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Thursday
Feb242011

Cognitive Dissonance. When an Apple hater buys a MacBook Air.  

 For years I have railed against Apple for it’s closed ecosystems and it’s high prices dubbed the “Apple Tax”.  I hated the DRM associated with iTunes and the forced installation of Safari.  The way the App Store on the iPhone rejected applications with no apparent consistency in its policies.  When I saw they were bringing the App Store to Mac OS I was sure that they were one step away from locking down the Macs in the same way they did the iPhone, and while this still may happen it is certainly not the case today.  Then there are the fan-boys.  The hipsters that drive around with the white apple sticker stuck on the back of their Prius, carrying their canvas shopping bag, with their iPhone, and their white ear buds.  I just couldn’t bring myself to join that club until the sexy new MacBook air arrived on store shelves.

 

Hardware

 

On the surface the MacBook Air appeared to be another underpowered overpriced Apple product.  What person in their right-mind would pay $1300 for a laptop with a 4 year-old Intel Core 2 duo for a processor and only 2 gigs of memory?  I guess the answer to that question still remains to be seen; because, for someone like myself with the kind of disdain I carry for apple to walk into the apple store and purchase this product, well lets just say I must have been on drugs.  Only I wasn’t this laptop had garnered nothing but glowing reviews and at this time there is no other laptop like it.  Even with that outdated processor and the 2 gigs of ram this thing is really fast.  The high-speed flash drive that they use, effectively an SSD, instead of the traditional 5400-rpm laptop drive makes this laptop nearly lag free.  The battery life of this laptop is phenomenal.  I don’t know how they managed to achieve a realistic 7 hours of battery life from such a tiny package when every other laptop I have owned has been easily twice as thick and has failed to produce even half of the battery life.  The screen is really bright and a resolution of 1440 x 900 in a 13-inch laptop is flat out lust worthy.

 I will mention that at times I felt a small amount of slowdown within everyday tasks, which I attributed to the anemic 2 gigs of ram.  I traded my laptop in for the 4-gig model and have noticed far less slowdown.  If you are looking for a gaming laptop I will say that this is probably not going to give you the best bang for your buck.  While the onboard flash grants far faster load times in most applications performance in most modern games is passable at best even when using the lowest graphical settings.  Some games such as Civilization 5 are nearly unplayable even after the memory upgrade.

 

Aesthetics and Feel

 

The form factor makes the MacBook Air truly portable.  I have been lugging laptops around for years and all I can say is thank you Apple, this is what a laptop is supposed to look like.  I am; however, torn on the aluminum frame.  I appreciate the sturdy premium fell that the all-metal casing provides, but I wonder how much lighter this could have been if it were constructed from plastic or carbon fiber.  The carbon fiber could have given the laptop a very distinct and premium look while still maintaining a quality feel.  Even though I speculate that this would have been preferable I am relatively certain that these materials were tested and just did not work as well as the aluminum frame they decided upon.

 

Keyboard and Track-pad

 

The keyboard is pretty good for a 13-inch laptop.  It feels spacious and the Chiclet keys are clearly separated and have a satisfactory amount of give even in such a thin laptop.  Still it is certainly not perfect.  I do not know for sure whether I am complaining about issues I have with mac keyboards in general or if my complaints are Isolated to this particular keyboard but I really miss the dedicated key for delete (that is the Windows delete, not the Mac delete which is equivalent to the backspace).  I have found that fn-delete will accomplish the same thing but it is not natural for me.  I also greatly miss the home and end keys.  In spite of these complaints I still find this to be a phenomenal keyboard for a 13-inch laptop.  While I had a few complaints about the keyboard I can unequivocally say that this laptop has the best track pad I have ever used.  It is extremely precise and large enough to accommodate four fingers.   The clickable pad that failed in the blackberry storm is perfect for a track pad and prevents me from accidentally placing the cursor in random places while typing.  The gestures are fantastic.  And I find myself frustrated with the lack of 2-finger scrolling when using my windows laptops.  I miss the true right click but having the 2-finger click perform the same function works relatively well.

 

OS

 

As a Windows user I harbored a great deal of apprehension about using Mac OS X.  It wasn’t that I was concerned I wouldn’t understand how to use it.  I consider myself to be relatively computer savvy.  It was more an issue of not wanting to give up the library of software I use on a daily basis.  Fortunately I have found that Mac OS provides me with enough software to do most of the daily tasks I am accustomed to right out of the box.  The amount of software that is available outside of what is provided is also increasing rapidly right along side Apple’s market share.  Like I had been led to believe many of the tasks I would want to accomplish are extremely simple.  For example when I wanted to print a document I merely hit print and apple found and identified my wireless printer on the network.  It then downloaded and installed the drivers and printed the document.  The gesture support built into the operating system is fantastic four fingers up to see the desktop, down to see all running applications, and two finger inertial scrolling makes anything short of a scroll wheel obsolete.

 

I really do like Mac OS on my laptop.  It lacks native support for some third party devices such as the PS3 and the Xbox 360 for streaming video content.  It also lacks my favorite feature of Windows in Media Center.  There are also far fewer games available for Mac than there are for the PC and while the library is growing many of the games on my steam list just do not work.  These factors make the OS inappropriate for my main desktop computer (you may have other needs hence the bold my); however, none of these features really matter to me when it comes to a laptop.  I truly believed that I would be throwing windows on this laptop within a month of purchasing it but I no longer see any reason to do that.  Mac OS is a capable and intuitive operating system that I can whole-heartedly recommend for use with the MacBook Air. 

 

Wrap-up

 

The MacBook air is arguably the most beautiful laptop on the market.  It’s sleek appearance, combined with its metal body, and lightweight feel, produce a stunningly attractive product.  The beauty is not just skin deep either as the onboard flash storage allows for surprisingly speedy performance from a laptop with seemingly low end specs.  Not only is the speed surprising so is the battery life, as one would not guess a laptop this thin would have very good battery life but it does.  While it won’t be the greatest gaming laptop out there and it won’t be a speed demon at transcoding your media files, I don’t believe there is a better laptop for sale today.  Its combination of portability, performance, and battery life make this the best laptop I have ever used.

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