The new third-generation MacBook Airs are here! And they have taken over Apple’s $999 entry-level notebook position, silently eliminating the long-lived original “MacBook” series.
Outside the box
The 2011 MacBook Airs come in 11 and 13 inch models. Aesthetically, they look identical to the previous versions. Each showcases Apple’s aluminum unibody shell for the display and body. The two USB 2.0 ports found on the previous generation (“gen”) Airs are still present, but the introduction of a Thunderbolt port (see more info below)—and even a SD card slot on the 13 inch model—physically signifies that this is the newest of the MacBook Air series. And when turned on, you will also notice that the backlit keyboard is back (found on the first gen, but mysteriously gone on the second gen).
Note: Thunderbolt capabilities on the MacBook Airs are different than other Thunderbolt-equipped Macs; more info here.
Both 11 and 13 inch MacBook Airs have a maximum thickness of 0.68 inches when closed, and weigh in at just under 3 lbs. Though noticeably heavier than a 1.35 lb iPad 2, the additional weight gives the MacBook Air a durable feel and presence when held in your hand.
Inside the box
Once you decide which screen size you want, the next big step is choosing how much performance you’ll need. Intel continues providing the hearts of Macs and MacBooks, this time with second gen 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5 for the 11 inch Air, and 1.7 GHz Core i5 for the 13 inch; a 1.8GHz Core i7 processor upgrade is also available for both models.
Once turned on, the MacBook Air presents you with the new Mac OS X Lion operating system. Boot up times are quite speedy with the smaller and lighter solid-state drives, available from 64BG to 256GB. User experience with the new operating system on the MacBook Air is still typical Apple, allowing new users a gentle learning curve for basic computing needs.
For experienced users, the multi-touch trackpad provides tactical communication with a new set of gestures and many user interface tactics found similar to the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch mobile iOS system. Other new features include Launchpad, Mission Control, and full-screen apps, many of which can be found in Apple’s App Store.
At your fingertips
The newest MacBook Airs look similar to the previous gen models, but they have made a dramatic move forward in the world of Apple notebooks. Firstly, they’ve replaced the original MacBook, becoming Apple’s entry-level notebook. Secondly, they feature nearly all the features available on the MacBook Pro, including the downsized, but still fully functional, Thunderbolt connectivity; what’s missing is more hard drive space, an optical drive, HD webcam, and Ethernet and Firewire port, most of which the Air can regain by using external peripherals and a Wi-Fi connection. And if that’s not enough competition between the Air and the Pro series, Apple gave the 13 inch Air a higher 1,440×900 pixel resolution display compared to the 13 inch Pro’s 1,280×800 pixels.
With the rapid development of ultra-portables devices like smartphones and tablets, the MacBook Air continues to fall right in between them and the traditional laptop computer. Now in its third generation form, it now stands up at the front line, looking better than ever, towards new (and experienced) Mac users looking for that right balance of power, portability and practicality.