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Apple MacBook Air review

Verdict

Gorgeous design, reasonable power and long battery life - Apple's got it right third time around

Review Date: 26 Oct 2010

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,187 (£1,395 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

Back in 2008, Steve Jobs slid the millimetres-thin MacBook Air from a manila envelope, and in that instant the world of laptops looked dowdier than ever. For all its design flair, though, we found the Air riddled with compromises that upgrades since haven't quite ironed out. Now, as we approach 2011, the MacBook Air may just have come of age.

Slip it from its lush packaging and it has the same impact as ever. A silver wedge of aluminium tapering to a delicate point, it looks like it would snap in two at the slightest provocation, but it's also unnervingly robust. The metal unibody chassis feels so taut and well-constructed it barely flinches under the kind of pressure that would crack most ultraportables down the middle.

It also performs the miraculous feat of feeling both hefty and expensive, while not actually weighing much at all. Hold it in one hand and Sony's VAIO Z Series in the other, and the MacBook feels like the heavier and more solid of the two. Put them on the scales, however, and the 1.33kg Apple is actually a handful of grams lighter.

Apple MacBook Air front

The previous MacBook Airs never lacked visual flair; rather it was the disappointing combination of limited horsepower, poor battery life and almost non-existent connectivity that dampened the appeal. With this iteration those criticisms are hushed.

The basics are better: a single USB port now adorns each side, one accompanied by mini-DisplayPort and an SD card reader, the other by a single headphone output. It's still hardly generous by laptop standards, but at least it's now possible to plug in a USB 3G dongle - there's still no 3G as standard - and a thumb drive at the same time. And while some will moan at the lack of an Ethernet socket, the Air's wireless chipset is capable of simultaneous dual-band 802.11n operation.

The core internals still don't wow us. Even on the top-of-the-range model we have here, there's no sign of Intel's latest Core i5 or i7 processors. Instead, a rather elderly Core 2 Duo takes control, along with just 2GB of DDR3 memory. With its 256GB SSD, though, the MacBook Air really doesn't feel like it's built on last-generation technology. Power it on and OS X springs into life in less than 15 seconds, while the MacBook Air feels responsive and nippy throughout.

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User comments

"The metal unibody chassis feels so taut and well-constructed it barely flinches under the kind of pressure that would crack most ultraportables down the middle."

How on earth have you been testing your ultra-portables, slightly worrying :)

By 00lissauers on 27 Oct 2010

I've no doubt it's lovely to use but £1400 for a core 2 duo and 2GB RAM! I guess I just don't earn enough :(

By TimoGunt on 27 Oct 2010

What about the 11.6" inch version?

Any view on how the smaller 11.6" version stacks up compared to the 13.3" scores?

By andyk_47 on 27 Oct 2010

will you be reviewing the mini version?

By TimoGunt on 27 Oct 2010

oh snap

By TimoGunt on 27 Oct 2010

MacBook Air 11

We're waiting on the review sample to arrive. I think every man and his dog is trying to get hold of the UK review unit. :)

Going by the low-voltage 1.4Ghz processor, flash-based storage and Nvidia graphics, I'd expect roughly similar performance to the original Alienware M11x. As for how comfortable it is to use, well, the jury's out on that one...

By SashaMuller on 27 Oct 2010

The mini is the one which is generally of far more interest IMO. That petite size combined with a reasonable keyboard and decent screen may make it worth an upgrade from the wifi-only iPads.

Apple really needs to add 3G to these babies.

By colsmith on 27 Oct 2010

No ethernet socket

802.11n is lovely but its a shared topology and is quite simply pants next to a gigabit full-duplex ethernet connection (which is pretty much standard these days).

Nice kit but do you have to buy the docking station just to get ethernet?

By MikeHellier on 27 Oct 2010

Toshiba

I'd rather have the Core i5 Toshiba R630 with DVD drive and 4GB Ram for half the price thanks.

Sorry but 4 stars for value on this. Really?

By Grunthos on 27 Oct 2010

Value for Money...?

Can we have some clarification on how value for money is calculated? 4 stars?

Your review suggests that this specification is value for money but I cannot see how this is so. I worked in a purchasing department for a large university and if I were to suggest that this was some form of value to my boss I would have been laughed at....

Apple make superb hardware and fit the software to operate with it, making a fantastic bit of kit. But after reading PC Pro for several years now I suggest that when Apple products are reviewed, the review team seem able to forgive more so than with other products.

Has the computing industry now adopted a "Form before function" mentality? Its not like it is a Ferrari which has function and for mixed in equal measure (and priced accordingly!!) this is like a Ferrari with a 1.0 litre engine... but priced the same!

Please correct me if you feel I am wrong, but this laptop is vastly over priced for what you actually get.

This is wrong.

