Apple MacBook Air 11in review

19 Nov 2010

An incredible piece of engineering that squeezes just enough power and battery life from the skinniest chassis imaginable

Price when reviewed 
999
5

We’re not entirely sure what category the MacBook Air 11in belongs in. On the face of it, it’s an executive ultraportable that weighs a single kilogram and tapers to a front edge just 3.1mm thick. But it’s so many other things too. It’s the nearest Apple has come to creating a netbook. It’s the obvious destination for Apple’s future desktop app store. And it’s powerful and usable enough – just – to be more than just your second laptop.

The style is familiar, with the silver aluminium unibody as graceful, or bland, depending on your tastes, as ever. The famous logo beams your allegiance to the crowd – and rest assured you will draw one when you have it on your lap on the train. Thankfully, it’s rock-solid. Even when closed it’s just 18mm at its thickest point (including the small rubber feet), yet the lid has almost no bend in it at all, and the base is immaculate in its build quality. Even the hinge feels like it will last, which is quite a feat given its barely-there nature.

The 11.6in screen is one of its strongest assets. The 1,366 x 768 resolution is as we’d expect at this size, but the glossy coating and saturated colours make it every bit the equal of the excellent Sony VAIO Z13. Wall-E in HD was full of life and colour, and the details were never less than totally sharp; most tellingly, side-by-side with a netbook, the extra inch-and-a-half of screen and higher resolution make a monumental difference, yet it doesn’t feel like you’ve stepped up in size or bulk.

The contrasting black Scrabble-tile keyboard stretches across the full width of the silver base, and has room for a big right-Shift key. The shrunken cursor keys and a slightly thin Enter are the only things to get used to, but otherwise it offers a very comfortable typing experience. The travel is just right, and the backing is totally rigid to prevent any annoying bounce as you type.

Apple MacBook Air 11in

We’re less fond of the touchpad, but that’s a matter of personal preference. The whole pad clicks, which Windows users may find forces a relearning of old dragging habits; Apple disables tap-to-click by default, but enabling it had us back up to speed in no time at all. Each to his own, and at least Apple’s menu – in both OS X and in Windows via Boot Camp – lets you configure the touchpad to your needs.

There’s very little else to scar the minimal design. It has a USB 2 port on either flank, along with a headphone socket and a mini-DisplayPort output – ready to accept the expensive third-party adapters for DVI or HDMI. Other than that, there’s just the magnetic MagSafe power connector sensibly placed at the rear end of the left side. The absence of an Ethernet port may irk some, but it’s balanced by dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi.

Details

Price ex VAT £850
Price inc VAT £999
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 4
Performance 3

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 299 x 192 x 18.3mm (WDH)
Weight 1.060kg
Travelling weight 1.4kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0

Screen and video

Screen size 11.6in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce 320M
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 128GB
Spindle speed N/A
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive N/A
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed N/A
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader no
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Multitouch touchpad
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 0.3mp

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 5hr 7min
Overall application benchmark score 0.70
Office application benchmark score 0.68
2D graphics application benchmark score 0.85
Encoding application benchmark score 0.65
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.61
3D performance (crysis) low settings 36fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Apple Mac OS X
OS family Mac OS X