What prompted me to stop using the MacBook Air was the second generation unibody MacBook Pro. Apple ramped up battery capacity enough where I could get much better battery life and performance out of the MacBook Pro. The combination of the two was enough for me to let my MacBook Air collect dust. I hardly ever used it after that point.
Apple updated the MacBook Air hardware since its original release, but the updates were nothing spectacular. Apple moved from an Intel supplied chipset to one made by NVIDIA, and SSDs eventually became standard issue. Battery life didn’t get any better and memory sizes never moved beyond 2GB.
Last week Apple announced the biggest upgrade to the MacBook Air since 2008, complete with a redesign, price reduction and improved internals. Let’s start at the redesign.
There Once Was One, Now There's TwoThe original MacBook Air was very light on connectivity. It had an angled MagSafe power connector but that was it for visible ports. The right side of the machine was home to three hidden connectors: mini DisplayPort, USB and line out.
There are of course now two MacBook Airs that make up the family: an 11.6-inch model and a 13.3-inch model. The two have identical port layouts however the 13-inch MacBook Air gets an integrated SD card reader like its Pro siblings.
|MacBook Air Size Comparison|
|Height||0.11 - 0.68" (0.3 - 1.7 cm)||0.11 - 0.68" (0.3 - 1.7 cm)|
|Width||11.8" (29.95 cm)||12.8" (32.5 cm)|
|Depth||7.56" (19.2 cm)||8.94" (22.7 cm)|
|Weight||2.3 lbs (1.06 kg)||2.9 lbs (1.32 kg)|
|MacBook Air Spec Comparison|
13-inch (Late 2008)
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Duo 1.4GHz (1.6GHz optional)||Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz (2.13GHz optional)||Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz|
|Memory||2GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board (4GB optional)||2GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board (4GB optional)||2GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce 320M||NVIDIA GeForce 320M||NVIDIA GeForce 9400M|
|Storage||64GB SSD (128GB optional)||128GB SSD (256GB optional)||128GB SSD|
|Connectivity||802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR||802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR||802.11a/b/g and draft-n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR|
|Battery Capacity||35 Whr||50 Whr||37 Whr|
|Dimensions|| 11.8 " x 7.56 " x 0.11 - 0.68" |
(29.95 cm x 19.2 cm x 0.3 - 1.7 cm)
| 12.8 " x 8.94 " x 0.11 - 0.68" |
(32.5 cm x 22.7 cm x 0.3 - 1.7 cm)
| 12.8 " x 8.94 " x 0.16 - 0.76" |
(32.5 cm x 22.7 cm x 0.41 - 1.9 cm)
|Weight||2.3 lbs (1.06 kg)||2.9 lbs (1.32 kg)||3.0 lbs (1.36 kg)|
Memory & CPU Upgrades: Good News and Bad NewsI always like hearing the bad news first so I’ll treat you all no differently. The new MacBook Air not only comes with a meager 2GB of memory, but it’s also soldered onto the motherboard just like in the previous generations.
Now the good news: after two years of complaining Apple has finally added a 4GB memory option. It’s not end user upgradeable, but for an extra $100 Apple will solder 4GB of memory onto the MacBook Air’s motherboard instead of 2GB.
If you’re really just going to be using this thing for writing, IMing and browsing the web - 2GB is fine. If you plan on doing more than that, you should consider spending the $100 on the 4GB upgrade. Right now I’m using 1.46GB of memory. I can edit only a handful of photos in Photoshop before I start swapping to disk.
If you want my advice I’d stick to the base systems so long as your needs are simple. However if you plan on doing any amount of multitasking or heavy work (e.g. content creation, editing) on this machine I’d recommend at least the $100 memory upgrade to 4GB. And if you plan on keeping the MacBook Air for a while, spring for the upgraded CPU. It’ll make the later years of its life a little more bearable.
The TrackpadGoing back to my old MacBook Air was always weird. It lacked the glass trackpad that I’d grown accustomed to. The trackpad just felt rough. The new Airs move to the same type of glass trackpad as the rest of Apple’s mobile lineup. Also gone is the traditional mouse button, the glass trackpad pivots at the top so the entire surface acts as a mouse button.
No Optical Drive, OS X Recovery via USB StickThe original MacBook Air didn’t have an optical drive. The new models are no different. When I bought my first Air I actually purchased the external SuperDrive, thinking I’d use it. To be honest, I’ve only used it when doing weird things to the MacBook Air for reviews on AnandTech. I won’t go as far as to say that no notebooks need optical drives, but the absence of one in the MacBook Air isn’t that big of a deal.
No Backlit Keyboard, No Ambient Light Sensor, Same Old Power BrickNeither of the new MacBook Airs have a backlit keyboard. I do a lot of writing in bed at night and I do miss the backlit keyboard. For touch typists it’s not a problem, but if you switch between the MacBook Air and other computers regularly you’ll find yourself fumbling for the function keys in the dark. I'm guessing this was a cost savings measure.
No Flash Installed by DefaultSo this is weird. The new MacBook Airs are the first Macs to ship in a long time without Adobe's Flash Player plugin installed by default. That's right, if you open your brand new Mac, launch Safari, visit youtube.com and try to watch a video you'll get this screen:
Obviously Apple isn't the biggest fan of Flash. The technology isn't supported (and most likely never will be) on iOS. Removing it from the default OS X install makes Apple's intentions clear: it wants Flash dead.
There's also the security aspect. Apple wants to keep its OS as secure as possible and Flash vulnerabilities have been a problem in the past. By not shipping OS X with Flash on it, Apple avoids shipping an old, out of date and potentially vulnerable version of the player software on its Macs. And by forcing users to download the latest version they'll hopefully have a more secure copy on their Macs.
Now whether or not this next bit is a coincidence I'm unsure of. Two of our battery life tests involve loading web pages with Flash on them. My 13-inch MBA sample would throw this error almost every 60 minutes on the dot during the test: