed to carry it around attached to your ear lobe :)

    I carried a 17-inch DTR laptop that weighed about 10 lbs. around campus for a year, so 5.6 lbs. sounds light to me too. I consider battery life as the main metric of portability after weight hits that 5 lbs. mark.
    Reply
  • crimson117 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    >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.

    People who can afford a new MacBook Air every time a new one comes out aren't going to be worried about saving their money on a ram upgrade :)
    Reply
  • steven75 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Apple hardware has incredible resale value, so it's actually easier to do than you think. Reply
  • Uritziel - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Don't forget that if you buy a laptop for $2000 today and sell it at that great Apple resale value of say $1000 (numbers are random) in a few years when you're ready to upgrade, the laptop did NOT cost $1000 in the end.

    Adding on the effort required to resell it, that rationale makes a lot less sense than some people claim.
    Reply
  • Rasterman - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - link

    I'm looking at upgrading right now so I looked up the resale value of mine. I bought a new MB for $1150 in 2008, used prices are $500-$800 right now, I expect to sell mine north of $700 since it is in brand new condition as I only used it as a dev machine when porting and it has seen very little use. So my expected resale value is 61% after 3 years which is pretty damn good IMO. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now