Eenie Meenie Miny Moe… MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

When Apple announced the new MacBook air this past Wednesday I knew immediately that I would be ordering one. The question was – which one?

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

Dan-

Let me go back a few years. I have always wanted a thin and light computer that allowed me to do everything but was simple to lug around. When my arthritic wrists became increasingly painful the need for a light notebook grew significantly. As a result I ordered the first MacBook Air as soon as it was available. In fact, mine came in the very first day the computers were hitting the United States. By July, however, I had it on eBay. It wasn’t that I didn’t like having a thin and light computer but the fact that this particular thin and light computer was anemic with regard to power and storage space, easily overheated and locked up and felt overly delicate was too much for me. There were too many compromises. I liked the concept but, as is so often the case with new technology, the idea was better than the reality for me. So off went my MacBook Air and I turned to using a MacBook Pro. A year later I had a brief flirtation with a refurbished Air but it took just a few minutes before I remembered why I sold my first one. I returned it.

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

So when Apple announced the new MacBook Airs on Wednesday I was eager to get one. No, they still aren’t powerhouse computers but many of the original issues with the device are now gone. The computers are light, more sturdy thanks to the unibody construction, offer respectable battery life and, although they still use an old processor, should offer significant speed improvements over the old model.

So which to choose? My immediate inclination was to order the 11 inch version. It has a full-sized keyboard and is so remarkably light. I was a bit concerned about it having a processor running at 1.4 GHz but ordered. I did opt to up the RAM to 4 GB before doing so, however.

That evening I was having a conversation via e-mail with Thomas and he asked a few questions, pointed out the rather short screen resolution and led me wonder if I had made the wrong choice. I realized that I needed to slow down and think this through a bit more. I canceled my order.

We went back and forth over the next day highlighting the pros and cons of each. Eventually I made my choice and earlier today placed my order. I ordered the 13″ model and upped the RAM to 4 GB. Here was my thinking.

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

Battery Life- This computer is going to be used when I’m on the go. Ideally the lightest machine wins but a big consideration for me is the battery life. This will especially be the case when I go to CES in January. The difference between five hours and seven hours of battery life is fairly significant. The difference between the 9-10 hours I currently get with my MacBook Pro and the five hours of 11″ MBA is huge. With its 7 hours of battery life the 13″ MacBook air offers less of a downward move.

Storage Space- Initially I was going to order the 11″ version with 4 GB of RAM but just 64 GB of storage. It was going to be a second or perhaps even a third machine for me. If I went to a 128GB hard drive (which is what my MacBook Pro has in it) and did 4GB of RAM the price jumped to $1299. By ordering the 13″ model I’m getting one that has the same storage I’m currently living with in my MacBook Pro Go to 4GB RAM and it is just $100 more than the 11″. If I were going for a stock machine, at $999 11″ MacBook Air it would be one thing and a likely a good choice but since I was going to up the specs it made sense for me to think of little bit bigger. Either way it became clear that while I am happily living with 128GB of space 64 GB was going to quickly become an issue.

SD Slot- I love the SD Card slot on my MacBook Pro and use it all the time. The 13″ has one. The 11″ does not.

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

Weight- The 2.3 pound 11″ model is quite a bit lighter than the 2.9 pound 13″ model but both are a huge amount lighter than my MacBook Pro. So the 13″ saves me a lot and, since I have an iPad, when I want super light I have a 1.5 pound option. And when I go to CES I’ll take both my iPad and my Air and they will still way less together than my MacBook Pro.

Screen Resolution- The screen resolution was a huge deal for me. Over the summer I had been considering getting a 15″ MacBook Pro in place of my 13″ version. The reason for this was simple – screen resolution. There are sometimes when the 13″ model’s screen is a little bit too small, especially when I’m working with RapidWeaver in which the settings of some Stacks require a taller resolution. By opting for the 13″ model I get the screen resolution of the 15″ MacBook Pro without all the weight. It’s a win-win – the better screen resolution in a significantly lighter device.

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

Processor Power – No matter how you slice it I’m giving up speed but the difference between my 2.53 GHz processor and 1.83 GHz on my new machine and 2.53 GHz down to 1.4 GHz is significant. At 1.83 GHz I’ll be able to do everything I want to do on a notebook. I suspect that I would have bumped into some issues on the smaller, slower machine.

