Review: Apple MacBook Air 2011

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Apples ultra portable notebook has received its annual revamp. On the outside, it looks pretty much the same as its predecessor but under the hood is the beast seems to have been unleashed. Is this the perfect beauty and beast machine we've been waiting for? Read on to find out.

First Impression

At first glance, the device looks the same as the 2010 MacBook Air with the only difference being a little port called Thunderbolt that rests to the right. The industrial design with the aluminum uni-body still looks very attractive and will definitely turn heads in public. It's also very light.

The MacBook Air will be available in two screen sizes -- 11-inch and 13-inch. The unit we received for review is the11-inch variant.

On the 11-incher you will find two USB 2.0 ports - one on either side - a Thunderbolt I/O port on the right and the charging port with the headphones jack on the left. (You get an SD card slot on the 13-inch MacBook Air.)

Performance

The 2010 MacBook Air suffered in its overall performance. The hardware was a bit underwhelming, battery life a tad bit disappointing and it lacked a backlit keyboard. The 2011 MacBook Air has changed that for the better.  The review unit we received has a 1.6GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, Intel HD graphics and 128GB flash storage.

In terms of design, the MacBook Air is really slim. At its thickest point, it measures just 0.68-inches and tapers down to 0.11-inches at its thinnest point. The 11-inch Air weighs a mere 1.08 kgs where as the 13-incher weighs 1.35 kgs.

On the Geekbench benchmark, the device scored 5037, which is about 1500 more than what the 13-inch model of 2010 scored (3650). There is a great boost in the overall performance of the machine and it handled multitasking very smoothly.

As a notebook, the device works very well. From shut down to the desktop, the device boots in a mere 15 seconds. The keyboard is a full sized chicklet style one. The keys are soft, springy and comfortable to type on. The biggest addition when compared to its predecessor is that the keyboard is backlit. The only downside to the keyboard is that the F1 to F12 keys feel a bit cramped.

The trackpad on the MacBook Air is a full-sized glass multi-touch trackpad and with the multi-touch functionality of Mac OSX Lion, it's fun to use. The trackpad is by far the best available on any portable computing device.

The display is LED backlit with a resolution of 1366 x 768 (The 13-incher has a resolution of 1400 x 900). Although unlike its elder siblings it doesn't have an edge-to-edge glass panel on the display, the feature isn't missed. Instead, the border of the screen is aluminum just like the rest of the machine. The downside to the screen is that it is susceptible to a lot of glare in direct sunlight.

For everyday work, browsing the net and multitasking, the machine works very well with almost no hiccups. Add to that the features such as Mission Control, Launchpad and full screen apps on an 11-inch display and you have a great OS experience on a fantastic device.

The battery life of the device too is great. We were able to use the device for about 6 hours before it needed a recharge. That's almost twice as long as its predecessor.
Multimedia

With a 720p display, watching movies was surprisingly fun, even on the small screen. All HD videos we threw at the device ran very smoothly, the colours look vibrant and the blacks deep. The audio was good. The vocals and midrange were clear but the sound lacked bass.

FaceTime on the MacBook Air too was great. The HD webcam ensures crisp images and taking advantage of the full screen app in Lion ensured a smooth chatting experience. On the CineBench benchmark the device scored 10.36 fps on OpenGL and 1.93pts on the CPU test.

One major disadvantage is that the device doesn't house an Ethernet port and you have to purchase the adaptor separately if you wish to be able to connect an Ethernet cable. With the Samsung 9000 series notebook, which is a direct competitor to the MacBook Air, the Ethernet adaptor comes in the box.

Overall, the multimedia experience on the Air is great - just don't expect to play the latest HD games on it.

Verdict

The 11-inch MacBook Air is truly a game changer in the ultra portable notebook category. It gives you all the performance and power of a laptop and the portability of a tablet. We could crib that it doesn't have USB 3.0 and the lack of Ethernet connectivity is a problem especially in India but the overall package is great. If you are in the market for an ultra portable laptop you're in luck.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a stylish ultra portable Windows-based machine, take a look at the Samsung 9000 series notebooks. If you don't mind sacrificing design for performance, consider the Lenovo ThinkPad X1. But if it's a Mac you desire then you have four variants of the Air to choose from, two in the 11-inch model and two in the 13-inch. The price of the Air range from Rs. 56,900 to Rs. 89,900 depending on the configuration you pick up.

Pros

Great build
Very slim and light
2nd Generation Sandy Bridge Processors
SSD Storage
Good battery life

Cons

Screen is susceptible to glare
No Ethernet port/connector in the box
HDMI/VGA adaptor has to be purchased separately

Price: Rs. 67,900

Specifications:

11-inch Display with a resolution of 1366 x 768
1.6GHz Intel Core i-5 processor
4GB DDR3 RAM
Intel integrated HD Graphics
OS: Mac OSX Lion
128GB Flash Storage
Backlit Keyboard
Glass Trackpad
Two USB 2.0 Ports
Thunderbolt I/O
HD Webcam

Ratings:

Performance: 4
Price: 3.5
Ease of setup: 5
Ergonomics: 5
Wow Factor: 5
Overall: 4

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