Hands-on: The MacBook Air beyond the hype

Apple Air has a slim and sexy form factor, but we found some function there too.

An older version of Photoshop CS took 36 seconds to fully open, which isn't bad, given that it's an older version that runs under emulation in Mac OS X using Rosetta. Next, I opened a 5.5MB photo and applied the stained-glass filter to it. That process took 50 seconds on the Air. For comparison, I did the same thing on my MacBook Pro. Opening Photoshop took 33 seconds, only 3 seconds less than on the Air, but applying the same filter to the same photo took much less time: 32 seconds.

In other words, everything worked fine - it just took a little longer on the Air.

I also had no problems using the Air's full-size keyboard, which is pretty much lifted right out of the black MacBook. The chiclet keys on the Air felt more solid than I remember them feeling on the first MacBook I tested last year. There's no side-to-side "wiggle." Apple also smartly added LED backlighting for the keys for use in dim light.

I will say that the black keys, to me, detract from the professional look of the Air. Given that the laptop is aluminum, I'd prefer to see the keys match. And the space between them allows the LED backlighting to leak out around the base of the keys when you're in a darkened room. It's not annoying, but it is noticeable.

Give it a swipe

I do like the new trackpad, which is larger even than the one on my MacBook Pro and one of several groundbreaking features on the Air. It works much as the multitouch screen does on Apple's popular iPhone. You can "pinch" your fingers together or spread them apart on the trackpad while in iPhoto and resize photos. In Safari, those motions change the font size on Web pages. With three fingers you can "swipe" through photos or Web pages. And gestures allow you to resize Finder windows when using Coverflow to flip through files.

I quickly found myself using three fingers to swipe through Web pages. Swipe left to go back to the previous page. Swipe right to move forward. It's a simple and easy way to maneuver through pages and a feature I'd expect to show up in the next iteration of Apple's pro laptop lineup. (And no, don't look for a software retrofit for older laptops - Apple officials said the multitouch features require new hardware as well as software. Bummer.)

Another innovation offered in the Air is Remote Disk, which allows the laptop to access another computer's optical drive wirelessly. This is important because the Air doesn't have its own optical drive and you're likely somewhere along the way to need an optical drive to install software - or even to reinstall the operating system. You simply install software on the second computer that allows the Air to "see" the drive. Then you can install software, copy files or do a full system restore just as if the drive were built into the Air. (The software works on Macs and Windows PCs.)

I tried it out and found that moving files between the Air and my MacBook Pro worked just as advertised, though it took a little longer than if I were simply moving files around using a FireWire cable and Apple's target disk mode.

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.

Ken Mingis

Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?