FAQ: Everything you need to know about the MacBook Air

What do you get, and give up, if you buy Apple's latest laptop?

Air owners will have to turn their machines over to Apple for a battery swap. (The battery, by the way, spreads across the entire width of the machine under the palm rest and trackpad.) According to this out-of-warranty battery-replacement page on the Apple site, the dirty deed "normally takes five business days." There's nothing on the page about a loaner -- something Apple provides iPhone owners when they bring their phone in for a battery swap -- and the company makes a point to disclaim any responsibility for lost data. "Apple and its AASPs [Apple-authorized service providers] are not responsible for any damage to or loss of any applications, data, or other information stored on your MacBook Air while performing service," the page reads.

Does that mean I can't take a second battery on the plane with me? You can take a second battery. But not one that fits the Air. Apple rates the Air's power supply at five hours, but unlike other laptops -- including the company's own MacBook and MacBook Pro lines -- when those five hours (or whatever the real-world lifespan turns out to be) are over, you might as well put the Air back in its bag. Unless you've ponied up the US$49 for the optional Apple MagSafe Airline Adapter and your seat has a power port.

Where's the FireWire port? And the Ethernet? Missing, obviously. The only ports on the Twiggyesque MacBook Air are a single USB, one of Apple's miniature digital video interface ports and an audio out for headphones or ear buds. Not included: The FireWire, Ethernet and additional USB port found on the MacBook line. (Oh, and it has just one speaker, too. So much for stereo sound.)

Apple touts the Air as "built for a wireless world," so at least it comes with Bluetooth and 802.11n (draft) wireless. And users can pop for the optional USB-based Ethernet adapter (US$29) to add a dangling-off-the-side network port if you really want to be wired.

This is getting repetitive, but where's the DVD drive? Oops. Actually, Apple didn't forget to stick one in the Air, but purposefully ditched the optical drive. Jobs, in fact, simply dismissed the idea of a built-in drive, which must have made current MacBook owners wonder why they're lugging around the extra weight in their machines. "You know what, we don't think most users will miss an optical drive, need an optical drive," Jobs said. He then ticked off alternatives that included an external, optional US$99 drive.

Need to install something from a CD or DVD? You'll be using Remote Disc, the software included with the Air that also must be installed on another Mac or Windows PC. Remote Disc lets the Air "borrow" that box's optical drive -- over a wireless network, presumably -- to, say, install software or load tunes from an audio CD for ripping.

Why no drive, you ask? There's no room in the Air's case, for one. And then there's Jobs' attitude toward internal optical drives for another. Remember what he did for floppy disks back in the late 1990s.

Why are the prices of the two MacBook Air configurations so far apart? I mean, from US$1,799 to US$3,098? You noticed that. We noticed that. Co-workers noticed that. The difference comes from just two changes. The first is that US$300 to bump up the processor from 1.6 GHz to 1.8 GHz, and the second is the US$999 cost of swapping the 80GB platter-based hard drive for a 64GB solid-state drive (SSD) that's built from flash memory. The stock 80GB drive spins at 4,200 rpm, by the way.

The processor price change is in line with what Apple charges for other CPU upgrades. The MacBook Pro, for instance, prices the change from 2.4 GHz to 2.6 GHz at US$250. As for the disk drive? Well, as Jobs said, the SSD is "pricey." Especially at Apple. Dell, for example, sells a 64GB SSD upgrade to XPS M1330 laptop for US$750.

Who is the MacBook Air aimed at? Apple rarely, if ever, pins a particular computer to a particular group; rather, it puts its wares onto shelves and lets buyers do market segmentation for it. But with its lighter weight and price and, frankly, its compromises, it should appeal most to frequent travelers in the air or away from a power outlet for less than five hours, well-heeled students who want the least bulk in their bag, and the Apple faithful who will buy the next shiny thing virtually every time.

Should I buy it? Hey, that's between you and your bank acount, pal. We report; you decide. Besides, since they're not even shipping for two to three weeks, so you've got some time to figure that one out.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?