Review: 13” Macbook Air

Back in my freshman year of college my laptop broke on a US Airways flight (actually, it was crushed in the overhead bin, but that’s a different story) and I had a project due the same week. As a result I headed to Circuit City the following morning and bought the cheapest laptop they had, since I needed something to work with. While the Toshiba I bought was no “dream machine,” it served me remarkably well. It was something like $400 at the time, and I never really had any problems with it. Earlier in the year the battery totally died though, so it was more of a portable desktop than a laptop, since I could only use it while plugged in.

I’ve always heard people raving about Macs. While I never really considered them, a friend forced me to go to the Apple Store, where I played around with a Macbook Pro and a Macbook Air. I was going to go with the Macbook Pro, but the new version was about to be released, and I really needed a new computer. So after a bit of thinking I decided on the 13” Macbook Air. I bought it through and paid something like $1,800 for the totally pimped out version. The icing on the cake was the three bonus mile per dollar I would be earning through the AAdvantage eShopping Mall.

Now that I’ve had the computer for about two months, I’ve gotta say it has changed my life. No, it’s not any of the “cool” Mac features I like, but rather the battery life and portability.

I’m not playing World of Warcraft or anything like that, but for internet, word processing, and photos, this computer is perfect.

I literally went from a six or seven pound brick to a computer that’s 2/3 of an inch thick and weighs 2.9 pounds.

The battery life is amazing. Surfing the web intensively (with several windows open) it has lasted me about four or five hours on a full battery, while it has lasted me about seven hours if I’m just doing word processing. I can’t even begin to say how much more productive I’ve been on mileage runs now that I can spend my trips working as opposed to watching the same episode of “30 Rock” over and over and over on the overhead monitor. So if you’re wondering about the increase in posts on the blog lately, it’s partly the Macbook Air to thank (or blame).

Another awesome feature is iPhoto and the photo editing software it comes with. Y’all know how many photos I post in my trip reports, and sad as it is, I resized each picture individually using Yes, I understand that makes me a total moron since there’s software out there that can do that, but for whatever reason I never got around to it. The photo editing software that comes with the computer allows me to resize all my pictures at once, which saves me probably five hours per trip report.

The speed with which the computer starts up is also mind boggling. It literally takes a few seconds. My previous Toshiba probably took about three or four minutes towards the end of its life, and because the battery was totally dead I probably had to boot it up 10-15 times a day.

As far as the differences between a PC and a Mac go, I couldn’t really care less. It’s a new system to learn, but once you get it it’s no different than a PC. But I don’t necessarily find it to be easier.

But it’s the battery life combined with compact size and light weight, without compromising quality, that make this a great computer. I can honestly say it has made me so much more productive, and has probably already paid for itself in added productivity.

Filed Under: Advice
  1. I got the 13″ air and love it. I used to want an iPad but now I see no reason since I don’t travel without the Air.
    Quick ? – how do you protect it when you bring it as carry-on? I have a jack spade cover, but still worry about it getting messed up.

  2. @ The Points Guy — definitely get the iPad. Get an old / gen 1 if you can get it. I’ve been using it since the first day it came out. Movies on an iPad + Kindle App = airplane awesomeness.

    @ Lucky — I have the 11″ Air and it is stunning. Worth the investment.

  3. You know, they allow you to bring books on planes Lucky…might be an interesting alternative to 30 Rock 😉

  4. @ The Points Guy — Totally agree with you about the iPad, just now worth it when you have an Air, in my opinion. I actually don’t use any sort of protection, even though I should. I just slide it in the sleeve in my laptop bag.

    @ Aanarav Sareen — I don’t see the points in an iPad when you have an Air. The reason I love the Air is because it saves me so much room in my carry-on, so having an iPad would only take up more room.

    @ Sam — Wuts a buk?

  5. My IBM ThinkPad X40 runs about 8 hours at a time as well. You just put the computer to sleep rather than shutting down and it will “boot” in about 15 seconds.

    Oh, I bought it in 2004, and since then I just bought a new high capacity battery and an SSD drive for about $150.

    I like the Air but the inability to really upgrade or even replace the battery is a deal killer for me. Lenovo recently announced an ultraportable that supports something like 15 hours of battery life. They have convertible tablets as well for those that sometimes want a tablet but usually need a laptop (I’m not going to argue that it’s a great tablet).

