Published in Reviews

Air Jobs on the rebound

by on15 May 2008



Review: Call Apple for Anorexia

Supplied by: IT Computers Sarajevo

Apple and Microsoft have a lot in common, but one thing comes to mind first: everybody loves to hate them. On most tech sites you'll find a myriad of puns and rants aimed at the fruit-themed cappuccino-drinking outfit from Cupertino. In spite of that you still have to respect the man in the black turtleneck and admire his vision.


Apple's iPhone took the world by storm last summer, despite the doom forecasts from analysts, tech gurus and IT hacks alike. Sure, it's overpriced, it fails miserably at some basic phone functions, but it still has an aura about it. It looks great, it's overhyped, fashionable, everybody wants one and most importantly, it made Apple a pretty penny. The MacBook Air will no doubt do the same, using Apple's tried and tested tactic: make a good looking product, so attractive it will make the consumer forget about its shortcomings, create some nice ads and controversies to raise dust and smile all the way to the bank.


The MacBook Air is by no means revolutionary, but neither was the iPhone. Lets face it, it's just an ultraportable 13.3-inch notebook powered by an Intel CPU. Weighing in at a mere 1.36kg, it's skinny, less than 2cm thick at its thickest point.

Apple managed to squeeze an 45nm Intel Penryn dual-core, a 1.8-inch hard drive, a great keyboard and a 13.3-inch LED backlit screen into the ultra thin package. Not only did it manage, but it did it in style, lots of style. Unfortunately, something had to give, and the connectors made the ultimate sacrifice for good looks, but we'll get to that later on.


Anyway, let's get the hardware out of the way as there's more interesting stuff to talk about. We got the cheapest Air available, powered by a 1.6GHz CPU and with an 80GB hard drive, not the 1.8GHz with SSD. The 1.8-inch PATA hard drive spins at 4200rpm, slower than 2.5-inch devices found on regular notebooks. If you want something better, you have to spit out a lot of cash for the SSD version.


Frankly, looking at the prices, the HDD seems like a much better deal, in spite of everything. The 1.8GHz Air with SSD costs about €1000 more than this one, and it's next to impossible to justify such a premium for just 200MHz more and faster storage. It's an ultraportable notebook, so performance does not come first and the 1.6GHz CPU will suffice. The SSD ? Would be nice, but I still don't think it worth the extra investment, not even close.

On the catwalk

With Apple, you can always be sure of one thing: it's all about the looks.


The Air's design is not something we have the privilege to comment every day. From any angle, and I mean any angle, the Air is a stunner. Personally, I was never a huge fan of Apple's design. Sure, they had some great stuff, but they also messed up more than once. I never grew to love the look of their notebooks. They did look good, but in my mind they were nothing exceptional. The Air doesn't look just good, it looks exquisite. It's probably the best looking notebook out there, and it raises the bar to a whole new level.


When closed, the streamlined Air looks classy. As if it weren't thin enough, the gentle, sloping edges further enhance the illusion of a paper thin notebook. This is especially true on the sides, where most notebooks sport a bunch of ugly connectors. On the Air, you'll find just one visible port on the left, the MagSafe power connector.


The right-hand side hides three connectors in a sturdy feeling swivel door: the lone USB, a micro-DVI port and the heaphone connector. That's all, the only thing left to mess up its good looks are the unavoidable cooling slots at the back.


One might even say it's bottom side is better looking than the lid on most notebooks. There's a downside, too, the battery is hidden under the skin, and you can't change it on the road. Not that it's bad, you should manage to squeeze out upwards of three hours of light usage out of it. Also, the cooling isn't all that great. It works, but the metal chassis tends to get quite hot while under load.


Its LED backlit 13.3" 1280x800 screen is probably the best small notebook screen I've ever seen. Contrast and light intensity are excellent, it's very bright and the LEDs are more power efficient than traditional CCFL backlit screens. The colors are vivid, almost too vivid and oversaturated at times. Just one thing messes it up: the glare finish. It's an ultra portable machine and a fashionable gadget which will no doubt see a lot of sunlight in cafes while the owners are showing off in front of an envious crowd. In spite of its immense brightness, contrast and exceptional image quality, the screen, like all glossy screens, does not cope well with sunlight. Unfortunately, you can't choose between a glare or matte screen like on a 15.4-inch MacBook, and I know I'd go for the matte on this particular machine.


The lid feels great, the joints are sturdy, yet the screen glides smoothly. Due to the lid design you can't extend the screen to more than 120 degrees, but this is no big deal. Of course, the top of the lid is adorned by a translucent Apple logo. The bezel is wide, and under the sloping lid edge there's enough space for the Webcam, microphones and a thin rubber band, running the length of the screen.


Apple always pays a lot of attention to detail and we've all learned to expect top build quality from everything that comes out of Cupertino, or its factories in mainland China, to be exact. Even the tiny screws, measuring just 2mm in diameter, have minuscule circular grooves in them, to give them that brushed metal look. Typical for Apple, but still worth mentioning.


Keyboard and Touchpad


By default, the Air uses its Webcam to regulate backlight intensity and turn on the keyboard illumination. This, coupled with the power efficient LED backlit screen improves battery life. The keyboard is very spacious and you should have no trouble coming to grips with it. Its separated, black keys feel great, velvet-like, yet the whole keyboard feels incredibly solid if you consider the weight and size of the Air. A single mono speaker is installed underneath the right half of the keyboard.


