MacBook Air 11″ (rev Summer 2011) First Impressions

Safari

For the last few months I have been using a 13″ MacBook Air as my primary computer. It works beautifully. It is thin, light, and more than speedy enough for my needs. In addition, since the screen resolution is the same as the 15″ MacBook Pro I used briefly a few years ago I don’t feel like I’m compromising because of the size. All of that noted, however, there was part of me that, for these last months, had my eyes straying to (lusting for?) a different laptop. Yes, back in January Elana got an 11″ MacBook Air and I have thought about getting one (again since I owned one briefly when they were first released.) for myself on and off since then. (She refers to it as “the best computer I have ever owned.”) I didn’t get one. Well, I didn’t until yesterday when I went down to my local Apple store and picked up one of the brand-new 11″ MacBook airs. I got the model with 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD drive and set it up within an hour of making the purchase. Here are a few thoughts about this new “don’t call me a netbook” MacBook computer.

Configuration Details

The 13″ MacBook air that I’ve been using has a 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4 GB of 1067 MHz DDR 3 RAM. By comparison, my new 11″ MacBook air has a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 4 GB of 1333 MHz DDR 3 RAM. On the surface one might think that the 11″ would be significantly slower than the 13″ (1.6 vs 2.13) but the difference between the Core 2 Duo and the Core i5 processor is tremendous. Add in the fact that Apple did other tweaks under the hood and I’m finding that the 11″ MacBook air is the fastest computer I have ever used. (Keep in mind the fact that I have not used high-end gaming computers in the past but still, this thing is incredibly fast. I don’t need the fastest computer on the market, just one that doesn’t slow down and lock up. This has not done so even once so far.)

Boot Up

The 11″ boots almost instantaneously and I’m not finding any lag as I scrolled between windows on Mac OS X Lion. (This ability to scroll through full-screen windows is one of the best features of Lion imo.) Speaking of Apple’s new operating system, while it runs well on my 13″ MacBook Air it seems to be even smoother on the 11″. I suspect that this is in part because I don’t have a lot of software running on the 11″ but I also suspect that this new hardware is optimized a bit for lien as compared to the laptop I purchased a few months ago.

Size Differences

There are pros and cons between the 11 and 13″ MacBook air’s now just as there was when they 1st came out. In fact, at that time, Thomas and I went back and forth on which size we should each get. The pros for the 13″ MacBook air are obvious. It offers a far larger screen, better battery life by about 2 to 3 hours, the ability to have even larger solid-state drives and a faster processor. In addition, the 13″ MBA has an SD card slot. The 11″ does not. While this is far from a dealbreaker for me it is something that I’m already finding myself missing. On the other hand, the 11″ MBA has a number of things going for it. First, it’s fast. To have a computer that is this small and light yet brings with it few if any compromises with regard to speed and power is a delight. Second, it has a backlit keyboard. (Yes both sizes do now but my comparison is between the 13″ I’ve been using and the new 11″.) Third, while you might not think the slight size and weight different between the 11″ and 13″ MBAs would make much of a difference you would be wrong. The difference doesn’t look like much on paper but is huge in terms of actual usage.

What Do You Give Up?

What’s particularly striking to me is the fact that the diminutive screen on the 11″ doesn’t feel like it’s a compromise either. When I was using netbooks I always found that the screen resolution was an issue. That isn’t the case here thanks to Apple’s choice of screen reoslution and I don’t find myself missing the additional screen real estate all that much as compared to the 13″ version of the MBA. I am, however, considering getting one of the new Thunderbolt displays as I think the MBA 11″ and Thunderbolt Display might make a perfect combination.

Carrying the 13″ MacBook Air around is certainly easy enough but it doesn’t feel much different from the 13″ MacBook Pro I was using prior to it. In fact, with the screen open you really can’t tell much of a difference. It simply feels like you’re using a 13″ MacBook Pro. Using the 11″ is a different computing experience that, unfortunaly, is hard to put into words. It isn’t much bigger than an iPad and yet it has a full Mac keyboard, runs full desktop/laptop software and is completely silent. Truth be told I don’t think you could go wrong with either the 11 or the 13″ MBA but I do think the MBA 11″ is the sweet spot for computing right now. Who would have thought you could use a computer as small and light as this and be completely “wowed!” by it.

Bottom Line
If you’re in the market for one of the new MacBook Airs my recommendation is that you check out the 11″ MacBook air with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB drive. I don’t believe that 2 GB of RAM makes sense considering the software that is currently available and am a bit surprised that Apple kept it in the lineup. Moreover, although Alana is perfectly happy with 64 GB of storage I know that it would be a significant issue for me. 128 GB of storage is still not a huge amount but it is enough for most of us so long as we don’t keep huge video files on our laptops.

The market is already predicting good sales figures of the new MacBook Air lineup in the next months. After using this diminutive laptop for just a few hours something tells me that, whatever numbers they use they may be a bit too conservative. 🙂


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.