Reviews  

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch (2011)

Eric Ernest 2011-10-09
90 Superior
Price: Rs 67,900

Full Review

The latest 11-inch MacBook Air continues in Apple's simple yet elegant design approach - in appearance, it is an almost exact replica of the 2010 iteration of the MacBook Air. The Apple MacBook Air retains some of the hardware aspects - such as flash storage - of its predecessor model while dispensing with certain other features - such as discrete graphics - and adding some new features as well - the latest OS X Lion and Thunderbolt port. Let's see how Apple's 'uber netbook', if I can even refer to it as such, fares in our tests.



Design
The current MacBook Air continues in the legacy of its predecessor in having a uni-body aluminium design. The thinness of this MacBook shouldn’t get you to doubt the build quality of this 'netbook' - to the contrary, the uni-body aluminium construction, which includes the chassis as well as the screen, gives this unit a stable and sturdy build. The uni-body design signifies that the entire unit is moulded from a single piece of Aluminium - there are no sections that can be taken apart separately. Moreover, this aluminium finish doesn’t attract any fingerprints or smudges. By using aluminium there is the added, albeit cosmetic, advantage of the laptop having a very premium feel. There is an Apple logo centrally located on the display's backlid.



The MacBook Air's comparatively wide black coloured hinge, that is centrally positioned at the rear of the chassis, holds the screen in place. As with the rest of the body, the hinge is also very stable. Also, the black colour of the hinge, along with the black keyboard keys, contrasts well with the greyish-silver colouring of the rest of the uni-body.


Features
The whole unit weighs in at 1.08 kg, and is one of the lightest units we have seen among similarly sized units - for comparisons sake, the last 'proper' netbook that we reviewed, the Acer Aspire One 722, weighed in at around 1.4 kg. Being a  lightweight unit, that also comes in a very slim form factor - the MacBook Air is thinnest at its edges - the MacBook Air is a very portable unit that you can comfortably carry around, wherever you go. Having said that, do keep in mind that MacBook Air's famed small form factor comes with its associated drawbacks such as reduced number and variety of ports.  One's views on this Functionality vs. Aesthetics debate  would be very subjective - you could either be happy with this trade off, that allows the Air to keep its slim form factor, or scoff at the fact that Apple has not added a few other ports, such as a USB 3.0 port or/and  even a HDMI port.

This unit has a non-removable battery pack, and given this is an Apple product, this is not in the least surprising. Interestingly, unlike no other netbook, or for that matter even laptop, that we have reviewed, the power button is a just another key on the keyboard. It is positioned at the right corner along with all the other function keys on the top row of the keyboard. Also, there is a FaceTime Camera positioned above the display, at the top central section of the bezel.


Monitor

The MacBook Air sports a 11.6-inch glossy widescreen LED-backlit screen with a native resolution of 1366x768, that is very bright and is evenly lit. The viewing angles are however only decent, as seeing the screen from any other position other than one that is more or less centrally positioned, relative to the screen, will result in a darkish hue being seen over the picture/video. At the same time, reading text on the Air unit is a comfortable experience. Given the glossy nature of the screen, you will have to cope with its reflective nature.


Keyboard Usability
The MacBook Air features a keyboard with chiclet keys - it doesn’t have a dedicated numpad. Moreover, unlike the 2010-Mac AirBook, the current version of the MacBook Air features a backlit keyboard - which is a handy feature when using the laptop under low light conditions. The laptop automatically detects the level of the ambient light and accordingly activates and adjusts the intensity of the backlight feature. You could also switch off the automatic backlighting feature and manually adjust the brightness level of the backlight via two of the function keys (F5 and F6).

The keys provide a good tactile feedback and the individual keys are sufficiently well spaced. Typing for extended periods of time on this Apple unit is a comfortable experience.



The trackpad is made of glass, and is comparatively bigger sized than other touchpads that you would find on similarly sized machines. The trackpad features mutli-gesture support - including newer gesture forms such as four-finger pinch and three-finger full screen swiping. The trackpad  is very responsive and, in what has become an Apple staple, the entire trackpad acts as one button - there are no other dedicated mouse buttons.


Hardware
If  it wasn’t enough for Apple's 'netbook' to come in such a slim, elegant portable form factor, the MacBook Air's inner hardware  doesn’t disappoint either. This laptop features an Intel second generation Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5-2467M  processor (1.60 GHz), 4GB DDR3 RAM, a 128GB SSD and for graphics processing, you have the Intel HD 3000 graphics (the previous 2010 MacBook Air model featured the Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics).

In terms of connectivity options available on the MacBook Air, Apple sticks to it's minimalist design policy - in other words, only the few ports that Apple deems necessary are seen on this unit. Apple's 'netbook' has on its left side has a USB 2.0 port, a headphone jack, and a MagSafe power socket. On the right side of the MacBook Air's chassis you will find another USB 2.0 port, and a Thunderbolt port - which replaces the Mini Display Port that was present in the MacBook Air's 2010 iteration. In the 13-inch models of the MacBook Air series, you will also get a Multi-card reader. The netbook also features Wi-Fi 802.11 n and Bluetooth 4.0 wireless connectivity - while it doesn’t feature an onboard Ethernet port, you could always get a USB-To-Ethernet adapter to rectify this.

