December 3, 2010

New MacBook Air: First Impressions

UPDATE: I’ve since posted a seven month update.

I just got a new MacBook Air for work. Overall, I’m thrilled and I mean thrilled with it. This is one exceptional computer. However, it does have a couple of caveats that you might want to check out before jumping in.

My Work

I spend most of my time on the computer creating webapps in Ruby on Rails. I run Mail, Safari, TextMate, Terminal and iTunes all day long. I occasionally run iWork, MacOffice and Adobe CS apps. I also run Parallels for testing and some .NET development. This machine easily and handily meets those needs. iMovie even runs well.

MacBook Air Specs

13” MacBook Air, 2.13 Ghz processor, 4GB RAM and 256GB Flash Storage

Previous Machine

(what I’m comparing against)
15” MacBook Pro, 2.93 Ghz processor, 4GB RAM and 320GB 5400 rpm hard drive

Pros

  • Speed – The flash storage just flies. Launching Numbers, Word, Firefox and Photoshop is the fastest I’ve ever seen on a computer. Parallels loves the flash storage and launches several times faster than it does on my previous machine. This is the biggest performance gain I’ve gotten from switching machines.
  • Size & Weight – Love the size and weight. This is why I wanted an Air. I carry my computer around a lot and this just made my life better.

I used one of the original MacBook Air’s for a year. That one had a 4200rpm hard disk and it always felt underpowered even for email and web browsing, but this new Air doesn’t feel like I’m compromising on anything. It does have a couple of issues, though.

Cons

  • Screen Color – There is a very noticeable difference between the Air and the MacBook Pro screen. It’s more than just the color gamut difference that Jeremy Horwitz details. The MacBook Pro screen is richer, brighter and blacker than the Air. That said, the Air still has a great screen and for me it’s a fair trade off given how I use the computer, but you might care about this a lot.
  • Keyboard Layout – This goes in the FAIL pile. In order to incorporate the On button into the keyboard, Apple designers chose to move the top row buttons over one. See comparison below. The black keys are the MacBook Air, the white are the Apple wireless keyboard.

This is just uncalled for. I often connect my laptop to a 24” Apple display and use an Apple wireless keyboard. I made a point of getting the same keyboard for the other computer in the house and my station at work, so no matter what computer I’m on, the layout and general feel is always the same. I’ve had this good life for 3 years now. The MacBook Air messes that up. I’m already lowering sound volume instead of muting and skipping tracks instead of pausing. So lame, especially when there’s an obvious other choice that could have been made. The Air doesn’t have a CD/DVD drive. Why didn’t they just replace the Eject button with the Power button? I’m never going to use that eject button. I’m going to rarely use the On button too, but the buttons I do use regularly are not where I expect and its not just a matter of retraining because of my other keyboards. Very un-Apple like. They are usually bold enough to do things like remove an eject button that’s rarely needed. Sorry for the rant, but in a sea of near computing perfection this stands out pretty starkly.

Conclusion

Despite those issues, this still might be the best computer I’ve ever used. It’s definitely the fastest. Looking forward to seeing how battery life and performance hold up over time.

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