    For most people, laptops work fine until their operating system gets flooded with junk and slows down and/or their battery dies. In most cases a $50 replacement battery and a re-install of the OS would give the device another 2 years of life.

    I like Apple products for things that I plan on replacing every couple years, but not for a major investment. Their track record of not even trying to support old hardware and the battery issue are just too much.

  6. I am waiting for the next generation Macbook Air to come out later this year. They are suppose to be upgraded with the Sandy Bridge processor which will make it faster. I have a Macbook Pro but will retire it for the Air.

    The Air is an excellent laptop for the frequent traveler.

  7. Hey man just like to recommend some nice Mac Applications for you since you may not know them yet… :

    Cinch (Really nice keeps windows organized)
    Cram (Studying App)
    ImageShack Uploader (Batch upload images)
    Dropbox, and then make sure to look up Dropbox Encore for Mac

    Then also there are all the apps on the “Top 10 Mac Apps” list that you find on Google…

  8. I’ve heard in the past about Apple laptops having compatability issues with certain software.

    There has always been this perception in my head that it would not be a good computer for work and home. (i work in finance, building financial models most the time). I have this perception an apple laptop as being a great thing for photos, artistic stuff, and surfing the net, but not so good for getting work done, like using MS excel and stuff.

    Am i wrong? Is it a good work (business type work) computer too? No compatability issues?

  9. I have a MB Air 13. I love the size and portability, I hate the fact there is no backlit keyboard. I don’t understand why they took it away since it was on the first generation.

    Yesterday I ordered the new Samsung series 9, it is actually a little light than the MB air and has the same slim design, it has a backlit keyboard. I am not a fan of Samsung and would prefer to keep the MB but the keyboard is not acceptable. I hope I am not disappointed when I get it.

  10. @steven: Microsoft makes Office 2011 for the Mac. With Parallels Desktop, you can run any Windows application on your Mac. I use it to run KVS Tool, and it works great.

  11. Lucky, did you get the student discount from macmall? If so, could you please give me some details about it? Thanks!!

  12. In terms of size and weight, the MB Air is probably the best out there (forget Netbooks). I (have to) use a Mac at work and privately a Thinkpad X201 (9hrs of battery life) with docking station. While the Mac is a nice machine, I dont like how you need an adapter for almost anything and you´re so bound to and by apples policies.

    In general, although this maybe untypical, I like my setup as Mac for stationary work and Thinkpad for travelling around.

    @Steven: xls on mac is quite fine, especially since Office 2011.

  13. @Steven: The compatibility issue doesn’t really exist anymore. Even if there’s not a Mac version of an application you can still use it. One answer is to get something like Parallels which lets you run Windows within the Mac operating system. Another option is to start up directly in Windows when necessary. Try doing THAT with a PC! 😉

  14. I absolutely LOVE my MacBook Air. I have the 11.1″ version. It’s just wonderful in every way. Fits right in a file folder slot in my briefcase.

  15. @Steve – I will second Blandon’s comments. I probably do similar work, running derivative pricing models in Excel all day long. I use Mac running Parallels and have never had any kind of compatibility problems.

    The thing I love most about Macs is they are just quick and reliable. When you open up a Macbook in 4-5 seconds you are ready to work. With Windoze pcs it can take forever. And things really do not crash the same (I have found iPad a little more buggy and had some crashes)

  16. I have an old PowerPC mac wheezing along, but I will not go back to Apple for a new machine. I can’t stand their policies and their cult like atmosphere. I have moved fully to the Ubuntu distro of linux for my other machines. With a VM or Windows emulator I can run anything I need. I just don’t see Apple’s computers as a viable solution.

    As it is, I have a HP Pavilion dm1 that had 8 hours of life running Win 7 and now has 10 hours running Ubuntu. Not to mention it was so much cheaper than a Mac.

  17. Lucky – one word of advice: get AppleCare for it. Use a link through macintouch for a discount from amazon. (only if you bought your mac in the last 30 days).

    I’ve been an apple user forever, home and office, and for the laptops the extra warranty is golden, and apple service is 5*. Pays for itself easily with the slightest problem you may have in 3 years. I’ve had screens, logic boards, ac adapters and all sorts of other things go bad in various laptops. All replaced, no questions asked.

  18. regardless of how cool it seems, $1800 is way too much to spend on any computer for word processing and internet, both Dell and IBM have pimped out laptops for well under $1000.