By Neospace on 27 Oct 2010

@Neospace

Couldn't agree more. A colleague actually asked me "What do you think PCPro said about this machine?"

"They'll get excited about the styling, smudge over the lack of power and ignore the price." Not far wrong.

I've actually stopped reading PCPRO reviews, only dipped in to this one to prove a point.

Anyone up for starting up a proper PC review online mag? I'm starting to choke on the Apple love-in here.

You'd need to be an "air" head to buy this. Go save yourself £400 and get the acer-aspire-8942g, which is way more powerful and has a fantastic spec. Oh, and you'll save a few Indonesian workers from lemming impersonations.

By CraigieDD on 27 Oct 2010

"Sorry but 4 stars for value on this. Really?"

The old PC Pro might not have been swayed by such considerations as looks but the new-style PCMacApple Pro seems to have sold it's soul to Cupertino.

I wonder if PC Advisor still does stuff about PCS?

By Lacrobat on 27 Oct 2010

...

We don't give Apple an easier ride than anyone else. I think that's a little unfair to say the least.

The hardware and software - in this case OS X - are mated perfectly. The touchpad alone gives a degree of tactile control which makes any Windows 7 laptop feel somewhat clunky by comparison.

I’d contest that the Air provides a highly impressive balance of form and function. It's a delight to use, a delight to look at and it feels outstandingly sturdy for a 1.3kg notebook. The CPU is quite fast enough, the graphics chipset is genuinely powerful and the battery life is excellent. All that comes at a hefty cost, granted, but show me another ultraportable which can deliver all that for £1349.

If your primary concern is the most bang for your buck, then no Apple product is ever going to satisfy. If, however, you prize refinement and a slick user experience more highly, then it may yet have some appeal.

By SashaMuller on 27 Oct 2010

Sorry but Apple love-in is becoming a bore

I'm afraid that I tend to agre with a few other correspondents that PCPro is becoming MacUser manque.

Firstly I won't buy one of these to run OSX. As far as I know OSX doesn't legally run on "PC"s, so a bit out of placew in "PCPro".

Secondly I'm sure it is a delightful little machine, but I USE my computer daily and this thing is just too slow (I don't play games so the graffix are largely irrelevant).

In future can we please just take it as read that all Apple products have been handed down like tablets (should that be ipads?) from on high & leave it at that.

By wittgenfrog on 27 Oct 2010

*sigh*

Mac's are PCs. The whole Mac vs PC thing was just a marketing thing to differentiate from Windows.

Mac's are just as much of a 'PC' than any Windows machine is. So it has just as much right to be on here than any other machine.

By QassimF on 27 Oct 2010

Don't forget..

To make sure you order your 2008 spec 4Gb of Ram in your £1,400 Laptop, as you can't upgrade that when the shininess rubs off!

Remember your 3g USB dongle before Apple declare them illegal!

Kudos to Author for making some bad points about this machine, (have to be careful that you are sent items to review in the future)

Apple, for Glorious revolution and happiness the people!

p.s you forgot adverts for accessories, tut tut

By dave_mcmahon on 28 Oct 2010

Value

I'll take it at the "buy it now" price, £23.99 !

Just tell me where I find it and how to purchase, I see no button next to the "buy it now" price... ooops wrong site!

By rob997 on 28 Oct 2010

What does 'PC' stand for again?

Oh yes, personal computer.

So a Mac is a PC and has more right to be reviewed on PCPro than cameras, gps', projectors etc but you don't see the Apple-haters whinging about those reviews.

By kingjulian on 28 Oct 2010

Moving the discussion away from the point!

@kingjulian, @QassimF, I totally agree that Macs are personal computers, I don't think that is the discussion here and I love Macs, have always, will always.

The issue here is one of deciding if the review is biased (perhaps to strong a word) or not.

My point is that when it comes to Apple products, because they are known for being excellent at product design, they earn 'points' for just being Apple and I feel that reviews of Apple products fall into this trap constantly.

Because we expect (and 90% of the time, are correct) that a fantastic bit of kit is coming out from Apple people tend to gloss over the short comings. The wow factor can be blinding. I cannot imagine a phone manufacturer (except Apple) bringing out a phone with a reception issue and not being slammed for this in reviews. Just an example, I don't want to move off topic! :)

My only issue with this review was the point of Value for Money. This product does not represent Value for money. If you have a lot of money or its not you personally buying it then this is the best thing out there if you want that wow factor. If you have a budget and like to spend your money wisely, you would look at this review and think "Why does this represent Value??"

I guess my whole point stems from the form/function balance. I think Apple products tend towards marketing and design, rather than function. Its why so many people like them, myself included. I just want honest reviewing and I think that in this instant, the reviewer has not made an accurate appraisal of the products value.

Cheers!

