First impressions of Apple's new MacBook Air

Yes, the battery life really is better, but if you're a hard-core user, 12 hours isn't likely

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(I also bought one of Apple's new Airport Extreme wireless routers, which now offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking support, so I can test wireless data transfer speeds using the Air, which has 802.11ac abilities, too.)

I'm not giving much away to note that the biggest deal here is the battery life. A number of reviewers have already confirmed what I've seen this week: the new Airs offer substantially more battery life than before. This is because Haswell, Intel's fourth generation Core chipset design, is more energy efficient than ever.

Since many of those tests are done using automation, I wanted to see how the Air would stack up in real-world use. At 9:30 a.m., I unplugged it from its power source with 97% of battery remaining. Then I did what I normally do: I used it. Hard.

Throughout the day, I used Mail - which was set to check for new email every minute; Safari, with multiple open tabs, though Flash was not installed; iCal; Messages; Notes; Pages; Terminal; Tweebot; and, last but not least, a virtual copy of Windows XP running through Parallels 8. Within Windows, I was running Microsoft System Center Service Manager; Lync; an active VNC session; and LogMeIn for remote sessions.

Without compromising my normal settings and workflow, I used the Air until the system ran out of power and put itself to sleep. To ensure consistency, I performed the same test over two days.

The screen was set to 80% brightness, and set to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity. The 'Put hard disks to sleep when possible' option in the Energy Saver system preference was selected, but Display dimming and Power Nap were disabled. I was connected to a corporate Wi-Fi network, and the back-lit keyboard was always on. Since I have many files on a portable drive, I had one plugged in via one of the USB 3 ports. I also had the Air connected to an external 22-in. Dell display (rotated 90 degrees, if that matters).

In other words, I did what i could to tax the hell out of the Air.

On the first day, the laptop handled all of my work without slowing down for four hours and 38 minutes before needing to be plugging in to recharge.

The second day I saw just under six hours of battery life (five hours and fifty-eight minutes, to be exact). The difference? On Day 2, I had moved the files from my external drive to the Air, so I did not connect the external drive.

Reminder: With some obvious-but-careful power management (turning down the brightness of the screen, disabling Wi-Fi and not plugging in external devices), you can get closer to Apple's claimed battery life, which is pretty impressive. I'll more on this in my full review.

Granted, the times I clocked aren't exactly the 12 hours Apple promises from this computer. But then again, this test was stacked to maximize strenuous real-world scenarios. I can say that this laptop lasted longer than any other Apple laptop I've used under the same or similar circumstances.

It's only been a few days, but I can already see how this device is perfect for those who value portability over ports. I'll have much more on the Air after I've had some serious time with it, but I'm already quite impressed by this little machine.

This article, First impressions of Apple's new MacBook Air, was originally published at

Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter (@mdeagonia).

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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