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Apple MacBook Air 11in review

Verdict

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

Review Date: 19 Nov 2010

Reviewed By: David Bayon

Price when reviewed: £850 (£999 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
3 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

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.

Apple MacBook Air 11in

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.

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User comments

So.....

Let me get this straight....

...you weren't fond of the touchpad

...it has not ethernet port

...it uses a two year old processor

...put in a poor benchmark performance

...struggled to play Youtube HD

...yet, after all that...

"It’s not a Sony VAIO Z13. It’s not a netbook. Yet somehow it outdoes both"

Erm....

By everton2004 on 19 Nov 2010

the price is wrong!

Its £850 with Vat.

By BenSearson on 19 Nov 2010

Price is correct!

Sorry

By BenSearson on 19 Nov 2010

Any Mac Heads out there that can tell me whether Sky Player works on the Mac?

By TimoGunt on 19 Nov 2010

From the Sky Player website....

"All you need is a good broadband internet connection and a PC or Intel-based Mac with the Microsoft Silverlight 3.0 browser plug-in, or a TV connected box that supports Sky Player"

You're in luck!

By everton2004 on 19 Nov 2010

price is quite high

I am in no doubt that this Mac looks great and is a pleasure to use, but is it really value for money?

Is it difficult for reviewers to consider price when they don't have to pay for the item in question? The review suggests it is a good second laptop/pc but how many people can afford to spend nearly a grand on merely a second pc?!

By longn on 19 Nov 2010

Too compromised

Until you actually see it in person, you can't appreciate the dimensions; its thiness.

The 11" MacBook Air's functionality and connectivity is too compromised in favour of design. I would happily have it gained a couple of millimetres so it can be a little bit faster, have ethernet and also card reader like it's bigger brother Air 13".

I agree it's PCPro Recommended, but, it shouldn't be A-Listed.

By Duggie on 20 Nov 2010

Can you put Ubuntu Linux on it?

"I agree it's PCPro Recommended, but, it shouldn't be A-Listed"

You've obviously missed the new Apple loving "PC" Pro paradigm. Functionality is out, look are in.

Any one of the flaws listed by everton2004 would have denied a Windows laptop A-list status, but the cheque from Cupertino has cleared now, so it's a whole new ball game.

By Lacrobat on 20 Nov 2010

features?

the design is extraordinary i agree but it lacks in features so how it is worth 6stars is beyond me. For me this is certainly not worth a place on the 'a list'
Apart from the design and portability, I struggle to see why anyone would want this! Couldn't agree more with Lacrobat, PC Pro's reviews of particularly apple products are becoming less credible

By eliot94 on 20 Nov 2010

Thanks for all your comments.

Saying "apart from the design and portability..." is missing the point - this laptop *exists* for its design and portability. It's so thin Tim's been keeping it hidden in a magazine rack at night rather than locking it away in the Labs. Go into an Apple store and just play with it for two minutes, it's remarkable.

I understand it won't suit everyone; if you need more power and an Ethernet port then a Z13 will always suit you better. But if you don't - and the majority really don't for the things they do with a portable - then this is a fine travel companion. The power users among you will always find flaw with it, but then it's not really aimed at you.

As always, I appreciate the feedback, and I'll discuss with Tim whether it should be A Listed or not. You might be right, and the Z13 may still be a better first choice with this as an alternative. Nothing's set in stone!

Oh, and as for our cheque from Cupertino, we lost that when we criticised the 27in Cinema Display only last week. ;-)

Regards
David Bayon
Deputy reviews editor

By DavidBayon on 21 Nov 2010

is missing the point

"the design and portability" - is this seriously the only reason for inclusion on the A-list?
I would have hoped that functionality & value for money should be included in the rating.

Bearing in mind that this is (presumably) intended as a 'second/portable' laptop for travelling. That's a lot of cash for the same reason people would buy a netbook.

By greemble on 21 Nov 2010

portability is the reason!

greemble - Functionality and value have their place. But when you are shopping for an ultraportable, they take second-place to size, weight and design.

As for the Sony Viao Z13. It looks great, and it's more powerful. But it's also a lot more expensive!

I have a friend who has the second edition Macbook Air with the SSD who swears by his laptop, because it's almost un-noticeable when he's carrying around all day every day.