You could ask why I mentioned that the lack of ports like USB 3.0 and HDMI are a downside to an extent, when the MacBook Air has a Thunderbolt port. The issue with the Thunderbolt port, while a very future proof feature, is that, at the present time, there are not too many vendors who sell peripherals that utilize its high-speed general purpose I/O interface (10Gbps dual-channel speeds) - it can also function as a Mini DisplayPort duties (Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter and Apple Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter are available as extra configurable options when buying this unit).

The MacBook Air series has 4 models - the cheapest unit (Rs.56,900) comes with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, a 11-inch screen, 64GB of flash storage and 2GB of memory; a similarly spec'd 11-inch model (relative to the previously mentioned version), with a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM goes for Rs.67,900; a similarly spec'd, 13-inch MacBook Air (Rs.73,900) with a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (relative to the previously mentioned version); and another similarly spec'd13-inch Air unit with a 256GB SSD costs Rs.89,900. The higher spec'd versions of both the 11 and 13-inch MacBook Ais units' can be upgraded to feature a dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Core i7.

More details can be seen on this review's "Specifications" page.


Software
Apples' 'uber netbook' comes pre-installed with Mac OS X Lion (10.7.1). The software featured Mail, Address Book, iCal, the Mac App Store, iTunes, Safari, Time Machine, FaceTime, Photo Booth, Mission Control, Launchpad, AirDrop, Resume, Auto Save, Versions, Quick Look, Spotlight, QuickTime and the iLife suite.

If you have a partiality to Windows, you can always install a Windows OS using Apple's Boot Camp feature.




Performance
We installed Windows 7 and ran our various benchmarks on the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air recorded a remarkable score of 111 on the Worldbench 6 benchmark - for comparisons sake, that would be two points lower than what Acer Aspire TimelineX 5830TG scored. If I was to further brag about this score, which I am anyway going to, this score is way higher than -  more than double that of - any other 'netbook' we have reviewed . It comfortably outperformed the 2010 MacAirbook in most of the benchmarks we ran, save the 3D and graphics tests - it has to  be pointed out that the 2011 version's scores in 3D Mark 06 were not that far behind the 2010 version's score. This impressive statistic means that the MacBook Air should be able to deal with most memory and processor intensive tasks, let alone your daily chores like Web browsing and listening to music, in a comfortable manner - all tasks except gaming. During synthetic testing, the Apple unit's hard disk recorded an average read speed of 134.3 MB/s and the laptop recorded a PC Mark Vantage score of 9374.

The MacBook Air shouldn't really have any problems handling 720p and 1080p videos. As I previously mentioned, you really shouldn’t be considering gaming on this system - this is not a downside at all, given that if you were indeed planning on intensive gaming, you wouldn’t really be purchasing this unit anyway.

Under normal usage, the Apple MacBook Air did a good job of keeping itself cool. However during higher workloads, the upper left section of the base as well as the top of the Apple unit's chassis  does become warm to the touch - the palmrest rest however remains relatively cooler. The unit gives a good account of itself in the system noise levels area - for the most part, it was barely audible during operation.

The 11-inch MacBook Air's audio, while not great, is sufficiently loud and is apt for personal entertainment - of course you could always use headphones.

The Apple MacBook Air features an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5 processor, in stark contrast to the low-power consuming Atom processor that other 'proper' netbooks feature - so I had my reservations about the Air's battery life.  My doubts were unfounded, as the MacBook Air's 35-watt-hour battery lasted for a roughly three and a half hours in our battery benchmark - given its configuration this is a very respectable score.


Upgradability
Opening this unit, for any purpose whatsoever, should be an activity regular user would be advised to stay away from - leave checking up on this unit to the Apple folks themselves.

Bottom Line

In light of the Apple 'uber netbook's' overall good showing on most fronts - from looks to portability to performance - the MacBook Air, has pretty much set the standard for what we should expect from the newly announced Ultrabook series of laptops that are being unveiled by PC manufacturers such as Acer, Lenovo et al - or at the very least we hope so.

Referring to the MacBook as Apple's 'netbook' might seem like a misnomer, especially when considering its particular price tag - almost 3-4 times higher than what 'proper' netbooks would cost - and also that it doesn’t come with certain features that are generally standard in 'proper netbooks' such as Ethernet port and comparatively larger HDD capacities. However, do remember that since this a premium Apple product, the high cost of the system is not exactly a downside. If there is at all a downside to this unit, it would be the limited storage space available - this can be remedied by buying an external HDD to meet your storage needs. If you are on the lookout for a Mac unit that combines good looks and solid build quality, with excellent portability and performance, you can't really go wrong with buying this niche unit.

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