When you compare this to the current ultraportable class leaders such as the Sony Vaio TZ series and the Toshiba Portege R500 the Air is clearly the thinnest, after all it tapers to 4mm at its front edge. We wanted to test the edge sharpness by throwing it at someone to see if it would severe a limb, but no one would volunteer. Maybe next time.
With the diminutive size however comes some compromises, the lack of connectivity has been well documented. There is only one USB port and the Air doesnt include an optical drive, Firewire, Ethernet or mobile broadband. There is no media card reader or expansion card slot. To be fair, there is ample support for Bluetooth and you wont lose the single USB2 port if you use the Apple Mighty mouse or one of the many PC based Bluetooth mice which are currently available. I tested the Bluetooth support with a Sony mouse and it connected painlessly first time with full support for all the buttons.
headphone, Usb2 and mini DVI
There are some rather impressive features, such as the new touchpad gesture controls as well as the option to wirelessly borrow another Macintosh or PC based optical drive. More on this later.
One thing that annoys me about many of the ultraportable machines are the screens, however with the Air you are presented with a 13 inch LED backlit screen which oozes quality. It is sharp, colours are vibrant and text is easy to read, even at small point sizes. Not only this but the LED technology uses less power so you get (theorectically) longer battery life.
The screen is the same size as the Macbook, 13.3 inches across the diagonal. I haven’t spent much time with the newest Macbook, but I find the brightness much higher on the Air than anything else I have used in the mobile environment, so much so, I find the screen hurts my eyes if it is left on full.
There has been much debate as to whether the Air should fit into the ultraportable category as this sector is normally aimed towards 12 inch screen systems. I believe the Air is an ultraportable, because it is very light, thin and incredibly easy to move and carry from location to location. I also like the fact that the keyboard is full size and doesn’t compromise on spacing or key size, like many of the ultraportables. This means you can basically type at full speed without worrying about missed strokes or hitting several keys at the same time.
No compromises, full sized keyboard
As I mentioned earlier, the Air is a unit which is stripped down to the bare minimum. Gone are the plethora of ports most laptops are supplied with, basically all you have is a headphone socket, a USB 2 port and a mini DVI port (for DVI and VGA out). The elimation of firewire may be an issue for some, but anyone wanting to input a lot of video on a regular basis would be wise to look at another machine.
A downside of this rather sexy looking port “flap” system is the fact that not all USB devices have connectors slender enough to fit. It would be advisable to purchase a short adapter if you have a huge array of various sized devices you need to plug in. I have four external USB drives at hand and all but one did fit …. a little care and attention would be needed before ending up in a rather embarrassing situation without some form of important connectivity.
The Macbook Air has a lovely backlit keyboard. This is similar in design to the Pro series of units and I think it is an immensely useful feature, especially if you are used to working in less than ideal conditions. The keyboard has a great feel to it, and is virtually silent, however I know some people like a “clicky” style feel, so this might prove rather unpleasant.
Across the top we have the function keys which are Expose (F3), Dashboard (F4), F10, F11, F12 are now the volume controls. F1 and F2 are brightness controls (from off to ouch that hurts!) and F5 and F6 are the keyboard glow controls. The other keys are left for the media controls.
The trackpad is a very wide unit and it works extremely well even for those with big hands. The Air fully supports multitouch gestures and although this is a great feature for resizing and rotating images it has yet to gain much 3rd party support. It is cool however to move back and forward pages in a browser with the gestures. The trackpad, all in all is one of the best I have used. The buttons below the trackpad have also been increased in size and should be easier to use for the majority of people.