So in the end I ordered a 13 inch MacBook Air, 128 GB SSD drive, and 4 GB of RAM. I lose significant weight compared to my current notebook, gained significant screen real estate compared to my current notebook, and get the exact same storage as I have on my current computer. I maintain that having an SD card slot, I give up a few USB ports but not a big deal for the way I work and I give up the ethernet port but I never use it on my notebook. I give up very little, and again significantly. I suspect that I would have been happy with either one but, in the end, the 13″ seemed like the better fit. With the 13″ Air I don’t expect I’ll miss my MacBook Pro one bit.

Which Leads us to Thomas… When last we spoke I told him what I was doing but he was on the fence and leaning toward the 11″ model. Earlier he let me know what he had decided to do… he order the same machine as me. Here’s why…

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

Thomas-

Dan and I were talking with much anticipation about the prospect of an 11-inch MacBook Air. The idea made a lot of sense – it was a perfect “large netbook”. An ultraportable Mac running OS X that is officially supported by Apple (i.e. – not a Hackintosh). When we had those discussions, the idea of there being a 13″ Air wasn’t even rumored. So, when Apple sprung the paradox of choice on us, what would we decide to do?

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

For me, the MacBook Air 13″ is replacing my primary computer – a MacBook Pro 13″. I use the machine for a lot of more power-user tasks, including computer programming, photo and video editing, and for voice recognition via Dragon Dictate for Mac. Dragon and the Java tools I use especially push the machine.

While the screen resolution on the MacBook Air 11″ is perfectly usable (it’s almost the same resolution as the current MacBook Pro 13″), the thing that made me decide to get the 13″ was the processor. Not only is the 11″ slower (1.4 Ghz or 1.6 Ghz), it’s an ultra-low voltage processor with less on-board cache and has a slower memory bus speed. The increased screen resolution and the SD Card slot are added benefits. And for me, the processor in the 13″ is the same as my two-year old MacBook Pro 13″, which I know will run all of my software without any issues. In fact, it will run faster since I will be going from a standard hard drive to the new all flash-based SSD drive in the Air.

What I find interesting is that the 11″, while much lighter weight than the 13″, is only marginally larger. It’s about an inch bigger in each direction. I think that the pricing structure for the new MacBook Air line is extremely well thought-out.

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

The entry level model, at $999, is the same price as the 13″ MacBook (White) (which I see going the way of the Dodo).

GearDiary Eenie Meenie Miny Moe... MacBook Airs But Which Way to Go?

For $1199, you double the storage, but with no other changes.

For $1299, you get the bigger screen, SD card slot, 40% longer battery life, and a much faster processor.

For $1599, you double the memory again, with no other changes.

I see the entry-level model being perfect for those wanting a Mac netbook (treating it as an additional computer), those who travel frequently where weight is at a premium, or for those with light computing needs. For example, MacBook (White) buyers would probably look at the $999 model.

If you want more storage or a faster processor or larger screen real estate, there is only $100 difference in the 128 GB 11″ and the 128 GB 13″. I think most people will choose the 13″, as the difference in size is negligible. It could be a true only computer for most users.

Lastly, I find it interesting that all models only have 2 GB of RAM. Almost everyone who plans on keeping the computer long-term and using it as a primary machine would benefit from paying the extra $100 and upgrading to 4 GB, since you cannot upgrade it after purchase. The fact that the Apple stores all carry only the base models with 2 GB of RAM surprises me. I can’t imagine not having the additional memory available to me, especially when editing photos or video. I’m sure that’s still a smaller percentage of users that would hit a wall with memory usage, but I think it’s worth the $100 extra.

So we both have new MacBook Airs on the way, Whose will arrive first is anyone’s guess but regardless we are both quite happy with the decision now that the choice has been made.

Update: We wrote this on Friday but pulled it from the schedule when, yet again, one of us (Dan) started rethinking the specs of the Air he ordered and summarily cancelled the order. By mid-day Saturday the Air was rescheduled but this time the storage had been bump to 256GB along with some of the other specs. Unwilling to give into peer pressure the other (Thomas) decided to “stick”. That was last night.
Today’s email from Thomas to Dan read…
 

Subject: Re: After all that

Last night, I remembered that for development, I also use VMWare to run virtual machines. Which take up gigs of disk space. *sigh*

256 GB version, here I come. Canceling my order and upping…

So in the end both of us are getting 13″ MacBook Airs with 4GB RAM and 256GB of storage and planning to use them as our primary computers. Too bad their are configure to order… 🙂


About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.