To Air is Human

Posted: February 3, 2008 in first impressions, Macbook Air

Ahhh, Apple. How I love and hate thee at the same time. You are sucking away all my money, but you make such beautiful toys, I am unable to resist.

The Macbook Air (MBA) is really an engineering marvel, a thing of beauty wrapped in an almost unbelievable package. Sometimes I just like to look at it in all it’s thin and shiny glory. Typing away on it as I am now just feels good, it’s like it wants me to keep singing its praises to anyone I can.

But OK, beyond all the shininess and coolness, is it really a big deal? It’s 2.3ish pounds lighter than the regular Macbooks, and not as powerful. Is the thinner size and lower weight worth the cost and tradeoff of computing power? Clearly that’s an individual question and really depends on one’s needs/lusts/desires. Not having owned any previous Mac laptop, it’s hard for me to compare. What I can say is the size and form factor need to be experienced first hand to appreciate. Carrying this thing up and down the stairs feels like carrying a really really thin book. Bouncing it on my legs while on the couch it’s nearly weightless. Yet when you open it up and start interacting, the build quality feels very solid, and you pretty much just feel like you are using an extremely well built laptop. It just screams “use me” when compared to my old clunky 6+ pound laptop. I used to think that was a fairly lightweight computer relative to the old “desktop replacement” I had owned many many years back (8+ pounds); it now feels like a boat anchor in comparison. The light weight in and of itself as a “feature” is really intangible, though; I think in the long run it will prove to be a factor that encourages me to use it more often in places/situations I might not have considered in the past. At the bare minimum, just running it up and down the stairs is more of an afterthought as opposed to an impedance.

So enough about the form factor. Other niceties include the absolutely gorgeous screen. I don’t know what Apple does with their screens, but they always seem just that much more vibrant than comparably sized screens from other vendors. The full size keyboard with it’s backlighting is also extremely nice. This is where it really stands apart from the “ultraportable” market. I’ve seen units that weigh less or with a smaller footprint, but generally the sacrifice is in the screen and/or keyboard. It has a great feel to it, a touch more solid and comfortable than the new skinny iMac keyboard. Speaking of touch, this is also the best touchpad I’ve ever experienced. I used to hate touchpads, and I have tried plenty of them. This one just works. I am now completely comfortable with general things like web browsing and application navigation. The multi finger gestures, etc make it a breeze. Also love the iPhone-esque zoom in feature. In fact I just used it a second ago so I could see this text better as I typed.

In terms of other stuff, what can I say? It’s really a full up Mac packed into the unit. You get Leopard and iLife pre-installed, for better or worse, and all the niceties and features anyone who’s used a Mac before is used to. The hard drive isn’t the fastest (boot up time was noticeably slower than the iMac) but is insanely quiet (iPod quiet). The unit does get warm at times and the fan goes on (not so iPod quiet), which is considerably louder and more noticeable. It’s unfortunate they weren’t able to get the 45nm Penryn’s into these units, but I suppose that will be in the next version.

Applications wise, I haven’t been able to experiment as much as I’d like. I fiddled a bit with iTunes and iPhoto, no surprises there of course. Slingbox installed and ran flawlessy, so I’ll be able to use it as a portable TV. Also, it took a while, but I was able to use Bootcamp to get Windows XP installed. Dual booting worked fine, and I was able to install my first test game (Space Rangers 2) in XP. Frankly I’d prefer to stay in OSX as much as possible, but it’s nice to know I can get in some gaming in XP as well. The biggest issue is the lack of a CD/DVD drive for gaming. I did get the USB external drive but it would still be nice to not have to lug the thing around for games. I tried to get HOMM V to work (Mac native) but had some issues with the graphics. Right now I’m trying to install Shadowbane to see if I can get it running (that should be interesting).

All in all I’m very pleased and really enjoying the MBA. I know this is certainly not the unit for everyone, but I think anyone who likes tech can appreciate how well engineered of a product this is. Realizing this is still the “honeymoon period”, I’ll have to reassess after a month and more, but as with the iPhone, I don’t think I’ll be feeling the buyer’s remorse as I have with many other electronics I’ve purchased in the past.

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