Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, Summer 2011)
Typical Price: $859.99
CNET Editors' Rating: 4.0 / 5
The good: The new 11-inch Apple MacBook Air is dramatically faster than last year's version, has a backlit keyboard, and comes with a high-speed Thunderbolt I/O port.
The bad: The $999 entry-level Air still has the same limited fixed flash storage and RAM as last year's version, which most people will want to upgrade from--and there's still no SD card slot, Ethernet port, or 3G wireless option.
The bottom line: This year's 11-inch MacBook Air improves on last year's model in several significant ways and is by far the fastest ultraportable you're likely to find, though some users will consider the limited flash storage space to be a hindrance.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
Last October, Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air debuted. The tiny, slim ultraportable was the smallest laptop Apple had ever made. Its combination of size and power earned it a four-star review, with caveats: it had a last-generation Core 2 Duo processor, lacked a backlit keyboard, and omitted an SD card slot. We're glad to find the newly released, back-to-school-timed 2011 MacBook Air update fixes two of our three complaints, while keeping a $999 starting price.
Both 11- and 13-inch MacBook Airs have been updated with new, faster second-gen Core i5 processors. The new Air also, finally, has a backlit keyboard. There are more bonuses, too: Mac OS X Lion, Apple's brand-new operating system update, comes preinstalled. A Thunderbolt I/O port for high-speed data transfer and HD audio/video has been added.
Unfortunately, there's still no SD card slot, and memory and storage configurations remain both fixed and limited: the entry-level $999 configuration still only has 2GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage, which many will consider inadequate. We recommend the $1,199 configuration, which has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
Perhaps the biggest change to the MacBook Air is how it's being sold. Now that the $999 white MacBook no longer exists, Apple has made the MacBook Air the entry-level laptop for everybody (everybody with a grand to drop on a laptop, at least). The $999 11-inch MacBook Air is the most affordable MacBook in Apple's stable.
The 2011 11-inch Air is, undeniably, an improvement over the fall 2010 version. Is it a MacBook for everyone, though? Not yet, unless you can live with the Air's still comparatively limited storage space. For a more full-size laptop with even better battery life, many might be tempted to get the 13-inch MacBook Air or even the more full-featured 13-inch MacBook Pro. But, for sheer portability and performance, nothing can beat the 11-inch Air.
|Price as reviewed||$999|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M|
|Memory||2GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||64GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||OS X 10.7 Lion|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.8x7.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.34 pounds / 2.68 pounds|
The new 11-inch Air is identical to last year's model in terms of physical design. There's nothing wrong with that; the trim, elegant Air cuts a blade-thin profile and is one of the lightest little laptops we've ever seen. The all-aluminum body feels rock-solid and has no flex at all, while the magnetically closed upper lid smoothly opens on its center hinge to rest at a perfect viewing angle. The all-metal construction keeps it from feeling too fragile, often an issue for ultrathin systems. The body tapers at the front down to a razor-thin .11-inch edge, creating an optical illusion of even more thinness, although it's still only 0.68 inch thick at the rear.
The Air feels so minimal, it almost resembles an iPad when closed, and its dimensions, while longer, thicker, and heavier, aren't far off. The 2.38-pound chassis and tapered design make this 11-incher slip almost unnoticed into a small bag, and with Apple's square charger it wraps up into a neat, tiny package. The Air even feels thin and light to someone used to working with very small laptops (such as Sony's Vaio Z). Even the 11-inch Samsung Series 9, an impressive little ultraportable, feels thick by comparison.
The large keyboard and trackpad (the same glass version found on other MacBooks) both work well, although the function keys at the top are very small. The keyboard feels excellent for such a small laptop, nearly identical to what you'd find on a full-size MacBook, except the keys are shorter and thus have less travel to them. The newly added (or should we say, restored) backlighting is a huge boon for low-light work conditions. Backlight brightness controls have been added to the function buttons at the top, along with new Launchpad and Mission Control hot keys. The complete use of function keys as function-reversed media/panel controls is efficient and well laid-out.
The palm rest below the keyboard is also generously sized, a rarity on ultraportables. Those who might criticize the excessively large bezel around the 11-inch Air's display need only do the math and realize that this space was added to ensure a large keyboard/trackpad/palm-rest zone unlike the compressed working landscape we've seen on other 11-inchers. However, the footprint of the 11-inch Air really could accommodate a 12-inch screen. We'd like to see that in a future Air model.
