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The New Macbook Air – Don’t Call It a Netbook, Unless That’s What It Really Is

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So, I finally got a chance to play with the new Macbook Air this weekend. I stopped by the beautiful new Apple store in Chicago (North/Halsted) and before purchasing a wireless keyboard for my iPad (the primary objective), I gave both the 11.6″ and the 13″ MBA’s the once over. Here are some thoughts:

1) Yes, they are very light and very thin. 
This was to be expected, but I wanted to confirm that 2.3 and 2.9 pounds really felt noticeably lighter than some of the other laptops I’ve used over the years. Similarly, the thinness of the machine was also ogled over, and both need to be experienced in person to truly appreciate the engineering feat. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the screen opened, and the design of the front lip seems to make it easier to open than even my current Macbook Pro.

2) The Core 2 Duo seems to be adequate enough.

Immediately upon waking the machine, I clicked on as many icons in the dock as I could. The outdated processor seemed to handle the multitasking processes with ease, and I had close to ten applications up and running within seconds. If the battery life lives up to expectations, then the sacrifice of a better processor (Core i3 for example) seems to be acceptable.

3) You will be able to take the 11.6″ anywhere.
A full-size keyboard goes a long way on a small laptop, and Apple has done a great job of packing one into the 11-inch Macbook Air. Just as Apple found the 13-inch sweet spot for laptop screens (anything larger just seems a bit too big for me now), the company may be defining another category with the 11.6″ screen. This is probably as small as you want to take a laptop without beginning to sacrifice functionality. I could see spending a long amount of time on the machine, unlike using a typical 7″ netbook. However, I wouldn’t trade a 13-inch experience if I had one.

Which brings me to the real question, and I will focus primarily on an education point of view. Who is the new Macbook Air really for? I was hoping that with rumors of the price drop prior to release, we’d have a machine that students could realistically afford and/or schools could stock their 1:1 programs with. The problem is that the Air is still a showcase for design, and although Apple hit a sub-$1000 price point, I find it hard to recommend buying the Air for education when a much better equipped Macbook Pro can be had for just another $100.

With a lesser processor, no optical drive, and a minuscule amount of flash storage instead of a hard drive, you really are paying more for the fewer pounds. Students would surely be impressed by the “wow” factor of the uber-thin and light machine, and with cloud applications so prevalent, the Air is certainly taking the right steps toward the future of notebooks. Perhaps, this is how a “netbook” should be designed and re-defined. Instead of being associated with being inexpensive, underpowered, and too small, netbooks should be fully functional for today’s computing requirements and sized for usability without compromise. Whether they remain associated with being inexpensive is the most interesting question. For a few hundred dollars less, I think Apple would have made a real impact on this continuously intriguing market.

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About David Chan

  • New2mac1832

    I can see sales professionals, especially those that travel a lot go for this. Many that I know went for most of the ultra thin laptops. Another could be execs who just need a fast but light laptop.

  • Agreed. Those on the move would definitely find these more appealing than the current slate of PC netbooks. Then again, many business professionals shy away from Macs, so will something like the Acer Timeline be their thin and light of choice?

  • Tom

    I wanted the 11.6″ Acer Timeline ever since it came out, but I need to use software that only runs on OS X. So the new Air is perfect.

    And the price isn’t that far off. The 1.4GHz C2D Timeline is ~$750. I would need to upgrade it with an SSD (+ ~$100) and that’s pretty close to the Air’s price. Plus the Air is thinner, lighter, and has Apple’s excellent glass trackpad. I also appreciate Apple’s typical nice touches like the aluminum, the small AC adapters with MagSafe and nice cable management, and the lack of easily-obstructed ventilation holes on the sides.

  • Hi Tom,
    Great details in your comment. By all means, if OS X is what you need, I can’t debate that. Plus, I love my Macbook Pro more than any other PC laptop I’ve ever used. My question would be why choose the Air over a MBP? Is half the weight really worth such a price premium? For frequent travelers and gadget aficionados, I can concede the point, but for everyday users, I’m not buying (even though I really want to!)

  • Tom

    I do travel, and pack light, so portability is important to me. Not only weight but size.

    Even if I’m not traveling, I have a MacBook and it’s heavy enough that I find it uncomfortable on my lap after an hour or so. Also, under heavy CPU load the MacBook guzzles battery power, gets hot very quickly, and the fan spins up to the point where it’s pretty loud.

    The 11.6″ Air never gets more than a little warm and I’ve only seen the fan spin up to 2500 RPM once, which is still basically inaudible (normal speed is 2000 RPM). It’s very pleasant to use a laptop that’s feather light and always cool and quiet.

  • Tom,
    Thanks again for the comment. It sounds like a perfect match for you and I’m sure other frequent travelers will feel the same. I’m also glad to hear that the temperature is not an issue, as my MacBook Pro does get a little toasty on the lap.

  • james braselton

    hi there one day ssd will be standard not optional