Remember netbooks and ultraportable laptops? Those 10 and 11 inchers were all the rage a few years ago, but thanks to the rise of larger screened ultrabooks and smaller screened tablets, they’ve been disappearing from the computer landscape.
One significant 11 incher still remains: the 11 inch MacBook Air. When it first debuted in late 2010, it was the answer to the netbook generation. Now it stands alone, not only as a speedy ultraportable, but as 1 of the few 11 inch ultrabook-class laptops around. The closest Windows equivalent I’ve reviewed recently, the Dell XPS 13, is larger and heavier. Last year’s 11 inch Air was a beautifully compact and surprisingly powerful machine, nearly as quick as a 13 inch MacBook Air, but with sacrificed battery life due to its tiny size.
This year’s model is faster, packing a 3rd generation Intel Core i5 processor that’s nearly indistinguishable from the 1 in the larger 13 inch MacBook Air. USB 3.0 ports have been added and the battery life is better, finally clearing 5 hours and then some on the tests.
The other problem had to do with price: last year’s attractive $999 entry-level MacBook Air came with a diminutive 64GB solid-state drive (SSD) and only 2GB of RAM (which couldn’t be upgraded). The package you really had to upgrade to was the one with a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM, which cost $1,199.
This year, the entry-level 2012 11 inch Air is still $999 which is the least expensive MacBook in Apple’s line-up but still only has a 64GB SSD, though 4GB of RAM this time. The good news is that the configuration you’ll want with a 128GB SSD costs $1,099, $100 less than last year’s step up.
A thousand dollars is a lot to pay or such a tiny laptop, but the Air’s shocking portability and comfortable keyboard will win travellers over, with performance that’s pretty much as good as that of the fuller Air. You’re giving up about 2 hours of battery life and an SD card slot for the privilege compared with the 13 inch. Then again, some might enjoy saving an extra $100 off a similar 13 inch configuration. What’s more way, the 11 inch gives the impression better as a lavish secondary computer than the primary one.
Unlike Microsoft and its Windows 8 strategy, Apple has pursued 2 non-overlapping paths for mobile computing in the iPad and the MacBook Air. The Air is a full OS X laptop, but it feels iPad-size when closed.