Apple's large multitouch trackpad remains the best available. The pad is hinged at the top, allowing the entire pad to click down, but we prefer traditional tapping (which is off by default and must be activated in the Preferences menu). We've seen other clickpads from other manufacturers, but none have the size, responsiveness, or construction quality of Apple's. It's a huge amount of trackpad space on such a small laptop, but you'll need every inch of it and then some, as Mac OS X Lion, which comes preinstalled on the new MacBook Airs, has an elaborate multifinger multitouch vocabulary that's much more demanding of trackpad space than the more conservative Windows 7 multitouch universe. However, one of the most challenging new multifinger gestures--the four-finger squeeze to bring up Launchpad that we've come to call "the claw,"--has a simple hot key in the F4 button. We'll be pressing that instead in the future, thank you very much.
The new Air comes with an impressive set of software programs installed, starting with OS X Lion. The newest version of Mac OS X launched at the same time as these new Airs, making the MacBook Air the first Mac laptop we've used with the new OS. (For more on OS X Lion, read our CNET review.) Lion maximizes screen real estate on the 11-inch Air: applications more easily pop to full-screen, and swiping between full-screen apps eliminates the hunt for tiny buttons. But Lion also suffers from a few too many viewing modes, such as Mission Control, Launchpad, and Expose.
Applications installed via other methods can't be instantly deleted from the iOS-like Launchpad (thank goodness), and the Mac App Store, while useful, has too many holes in its software library to be considered comprehensive. It's the start of an iOS-like experience on the Mac, but it still has a ways to go. You already get the standard suite of iLife programs, iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand, which all include tons of useful and fun features and are ideal for casual consumers.
Like last year's model, the 11-inch Air boots and starts up from sleep extremely quickly. Apple calls this Instant On, and though it's not exactly instant, it does boot up very, very fast--faster even than an iPad. In sleep mode, the Air can go for an extremely long time without much loss in battery life, much like the iPad. After putting it in sleep, we opened our Air up the next morning and found practically no drop-off.
The 11-inch Air is still the only MacBook with a 16:9 display (the 13-incher is still 16:10), and uses the same 1,366x768-pixel native resolution as most laptops from 11 to 15 inches. The screen area lacks the edge-to-edge glass over a black bezel found in other MacBooks; instead the screen is surrounded by a thick silver bezel. While small, the screen is incredibly bright and crisp. Not only could we view video from nearly any wide angle, but text, even small text, popped off the white space on documents. The only screen we've seen recently that equals it is the one on the Samsung Series 9.
The built-in speaker offers crisp sound, but its volume is limited. Listening to a TV show in a bedroom with air conditioning on became a nearly impossible task. In terms of overall volume output, it felt comparable to the iPad 2. It's best to use headphones instead.
The included Webcam, unlike the one on the new MacBook Pros, isn't HD. The video quality in our basic tests with Photo Booth and FaceTime was a little grainy, but serviceable. We'd have preferred an HD Webcam upgrade, especially with Apple's focus on video calling.
|Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, Summer 2011)||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||Thunderbolt I/O with Mini DisplayPort||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/mic combo jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Expansion||Thunderbolt I/O with Mini DisplayPort||None|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
Even though the 11-inch Air is small, it still gets a Thunderbolt port, replacing the Mini DisplayPort on last year's model. Thunderbolt is Apple's new high-speed I/O port for HD audio, video, and data, allowing multiple hard drives and monitors to be connected via a single cable. Thunderbolt will still work with older Mini-DisplayPort monitors and with HDMI converters, but the added connectivity could theoretically help restore missing ports via a dock connector, although currently that's not the case.
Barely any Thunderbolt peripherals currently exist, but Apple is releasing a Thunderbolt Display in August that has extra USB ports, an Ethernet port, and an extra Thunderbolt port in the back, and will connect directly to the Air. Such port-studded devices and peripherals could act like docks for the MacBook Air and extend its limited port functionality, but we'll have to wait and see how many emerge and how useful they'll be. The Thunderbolt Display will cost $999. For some students with large pocketbooks and executives or home office workers, this could be an appealing solution. Alternatively, you could buy a separate iMac for nearly the same amount.
The 11-inch Air still lacks an SD card slot, which we griped about last year. There's no excuse for its absence: even $300 Netbooks have them, and there's plenty of room even on the Air's slight frame to have slotted one in. Considering the Air's fixed and limited amount of onboard flash storage, it would have been very helpful. There's no onboard Ethernet or built-in 3G wireless, either.
In its entry-level $999 configuration, the 11-inch MacBook Air retains the same limited SSD/RAM as last year, with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage. The 64GB would work if you rely on the cloud or external drives for most of your large-media storage, but it's not an acceptable amount for most mainstream users accustomed to at least 160GB of hard-drive space on even a discounted Netbook (and after the OS and preinstalled software, you really start with only about 48GB). Flash storage is solid-state and faster-access, but you can't replace it without voiding warranty (the RAM is fused on, so it can't be added to at all). Therefore, choose wisely when buying--we'd nearly insist you spend the extra $200 to upgrade to Apple's other fixed configuration, which has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. A third tier of 256GB storage is new to the 2011 11-incher, but costs an extra $300, bringing the total cost to $1,499.
