Apple's new 11.6-in. MacBook Air: Don't call it a netbook

Some might find this mini-laptop too small, but travelers will love it

When you first take the 11.6-in. MacBook Air out of its box, the word "netbook" will almost certainly pop into your head. After all, the diminutive size and weight of Apple's newest ultraslim laptop -- not to mention its modest 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor -- are very netbook-like.

But the petite Air is much closer to a fully modern laptop than the small-but-crippled netbooks you see on the Windows side of the aisle -- as it should be, given that netbooks are significantly cheaper. Though it arrives with a few trade-offs compared to other notebooks in Apple's line-up, the Air delivers a true Mac laptop experience.

And it comes with one very noteworthy technological advance: onboard flash storage that's mounted directly to the logic board. More about that in a minute.

11.6-in. MacBook Air
The 11.6-in. MacBook Air is petite but has a full-size keyboard.

I've had a chance now to try out this particular MacBook Air for several days, and while its small screen took some getting used to -- my 17-in. MacBook Pro is a relative behemoth -- I've generally found it to be a delight to use. It's stylish and well built, has a full-size keyboard, is powerful enough for the tasks I've thrown at it and comes in at an attractive price.

In other words, for Apple fans looking to get their hands on the latest and lightest Mac available, the MacBook Air should prove to be quite popular. That's especially true for road warriors concerned about size and weight, and those who might be tempted by the iPad but need more traditional laptop features.

Choices, choices

Apple's Air line is now almost three years old. The first one was unveiled in January 2008. (I owned one of those first-generation models and, later, an Air with a solid-state drive, so I'm familiar with the line.)

Apple now offers four models differentiated mainly by screen size, processing power and storage space. Two come with the 11.6-in. screen, and two have the larger 13.3-in. screen, the same size as before, though with a higher resolution. Prices range from $999 to $1,599, but you can spend a bit more if you upgrade the processor, add more RAM or increase storage.

The model in hand, sent over by Apple for review purposes after the new lineup was unveiled last week, offers 128GB of storage and costs $1,199. (The entry-level version has half that amount of storage, 64GB, which many people will find constraining in this era of digital video and photos.)

If you want more than 128GB, you'll need to get the $1,599 model, since it's the only one that offers 256GB of space. So right off the bat, you'll have to decide how much room you need for all your data and apps. Choose wisely, as the storage can't be upgraded later on.

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