The MacBook Air is Apple’s ultraportable mac system. It’s placed between the bigger, high-performance MacBook Pro laptop and the smaller, portable iPad.
The Air aims to balance function with portability. So, it contains the full functionality of the latest mac operating system — OSX 10.8, mountain lion — and a full size keyboard, while being nearly as portable as an iPad. The original MacBook Air, released in 2008, really accelerated the ultraportable notebook revolution. This was a 13.3 inch model, and the thinnest notebook available at the time of it’s release. The design was then overhauled in 2010 to make it even slimmer and sleeker. This 2012 version hasn’t changed on the physical design much, but it’s internals are much more powerful, bringing it very close now to the capability of the MacBook pro laptops. So add to this powerful performance an affordable price — this 13 inch version of the Air starts at £999 or $1,199 — and you find that the MacBook Air is very competitively placed in the ultraportables’ market. This is the larger 13.3 inch MacBook Air. It has a width of 32.5 cm, A depth of 22.7 cm, And a thickness of 17mm at the back going down to just 3mm at the front due to the wedge shaped design. It weighs 1.35 kg, which is about twice as heavy as the new 2012 iPad. This 15 inch MacBook Pro on the other hand is much heavier at 2.49 kg, Which is nearly four times as heavy as the new iPad. So you’ll get an idea of how much more portable the MacBook Air is. If we take a look at the ports… On the left hand side there’s the magsafe 2 power port, a USB 3 port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and an omnidirectional microphone. On the right, there’s a thunderbolt port, a second USB 3 port, and an SD card slot. MagSafe is Apple’s proprietary magnetic power connector. If the power cord is accidentally yanked out of the port, it’ll disconnect easily without any damage to the connection pins or the port. When it’s charging, the connector shows an orange light, and when fully charged this changes to a green light. This is the redesigned MagSafe 2 connector. Physically it’s thinner and longer than the original MagSafe, and there is some difference in the connection pins. If you’re planning to use an older power connector with the 2012 MacBook Air, then you’ll need to buy an adapter from Apple for £9 or $10. The 2012MacBook Air has two USB 3 ports, which have a super-speed 5Gbit/s transfer rate. Both of these ports are backwards compatible with USB 2 devices. The Thunderbolt port was originally introduced in the 2011 MacBook Air, and continues in the 2012 version. It replaces Apple’s older Mini Display Port which was used to connect to an Apple Cinema Display. Now of course you have the newer Thunderbolt displays, But you can still connect an older Cinema Display through the Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt also serves for super fast data transfer at 10 Gbit/s. So you could transfer a full length HD movie from an external Thunderbolt hard drive to your mac in 30 seconds. The 13 inch MacBook Air has an SD card slot, The 11 inch version doesn’t have this. The SD card reader is really responsive, But note that the card only needs to go three quarters of the way in to be recognised. There’s wi-fi and Bluetooth 4 connectivity. There is no ethernet port, But you can get a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter if you need it. Both the 13 inch and 11 inch MacBook Airs have a full-size keyboard. It’s very much the same feel as other mac keyboards, chiclet style with low-travel keys. I find it very comfortable for typing. If you’ve used an older mac keyboard, you may notice that some of the function keys are different here. In particular, the F3 key which used to be for Exposé, now shows mission control. The F4 key used to show the dashboard, and now shows launchpad. Right at the end, the eject button has been replaced by the power button. None of this is new to the 2012 model and was introduced earlier. The keyboard is now also backlit, which is really handy in dim or dark conditions. You can manually adjust the backlight level, Or the ambient light sensor, which adjusts the display brightness, will also automatically adjust the keyboard brightness for you. The multi-touch trackpad is very smooth and responsive. There’s plenty of space for all the different gestures, even those requiring a four finger swipe. The new OSX 10.8, Mountain Lion, has several quick gestures. The traditional one finger and two finger point and click gestures are all there. But there are a few others worth knowing: – Use two fingers to swipe between pages in the web browser. – Use four fingers to swipe between full screen apps. – Use two fingers to swipe from the right edge of the track pad to view the notification center. – Swipe up with four fingers to view mission control – Swipe down with four fingers for app exposé. – Pinch in with your thumb and three fingers to view launchpad. – Spread out with your thumb and four/three fingers to show the desktop. (check it) These are the default settings, but many of the gestures can be customized. The 2012 MacBook Air now has a 720p HD FaceTime camera. This is three times the resolution of the camera on the previous model MacBook Air, And you can see how clear the image is. The camera is placed above the display, And there’s an ambient light sensor on the left, And a camera light to the right that only lights up when the camera is in use. The