MacBook Air: The Best Travel Computer Just Got Better

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.

MacBook Air: Why It’s The Best Travel Computer

Today I am updating this post on our new MacBook Air. It’s the best travel computer you can find – we won’t be going anywhere without it. 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 new MacBook Air now 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). Solid State Disks don’t store as much as regular disks, so you don’t want to use the MacBook Air for storing hundreds of gigabytes of multimedia, for example. But for travel, the storage capacity is fine – keep what you need on the computer, and leave the rest at home.

The new 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.

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.

Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs has been a bestseller on Amazon.com from the day it became available for preorder.

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues— Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.

My Favorite Travel Computers

Sue and I enjoy traveling with minimal pre-planning and booking. Sure, before we start the trip we will have a general sense of what route we will take over the course of the trip, but we purposefully avoid making detailed commitments to itinerary until we are in country.

We like to get to where we are going, settle in to whatever city we landed in for a day or two, catch our breath, shake off the jet lag, and talk to the locals about what’s what. More and more now we pack a computer to help plan as we go. When we are a day or two away from moving on, we get on the internet and start researching towns, lodging, dining, and sightseeing further on down the road.

On our last trip, we really took this process to the limit. Here’s what we used the computer for most:

  • browsing the web for lodging, dining, sightseeing ideas, etc.
  • managing photos and video that we take during the trip
  • blogging the trip
  • checking email (we try not to do that too much, especially if we are cultivating “vacation mind”)

Perhaps ironically, bringing the computer along actually helped us travel with greater freedom and much less preplanning. Using our computer for travel, we felt more agile and able to respond to the interests and needs of the moment, rather than being locked in to an itinerary that had been cast in stone weeks or months before we arrived at our destination. I think one needs to be careful about getting sucked in to work, just because you have a computer. We made a conscious effort to use it to enhance the travel experience while avoiding the itch to check in to work.

When shopping for a computer for travel, the factors that we value most are:

  • light weight
  • not too big, not too small, just right
  • reliable (can take a licking and keep on ticking)
  • Mac operating system (there are plenty of PC alternatives with travel-friendly features, we just prefer Macs)

Here are our four favorite mobile computers, along with some of the distinctive travel related features:

Computer Model Weight Screen Size Battery Life Base Price
MacBook Air 3.0 lbs 13.3” 5 hours $1,499
MacBook Pro 5.6 lbs 13” to 17” 8 hours $1,199
MacBook 4.7 lbs 13.3” 7 hours $999
iPad 1.5 lbs 9.7” 10 hours $499

Though each person will have features that are important to them, for us, lightweight, a real keyboard, and ability to take a beating are critical. For that reason, the MacBook Air is the best for our needs. I detail each computer option below, highlighting the travel-friendly features that matter most.

MacBook Air

MacBook Air

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. In addition, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is backlit, which makes it handy for typing in a darkened plane or hotel room.

MacBook Air

An option that makes this laptop extra robust is the Solid State Disk (SSD). When I travel, if I drop the laptop, odds are if a component fails, it will be the disk drive.  Unlike a regular disk drive, the SSD has no moving parts. It is just a chip. Note that the MacBook Pro has an SSD option, but it weighs twice as much as the MacBook Air. The iPad also has SSD, and I like it for travel, but only if I won’t be typing too much.

This laptop has it all – lightweight, compact form, full keyboard, solid state disk, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, 13.3″ screen – plus it is very cool.

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

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is a road warriors MacBook Air. It is faster, has a bigger screen, and numerous other high-end laptop features, but it does weigh almost twice what the MacBook Air weighs. Like the Air, it has a lighted keyboard and a Solid State Disk option. This laptop is ideal for someone who needs top-end performance for work and travel, and is willing to take on the extra weight.

MacBook Pro product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
MacBook Pro 13.3″,  250 GB, 2.40GHz
MacBook Pro 13.3″,  320 GB, 2.66GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  320 GB, 2.40GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  500 GB, 2.53GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  500 GB, 2.66GHz
MacBook Pro 17.0″,  500 GB, 2.53GHz


MacBook

MacBook

For the money, this is a great travel laptop. Not as heavy as the MacBook Pro, not as light as the MacBook Air, this is a fine laptop for the occasional traveler. Note that there is no SSD option for the MacBook, so get a nice padded case for it and be gentle. If you don’t need to type much, than the iPad is a great alternative, with its lighter weight, and Solid State Disk.

MacBook product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
MacBook 2.26GHz, 250GB


iPad

iPad

iPad Keyboard DockThis is amazing travel computer. Of the four listed in this article, it is the lightest, lowest cost, has a Solid State Disk and an agile touch screen interface. Perfect for checking out websites for travel planning and such, and if you need to type alot, you can add the portable keyboard and tilt stand.

All iPad models come with built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi. If you want to extend your network coverage further, choose iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G and sign up for access to 3G data service.

And unlike laptops, airport security usually won’t require you to remove an iPad from your carry-on bags.

iPad product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
iPad 16 GB, Wi-Fi
iPad 64 GB, Wi-Fi
iPad 16 GB, 3G (coming soon)
iPad 64 GB, 3G (coming soon)
iPad Keyboard Dock

Travel Accessories

We carry our computers around in Case Logic neoprene cases. They absorb impact well, are easy to get into and out of, and are good looking. Here’s an example at Amazon.

When traveling abroad, you will need an adapter to plug your computer in to.  We like the Kensington Travel Adapter.  It is a clever all-in-one unit that provides plug adapters for use in more than 150 countries. Simply slide out one of the built-in plugs and plug in a laptop, cell phone, battery charger, or similar electronic device. Here’s product information at Amazon.