Apple MacBook Air
Typical Price: $899.99
CNET Editors' Rating: 3.5 / 5
The good: Incredibly thin yet surprisingly sturdy; new trackpad gesture controls are very useful; remote optical drive makes living without a built-in drive much easier.
The bad: Very limited connectivity; slower than other MacBooks; SSD hard-drive option is ridiculously expensive and standard hard drive is small; battery is not user replaceable.
The bottom line: The design is revolutionary, but Apple's MacBook Air will appeal to a smaller, more specialized audience than the standard MacBook, thanks to a stripped-down set of connections and features.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
Editors' note: As of June 2009, the product reviewed here has been replaced by these updated models.
Apple's new laptop, the MacBook Air, may not be the true ultraportable that many had hoped for, but it still easily breaks new ground for small laptops. Mimicking the 13-inch silhouette of the current MacBook line, it's only 0.76 inch thick at its thickest, and Apple calls it the "world's thinnest notebook." Some nitpickers say an obscure Mitsubishi laptop from 1997 was a hair thinner, but two of the smallest current ultraportable laptops, the 11-inch Sony VAIO TZ150 and the 12-inch Toshiba Portege R500, are both slightly thicker, and neither tapers to 0.16 inch as the Air does along its front edge.
As we've come to expect from Apple, the design and engineering that went into the MacBook Air is extraordinary, but it's certainly a much more specialized product than the standard 13-inch MacBook and won't be as universally useful as that popular system. The biggest compromises, which have been well-documented, come in its connectivity: The MacBook Air finds room for only one USB port and doesn't include a built-in optical drive, FireWire, Ethernet, or mobile broadband. And like with its other laptops, Apple refuses to outfit the Air with a media-card reader or an expansion card slot. Offsetting its sparse connectivity are genuinely useful new features including new trackpad gesture controls and the ability to wirelessly "borrow" another system's optical drive.
Choosing the Air over the cheaper, faster standard 13-inch MacBook, or the comparably priced MacBook Pro, will depend on your needs. Travelers who want minimum weight, maximum screen real estate, and who live their lives via Wi-Fi hot spots, with little need for wired connectivity, will find the $1,799 starting price a reasonable investment for owning one of the world's premier bits of high-tech eye candy. And while the MacBook Air's specs are inferior to those found on the cheaper MacBook, they compare more favorably when you look at other ultraportables, where a price premium is always exacted. For instance, both the Sony VAIO TZ150 and Toshiba Portege R500 cost hundreds more than the MacBook Air and feature slower CPUs and half the RAM as the Air.
|Price as reviewed||$1,799|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||80GB 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Apple Mac OS X Leopard|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.7 x 8.9|
|Thickness||0.16 inch to 0.76 inch|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.0 / 3.4 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
Although it shares a desktop footprint with the standard black and white MacBooks, the first thing you notice about the Air is its aluminum chassis--similar to the one found on the MacBook Pro, and much more fingerprint resistant than the standard MacBooks. Picking it up, the MacBook Air feels a little heavier than you would expect from looking at it, even though it's only 3 pounds. At the same time, it feels very sturdy and solid, thanks in part to the aluminum construction, and we'd have no qualms about carting it around with us all day. By way of comparison, the VAIO TZ150 features an 11.1-inch screen and weighs only 0.3 pound lighter than the Air, and the Portege R500 is 0.6 pound lighter than the Air with a 12.1-inch screen.
The MacBook Air includes an iSight camera and mic, and an LED-backlit display that works with an ambient light sensor to adjust the screen brightness in response to the light in the room. The keyboard--the same full-size version found in other MacBooks--has backlit keys that are also controlled by the ambient light sensor, although we had to adjust the room lighting a good deal to see any difference.
The revamped trackpad is large, measuring nearly 5 inches diagonally, and it works with new multitouch gestures. Other MacBooks let you do things like use two fingers to scroll through documents--this one lets you use three fingers to go forward and back in your Web browser history, and use your thumb and forefinger to zoom in and out of documents and photos--much like on the iPhone. The three-finger forward/back gesture was immediately useful, and we're already missing it when using other laptops. Apple tells us these new gestures won't be available on older MacBooks as a firmware upgrade, as the hardware behind the new trackpad is different.