MacBook Air display didn’t get the retina treatment this year. So both the 11 inch and 13 inch models keep the same glossy LED backlit displays seen in the 2011 models. The resolutions are 1366 x 768 for the 11 inch version and 1440 x 900 for the 13 inch version. The display is very thin, and sits quite snugly in the lid. In normal light, you can see that the images are sharp, colours are very vibrant and there’s nice contrast. In very bright, direct sunlight, the display does really well. Even with this video that has a lot of white in it, the images are still clear and there’s no glare on the screen. The display also has decent side viewing angles. When it comes to colour reproduction the screen does very well even at the default factory set calibration. I checked this original video playback against a separate colour calibrated display and found that the Air’s screen showed almost original colour. There was a slight saturation particularly in warm colours like red and orange, but you would only notice this if you specifically searched for it. The MacBook Air’s display is very good. Obviously it would have been nice to have had a ‘Retina’ screen, But I think that to do so would have meant a bigger battery for the Air in order to power the extra backlighting needed for such a screen, And that would have added more bulk to the Air, which is definitely not good for portability. The MacBook Air has Ivy Bridge, Intel’s third generation processor. The 13 inch model has as standard a 1.8 GHz dual-core i5 CPU with Turbo Boost up to 2.8 GHz. This can be upgraded to a 2.0 GHz dual-core i7 CPU with Turbo Boost up to 3.2 GHz. The Ivy Bridge processors give better performance with lower power consumption, And the Turbo Boost automatically over-clocks the CPU when you need the extra power. The good thing about this is the processor manages it’s own speed based on demand, so battery power consumption is kept low. The graphics unit isn’t stand-alone in the MacBook Air. It’s an integrated Intel HD graphics 4000 unit that gives twice the graphics performance of the previous 2011 model. Also, the fact that it’s not stand-alone helps to lower battery power consumption. The Air handles everyday tasks well. For example, 1080p video playback is very smooth and lag free. Opening a number of applications together is no problem. Mid-range games are also handled very well, but it’s unlikely to handle heavy graphic intensive games as well as a MacBook Pro. If you do a lot of HD movie editing or work with things like 3D graphics, then a MacBook Pro might be better suited to your needs. But for normal everyday use, and even photo and movie editing with iPhoto and iMovie, the 13 inch MacBook Air in particular could be a good choice. The only storage option on the MacBook Air is a solid state drive. This flash storage is up to four times faster than a traditional 5400 rpm hard drive. It certainly adds to the Air’s quick responsiveness. You can see that apps launch pretty quickly. A drawback is the amount of storage you’re limited to. The 11 inch model starts with just 64 GB of space, And the 13 inch model starts with 128 GB of space. Both can be upgraded to a maximum of 512 GB, but that’s going to cost. Due to it’s slimmer size, the MacBook Air doesn’t come with the sort of bulky battery found in the MacBook Pro. The 11 inch version has a 35-watt-hour lithium polymer battery, While the 13 inch version has a 50-watt-hour lithium polymer battery. The claim is that on both models you get up to 30 days standby time, Up to 5 hours wireless use on the 11 inch model, And 7 hours on the 13 inch model. With regular use throughout the day, with wifi on, but bluetooth off, and screen brightness set to 50 percent, I managed to get around eight and a half hours use from a fully charged battery, And this included a lot of document work, web browsing, listening to music, some work in iPhoto and so on, general everyday stuff. Of course this is really subjective, as everyone’s use will be different. But for my needs, that’s impressive battery life. The whole point about the MacBook Air is it’s thinness and portability. But it’s also made from aluminium, which can be prone to scratches. I was looking for a case that was sturdy but thin enough not to add extra bulk to the Air, And this Moshi case does the job pretty well. It protects the MacBook Air from scratches and dirt. It’s two thin but sturdy pieces of polycarbonate that just snap on to the Air. And once it’s on, it stays on, no fuss. It covers the corners of the Air, But leaves all the ports open and doesn’t obstruct the fan. I also like the four large bumpers on the base, just like the ones on the Air itself, so everything stays stable, no sliding around. The one I have here is the black version. You can also get it in white, or a see-through translucent if you prefer. You can get these cases direct from the Moshi website. So this 2012 version of the MacBook Air looks very much like the ones before it, but a lot has changed on the inside. It’s faster and more power efficient for a start, and actually good enough now to consider buying as a primary system. There’s also better graphics performance and the USB 3 ports. Not having a Retina style display may disappoint some, but I think it would have been difficult to have such a screen and still maintain good battery life without going for a much bulkier battery. But maybe that’s something for next year’s version? I really like the MacBook Air.