Consumer Reports praises Apple's new MacBook Air

Adds the lightweight laptop to 'recommended' list

Consumer Reports yesterday added Apple's MacBook Air to its list of recommended laptops, putting the 13-in. model in a tie with the 15-in. MacBook Pro as the second-highest-rated notebook.

In a revised set of ratings published Tuesday, the publication gave the 11-in. MacBook Air a score of 67 out of a possible 100, and pegged the 13-in. model with a score of 78.

The larger MacBook Air's score of 78 tied Apple's 15-in. MacBook Pro for the second-best score in the magazine's revised rankings of all laptops. The 17-in. MacBook Pro, which retails for $2,299, is the top-scoring notebook with a score of 80 out of 100.

Consumer Reports pegged both models of the MacBook Air as "recommended," a designation it assigns to products that "deserve special consideration." The publication bases its recommendations on a combination of product ratings and price.

Apple introduced the new MacBook Air on Oct. 20, unveiling a new model with an 11-in. display at $999 and revamping the original 13-in. Air while lowering the starting price to $1,299.

Consumer Reports gave the 11-in. MacBook Air marks of "very good" for both its display and ergonomic design, but graded its performance as merely "good."

"This is a good performer that's very portable with a long battery life," said the magazine, which reported that the MacBook Air's battery lasts 6.5 hours, significantly longer than Apple's own estimate of five hours.

The 13-in. MacBook Air collected "very good" marks in performance, display and ergonomics. Consumer Reports estimated the more expensive model's battery life at 7.5 hours, which is 30 minutes longer than Apple's estimate of seven hours.

"Both light and thin, this is a very good performer," the publication wrote.

Consumer Reports currently recommends 25 different notebooks from various manufacturers, including Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba. The majority of the recommended laptops run Windows, and all are priced lower than Apple's systems in the same category.

In the 13-in. class, for example, Toshiba's Portege R705-P35 received a score of 76, the second-highest rating behind the MacBook Air in that screen-size category. Consumer Reports listed the Portege's price at $780, but the laptop sells for slightly less -- $750 -- at Best Buy.

Earlier this year, Apple enthusiasts knocked Consumer Reports' decision not to recommend Apple's iPhone 4 because of the device's very public antenna problems, which many owners said caused dropped calls or reduced signal strength.

In September, the publication bashed Apple for discontinuing its policy of giving free cases to iPhone 4 owners, saying the move was "not acceptable" because it put the burden on customers.

The free case giveaway was Apple's response to what CEO Steve Jobs dubbed "Antennagate" during a quickly-called press conference last July to address the rising tide of complaints.

Consumer Reports' laptop ratings are available only to paying subscribers.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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