Another noteworthy new feature is the remote disc function. Since the Air lacks an optical drive, you can instead remotely use the optical drives of other systems, PC or Mac, as long as they're on the same network. The setup was a little cumbersome for the "host" PC--requiring us to insert the OS X disc that came with the Air, run a small setup program, and then find and turn on "CD and DVD sharing" in the Windows control panel (the documentation could have been a little clearer on what you need to do to on the Windows side). Once we set it up, however, it worked like a charm. You won't be able to stream DVD movies or music CDs via remote disc, but it's fine for getting files and installing apps. A matching external USB DVD burner is available from Apple for $99, but any USB DVD drive should work.
The display offers the same 1,280x800 native resolution as the standard 13-inch MacBook, but the Air's LED-backlit screen means its lid is thinner with an image that was somewhat brighter, at least with both systems set to max brightness.
|Apple MacBook Air||Average for thin and light category|
|Video||VGA, DVI out (via included dongle)||VGA-out, S-video|
|Audio||Mono speaker, headphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||None||PC Card or Express card slot|
|Networking||802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||None, optional USB DVD burner||DVD burner|
The real key to finding out whether the MacBook Air is right for you lies in its stripped-down set of ports and connections. Those who regularly use more than one USB device, or need FireWire, an SD card slot, or an Express card slot will find the single USB jack too limiting. Likewise, we often say the telephone modem jacks and S-Video outputs on most laptops are a waste of space, but the MacBook Air goes even further, removing the Ethernet jack (a USB-to-Ethernet adaptor will run you $29) and offloading video output to a pair of included dongles (one VGA, one DVI).
If you live on Wi-Fi hot spots, use Bluetooth for your external mouse, and only need a USB port to occasionally sync and charge your iPod or iPhone, these limitations may not be a deal-breaker for you. While most hardware vendors offer a choice of mobile broadband options, Apple continues to offer none, which is disappointing for a system so clearly meant for life away from home and office. Without an Express card slot, your only option would be a USB mobile broadband modem, but with the sole USB jack under a tiny flap on the right side of the system with limited clearance, you may need a small USB extension cable to get a bulky USB mobile broadband modem connected (similar to the problems people had with the iPhone's recessed headphone jack).
While the 80GB hard drive included in the base $1,799 model may be smaller than you're used to, the only other option is a 64GB solid state hard drive. With no moving parts, and advantages in heat, power consumption, and reliability, SSD hard drives are certainly the way of the future. The future may have to wait a few years for prices to come down; however, swapping the 80GB platter drive for the 64GB SSD drive is a whopping $999 upgrade. The only other internal hardware option is a CPU uptick, from 1.6GHz to 1.8GHz for $300. With the upgraded CPU and SSD drive, the $1,799 MacBook Air suddenly becomes a $3,098 laptop.
We are pleased to see that the MacBook Air comes standard with 2GB of RAM, but with a processor that runs at a much slower clockspeed than the standard MacBook (2.0GHz or 2.2GHz), plus a 4,200rpm 1.8-inch hard drive (as opposed to the standard 5,400rpm), it's not surprising that the MacBook Air is not as fast a performer as the $1,649 MacBook we reviewed in December 2007. Do note that the baseline $1,099 MacBook features a slower processor and half the memory of our MacBook review unit.
And as we often point out, any modern dual-core CPU is going to be more than adequate for Web surfing, multimedia playback, and productivity tasks, and we were able to surf the Web, play videos, and work on a document at the same time with absolutely no slowdown or stuttering. We're currently conducting additional benchmark tests and will update this review with new results as they're available.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the MacBook Air is the lack of a user-replaceable battery. While most laptops will be obsolete before their batteries wear out, we are sensitive to the desire to occasionally carry an extra battery for extended field use. We're still conducting our standard DVD battery drain test on the system, and will report those scores shortly, but in anecdotal testing, the Air lasted for nearly 4 hours of mixed use, including video playback, software installation, Web surfing, and productivity tasks. That's reasonably close to Apple's 5-hour claims, but may not be enough for a full day of off-site use.