  19. @gomike are the IBM and Dell laptops you are referencing even close to the Macbook Air in size? For me, the greatest appeal is having a laptop that is under 3 pounds, slim as can be and boots up instantly. I only paid $1,299 (less 6% coporate discount + sales tax) for my basic MBA and think its a great value.

  20. For someone who uses their laptop “for internet, word processing, and photos” isn’t a “pimped out” MacBook Air overkill? What’s wrong with netbooks? A fraction of the cost and if you get one that runs on Linux it’s super quick to boot up.

  21. I have had the same computer for 4 months and absolutely love it. There is nothing in the PC world that matches it in terms of lightness, speed, and portability.

    Note with something called “Bootcamp” you can run Windows 7 on it. Although I installed it and find myself using Windows less and less, since it is pretty much the same thing – Chrome, MS Office, etc.

  22. It kind of pisses me off that they put an old (how many years?) slow processor in the air because imo they don’t want to take market share away from the macbook pro.

  23. I bought a new 13″ Air in late December. I really like it. I have a 13″ Mac PB at work, but for going out of the country it is problematic to take the company laptop along. The Air really does boot up/awake from sleep really quickly. I’ve got a WaterField bag, with a sleeve for my 13″ MPB; it holds the Air quite well.

    I had read the ArsTechnica review of the 11″, and thought it a little underpowered. I’m typically running MS Office, Mail, Safari, terminal, and IDL. I have an iPad, which I love, but for doing serious work while on travel, the Air is a better choice for me. The screen looks great for movies, and unlike my 1st gen iPad, it has a good camera for Skype videochats.

  24. I picked up this newer version when they first came out and love it. YES, I still use my MBP for some tasks, but the MBA13 goes with me everywhere. I still take the ipad and actually think it COMPLIMENTS the MBA13 very well. I use the ipad for reading the WSJ, magazines, uploading images with the camera connection kit, some games, slingbox, etc. What is another .9 lb, when the air is so light.

    I hope they take some of the design and technical elements from the MBA and put them into the new MBP15, that will be my perfect computer

  25. I have two friends that destroyed their air by getting liquid on the keyboard. Not a lot of liquid, but it doesn’t take much. One spilled milk and the other water. Warranty was voided and replacement is over $1000.

    Please keep your diet coke and lime away from the keyboard. Also, on Amazon you can buy a keyboard protector. I recommend you look into this, one day you will be happy you did.

  26. Thanks for all the feedback and suggestions, folks!

    @ Brian — Macmall doesn’t have a student discount, though is priced lower than directly from Mac, especially after factoring in no sales tax The three bonus miles per dollar spent was nice too.

    @ SeatedinFirst — Well, I was kind of scared into believing that the basic version wouldn’t be very fast, so I was convinced that the pimped out version would make more sense. While it was pricey, so far I’m happy with my decision.

  27. Perhaps your Toshiba laptop would’ve treated you better if you had reinstalled Windows after a few years and cleaned up unused files. With the battery failing, that’s something you could’ve easily replaced, but now you’re stuck with a computer you will have to mail to mac to get a new battery that will take a week to get back.

    $1800 is overpriced for the hardware your get in a Mac and I find the idea of spending another $200+ on an extended warranty to be a fleecing for something Apple should already cover with a 3 year warranty. Also, it’s ridiculous what Apple charges for a computer with 2gb more ram. The part costs $25 yet Apple will increase the price by $500 for the computer.

    My current laptop cost me under $720 including upgrading the ram. It has 8gb ram, a much faster CPU, a higher resolution screen, and comparable battery life. Along with that it comes with a 3 year warranty, it can wake up in less than 20 seconds, and the tech support is excellent. I have a Dell Latitude E6410.

    I’m not saying you were ripped off, but when you spend $1800 for a computer that’s still a lesser system than almost any $600 computer on the market I can’t think of what else to call it.

  28. @bschaff1

    Where did you get the idea that Apple charges $500 for an extra 2 gigabytes of RAM? The price is $100 for 4 versus 2 gigabytes on the MacBook Air.

    The base $1,299 model provides more than enough capability for the average notebook user.

    @ Nick

    At the time the MacBook Air was designed, it was not technically feasible to put an i5 or i7 microprocessor inside the machine. Besides, with the speed benefit of SSD memory, the Core 2 Duo processor is quite satisfactory.

    Try using the MacBook Air. You’ll be surprised how fast it is.

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