11-inch and 13-inch Apple MacBook Air (Late 2010) full review
The 13-inch model
The new 13-inch MacBook Air isn’t a radical departure from the previous-generation Air, which was itself a surprisingly thin and light laptop compared to Apple’s other MacBook and MacBook Pro models. The new Air is almost imperceptibly thinner (0.05 inches thinner at its thinnest point, 0.08 inches thinner at its thickest), has exactly the same width and depth, and weighs just 40 grams (1.4 ounces) less. The keyboard’s the same, and while the glass trackpad is new, it takes up the same space as the old Air’s trackpad-and-button combo.
Beyond the physical changes to the case, the extra USB port, and the upgraded video processor, perhaps the biggest hardware change to the 13-inch Air from the previous model is the screen itself: the old model was 1280 by 800 pixels, while the new one is 1440 by 900 pixels—all in the same physical space. The result is that everything looks a little bit smaller, but you’ve got more room for stuff on the screen. I found that after a few minutes using the new display, I was used to the change in resolution, though I did increase the default font size in a few of my apps just to take it easy on my eyes.
From a financial perspective, the 13-inch Air is a much better deal than any previous MacBook Air model. The base model, priced at $1299, features a 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 128GB of flash storage. That’s $200 less than the previous base-model Air, where $1499 got you the same processor, a 120GB physical hard drive, and inferior graphics performance. The stock high-end model, with the same specs as the low-end model save 256GB of flash storage, is similarly $200 less than the previous stock high-end system. (Though that $1799 system came with a 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo processor, it also had only 128GB of flash storage.)
This is not to say that $1599 is all you can spend on the 13-inch MacBook Air. Apple has provided several options for those who want to trick this system out: for $100 you can add a 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo processor (to the high-end configuration only), and either configuration can be upgraded from 2GB to 4GB of RAM for $100. (And you can only make these upgrades when you order the product; none of these features is upgradable after the fact, either by you or your local Apple Genius.) Even with those two additions, at $1799 you’d be getting a majorly upgraded system from the MacBook Air offered by Apple previously.
In our Macworld Lab testing, we found that the 1.86 GHz 13-inch MacBook Air was slightly faster overall than a current-model 13-inch 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. However, our Speedmark 6.5 score is based on a suite of tests, and the individual tests were all over the map. The Air, powered by its flash storage, excelled on our storage-based tests. Powered by the nVidia GeForce 320M graphics processor, it held its own on graphics-related tests, but our calculation-intensive tests showed the effects of its processor’s slower clock speed.
The 13-inch Air also easily outdistanced previous models of MacBook Air, aided by its fast storage and upgraded graphics. Not only is this new MacBook Air the fastest Air ever made, it’s roughly comparable in speed to the other two current 13-inch Mac laptop models. That’s a first for the MacBook Air product line.
The 11-inch model
I love small Mac laptops. The smaller, the better. That’s why I embraced the 12-inch PowerBook in its heyday. But the 11-inch MacBook Air puts even that legendarily small Mac to shame: it trades an inch of depth for an inch of width, weighs in at half the PowerBook’s weight, and is a full half-inch thinner than the old paragon of tiny Apple laptops. Yes, there’s a new champion of Mac laptop smallness, and it’s the 11-inch MacBook Air.
The 11-inch Air is only 11.8 inches wide (a full inch narrower than the 13-inch model), 7.56 inches deep (1.4 inches less deep), and a scant 2.3 pounds (nine ounces lighter). Apple’s white MacBook weighs more than twice as much! The original MacBook Air made all the other MacBooks in Apple’s product line feel like boat anchors; the 11-inch MacBook Air makes the 13-inch Air feel heavy. It’s a little bit crazy.
But while the 11-inch Air is small and light, it doesn’t feel cramped. Part of that is due to the high-resolution display, which packs more pixels into its compact 11.6-inch diagonal screen than fit on the screen of that 13-inch white MacBook. Sporting a 16:9 aspect ratio (1366 by 768 pixels), it’s a bit wider than most Apple laptop displays, and 768 pixels is the bare minimum number of vertical pixels you’d want in a modern Mac display. However, most modern Mac software has been designed with widescreen aspect ratios in mind—and the extra width of the 16:9 display is what keeps it from not feeling cramped.
Like the 13-inch Air, the 11-inch model managed to fit a lot of pixels into a small area of physical space, meaning it’s got a higher-resolution display than most other MacBooks. (It’s actually more comparable to the screen resolution of an iPad.) Because the Mac OS X interface isn’t independent of screen resolution, the result is that everything on the MacBook Air’s screen seems a little bit smaller than it does on most other Macs. As with using the 13-inch model, I adjusted to the new resolution within a few hours, with the exception of changing a few default font sizes and finding myself pressing Command-plus in Safari a bit more often to increase the size of Web pages.
When the MacBook Air was first introduced in 2008, it was criticised for its high price: $1799 to start, with a $1000(!) 64GB flash storage option. Over the past two years Apple has made some progress in turning the Air into a more affordable computer, but with the 11-inch model the company has made a breakthrough. The base-model 11-inch Air costs £849/$999, the same price as the previous low-price laptop leader, the white MacBook (in the US). Granted, for $999 you only get a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 64GB or flash storage—but unless you’re shopping for a desktop-replacement system that’ll do heavy-duty video and audio editing, I’m not sure it matters.
For an extra £150/$200, Apple’s offering the 11-inch Air with 128GB of flash storage. While both models can be factory-upgraded from the stock 2GB of RAM to 4GB for £80/$100, only the 128GB model can be upgraded to a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo for an additional £80/$100. A fully stocked 11-inch MacBook Air— complete with 128GB of flash storage, 4GB of RAM, and a 1.6GHz processor—would cost £1,159/$1399. Not dirt cheap, but still less than the base model of the last-generation Air. (And yes, for that price you could also get a 13-inch Air with the same RAM and storage and a 1.8 GHz processor—but it would be bigger and heavier than the 11-inch Air, now, wouldn’t it?)