Sunday, January 8, 2012

Macbook Air Gets Reinvented:Captures Marketshare

A few years ago the Apple Macbook Air introduced a whole new line of thin and light laptops the world had not seen the likes of before. It was the thinnest and lightest 13" laptop computer at less than 1 inch thick, and barely 3lbs. light. Gone was the optical drive, most conventional ports, and it had one lone USB port. It was sleek, sexy, and fit into a manilla envelope without a problem. Many said that it would be a niche product for Apple for a select few who want different. Fast-forward three years and the Macbook Air is reinvented, in an 11" version & a new 13.3" version that adds an SD reader, another USB port, and a new not well known Thunderbolt port that supports just about every possible data stream including Ethernet, video, audio and power.

Since it's introduction, the Macbook Air has taken a slow but successful path to being one of the most successful products to come out of Cupertino. In fact, with an 11" Macbook Air, it is rumored that a 15" Macbook Air is in the pipeline to replace the exisiting 15" Macbook Pro. A 15" laptop with no optical drive? Apple says yes. Recall back when Apple was the innovator of computers and ditched the floppy drive from its entire line in a move that analysts declared as insane and would finally put the nail in the coffin to seal Apple's fate. Obviously that didn't happen, and the floppy drive has since faded into tech history as most manufacturers followed Apple's lead and stopped equipping it's hardware with the now defunct floppy drive.

What sets the Macbook Air apart is not only its sleek, slim & sexy form factor, but it's speedy boot up times thanks to an all SSD (Solid State Drive) line. Every Macbook Air uses flash memory for storage. No mechanical hard drives to slow things down. Much like random access memory (RAM) which is superfast (but volatile), SSD's use the same silicon to hold and store user data when the computer is shut off, but this is non-volatile memory (volatile loses it's data once power is lost, non-volatile does not). Since there is no mechanical aspects to SSD's, there is no moving parts to fail like in traditional hard drives. No longer is the storage medium the slowest link in the data transfer chain with SSD storage. So what's that tradeoff you ask? Simple. Cost. SSD can be 3 to 10 times more expensive than a mechanical hard drive. Eventually, the mechanical hard drive will go away, but it will be some time since cost is always a consideration in the computer manufacturing arena. SSD's have been steadily decreasing in price over the past few years, but not at a pace that most would like. Capacities for SSD currently max out at about 1 terabyte, where 4 terabyte mechanical hard drives exist, so there is allot of ground to catch up on before the mechanical hard drive becomes extinct.

I've had a Macbook Air since it launched almost 4 years ago. I had the 13.3" unit as my faithful transportable computer that didn't have an SSD, but an 80Gb mechanical drive. It served me well till Apple finally introduced an 11" Macbook Air with a 128Gb SSD. I'm still in love with this little advance in computing. As I type this review, I can't say enough about this technical marvel that hasn't already been said. The smaller footprint makes for an excellent transportable machine that I can take anywhere. Light (under 3lbs.) slim (under an inch or less) and smaller than a piece of paper, you can easily assume that it has a cramped keyboard. It doesn't. As a matter of fact the backlit island keys style keyboard is a full size tactile and user friendly welcome feature. With two USB ports, non-upgradable RAM (this one has 4Mb), a 128Gb SSD (comes in 64Gb, 128Gb, or 256Gb) there is enough room for everything you need to take on the road. With flash drives and portable external HDD's reaching over 1.5Tb (yes Terabytes) there is no worrying about running out of room. While I would like to see more RAM, this one has yet to make me regret my decision. The Thunderbolt port allows me to connect one of Apple's recently released 27" Thunderbold Cinema displays by simply plugging in a single port and all my connections are made--audio, video, ethernet, power, & usb. Nothing could be simpler.

The screen is an 11.1" glossy finish that is bright, vivid & sharp. While an 11" screen can be a bit cramped, this aspect is easily overlooked given the small package you can easily transport. The Macbook Air is rated with an 8 hour battery life, but normal everyday use nets me about six hours easily. With an Intel i5 Core 2.4Ghz Processor (i7 is available as an upgrade) this unit is speedy and can tackle most everyday uses. Video is integrated so if you're planning to do video editing, you probably want to think Macbook Pro. Bluetooth 4.0 is standard, as is an 802.11n wireless card for connecting to WiFi. A headphone jack rounds out the ports on the side, but there is no SD card reader slot on the 11" Macbook Air like there is on the 13" model given it's smaller form factor. The Macbook Air uses a 45 watt slim power adapter that travels well.

Taking the 11" Macbook Air on the road is a joy, as is using in on a cramped airplane tray table. Not many laptops are airplane friendly. And please don't even think about comparing this to the $300-$800 netbooks out there, they simply don't hold a candle with their cramped keyboards, small screens, and bloated Windows OS. Mac OSX Lion is standard on all of the new Macbook Air laptops. The 11" 64Gb SSD Macbook Air starts at $999 ($940 street) where a 128Gb Model adds $200 to that price. A 13" Macbook Air starts at $1299 ($1239 street) with 128Gb SSD, or $1599 for a 256Gb model ($1,539 street).

Any of the Macbook Air's would serve you well. With even the ability to add Windows 7 either virtually using virtual software (Parallels or Fusion Software) or set up as a dual-boot system where you boot into Windows or MacOSX, your choice by splitting the hard drive into two partitions, one for Mac OS and one for Windows. For this, you probably want to opt for a larger SSD so you have enough room for each. Then you have the best of both worlds, or if you have a windows program that simply doesn't have a MacOS counterpart.

The Macbook Air is not for everyone, and many may not like the fact that there is no optical drive ( you can buy an external unit for $79) but with Wifi and flash drives pretty much taking over the computing landscape, optical drives will soon be going the way of the dinosaur. With the Mac Software Store, you can download just about any program directly to your hard drive, no disc needed. If you need to watch a movie, simply convert or rip it. If you're looking for a workhorse, you're better off looking at a Macbook Pro, but for portability, style, and functionality, the Macbook Air won't let you down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased a 13" MacBook Air at the advice of Techy friend. This is my first venture away from the standard PC. What a thrilling difference, your article is absolute correct. I am having an easy time getting used to my Air. I have used other laptops that were so difficult to navigate using the touch pad that I insisted on a mouse. Not so with the MacBook Air. I have had no issues with the touch pad. This article is also correct in the portability. I have a portfolio I carry for meetings that I can zip my Air inside of while it is in it's protective cover. It weighs next to nothing! I have already become an Apple fan in a very short amount of time with this computer.