I'm not going to hem and haw: As far as I'm concerned, Apple's new 13-in. MacBook Air is just about perfect.
Usually, when I'm reviewing laptops, I wind up with a variety of caveats that weed out potential buyers for whatever I have in hand. The screen isn't big enough. There's not enough RAM. The processor is outdated. The keyboard is spongy.
I'm having a tough time finding similar flaws in the new Air, which Apple rolled out last month when it released OS X 10.7, better known as Lion. Part of what makes the Air such a great little laptop is Lion. Part of it is the hardware itself. Put those two pieces together and you have a solid nexus of modern OS and top-notch hardware that makes this laptop a real pleasure to use.
And I'm saying this as someone who always -- always -- defaults to a larger screen, aiming for as much high-resolution real estate as I can get. Preferably with the fastest processor available. (Right now, my personal laptop of choice is the top-of-the-line 17-in. MacBook Pro.)
Still, I find myself realizing I'd be fine with the 13-in. MacBook Air I've been using for a couple of weeks now. And as someone who had one of the first-generation Airs, all I can say is: Ain't evolution grand?
The new Air -- I reviewed the larger, $1,299 model -- is cutting-edge stylish, lightweight (less than 3 pounds), speedy (almost twice as fast as its immediate predecessor, thanks to a Core i5 Sandy Bridge chip), well-built (aluminum unibody construction), and a showcase for the new Lion OS. I'm already a huge fan of full-screen apps and swiping back and forth between desktop spaces using Mission Control gestures. With the Air, Apple's melding of desktop OS and mobile iOS really shines.
As a friend noted, "It's like having an iPad with a keyboard."
The Air lineup
There are four models in the Air lineup: Two feature an 11.6-in screen, and two come with a 13.3-in. screen like the Air I'm using now.
Prices start at $999 for the 11.6-in. model with 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM. If you want a really lightweight, netbook-like laptop, then this is your model. I find the screen size too small, even though the resolution is 1366 x 768 pixels. It's too much like looking through a mail slot.
Because Apple has killed off the old white plastic MacBook, this is now the entry-level model for Apple laptops. If you can live with the screen and limited storage, it's a good choice. Do yourself a favor, though, and bump up the RAM from 2GB to 4GB. (You can't install extra RAM yourself so you have to do this when you buy.) That adds $100 to the cost and edges you closer to the $1,199 model, which includes 4GB of RAM and comes with 128GB of storage.
The extra RAM is important, too, since all of the Airs use the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset. If you have 2GB of RAM, you'll have up to 256MB of video RAM available; moving to 4GB of RAM allows the integrated chip to use up to 384MB of video RAM.
Storage is solid-state on all four models, ranging from the aforementioned 64GB (too small) to 128GB (probably fine for most people) to 256GB (what I'd want). Using flash storage is a smart move for Apple because it allows for a thin form factor and because it speeds up everything you do.
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