MacBook Air: What the critics are saying

The famous line about Apple's MacBook Air is that it is one of the most underpowered and overpriced laptop computers on the market.

The MacBook Air is so slim it fits in a manila envelope.

The MacBook Air is so slim it fits in a manila envelope.

The famous line about Apple's MacBook Air is that it is one of the most underpowered and overpriced laptop computers on the market. All that changed on Wednesday after Apple released two new MacBook Air models during the company's Back to the Mac event. The new computers may still be underpowered compared to other Macs, but the high price tag is gone as is some of its bulk.

Pricing for the new Air starts at $999 for the 11-inch netbook-sized model, and $1299 for the 13-inch model. The previous MacBook Air generation featured two 13-inch models that ranged in price from $1499 to $1799. The new Airs have also moved away from spinning hard drives to solid state flash storage The new computers weigh 2.3 to 2.9 pounds and measure 0.68 inches at the thickest point. The previous Air, by comparison, weighed in at a colossal 3 pounds with a maximum thickness of 0.76 inches.

There's a lot to love about the new MacBook Airs. Here's a look at some of the early impressions of the new laptops from around the Web.

Air Keyboards Won't Light Up Your Life

Unlike other netbook and ultraportable makers, Apple refused to compromise on keyboard size. Both the 11 inch and 13 inch Airs have full-sized keyboards, which is unusual for a netbook. Among PC World's current top 5 netbooks only one, the 11.6 inch Lenovo ThinkPad X100e, has a full-sized keyboard. The keyboards for the other computers in the top 5 range from 93 to 95 percent of full size.

The MacBook Air's keyboard is "really exciting if you've used a PC netbook with a nigh-unusable mini keyboard...Apple has quite rightly refused to compromise on keyboard size," said Macworld's Jason Snell.

One thing that many found missing, however, were the backlit keys, which Apple has done away with for this version of the Air. The fact that the Air was missing backlit keys was "disappointing" to both CNET and Electronista.

Screen debate

When it comes to the 11-inch model's screen opinions are mixed about how it plays out. Snell said the 11 inch Air's 1366-by-768 screen resolution meant that "the 16:9 aspect ratio version of a 1024-by-768 pixel display [the screen measures 11.6 inches diagonal]. If that seems a little tight, well, it is."

But Electronista disagreed saying, "the display is high-quality and produces sharply defined text and equivalent workspace to a typical 13-inch notebook due to its high-res, 1366x768 display."

One thing that some people missed from the new Air is that it lacks the full edge-to-edge glass covering that other MacBooks do. "Because there is no glass in front of the screen as there is on other MacBooks, the Air does feel slightly cheaper if you touch the screen. Of course, that lack of glass also helps keep the weight down," said TechCrunch's MG Siegler. But CNET's Dan Ackerman said the display "simply doesn't look as good as the glass-over-black look of Apple's other laptops."

Optical Drive is Dying

The new MacBook Air models may be Apple's first salvo in the war against optical drives. Sure, Apple's desktop computers such as the iMac, the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro will probably have CD/DVD Super Drives for a long time to come. But if the critics have their way, Apple would move away from optical drives in its laptop line.

The new Air models lack an optical drive as did previous models, but older models also came with an operating system back-up disc that required an optical drive. But no more; the new Airs include a thumb drive with the OS back up instead of a DVD. "Good riddance to this battery-sucking, space-gobbling piece of legacy tech," said Wired's Charlie Sorrell. "Apple has effectively sealed the fate of the optical disc in the computer industry. Soon, it will go the way of the floppy disk," TechCrunch's Siegler said.

Silent and Cool

The new MacBook Air is silent, according to the critics, and that's even when the fan is running. " I had to almost place my ear against the back hinge before I could actually hear [the fan]," Snell said.

The laptop was also said to be very cool to the touch and didn't heat up very often. The only time it did, according to both Siegler and Snell, was when they were streaming video from the Web. "The Air definitely heated up when the video was playing," Snell said. "The only thing that ever seemed to stress the system out a little bit was, what else, [Adobe] Flash" Siegler said, echoing Apple CEO Steve Jobs' disdain for Adobe Flash on the Mac.

Based on the early impressions, it looks like the new MacBook Airs are going to get favorable reviews after they've been tested more thoroughly. "The real nitty-gritty results are going to have to wait for the Macworld Lab tests," Snell said. "But if you're impatient, let me tell you what we're going to find: the Air is going to be much slower than other Mac systems."

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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