MacBook Air, one month on

Anyone out there who is wavering about getting a MacBook Air might be interested in some comments from a new owner. Everyone else can, of course, just cheerfully ignore this posting! (The headline summary is: get one! — though perhaps not quite today as there is rumour of a chip upgrade soon.)

  1. The portability is fantastic. No question. Just to compare: I’ve had a 15″ Titanium PowerBook, a 15″ G4 PowerBook, and a 17″ MacBook Pro before; and they’ve of course been portable in the sense I could heave them from home to my office and back. But all of them were just too heavy/bulky to make that particularly convenient. I very rarely bothered to take them elsewhere, e.g. to a coffee shop. (You might well ask why on earth, in that case, I had portables at all! Answer: Partly because our Cambridge house is very small, my “study” is the size of a large cupboard, and I very much like to be able to work in the kitchen for a change of scene, or answer emails with a computer on my knees in the living room in the evening. And partly I wanted to be able to drive data projectors when lecturing.) Anyway, by contrast with the earlier portables, I can and do cheerfully tote the MBA (in its snug protective sleeve) anywhere, without really thinking about it, whether or not I’m definitely planning to use it. It just is so light and convenient.
  2. Some reviews complained about the MBA’s footprint, saying that it isn’t a genuine ultraportable. Well, true, the footprint isn’t in fact that much smaller that the 15″ machine, and I can imagine e.g. that very frequent fliers would find it a pain to use in the cramped conditions of an airline seat. But that sort of issue doesn’t arise for me. The thinness means that you can carry it so comfortably in a hand, and otherwise the footprint goes with the stunningly good, uncramped, screen and the generous keyboard.
  3. I don’t use the MBA to watch movies, or do anything else very processor-intensive. So I’ve never had a temperature-induced core shut-down. And the battery life seems just fine: well over three hours for writing, text-browsing, reading. Recharging though is pretty slow: but if you need to take it with you, then — unlike the small brick for the 17″ — the MBA’s charger is very small and portable (though I’ve bought a second one for the office, and so don’t find in practice I need to carry it around).
  4. One main reason I traded up a couple of years ago from the 15″ G4 machine was that LaTeX ran pretty slowly: nearly 30 seconds to typeset my Gödel book on the G4, about 4 seconds on the new intel MacBook Pro. The MBA, despite its slower chip, seems almost as fast running LaTeX , and indeed in most other ways: occasionally, e.g. when opening an application, the MBA is noticeably slower — but it has never been an irritating issue. So this is plenty fast enough.
  5. And the reason, when I previously traded up, I chose the 17″ MBP model was to have enough “real estate” to have a TeXShop editing window and the PDF output side-by-side and comfortably readable. Obviously, I’m now looking at 1280 x 800 pixels, rather than 1680 x 1050 (so that’s just 58% as much). But this is manageable, and the screen quality is really terrific. Of course it is nicer e.g. for extended on-screen reading to plug in an external monitor as well. But that’s a luxury, not any sort of necessity.
  6. What about the paucity of ports, mentioned critically by all the reviewers, or the absence of an onboard CD drive? With one caveat, I’ve found those features no problem at all. Just not been an issue for me since day one. (So the one caveat indeed concerns day one. Since there is no firewire port, you can’t migrate files from your old computer to your new MBA using the usual firewire connection. And using a wireless connection to migrate is both painfully slow and seems flaky. Is that a problem? I didn’t find really it so. I installed the necessary additional software, like the LaTeX installation, over the web, and then copied my documents folder and other bits and pieces from a SuperDuper! clone of the old hard disk on an external drive. Quick to do, and resulting in a clean and tidy MBA.)
  7. So that’s all very, very positive. Are there any negatives? The flat keyboard is surprisingly nice to use (much better than I imagined it would be). But, unlike the almost silent similarly flat new iMac keyboards, this is a bit noisier (a bit more so than the MBP keyboard). But that’s a very marginal disappointment.
  8. I thought, when I bought the MBA a month ago, I’d be using it very much as a second machine, carrying on using the 17″ MPB (and external monitor) as a main, quasi-desktop, set-up. In fact I find myself increasingly heavily favouring the MBA. I’ve hardly used the MPB.
  9. So, assuming a three year life cycle (and it seems very well built so should last longer with a battery refresh after a while), the MBA after education discount costs much less than half a pint of beer a day. Or one modestly decent bottle of Chianti Classico a fortnight if you prefer. Put like that, how can you resist?
  10. And then, of course, there is the “Wow!”-factor …

2 thoughts on “MacBook Air, one month on”

  1. I have to admit that the noisy keyboard is a minor sacrifice. Managing ethernet and inputing media are an issue with the Air but it is has many wireless qualities that make it an excellent piece of machinery.

  2. Well, “managing ethernet” is in one way not a prob. The USB ethernet connector is tiny and dirt cheap. You can get it, pocket it, and use it if you need it (in fact I did, in order to get access to a Faculty networked printer)

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