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.

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Ken Mingis

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