I agree it's not a hi-spec machine, but I think that for it's design purpose, there is no better machine out there that provides similar value. Never thought I'd ever say use 'Apple' and 'value' in the same sentence in a good way...

By Chatan on 22 Nov 2010

A List

I've discussed it with Tim this morning and we've agreed that it's probably a little more consumer and niche than the Z13, so it won't be taking the top A List slot. The Executive Laptop category is primarily a business one, after all.

Regards
David

By DavidBayon on 22 Nov 2010

New Category Required

No serious executive would choose this over the Sony Z13. If you want to rate this above the sony you should create a special Horse & Hound Category for people who will pay for looks and design - the same people who would buy a prosche or Ferrari over an Audi or Mercedes

By Manuel on 22 Nov 2010

more consumer and niche than the Z13

So, not a business machine.
Therefore you'll NOT remove it from that category.

Umm... What?

However, for the Executive looking for something flashy in order to show of the extra perks (s)he's getting ("my perks are better than yours, I must be worth more") for 'business' use, while not using it very much - any real work is done by those below - this will clearly work as a status symbol.

By greemble on 22 Nov 2010

Desire.

As previously made clear by PC Pro columnists they now take "Desire" into account when deciding what should be A Listed. No matter what the price is.

Several readers have already made the point that desire doesn't come into a lot of PC Professionals decisions when it comes to hardware - ooer Missus jokes aside.

Is this the best ultraportable? If functionality and price is your thing then no, it isn't.

However, if it's style and engineering, then going by PC Pro's new rating system, then yes it is.

Unfortunately.....

By CraigieDD on 22 Nov 2010

greemble

You do realise that this is a lot cheaper than the Z13? So more of an indicator of less perks.

By CSprout on 22 Nov 2010

Ok good it can do sky player. Is it quick enough to develop on or do I have to go for the MacBook pro? Develop objective-C. I know visual studio will moan at these specs but I'm not familiar with X-code

By TimoGunt on 22 Nov 2010

cheaper than the Z13

Yes, but the Mac is more recognisable and with less functionality.

Remember, functionality is for those that have to do the work.

By greemble on 22 Nov 2010

@DavidBayon

I appreciate your reply. Perhaps I was a little harsh regarding the credibility of your reviews, I am not exactly a 'fan' of Apple and so my own opinions are a little biased. However with a more neutral viewpoint, you have made the correct decision in deducting it's place on the 'A-list' there are certainly other alternatives that offer superiority in more fields than design alone.

By eliot94 on 22 Nov 2010

Work?

What 'work' are you talking about Greemble?

By CSprout on 24 Nov 2010

Remarkable

I use windows and always have. I have an ipod, that's as far as it goes with Apple.
My wife needed something light which does email, word and powerpoint. I bought her an 11" MBA. It's phenomenal. It starts and stops. It just works. It feels speedy. It's remarkable engineering. Worth every penny.
My Lenovo X200 is no match. Go to an Apple store. Go to Dixon's. See what I mean?

By mjdayer on 25 Nov 2010

Work vs Status

All the company administration, customer management, accountancy, sales & marketing, personnel/human resource management, stock control, R&D, distribution, etc. that the senior executives delegate to those further down the pay-scale.

It's the same as a few years back when the Top/Senior Management would carry a slim, light very expensive attaché case, while their retinue would carry much larger brief cases.

Needless to say who are the people having to do the actual 'heavy lifting' and who are the ones getting paid the most.

By greemble on 26 Nov 2010

Last time I checked, this is 2010. Size of laptop is irrelevant. I consider myself, as a sysadmin and 'worker' to be reasonably close to the coalface. Were it not for the fact that the MBA doesn't have the screen real estate I prefer - ie 17" 1900x1200 - I would give it some serious thought. The battery life alone is a major usp for me.

By Throbinevans on 28 Nov 2010

I think the MBA is a stunning piece of kit and well worthy of it's A List placing. You could argue all day long that it doesn't do this and that, but sometimes you just have to admire something for what it is. Otherwise it's a bit like saying Ferraris are rubbish because you can't fit three suitcases in them. In otherwords it might not do everything you want but that, as David Bayon said, is missing the point - you wouldn't buy a Ferrari to haul luggage in would you? But for what it is, there is nothing better - or even close - on the market and for the sort of functionality a businessman would need surely it's exactly the sort of thing he would buy for exactly the same reasons he bought the Ferrari.

By coolcity on 6 Dec 2010

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