Apple MacBook Air (13-Inch) Review

Unique Features and Design

This new 13" MacBook Air is Apple's thinnest 13" notebook. The original MacBook Air was already razer thin, so improving that at all is an impressive feat. When comparing the original to the new model, the slimness doesn't immediately pop out at you, but when you stack them on top of one another, you can see a few millimeters have been shaved off. The reality of the situation is this: we have never seen a sleeker, more aesthetically pleasing 13" notebook.

Apple has been a design leader for years. The iPod is widely viewed as the most well-designed portable media player on the market, and the company's iMac is definitely one of the most stylish, if not the most stylish, all-in-one PCs on the market. The same is true for their MacBook line if you ask us. The all aluminum, unibody construction is both rigid and eye-pleasing, and while many 13" machines have a good deal of flex due to a mostly plastic construction, that's not the case here.

On the front edge, there's simply no room for any ports or status LEDs. It's just 0.11" thick on the front end, which feels barely thicker than a few credit cards. Along the right rear edge, there's the SD/SDHC/SDXC card reader (a feature that is left off of the 11" MacBook Air), a single USB 2.0 port and a Mini DisplayPort video output socket.


No ports are installed on the rear. On the left edge, there's a MagSafe power connector, another USB 2.0 port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a small microphone for voice input. Along the top of the LCD, there's a FaceTime video camera (i.e. a webcam) for video calling/chatting. There's also room for a full-size, chiclet-styled keyboard, but this brings up one of our main gripes with the machine.

The original MacBook Air (also 13") included a backlit keyboard. This model doesn't. We guess that Apple cut out that feature to save on space and a little battery life, but it's a bad thing to cut in our opinion. This would have been a huge differentiator. Hardly any 13" ultraportable machines have a backlit keyboard, and Apple could've been a market leader here. It's always aggravating to lose a feature when a system is being upgraded, and this one is no exception. We would have preferred a system that's a tiny bit thicker in order to have a backlit keyboard for using it at night or in low-light situations.

Below the keyboard is a huge all-glass trackpad. There's no click button; the entire pad is a button. It's essentially a smaller Magic Trackpad, right in the notebook. There's just no competition here -- the 13" MacBook Air has the best trackpad of any 13" notebook on the market, period. No other 13" machine has a pad this large, this smooth, and this reactive to inputs. It also supports a very long list of multi-touch gestures, all of which work perfectly the first time you try them.

The 13.3" glossy LCD has a 1440x900 resolution, which is actually the same as the company's 15" MacBook Pro. So you're getting the same amount of pixels in a package that's tighter and smaller. It's a glossy display, and no matte option is available. Viewing angles are world class, and the screen is as sharp, bright and crisp as any 13" LCD that we have seen. It's simply beautiful to look at, and movies look great on it. The silver bezel around the LCD seems unnecessarily large; it's the one design aspect that seems un-Apple like. We would have preferred a little more screen and/or a little less bezel.

As for unique features on this machine, we've covered some of them already, but the gigantic multi-touch trackpad is unparalleled, the unibody construction is also unique to Apple machines, and the integrated Flash storage is both a blessing and a curse. There's no 2.5" HDD or standalone SSD in the machine; the 128GB of storage is soldered directly to the motherboard. This enables very quick transfer rates similar to a separate SSD, but it really hampers your upgrade path. You have to buy a higher end configuration from Apple to get 256GB of storage; you can't simply pop out a drive and replace it with another.

The battery is also non-user-servicable. You can't just buy a second battery to pop in once one dies. The upside is that the battery life is also world-class; Apple claims 7 hours of Wi-Fi enabled use, or up to 30 days in standby. We'll test the battery claims on a later page, but we find it hard to complain about this fact when Apple has managed to squeeze 7 hours of untethered use into a machine that's so thin.

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