MacBook Air: The Best Travel Computer Just Got Better

by Jay on July 20, 2011

Apple just updated their MacBook Air. It’s the best travel computer you can find. Walt Mossberg reviewed it at the Wall Street Journal, and I include highlights of that review below. Of the new MacBook Air, Walt says “these are gorgeous, very thin and light, but very sturdy aluminum computers.

The MacBook Air is our favorite computer for travel. Apple upgraded their MacBook Air family of laptops with several important new features. It already features the same multi-touch trackpad technology found on the iPad. And like the iPad, it starts instantly, resumes where you left off, and has a longer battery life.  And it comes with a ultra-reliable travel-friendly Solid State Disk (SSD). There are no moving parts in the SSD, so it is much more reliable, and can handle the bumps that are an unavoidable part of travel.

The new MacBook Air now adds the following features:

Faster Processors Intel Core i5 and i7 processors provide 2.5X speed boost

Apple core i5 and i7 processors

Backlit Keyboard This is my favorite feature. Now you can type with ease in even the dimmest light. A built-in ambient light sensor detects changes in lighting conditions and adjusts the display and keyboard brightness automatically. From a seat in a sunny café to a seat on a cross-country red-eye, you’ll always have the perfect lighting for any environment.

Apple backlit keyboard

Apple backlit keyboard

High-speed Thunderbolt I/O With one port, MacBook Air gives you access to a world of high-speed peripherals capable of transferring data up to 12 times faster than FireWire 800 and up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0. Or use the Thunderbolt port to connect the new Apple Thunderbolt Display and transform your ultracompact MacBook Air into a complete desktop workstation.

Apple Thunderbolt display

Apple Thunderbolt display

With the larger display, and backlit keyboard, think of this as an iPad on steroids. The new MacBook Air comes preloaded with Apple’s new Lion X operating system. The MacBook Air comes in two sizes. The base $999 model has an 11.6-inch screen (versus 9.7 inches for an iPad) and weighs 2.3 pounds (versus 1.5 pounds for an iPad). The larger – but still thin and light – model starts at $1,299, has a 13.3-inch screen, and weighs 2.9 pounds. There are options for more SSD storage and faster processors.

MacBook Air quickLinks to Amazon.com product information

MacBook Air, 11.6-Inch Laptop, 128 GB Solid State Drive,
1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Air, 13.3-Inch Laptop, 128 GB Solid State Drive,
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Air, 13.3-Inch Laptop, 256 GB Solid State Drive,
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

A few months ago, I reviewed the first MacBook Air and the iPad here: My Favorite Travel Computers

As I said in that review:

The MacBook Air is my ideal travel computer. Though not as light as the iPad, it has a real keyboard. Since we are usually blogging on the road, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is easier and faster to type with than the iPad’s touchscreen keyboard.

Here are highlights from Walt Mossbergs review of the new MacBook Air:

MacBook Air Has the Feel Of an iPad In a LaptopNew MacBook Air

Some of the nicest, if little discussed, benefits of using an Apple iPad tablet are that it starts instantly, resumes where you left off, and has a long enough battery life that you aren’t constantly fretting about running out of juice or looking for a place to plug it in. And it can do a lot of things for which people use laptops.

What if somebody designed an actual laptop that worked this way—you know, a computer with a real keyboard and a larger screen that could run traditional computer software and store more files than an iPad? And what if it was almost as light and portable as an iPad? Well, somebody has, and that somebody is Apple itself.

Like their predecessors in the Air family, these are gorgeous, very thin and light, but very sturdy aluminum computers. And, like their predecessors, or like iPads and smartphones, they rely on solid-state storage—flash chips—instead of a conventional hard disk to hold all your files. But Apple has dramatically reduced the physical size of the flash storage to make room for larger sealed-in batteries, so battery life is longer. It has also cut the price from the last version of the Air, a 13-inch model that cost $1,799 with a solid-state drive.

The new models are designed to hardly ever require a traditional bootup or reboot. The idea is that you’d only reboot if you had a problem, or installed software that required a reboot, or if the machine had been idle and unplugged more than a month. But even booting is very fast.

Unlike on many netbooks, these two new Apples also have high screen resolutions so you can fit more material into their relatively small sizes. The 13-inch model has the same resolution as Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro and the 11-inch Air has greater resolution than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Also, unlike on many netbooks, they feature full-size keyboards, though the 11-inch model has reduced-size function keys.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess | GlobetrotterGirls July 21, 2011 at 9:05 am

Hey, thanks for this article! I literally used it to make my decision to buy the new Macbook Air. I was really on the fence, whether or not to spend the cash, but your post and then following the links from your post to reviews helped me to make my decision. The review on Wired is excellent, and basically says that not only the Macbook but also the Macbook Pro is dead, because the Air beats it all the way. Thanks again guys, much appreciated!