A new second-generation 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor replaces last year's older Core 2 Duo CPU. It's actually like skipping a generation in terms of processors, since last year's Airs had the same older processors that they had the year before. The difference is dramatic: in our single and multitask benchmark tests, the new 11-inch Air was very close in performance to the $1,199 entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, despite technically having a lower-voltage ULV processor. That's with 2GB of RAM, too. Expect the 4GB version to handle multitasking more adeptly. Despite its size, this little Air is a full-blown MacBook under the hood, and will handle apps nearly as robustly as its larger, heavier Pro cousins. And, despite having a similar processor to the thin 13-inch Samsung Series 9, the 11-inch Air bests it in speed (as well as price). If you care for even more power, an upgrade to a 1.8GHz Core i7 processor costs an extra $150 on Apple's Web site, but it's only available as an upgrade to the $1,199 configuration.
Intel's HD 3000 graphics have replaced last year's Nvidia integrated graphics, with an expected drop-off in performance. Call of Duty 4 played at 18.9 frames per second in native 1,366x768-pixel resolution with 4x anti-aliasing, or 29.8fps at 1,280x720 pixels. Last year's 11-inch Air ran COD4 at 40.5fps at native resolution and medium graphics settings. Still, this Air's more than capable of running most mainstream and casual games, provided they're not too 3D-intensive. Apple's Mac App store offers plenty of options in that regard.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Apple MacBook Air, 11.6-inch, Summer 2011||Average watts/hour|
|Raw kWh number||23.76|
|Annual power consumption cost||$2.70|
MacBooks have become known for their long battery life, and this year's 11-inch Air edged out last year's in our video playback battery drain test despite its much faster processor. With its large, sealed battery, the new Air ran for 4 hours and 36 minutes, while last year's Air ran for 4 hours and 23 minutes. That's very close to Apple's 5-hour estimates, but not as good as you'd get from a MacBook Pro, an iPad, or the 13-inch MacBook Air. Size means sacrifice.
Service and support from Apple are always an issue to think about. Apple gives a one-year parts and labor warranty, but only 90 days of telephone support. Upgrading to a full three-year plan under AppleCare will cost an extra $249 and is pretty much a must-buy, considering the proprietary nature of Apple products. Support is also accessible through a well-stocked online knowledge base, video tutorials, and e-mail with customer service, or through in-person visits to Apple's retail-store Genius Bars.
If you're looking for a small, fast MacBook and don't mind paying a higher price for superior design and performance, the 2011 11-inch MacBook Air is flat-out the fastest ultraportable we've ever used. Just be forewarned that OSX Lion takes some getting used to, and the fixed and limited memory and RAM options get costly and keep this laptop, in some regards, from being the "MacBook for everyone" for those with large media libraries.
Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch (Summer 2011)
OS X 10.7 Lion; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-2557M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 128GB Apple SSD
Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2011)
OS X 10.7 Lion; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 64GB Apple SSD
Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch (Fall 2010)
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 2,048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce GT 320M; 128GB Apple SSD
Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Fall 2010)
OS X 10.6.4 Snow Leopard; 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 (ULV); 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 320M; 128GB Apple SSD
Samsung 9 Series
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 128GB Samsung SSD
Samsung Series 9 NP900X1A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.33GHz Intel Core i3-380UM; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 64GB Samsung SSD
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Spring 2011)
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; 2.3GHz Intel Core i5; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm
|Product Description||MacBook Air (11-inch, Summer 2011) 1.6 GHz - 11.6 in, Apple MacBook Air Core i5 TFT active matrix|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||11.8 in x 7.56 in x 0.68 in|
|Processor||Intel 1.6 GHz, Core i5 ( Dual-Core )|
|Cache Memory||3 MB - L3 cache|
|RAM||2 GB (installed) / 4 GB (max) - DDR3 SDRAM - 1333 MHz|
|Hard Drive||64 GB|
|Display||11.6 in, TFT active matrix 1366 x 768 ( HD )|
|Graphics Controller||Intel HD Graphics 3000|
|Audio Output||Sound card|
|Networking||Network adapter - Bluetooth 4.0, - IEEE 802.11a, - IEEE 802.11b, - IEEE 802.11n, - 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 Mac OS X Lion|
|Manufacturer Warranty||1 year warranty|
Average User Rating: 4.0 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 12
4 Star: 2
3 Star: 3
2 Star: 2
1 Star: 2
First time buying a Mac, I'm all Mac! Sorry PC!
Rating: 5 / 5
on July 24, 2011
10 out of 11 users found this review helpful
Pros: Light weight + small size + thickness + slick design @ reasonable price (computer only)
Cons: Too thin to carry in a hand without a sleeve. MBA external components are overpriced as is the case for most other apple accessories.
