The MacBookAir: A First Look

By Graham K. Rogers


The day after the announcement of Apple's new products at the Moscone Center, on 15 January, I was given a closer look at the MacBookAir and at Time Capsule.

The former is a new, light, notebook computer aimed at on-the-go professionals. Time Capsule is a combination wifi router (Airport Extreme) and hard disk, integrating with Leopard's Time Machine backup feature. This was designed with the MacBookAir in mind.

It was clear from the briefing and my short look at the MacBookAir that some will miss the point (perhaps deliberately). There was emphasis on this as a second computer aimed at conference attendees and air travellers.

The profile narrows from just under 2cms to 0.4cms. I managed to embarrass myself when it was handed to me by trying to open the hinged side. These are so cleanly designed that they merge into the curved rear edge of the lid. When I did manage to open it, another feature become apparent: the monitor was instantly on. The backlit LED screen (13.3" like the MacBook), with its resolution of 1280 x 800, has no activation delay. My MacBookPro takes a couple of seconds to arrive at full brightness from sleep.


While the aluminium finish is borrowed from the MacBookPro, the black keyboard is like that in the MacBook, but has backlighting which is useful for conference halls. The ambient light sensor for this is on one side of the built-in iSight camera, while a microphone is on the other: these use the same laser-cut holes as on the latest iMacs.

This new computer weighs just under 1.4Kgs.. This and its thinness have been achieved by some compromises and some clever design. The hard disk is 1.8" with 80G as standard and an option of a 64G solid state installation. There is no optical disk, although there are new features that compensate.


There are a limited number of ports (hidden behind a small panel): USB, headphones and mini DVI for connecting to a monitor. Neither Firewire nor Ethernet are included: connections are made via wifi (802.11n). This includes software installation.

While I download almost all of my software, there are times that disks are used. In cases like this software is installed from another computer.

The MacBookAir's own install disk has software for Mac and PC that designates specific computers as devices to work from. We were shown Office being installed from a PC and, although the connection was made via wifi, it might as well have been a disk drive plugged in to a port. This has been made possible by Apple's use of EFI (Extended Firmware Interface).

The Intel Core 2 Duo processor has been redesigned with a smaller form which is a significant development both for Apple and other manufacturers. The basic chip speed is 1.6Ghz with an option of 1.8GHz.. I would have hoped for faster, but bearing in mind that Apple is rumoured to have pushed Intel to develop this new size, there may be design considerations at work here. Some commentators hae asked what else may be coming -- Apple still has (now) 49 weeks left of this year.


The design of the MacBookAir allows no user-servicable parts. RAM is fixed at 2G (which should be ample), and the battery cannot be changed. If the 37-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery reaches its full cycle count (mine is about halfway through after almost a year of use), it must be replaced by a dealer at a cost of $129 and we are told by AppleInsider that the process is only a few minutes.

There were some grumbles about this, but the price is identical to that of all other current Apple notebook computers and the company disposes of the old one (Apple was emphasising its Green credentials here).

The battery has a 5-hour life in use, helped greatly by the lower power consumption of the screen. One notes that regular air travellers are also likely to have a power adapter, although my Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong had no power at any of the seats in my section.

The MacBookAir has a larger touchpad than usual (with a thin key) because greater use of finger gestures is used: a spin-off from some of the technology developed for the iPhone, although those briefing us declined to comment on its use in future Macs.

We already use one finger on the scroll pad as well as two-finger gestures, but these have been added to (for example turning a photograph) and there are now three finger gestures to scroll between pages in Safari or photographs in an album. The system preferences for these features also now display brief videos of the action to assist new users.

This computer is intended as a second computer for professional users. The price ($1799 or about 56,000 baht) puts it between the MacBook and the MacBookPro. It is expected to arrive in Bangkok at the end of January.


Made on Mac

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