By Neospace on 28 Oct 2010

I think you hit the nail on the head there Neospace. I would love one of these. If it was £600 I would possibly buy one of these. But over that price I start thinking I could get a more powerful system for cheaper.

Maybe it's the ultra portable machine. I never have to use a computer for extended periods of time away from a power source so all ultra portables to me are a waste of money.
If I needed one then maybe this price would seem reasonable to me
I just know for £200 cheaper I can get a Sony with an i7 processor, blu ray, bigger hard drive and screen and a 1GB faster graphics processor.

By TimoGunt on 28 Oct 2010

Actually the Sony VAIO F13 had the same overall score as the Macbook Air but doesn't get recommended. It got marked down for battery performance even though you stated that it was a desktop replacement and also the heavy use battery life is 50 mins less than this Macbook Air. I don't really understand your review process much

By TimoGunt on 28 Oct 2010

...

@TimoGunt - The F13 would have been recommended but for its average display. At £1200, I'd expect a desktop replacement to have a high-quality TFT, and I made that quite clear in the review. I don't know how you came to the conclusion that it was denied a Recommendation solely due to battery life...

@Neospace – The Value for Money score takes the price of the machine and factors it against the Features and Design and Performance scores.
The Air is expensive, but is also very well suited to its role of being an ultraportable. It's about balance, and where previous versions of the Air were notably unbalanced - and duly criticised in our reviews for being so - this redesign has addressed those concerns.
The CPU is more than ample for an ultraportable, the graphics performance is unheard of for a 1.3kg notebook, the design and ergonomics are excellent and, crucially, the battery life is great.
You can buy ultraportables for less, of course, but they don't offer the all-round ability of the Air. And none of them can run both OS X and Windows 7.
As for being biased, well, I only use Windows 7 PCs/Notebooks and don’t own a single Apple product. So, all in all, I’m not what you’d typically describe as an Apple fanboy.

By SashaMuller on 28 Oct 2010

Good, thanks for reply!

@SashaMuller - Thanks for the detailed reply and the explanation of VFM calculation, I'm satisfied with that.

My only suggestion is that Features and Design are really two distinct categories and can easily cause a problem when reviewing devices such as these. Features (correct me if I am wrong) are USB ports, Blueray drives, HD capacity. Where as design is an aesthetic/ergonomic quality which can be troublesome to pin down. By putting them together it gives a certain freedom for emotive content to creep in over the top of 'Features' which are measurable and comparable with other products. It gives rise to comments seen in this review.

Thanks again for the reply, Sasha and thanks to PC Pro for providing a forum for pedantic buggers like me to feedback with.

Cheers

By Neospace on 28 Oct 2010

I think if you're rarely using a computer away from a socket for very long then you're just not in the market for an ultraportable laptop. That seems to be the end of it for me really.

By steviesteveo on 28 Oct 2010

Don't read reviews

Don't read reviews if you've already made up your mind. So many comments here on what folks think the review should have been from people who haven't tried the product. How do they know better than the reviewer! If they think the value (subjective) for money is 4 stars that isn't the same as some theoretical how many Gb and Hz per £. which you can do without trying the machine.
Apple often deserve higher ratings than the spec might suggest because the way it "just works" can add huge value. That's why you read reviews from someone who has tried one.

By Mayburys on 28 Oct 2010

Don't read reviews

Don't read reviews if you've already made up your mind. So many comments here on what folks think the review should have been from people who haven't tried the product. How do they know better than the reviewer! If they think the value (subjective) for money is 4 stars that isn't the same as some theoretical how many Gb and Hz per £. which you can do without trying the machine.
Apple often deserve higher ratings than the spec might suggest because the way it "just works" can add huge value. That's why you read reviews from someone who has tried one.

By Mayburys on 28 Oct 2010

At £1400, the Apple Air is pricey but it does offer reasonable value for money compared the rest of the Ultra-Portable market. Compared with the Air's previous incarnations its considered a steal.

However, I feel that 6/6 stars for Features/Design is high. Design-wise, Apple laptops are miles ahead of other manufacturers. Features are mixed results though. SSD, LED-backlit & battery life are all good news. Non-user removable battery, non-upgradable memory, storage, lack of connectivity and 3G access isn't.

By Duggie on 28 Oct 2010

I guess the issue is..

@SashaMuller

I think that a lot of us are having a problem with the word "desirable" to decide what gets A-Listed on on PC Pro. Lots of people reading these reviews work in the I.T. industry and it used to be the case that we'd come to PC Pro for what was the suggest correct solution for a particular problem/function.

Desirability meant a completely different thing. It meant that it worked, fitted the budget and was easy to install/maintain.

How something looked didn't come in to it.