We're still not fans of Apple's nearly obligatory extended warranty upsell (so much so that we've simply copied this complaint from our last MacBook review). The default warranty for the MacBook is one year of coverage for parts and labor, but toll-free telephone support is limited to a mere 90 days--well short of what you'd typically find on the PC side--unless you purchase the $249 AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends phone support and repair coverage to three years.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Apple MacBook Air - 1.6GHz
OS X 10.5.1 Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 144MB Intel GMA X3100; 80GB Samsung 4,200rpm
Sony Vaio TZ150
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7500; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 100GB Toshiba 4,200rpm
Toshiba Portege R500
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7600; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 120GB Toshiba 5,400rpm
Apple MacBook Core 2 Duo - 2.2GHz / 13.3 inch
OS X 10.5.1 Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 144MB Intel GMA X3100; 160GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm
|Product Description||MacBook Air, Apple MacBook Air Core 2 Duo 1.6 GHz - 13.3 in TFT active matrix|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||12.8 in x 8.9 in x 0.7 in|
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6 GHz ( Dual-Core )|
|Cache Memory||4 MB - L2 cache|
|RAM||2 GB (installed) / 2 GB (max) - DDR2 SDRAM - 667 MHz ( Provided memory is soldered )|
|Hard Drive||80 GB - 4200 rpm|
|Optical Storage (2nd)||None|
|Display||13.3 in TFT active matrix 1280 x 800 ( WXGA )|
|Graphics Controller||Intel GMA X3100|
|Audio Output||Sound card|
|Networking||Network adapter - Bluetooth 2.1 EDR, - IEEE 802.11a, - IEEE 802.11n (draft), - IEEE 802.11b, - IEEE 802.11g|
|Input Device||Backlit keyboard, Trackpad|
|Voltage Required||AC 120/230 V ( 50/60 Hz )|
|Run Time (Up To)||5 hour(s)|
|OS Provided||Apple MacOS X 10.5|
|Manufacturer Warranty||1 year warranty|
Average User Rating: 3.5 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 59
4 Star: 34
3 Star: 15
2 Star: 12
1 Star: 23
Rating: 5 / 5
on February 9, 2008
12 out of 18 users found this review helpful
Pros: Screen, weight, battery life, design
Cons: No optical drive, but SO WHAT?
Summary: Before I say anything about the MBA, for those of you who don't have one or never used one, GET OFF THIS FORUM. I have had it with people who like to express an opinion before they've seen the product. What's worse is how many of you have rated the machine so low before seeing it. So get out of here!
Now, the Macbook Air is NOT for everyone. It should not be considered a primary notebook. It is a true subnotebook in every sense - few ports, no optical drive, etc. But consider the following. It does have an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and at 1.6 GHz in a machine this small is not too shabby. The screen quality is better than any subnotebook I have ever seen, and it is soooo thin and light that it is a joy to carry around. I've gotten more than 4 hours of battery life on it as well. I like the Remote Disc feature - it works great with my iMac and I have had no problems. But buy the $99 superdrive - it's so small and light it'll fit into a case easily.
Oh yeah - I'm running WinXP in Parallels on this thing and that works great as well, so if anyone wants to whine about performance, forget it. Look, it's not my MBP. But once you realize what it is for (a road warrior's dream) you'll accept it as the best subnotebook available.
Apple has another winner here. Period.
Be realistic. This is not a desktop replacement
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on April 30, 2008
7 out of 8 users found this review helpful
Pros: Size, weight, function, sturdy, decent battery life
Cons: processor a bit slow
Summary: The problem with people who are commenting about this laptop is they complain about functions to that of a desktop replacement.
People must keep in mind that the main reason laptops were invented was for those that need a PC while on the road for business or school. If you truly see the intention of the mac book air is for those that have to lug a laptop everyday for work purposes. It's not a tool to watch movies, listen to music, or any other entertainment function. No, it's to be efficient and have a way to be productive.
I primarily bought this laptop because of travel for work. My last laptop was close to nine pounds and just became a pain to caring this from location to location. I can't even feel the mac book air when strapping it over my shoulder.