Summary: My philosophy in laptop buying = small in size + light in weight + decent performance @ reasonable price = best choice. If you want a robust computer, get a desktop!!! (Unless you absolutely need to carry around a robust laptop for work)
Over the past few years, I've seen so many of my friends going for laptops with 'everything that anyone will ever want' features. Yeah, and in almost all the cases, they just stopped carrying their all fancy aren't you jealous laptops in a couple of months max; because these feature-full laptops were just too damn heavy!!!
I think MBA 11 delivers just the right balance between its features and benefits. Most of us don't need a super computer in hands, but decent computing power at "ultraportable" size and weight ratio.
I've always been a PC user for I don't know ever since I laid my fingers on bulky keyboard attached to if fallen I can kill a child size computers two decades ago for the first time. Surprisingly mac is very... I mean extremely easy to learn to use, if you have a friend who use a Mac. My coworker taught me the basics for about 10 minutes right after I took my MBA out of the box, from installing a program to uninstalling, where system preference is located, how basic functions work and whatnot. It's been three days playing with it, and I think I feel comfortable enough to taking it to upcoming business trip to Europe. Honestly, I love the Mac interface, and I think they're "superior" to PC UI.
All and all, my money was very well spent!
AWESOME!!! JUST BUY ONE
Rating: 5 / 5
on July 24, 2011
6 out of 7 users found this review helpful
Pros: Speed and bags of it, the i5 is rapid compared to the last gen 1.4 core 2 even though that was plenty fast. However, this i5 with the 4 gig ram is incredibly practical for all the everyday stuff and when you apply that to the gaming it just gets better.
Cons: the xbox 360 plugin and joypad when connected crashes the mac, and it can get oily when playing 3d games (left4dead).
Summary: I love it, especially when you add in the discounts that students get when you buy from Apple (like me). I mean I owned last years model and sold it on the day this came out for 600 quid then bought this model with printer, app card, 3 year warranty for less than a grand. Not only that the printer i get 70 quid back. Anyway I love it....just buy one
Portable, powerful, perfect... for most people's needs
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on December 16, 2011
2 out of 2 users found this review helpful
Pros: Pros: very light, full keyboard, decent battery life, SSD memory and good processing, quick start-up from shutdown and sleep, enhanced by lion, no extraneous features, quiet and does not heat-up too quickly
Cons: COST... 999$ seems overpriced for the limited base model
Summary: I picked this up to replace my nearly 3.5 year old white macbook, which was a wonderful computer. I opted to ditch my optical drive (broken for most of the time I owned it) and spinning harddrive (broke 2 times while stationary) I am not a gamer, nor do I do very heavy photo editing. I mostly just surf the internet, write documents and listen to music. I'm on the go a lot so I wanted something light that could move around easily with me. I don't find the 11 inch screen to be a problem - OSX lion helps with that. That said, I did buy an inexpensive external monitor to connect my air to when I am doing some photo or document editing. I didn't like doing these activities on my 13 inch macbook. I figured that the best compromise was to get a powerful, portable computer and then if I wanted more screen reestate, I could hook it up to a larger screen. This works for me, but everyone's needs are different. I'm looking to go back to school next fall and I figured that this would be the best compromise for what I need. The only draw back I can find at the moment is within OSX lion itself: you still can't change the size of the menu fonts and I find it to be too small sometimes.
Best ultraportable computer money can buy.
Rating: 5 / 5
on July 24, 2011
3 out of 6 users found this review helpful
Pros: Fast, well built, light, beautiful, long battery life, cheap!
Cons: None come to mind.
Summary: An affordable luxury that nothing from the Wintel world can come close to matching
Outstanding for what it is. But no sale here.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
on July 25, 2011
2 out of 4 users found this review helpful
Pros: Amusingly small and light
Spectacular video performance
Built like a tank compared to virtually any other netbook
Cons: No 3G/4G - why the hell not?
No SD slot
Tiny SSD in base configuration
Expensive to start with, more expensive if you want a decent configuration
Summary: Went to the store, looked at both, bought a 13. As small as the 11 is, it's not small enough to justify giving up the battery life and interface advantages of the 13. The key thing is weight and the 13 is already light as a feather compared to my 2009 MacBook Pro, so there's no compelling reason to put up with the ridiculous omission of an SD slot, etc. It's funny how there seems to be a threshold after which a device seems really small; an iPad2 in an InCase sleeve seems MUCH smaller than my old 13 in the same sleeve, but the 11 does not. Carrying around a 13 doesn't entail any real burden compared to the 11.
ONE THING would have changed my mind: built in 3G with iPad-like data plans. I don't see why anyone would want such a small and interface-limited device...UNLESS it has broadband.