MacBook Air 11" (late 2010) Review
(For the purpose of this review, I've used my personal base model with 64 GB SSD and 2 GB of RAM.)

I've been waiting for a subnotebook by Apple for decades, it seems to me, and finally Apple has found a way to wrap its head around the idea of a really small notebook since the days of the PowerBook DUO, the last of which was released in 1997 (the PowerBook 2400, and it was not called DUO, although for all intents and purposes, it belonged to the same line). Some people would say that the PowerBook 12" model followed it, but it simply wasn't a subnotebook, not in its time and not afterwards. (Not small enough, not light enough, it basically was an iBook clad in aluminum.)

The MacBook Air 13" wasn't enough for people who really wanted a subnotebook, because we really _do_ want a small screen and a small footprint, so you can put it in a _small_ bag, not a usual 13" notebook bag. The 11" model released now finally addresses these things, and although it doesn't go 10" or below, it's finally small enough, and the good thing about its screen size is that you still get a full keyboard (almost). And let's start there…

The keyboard is almost the same as the one you get with every other MacBook model. Three differences compared to the MacBook Pro's:

1.) The top row (function keys) is vertically limited, so those keys are a little harder to hit and push down, because they're also close to the frame. This row includes the power button, which pushes eject and sound buttons a little to the left.

2.) The bottom row, including command keys and the spacebar. I don't quite understand why nobody seems to mention that difference, because it's the one you're going to notice more in real life, as it also means the arrow keys are a tad smaller. They still work fine, but the bigger ones on the MacBook Pro etc. work better.

3.) No backlight, no automatic screen brightness controls. I miss that feature, although I get around the keyboard blind quite well.

The trackapd, by the way, puts every solution of any other subnotebook or netbook to shame: It's the same glass trackpad used in any other MacBook, only limited a little vertically. I find the other MacBooks' trackpads to be too large, rather, this one is almost perfect. You get precision control (ever used a netbook's trackpad?). Period.

The display is basically a standard, LED lit 11.6" display with 720p resolution (same as all of those 720p "HD" TVs), i.e. 1366*768 pixels. It isn't lit evenly, most noticeable at the top and the bottom of the screen. Otherwise, the screen's beautiful to work with, its resolution being almost the same as the 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro screens, but in 16:9 format, which works well for watching movies, lets the MBA 11" have a full-size keyboard and has about the pixel-per-inch ratio of the 15" models' high resolution option or the 17" model (or the iPad's). I like this display, although I'd love to have it change brightness automatically.

The processor is about the slowest you can get if you don't want to go netbook-style atom. Let's be honest here: This processor simply isn't fast, and you won't want to use the 11" model as your main computer, unless you really do just basic things. It's fine for wordprocessing, webbrowsing, your e-mail and every other task in the productivity department, and it also handles entertainment very well - but not because of the processor. That's the good graphics' fault, which is the same as you get in the 13" MacBook Pro. Perfect for playing high-res video and quite good for most games as well, although the form factor clearly isn't aimed at the "professional" gamer.

The SSD instead of a harddrive is where the speed is at, though. Using flash memory instead of a harddrive enables this form factor, enables Apple to give the thing enough battery life (five hours of wireless work is not only achievable, but the norm) and is really, really what you want in all notebooks from here on out. With the earliest MacBook Air 13", I've always had problems with the battery. It worked fine if you used it for a whole day, but it couldn't keep the juice overnight. In sleep mode, it just seemed to use 10% per hour. Shutting the thing down completely solved the problem, but getting it back up was a long process (too long for mobile purposes), even when using the hibernation mode. With the new MacBook Air's power saving modes, it works very well, and although I've only had the thing for a couple of days now, I believe Apple about the 30 days of standby. The SSD is fast enough to come back from hibernation without needing an interface telling you that it's doing that. It looks just like coming out of sleep, although there's about a second or two delay before you get full control back. (That's only going to happen if your MBA slept for more than an hour, though.)
The SSD is, of course, completely silent and very quick for starting applications, rebooting the computer if needed (after the 10.6.5 update that's coming in the next week or the one after it) and generally reading data. Writing is perfectly fast as well, although slower than reading.

So what's the verdict, fryke?
The verdict is that Apple has come around to creating a subnotebook that works. It's small enough, sexy enough, powerful enough and inexpensive enough. Although some sites complain about the price (as they always do about Apple products, forgetting not to compare crapware to actually useful computers), this _is_ the best subnotebook I've seen so far, and we've come a long way from 2000$+ subnotebooks of back when we wanted Apple to do one so badly. It costs the same as Apple's entry-level MacBook, but gives you more style, more portability and even more performance overall. (Don't forget, the white MacBook's max RAM is also 4 GB.) There's really only one downside to this otherwise perfect little machine, and it's understandable: You can't upgrade it much. The RAM is soldered to the motherboard, so if you think you need 4 GB, special order yours instead of getting the one they have at your reseller. For my purposes, 2 GB work well. (TextEdit doesn't _really_ require that much RAM.) The SSD, according to all I've read on the internets, will actually be upgradeable, although it will probably be a costly decision for some time, so I'd also advise you to get it in the configuration you want from the beginning. If 128 GB don't cut it for you, get the 64 GB model instead and use USB sticks for everything else. You can have a 32 GB USB stick for Parallels, for example, one for your iPhoto library etc. If you have to decide what to keep on the internal drive, anyway, a modular approach might be best. That way, your internal system stays lean and fast. And that's how I like my brandnew MacBook Air 11" best.

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