If you need a solid, light, and sexy version of an IBM thinkpad then buy this. Video games, movies, music, and entertainment fanatics should look elsewhere.
I've said this to many people that this is not a multimedia toy. Be realistic in what you are buying this for. It's a device for business travelers and those that need to do work. If you want to watch a movie, meaning making it a multimedia device .... wake up.
Imagine the benefits. If you have to lug a slew of books in college and have one less thing that doesn't weigh a ton. More importantly to those business travelers that fly 3 to 4 times a month. This is godsend when slugging it on your shoulder from airport terminal to terminal.
the macbook air has all the normal mac features with a bold design that doesn't work.
Rating: 3 / 5
on January 24, 2008
10 out of 18 users found this review helpful
Pros: slick. works like a laptop. nice screen. full keyboard.
Cons: only 80 gb memory. no disk drive. too bold. not needed laptop.
Summary: This laptop is not meant to be a main computer. THIS iS NOT MEANT TO BE A MAIN COMPUTER. Why?
To start, the computer has only 80 gb of memory, unless you buy more overpriced memory. 80 gb is the equivalent to a big ipod. Its terrible for a college student who will be storing music and movies, essays, term papers, and presentations. Only buy it if you plan on listening to music all day and not doing any work.
The laptop is light which is good, and has a full keyboard and is very nifty with the track pad but thats all for the new and good.
There is no replaceable battery. Don't overlook this. DON'T OVERLOOK THIS. For college students this is a disaster. The computer may not be 2,000 bucks but its still 1,800. Thats a pretty penny for a battery that isn't replaceable. College students who have this computer a few years down the line, will be without a computer for weeks after they send it in to the mother ship for a new battery. This is terrible for exams, papers, or any college deadlines and eliminates any sort of longevity.
I respect the stylistic choice and technological endeavor to have a diskless computer, but its too soon an idea. The macbook air is meant for travel. Why else would it be so light? But what do the majority of travelers do while traveling? They watch movies. This defeats the purpose of the macbook air because dvds aren't usable for the air. Thus the user will be forced to buy a movie off itunes from a limited selection. Here is an example of corporation like mac moving their iron hook around society. The user will be stuck spending more money on mac to pay for more memory, a new batter, and entertainment. With this computer mac trying to monopolize the market, forcing the consumer to rely on mac for all of his needs.
The macbook air is not a terrible piece of equipment by any means. But it's not a computer. It's a toy.
I urge college students not to waste their parent's money on the air. It's not a good choice for college. The regular macbook or macbook pro are much better machines for college. However, those who go on frequent business trips, the macbook air is a nice addition to the home computer.
Super cool but no thanks
Rating: 3.5 / 5
on January 15, 2008
8 out of 13 users found this review helpful
Pros: Slim design, flash drive
Cons: Missing features, price
Summary: The MacBook Air is undeniably very cool, with its ultraslim design, forward-looking flash memory option and nifty new track pad. But the price, and the "missing" features that I don't need to list here (everyone else already has) add up to a non-starter for me. I like a nice small laptop but how many of us really need this one considering the cons? If you're an early adopting image-conscious corporate exec on the move, go for it. I'll stick with my black MacBook.
Great Form, lousy Function
Rating: 2 / 5
on February 7, 2008
5 out of 7 users found this review helpful
Pros: It looks pretty
Cons: Slower than my 2 y.o win-amd laptop
Summary: Just ran some specs with a new Macbook Air and my current 20 month old win/amd Compaq laptop (for which I paid $1k) is faster at almost everything (except loading). Plus I can easily attach it to a variety of projection and TV systems for presentations (which you can not with the air unless you purchase and carry a variety of adapters.
I get cd/dvd from a variety of people (even Apple gave out CD's promoting the air) how do you play them over a closed network?
My laptop is 23 ounces more in weight (excluding power cord/adapter). I traveled 189,000 air miles over that last two years, so weight means a lot to me. But function is more important.
The Air does have nice touch pad features and whiles feeling light, still feels sturdy.
This a a great machine for a well-to-do college student while walking across campus but for a frequent fliers this machine is not practical or even useful.