The 11-inch Apple MacBook Air has broken new ground for netbooks. See why and learn its one major flaw.
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- OS: Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard)
- Processor: 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (1.6GHz in $1199 model)
- RAM: 2GB SDRAM
- Storage: 64GB (128GB in $1199 model) of flash memory integrated into the motherboard
- Display: 11.6-inch LCD with LED backlight; 1366x768 resolution
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 320M GPU with 256MB of shared SDRAM
- Battery: 35-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
- Ports: 2 USB ports, Mini DisplayPort, headphone jack
- Weight: 2.3 pounds
- Dimensions: 0.11-0.68(h) x 11.6(w) x 7.56(d) inches
- Camera: FaceTime-compatible webcam
- Keyboard: 78-key full-size keyboard with 12 function keys
- Mouse: Multi-touch trackpad
- Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
- Price: $999 (64GB hard drive) and $1199 (128GB)
Who is it for?
The MacBook Air 11-inch is a good fit for road warriors who want a top quality laptop in a small, light, and super-thin package. Users interested in the Mac Book Air will need to be able to access all of their business apps from Mac OS X and be able to justify the premium price for the superior build quality and portability.
What problems does it solve?
Netbooks typically have had one good feature: small form factor. Meanwhile, the screens and keyboards were too small to be useful and the underpowered processors made them sluggish and frustrating to use. The 11-inch MacBook Air is first real exception to the rule. Its 11-inch LCD screen has a 1366x768 resolution that is usable (even if it's not super-roomy). It has a full-sized keyboard that's almost identical to the standard Mac chicklet keyboards. And, the performance of the MacBook Air is surprisingly strong — faster than many full-sized laptops — due primarily to the fact that it uses flash storage integrated directly into the motherboard.
- Form factor - Apple has certainly stretched the boundaries of what's possible with the 11-inch MacBook Air. It is amazingly thin and light while maintaining a high build-quality and feeling as sturdy of its industrial-strength MacBook Pro line. We can only hope that this form factor gets emulated by other computer makers as well.
- Performance - The most surprising aspect of the 11-inch MacBook Air is how fast it open programs and web pages. It performed respectably in Macworld's benchmarks comparing it to other Macs, but in real world tests it felt faster than most of the computers I use on a regular basis (PCs, Macs, desktops, laptops, etc.). That can mostly be attributed to the Air having flash-based storage that is integrated into the system at a deeper level than the standard flash-based hard disks.
- Portability - At 2.3 pounds and less than an inch thick, the 11-inch MacBook Air is a minimalist machine that you can slip into your padfolio, purse, or briefcase and you'll barely notice it. In fact, if you're not careful, you could lose it between a magazine and a piece of paper.
- Price - The biggest problem with the 11-inch MacBook Air is its price. The base model will cost you a thousand dollars. The one with the bigger hard drive and the faster processor is $1200. I don't know too many people (or IT departments) that spend more than $1000 on a laptop any more.
- Software compatibility - Mac OS X is a respectable operating system and known for being easy to approach for non-technical users. However, business users have to make sure that all of the software they use for their everyday tasks will work from a Mac (and, let's face it, a lot of business software still runs on Windows). Otherwise, they'll end up having to run an instance of Windows using virtualization software or Bootcamp, and that would add at least another $300 or so in software licenses to the cost of an already expensive laptop.
Bottom line for business
The MacBook Air 11-inch is the ultimate small form-factor laptop and it will naturally appeal to a lot of executives and road warriors in business. IT departments could certainly use a high-quality system that they could deploy to some of their most mobile professionals that need a mix of durability, portability, and performance.
Of course, the MacBook Air is expensive and it runs Mac OS X, which isn't compatible with Windows-based business applications unless you add virtualization software and a license of Microsoft Windows.
However, keep in mind that a breakthrough product like the 11-inch MacBook Air is also likely to spawn a variety of copycat PCs that will run Windows and will have a much lower price tag.
Where to get more info
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.