Jay July 22, 2011 at 9:04 am

Thanks Jess! The MacBook Air is the best. I am glad you enjoyed the article.

Gregoz December 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I like the design, no question, however, the laptop is v. cold! Try typing on it in a cold room for few hours and you will notice that too. It is not ready for corporate use, there is no host resolution available. Printer drivers are v. difficult to find. Lotus Notes: it works 50% of the time. I found the wifi goes off quite often. When I attached a 22 inch 1080 monitor, the display was rather poor, gave up on it quickly. No USB 3 support, meaning that bigger files, like .pst files are v slow to transfer. There, I just wanted to point the other side for balance. In other words it will not replace your main laptop, so it should be regarded as a secondary. In my view combining an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard works better, you may always leave the keyboard behind in the hotel room. Cheers, Gregoz

Sue January 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Hi Gregoz,
I am using the laptop as we speak, down in Mexico. I blog with the MacBook Air. It is, in my view, the best laptop. Ever. The feel is warm and silky. Apple seems to have textured the metal palm rest such that it feels smooth and comfortable. My husband uses his for corporate work and he to prefers it over past laptops. Not sure what you mean by “Host Resolution.” Printer drivers are pre-loaded and there all the ones I have needed – HP, Epson, Canon, etc.. Which printer are you missing? Can’t comment about Lotus Notes. I don’t use it. The external displays I have used it on have been fine. And the Thunder Display is amazingly sharp. I am thinking of replacing my 27″ iMac with the Thunderbolt and MacBook Air combination. I would use a MacBook Air over an iPad with keyboard. The display is fantastic, as is the back-lite keyboard. All in one. But all that said, to each his own.

Gregoz January 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Hi Sue,
You are lucky to live in Mexico, I bet it’s over 25 degrees C now? Well, I am based in Canada, so it is 6 degrees C outside and around 18 at home. That’s why my palms are already cold and touching the Macbook Air feels like touching a cold sheet of metal sitting on a pile of snow. I have a Dell 3100 color laser printer at home, no Mac drivers I could find, at the office I use Minolta c360, could not find the drivers and most importantly I don’t know what is the IP address, again, I cannot see the ‘host name’. I probably should add that the program called “finder” is inferior to the Windows Explorer. I remember seeing it in the 80-ties, so Apple has not updated this program since then.
re host resolution: on the corporate network, you open or navigate the shared servers by their name, i.e. \\corporateshare1, \\sharepoint13\ etc. etc. In order to navigate in the same fashion on Apple devices, you’d need to memorize their IP addresses, i.e. afp\\10.11.123.234 or smb\\10.103.212.176 etc. Who on earth will remember those numbers? I posted more comments on my blog: http://gregozg.blogspot.com/2011/12/macbook-air-december-2011-review.html
cheers, Gregoz

Michelle July 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Great article! :) I had a Macbook that was getting pretty old/slow, and have been thinking about buying a new laptop for while now. I was debating between the Pro or the Air for quite some time, and decided to go with the 13″ Air instead, and I’m so happy I did because it’s perfect!

joekizz August 16, 2012 at 10:07 am

Interesting article. I’ve definitely been thinking about the air, but the main problem for travel is the lack of ports and screen size. I am on the road maybe 4 months out of the year total, often in different countries. I am a journalist and write, photograph and do video work. Lack of ports when you need to print from somebodies house, transfer to usb drives, firewire drives, or use a dvi or vga monitor is just a headache.

What I really want is a bigger screen 15″ macbook air with 1920×200 resolution, having a larger ssd, more ram, or faster cpu’s arent the problem, it’s the size and screen quality. Typing on the air is tedious, and the screen size slows me down. When I’m at home I always have another monitor hooked up to it.

oh, and macbook air def should not be compared with an ipad… iOS vs OSX… huge difference, esp for those of us dual booting into OSX and windows.

For now I have to stick with the 15″

joekizz August 16, 2012 at 10:08 am

sorry 1920×1200 resolution.

Jay August 16, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Hi Joe,

We have been using the MacBook Air for travel in a similar way to you, and have had no problem getting hooked up to cameras, video, etc. The standard ports include USB 3, an SD Card, as well as the Thunderbolt universal port, which is very fast.

For printing, I usually use USB, which all printers have. Also I go wirelessly sometimes.

For hooking to monitors, the Thunderbolt port supports VGA, DVI, and HDMI connections via a short adapter. It also ports to Firewire adapters and such.

Typing on the MacBook Air is very smooth, and aas far as I can tell, it uses the same keyboard as the MacBook Pro computers – very fast and smooth, and backlit.

I have a laptop with the larger display, but that adds weight and bulk. The MacBook Air slimness and lightness are the best. I usually reach for that when I am hitting the road.

That said, to each his own, and it’s nice to have choices.

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