Apple MacBook Air (13in, mid-2011)

Apple MacBook Air review: The Air remains a relatively expensive proposition, but Apple's entry level MacBook offers excellent performance and portability

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Apple MacBook Air

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Superb design
  • Great battery life

Cons

  • RAM isn't replaceable
  • No matte screen option
  • Still pretty pricey

Bottom Line

Apple's latest MacBook Air still lacks replaceable components, still has an annoying glossy screen and remains relatively expensive. However, its performance upgrades with new Core i5 processors give it the extra grunt previous models were missing. Combined with a superb design and great battery life, the MacBook Air is an excellent notebook for any user after a combination of speed and portability.

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Apple's latest MacBook Air may look virtually identical to the previous model, but it's under the hood that most of its improvements lie. Faster Intel Core i5 and optional Core i7 processors gives Apple's ultra portable notebook a huge performance boost. The Air is still an expensive proposition on the whole, but the extra grunt combined with a thin and light design, fast, flash-based storage, and excellent battery life make it a worthy option for road warriors.

Apple MacBook Air: Design and display

The Apple MacBook Air is once again a superb piece of industrial design. Like the MacBook Pro, the Air is made from a "precision aluminium unibody enclosure" crafted from a single block of aluminium. The result is a lightweight notebook that feels well constructed despite its tiny footprint. Particularly impressive is the screen, which exhibits minimal flex when twisted, and the sturdy feeling hinge. With the demise of Apple's plastic-clad MacBook, the MacBook Air is now Apple's entry level laptop.

The MacBook Air is just 0.3cm thin at the front edge when closed, and just 1.7cm at the rear. The downside to the ultra-thin design is the lack of ports; the MacBook Air has just two USB ports, a MagSafe power connector, a Thunderbolt jack (more on that later) and a stereo headphone jack. The 13in model we reviewed also has an SD card reader; however the 11in model doesn't get the same treatment due to the lack of space.

The MacBook Air lacks built-in 3G connectivity — a feature that's available on some competing ultra portable notebooks — and there's also no IR sensor for remote control capability, nor an Ethernet port for wired connectivity. The Air also lacks a sleep notification LED, as seen on the MacBook Pro range.

The Apple MacBook Air may lack some ports, but the full sized keyboard and trackpad are both excellent considering the small footprint of this machine. The Air's keyboard and trackpad are almost the same size of the entire MacBook Pro range, with the exception of the top row of F keys, which are slightly smaller. The keyboard is now backlit, which was a huge criticism of the previous model. Tellingly, users won't feel cramped or limited in the slightest while using the MacBook Air despite its small size.

The MacBook Air's screen has a resolution of 1440x900 and is LED backlit, which Apple claims makes it more power efficient than a standard notebook display. Under florescent office lighting the glossy screen can be distracting, and viewing it from off-centre does result in a slight yellow colour shift. We would love to see a matte screen option, which would suit users working outdoors in sunlight, or inside an office with bright fluorescent lighting. We also think that power users, such as those editing photos or videos, would appreciated a higher resolution display. Thankfully, unlike the MacBook Pro's glossy black bezel, the MacBook Air's silver bezel is not reflective at all.

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