A Ferrari might be the most desirable car to own, but my fleet manager would get sacked if she suggested getting them for her reps. Nope, she'll suggest Ford Mondeos or Vauxhall Insignias.. Why, because the perform the function well and they fit the budget, parts are cheap, you can have them in any colour you want and you're not restricted to what you put in them......

That's why they've been the A Listed fleet cars for years......

By CraigieDD on 28 Oct 2010

Form v Function

@Neospace

"I think Apple products tend towards marketing and design, rather than function."

I couldn't disagree more. The more I look into their kit the more convinced I'm becoming that Apple is obsessed with both form and function and how they complement each other.

This MacBook Air is an example of that. It's a laptop whose sine qua non is "small". Apple, I'm certain, started their conversation with: "How can we make it small, really small, but make it feel big to use?" I'd bet money they didn't stand there saying: "How many useless 'features' can we stuff in there to make it look like a 'value' product?"

Going by the tests I've read so far, the Airs perform pretty solidly - one test even had them outdoing a MacBook Pro for some tasks! So I'd say the tradeoffs Apple made with this machine to get it small are paying off. It's certainly not all styling and no substance.

If I keep seeing good test results it will a serious contender to replace my Asus when it goes to the big recycling centre in the sky. It would be a culture shock, that's for sure, but I carry my laptop a lot and one of these would be perfect for what I do. I guess I'll need to get a black poloneck and thick-rimmed glasses as well.

By JoshBoy on 29 Oct 2010

The thing is JoshBoy take a look at the Specs and especially the battery and performance tests at the bottom. Now have a look at the specs of the Samsung Q330 which is also classed as an ultra portable.

This laptop outdone the Macbook Air on every speed benchmark and costs £585.

See this is where I question the value for money thing. It looks so much better than the Samsung. It feels better than the Samsung. But £800 more for worse performance seems odd

By TimoGunt on 29 Oct 2010

@TimoGunt

It's an ultra-portable, so I'd say the things that are of most concern are: size, weight and battery life (ie, portability).

On all those counts this machine outdoes the Samsung you list.

The MacBook Air is almost half as thick (at its thickest point, it gets thinner) at 17mm vs 33mm.

It's lighter - 1.7kg vs 2.4kg.

And it's got better battery life - 7hr 47min vs 5hr 56min (for light use, the only one listed for both).

So the Apple offering is smaller, lighter and has a longer lasting battery than then Samsung. In an ultra-portable I'd say that's a winner and maybe worth the extra cash, especially if it's as tough as the reviews I've read say it is. I can't comment on the OS as I'm not overly familiar with it, but the trackpad looks intriguing.

Sure, it's great that the Samsung can save my Word docs .0000005 seconds faster than the Apple, but when I'm picking up my bag for the 35th time that day, I may care more about size and weight than nano-seconds.

By JoshBoy on 29 Oct 2010

Well the nano seconds thing is a bit made up. It's about 30% quicker and 100% quicker at multitasking but I see your point. There's different types of people and this appeals to some people.
I would love one personally but only if I had an iMac at home, I spent lots of time away from a power source, a Macbook Pro was too bulky for my needs and an iPad was not powerful enough for my needs.

By TimoGunt on 29 Oct 2010

It was made up, I just meant that for what I'd be doing speed wouldn't really be an issue - it's not like I need to batch process massive RAW files in Photoshop - but size, weight and strength would matter.

But you're right, different people have different needs (and budgets).

Good thing there's a choice, eh?

By JoshBoy on 29 Oct 2010

Why focus on stars?

I don't get why intelligent people are obsessing over star ratings when a decent enough description is available which tells you exactly what you need to know in order to make up your mind. I do hope you're not making decisions based on star ratings...

The product has not been A-Listed but recommended and as has been pointed out, it seems worth putting on your list for consideration even if ultimately you don't consider it fits the bill for you.

By colsmith on 3 Nov 2010

i'm happy

I have finally ditched a lifetime with PCs and bought the Mac air. I had a VAIO SZ3 previously, and I jsut got so fed up updating drivers, upgrading to Vista, conflicts, etc.
As for my requirements, I am probably typical ultraportable user. Speed is good, but I never stretch processors - I never play games. The flashdisk makes up for any possible speed problem. I love the battery life and the slim size and weight.
As for getting use to the Mac OS, I am nervous and stumbling around. But after a week I am finding that this has got to be one of the best purchases I have ever made.
To get back to the scores, I believe that for my requirements, the scoring is accurate. The main reason I find this is that the useability of the Mac is reflected not in the list of specifications, but in the overall useability and application for portability and business use.
I can see myself turning onto one of those Mac bores one day......

johnM

By johnmortimer3 on 15 Nov 2010

So am I

I moved from Windows to a Macbook about 6 months ago with much trepidation having used MS products since DOS days mostly for application and website development. There was a learning curve but not so bad and no way would I ever go back ...

By huckle on 18 Nov 2010

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