You've probably noticed the oversized touchpad by now. It measures 13cm (5.1in) across, and like the iPhone, it recognizes multi finger input. You can use two fingers to rotate your images, pinch to zoom in or out, and navigate in Safari with three fingers. Due to its size, these actions are much easier to perform than on the 3.5-inch iPhone, but their usefulness is still a bit dubious.


It's a nice addition, but on the iPhone it makes a lot more sense than on a notebook. Hopefully, Apple will expand support to other apps, allowing users to make full use of this innovative feature.

Although the keyboard and touchpad are first class, this doesn't mean you'll cherish each moment with your Air. Apple did a good job with the 802.11n wireless, we had no trouble with it, but there's no regular LAN connector. This might be an issue for some users, and it's a pity Apple didn't include a USB Ethernet dongle in the package.


There's just one USB, so you'll need some cable/hub juggling if you want to use the Air as a desktop machine from time to time. Connecting it to a monitor shouldn't be an issue thanks to the micro-DVI out, and if the mono sound isn't enough you can count on the audio out. The battery can't be replaced, so you shouldn't stray far off without the power adapter. Luckily, it's very compact and light. The trouble is you end up with a lot of accessories to carry around. If you need Ethernet, more USBs or if you need to connect it to a monitor, you need a dongle. If you need to backup frequently, or handle optical media, you also need to get a USB SuperDrive.


Obviously, the Air isn't meant to replace your desktop, it's conceived as a second or even third computer. In any case, 64 or 80GB of storage aren't much by today's standards, so an extra USB would come in handy for external hard drives or the SuperDrive.


Of course, none of these things, not even the power adapter, will fit into the Crumpler pouch shipped with the Air. Although the Air is slim and light, it has a rather sizable footprint, measuring 32.5x22.7cm, a bit more than most 13.3-inch notebooks on the market. None of those notebooks can boast 0.4-1.94cm thickness, though.

Detailed Specs:

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 1.6GHz (4MB L2 cache, 800MHz frontside bus)

Graphics: Intel X3100, 144MB shared memory

Memory: 2GB DDR2 at 667MHz

Screen: 13.3" 1280 x 800 glare widescreen TFT (LED backlit)

Hard Disk: 80GB 4200RPM PATA hard disk drive

Optical Drive: none

LAN: none

WLAN: AirPort Extreme WiFi (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n)


1x Micro DVI,
1x USB 2.0 port (480Mbps),
1x Audio out

Dimensions: 0.4 to 1.94cm x 32.5cm x 22.7 cm (H, W, D) - 0.16-0.76", 12.8", 8.94" (H, W, D)
Weight: 1.36kg (ca. 3.0 pounds)

Battery: 37-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery, integrated not user replaceable
Battery Life: ca. 3:15+hrs (depends heavily on screen brightness setting)
Battery Life (manufacturer): 5 hrs

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard incl. iLife ’08, 12-month warranty


Let's start with the basics. The Air is the best looking MacBook ever, and as far as I'm concerned, one of the best looking notebooks in general. Apple designed it with fashion-minded people in mind and it did a marvelous job. The good looks come at a price, but many people will be more than happy to sacrifice USBs, Ethernet and an optical drive to enjoy Apple's latest toy.

So, what are the drawbacks? Lack of ports springs to mind first. There's no optical drive, either, meaning you have to cough up an additional $99 for an external SuperDrive and that hurts. No Ethernet ? Some people won't really mind, but others will. I think it's still a bit too early to kick it out. You can't replace the battery yourself. This is a bad deal considering it's an an ultra-portable machine and its battery life is nothing spectacular, much lower than the 5 hours Apple boasts. You can't add more memory, either, as the 2GB are soldered onto the motherboard. The tiny hard drive is slow and can impact performance, especially when running multiple apps. Also, Apple offers only a 12-month warranty, not good considering it's such a pricey piece of machinery.

On the upside, you get a very stylish, light and well-built notebook powered by a good CPU. Its keyboard, touchpad and screen are top of the line. The 80GB 1.8-inch HDD lacks speed and capacity, but I still don't think that spending €650 for the SSD version with the same CPU is worth it.

Speaking of value, this particular SKU is the cheapest one, and I think it offers the best value for money as well. SSD pushes the price sky high, and getting a faster 1.8GHz version with the same HDD for €300 more doesn't make much sense, either. Compared to Lenovo's cheapest X300, the Air looks like a fair deal. The Lenovo packs a 64GB SSD, and it sells at around €2200, and so does the SSD Air. But if you can live without SSD, and I see no reason why you could not, you can get the cheaper Air with an HDD for €1550.

Compared to the Air, the Lenovo is a bit underpowered, thanks to its Core 2-Duo SL7100 2x 1.20GHz LV. However, it has a higher res screen (1440x900) and an optical drive. Seems like a more sensible choice for corporate users, but the cheapest X300 still costs €650 more than the cheapest Air.

Bottom line, can we recommend the Air? Yes, but it's not well suited to meet everyone's needs. If you can cope with its shortcomings and place an emphasis on style rather than practicality, the Air is the way to go. It's a beautiful piece of hardware and if you're looking for a notebook that will turn heads, you won't go wrong with it. The bottom line is, if you are fasion freak and like pretty at the cost of functionality, this is the perfect notebook for you

Too bad we don't have a design award at Fudzilla, as the Air deserves at least that, but yet again we are not a fashion magazine, either.

Last modified on 15 May 2008
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