March 10, 2008 -- Carrying around Apple's MacBook Air is like dating a supermodel: She's going to turn heads with her beauty, she'll improve your self-confidence, and you can go everywhere together — from crowded nightclubs to cramped airplane flights. You'll be happy in the end, but there's sure to be a friend who just doesn't approve.
MacBook Air is a mega-desirable computer that blends aerodynamic styling with serious innovations in an itsy, bitsy three-pound package that is a blast to use. The $1,799 model comes with a generous 2 GB of RAM, an average capacity 80 GB hard drive and is already in short supply at Apple stores.
As soon as you slip the laptop out of the box you'll want to play with it. It's ¾-of-an-inch thick at its thickest point, while a magnet keeps the two halves closed, making its rounded edges look like a stretched-out clam shell. The whole thing is about the size of a magazine.
Once the computer is open, even a mere mortal will feel secure balancing the lightweight computer in one hand. Users will notice that the MacBook Air is not your average scaled down sub-notebook that PC makers have been making for years with miniature 10-inch screens and inhumane cramped keypads that would give the most successful of hand models a complex.
Inside the world's thinnest notebook is a wide, glossy, bright 13.3-inch LED screen, and a full-sized keyboard with backlit responsive keys that light up when they know you're in a dark room.
A tiny camera and microphone are placed at the top of the screen for free video chatting, along with a souped-up trackpad as wide as the space bar to help you move around the screen that is able to understand finger gestures like the iPhone to help in manipulating screens and documents. (Pinch the trackpad to shrink or enlarge a photo. Swipe across the pad to go to the next Web page.)
So how did Apple engineers squeeze a full-size computer into such a small case? By tweaking size and shapes of components, they've used every last millimeter of space inside and they had to make decisions on what to leave out of the system.
Engineers chose a slimmer hard drive that has less capacity than most would like, a slimmer battery that raised the cost, and eliminated many of the input/output ports traditionally available on larger computers. A hidden door on the side reveals the single USB port, a port to connect to a larger screen or projector and a headphone jack. The only other plug on the machine is an ingenious power cord that connects magnetically and comes apart if someone trips on the cord instead of sending your computer tumbling.
There was no room for a built-in networking port for the common Ethernet standard (a cable that connects to the USB port is an extra $49), but the latest wireless networking is available with Bluetooth 2.1 and Wifi 80211.n.
There is no optical drive in the Air either. Instead, a new technology called "Remote Disc" makes a CD or DVD drive in a Mac or PC on your same network available to share on your Air.
A nice concept, but you can't add music from a CD to your iTunes (although purchases from the Apple store are encouraged) and you can't install copy protected software like Microsoft Office from a CD/DVD even if you have the installation code. It also requires a software install on the host machine and an authorization process.
These limitations can be addressed with a very stylish external CD/DVD that gets its power from the single USB port for an extra $99, which is a must for people who still use CDs frequently and enjoy movie watching.
The battery lasts a respectable four to five hours on a single charge and is sealed within the durable aluminum casing. Aluminum is a highly desirable material in the afterlife that will make it easily recyclable when you are ready for your next computer. Battery repairs will be available for $129 after several years of charging and recharging makes a replacement necessary.
The skin of the computer is a pleasing silver color that hides wear well. Apple would never discourage the purchase of a third-party padded case to show off some individuality, but Product Marketing Manager Linda Frager influenced me to keep it simple.
"It's a personal preference as to how much you want to protect MacBook Air. We took a holistic approach to the entire design and with the outside rounded edges it fits really nicely in your hand," Frager said. "It makes it nice to carry around and when I am on the go I just put it in my bag and go."
Air comes with the latest version of the Apple Operating System called Leopard, and all the latest Apple software to email, chat, surf, listen, watch and edit. It's powered by the latest version Intel Core II duo chip albeit at a slower speed than other Mac models, but that's helped keep the size down and make the Air the least power consuming Mac portable ever.
The MacBook Air is a major step forward in portable computing from the company that has been known to innovate and transform and transition the electronics industry kicking and screaming for years. An all-in-one desktop computer in fruit colors? No need for floppy drives? USB to connect peripherals? A $300 portable music player? All very successful innovations from Apple that were at first scoffed at.
Although consumers wish every computer could do everything, a more realistic compromise is choice. MacBook Air is only one of Apple's three laptop product lines. Air focuses on portability first, where MacBook (starting at $1099) focuses on a more general audience, and MacBook Pro (starting at $1,999) focuses on computing power for video editors and graphic artists.
If you are a student or worker-bee who is often on the go and wants your email, Internet, and access to your music, photos and movies, you'll love MacBook Air.
If you embrace the sheer elegance and portability you may be able to ignore the shortcomings of limited USB ports, relatively small storage space (80GB) and an extra cost for an external CD/DVD drive ($99) and/or Ethernet port ($49).
The MacBook Air is not perfect, but what electronic device is? I found the inner casing a little sharp around the edges when I typed in bed and hung my wrists off the edge, I wish it came with more USB Ports or a nicely designed USB hub and I think it's cruel to make owners pay $49 for an Ethernet dongle when wireless networking is still not available at all times, but, hey – when you get to hang out with a supermodel, stop complaining and enjoy yourself. Most of your wishes have already been answered.
A second version of MacBook Air increases the processor speed from 1.6 to 1.8 Mhz and replaced the 80GB hard drive with a 60GB solid-state hard drive that has no moving parts, making applications speedy fast for a cost of $3,098