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Summary:

The iPad is a pretty nice mobile web working tool. But the new MacBook Air, with more processing muscle, better graphics and access to OS X and all the applications that go along with it, is the better tool for the road warrior.

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The iPad is a pretty nice mobile web working tool, especially if you don’t need to do any of your heavy lifting while on the road. But the new MacBook Air, with more processing muscle, better graphics and access to OS X and all the applications that go along with it, is the better tool for the road warrior.

Let’s talk about portability. The iPad is a great small computing device. A 9.7-inch screen is small enough to not take up much space in your bag, but also provides a decent amount of screen real estate so that you won’t find yourself squinting. And it only weighs 1.5 pounds (1.6 if you spring for the 3G-capable model). But, that weight doesn’t factor in a case, stand or keyboard, all of which are pretty much required if you plan to use it to do work on the road.

The new MacBook Air provides either a 11.6-inch or a 13.3-inch display, depending on which model you choose. Even the smaller display will make a big difference in terms of usability over the iPad, especially with long periods of use. It also comes with its own keyboard. The weight penalty for all this added convenience? Only an extra 0.8 pounds with the 11.6-inch Air, or 1.4 for the model with the larger display. Not bad at all when you consider that covers all your bases.

And how about price? I’m leaning towards the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, so I priced it out with the upgrades I’d need; the only one I really wanted was the extra 2GB of RAM. That brings the total cost, with shipping, to $1,099. If I wanted to get an iPad with the same storage capacity, I’d have to opt for one of the top-tier 64GB models. The Wi-Fi-only model is $699, but I can’t tether my iPhone to an iPad like I can with the MacBook Air, so I’d probably want to spring for the Wi-Fi + 3G model. That’s $829. Add in the cost of the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, and we’re already at $889. Include a case that doubles as a stand, and you’re up to around $929.

For an additional $170, you get the convenience and software library of OS X, an easier design to work with on the road, more screen real estate and more muscle under the hood. I haven’t even mentioned how much better the Air is as an at-home solution, and it’s already looking like the better bargain.

Speaking of the home office, the MacBook Air works nicely there, too. With its new upgrades, it has almost as much power as the 13.3-inch MacBook, depending on the options you choose, and has video out capabilities via Mini DisplayPort. Plugging it into an Apple Cinema Display will provide all the desktop computing ability most web workers need (and you can add another screen using one of the two USB ports on the new Air, if you need it). And, as you would expect from an Apple product, it’s a very nicely designed and packaged device. Here’s Janko from our sister site NewTeeVee unboxing a 13-inch model:

The new Air looks like a great solution for web workers both at home and away, but that’s not what really makes it the best proposition for the forward-thinking web worker. No, the key differentiator with the Air is that it truly lets you create, unbridled. You can write without feeling hindered thanks to the full-size keyboard, and edit photos and do graphics work thanks to the NVIDIA 320M graphics and Intel Core 2 Duo processor. You don’t have to settle for just “the best you can do on the road” any more, as is the case with netbooks. At this price, and in this size, the Air will let you do the best you can do, period, no matter where you’re working from.

Are you thinking about getting a MacBook Air? Let us know what you think of the new models below.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):

  1. I am thinking of getting one of these. I am a medical student and have a MB 13 and an ipad. The iPad is not quite the productivity machine I though it would be with it’s limitations one of which is the lack of flash. Much of our school website and video is in flash. These new airs look like the spawn of an ipad and a macbook hot date and I like the results.
    I have been reading some of the other forums and the complaints I am hearing are the low end processor and the overheating experienced on the older airs. They are saying it is a last gen processor. Should that be a concern? With more web apps shouldn’t we need less processor? I’m not technical so I could be missing the boat here.
    The only question I personally have is whether to go with 11 or 13. I have a 13 now and like it but the 11 would be even less intrusive in the classroom. Wish the 11 had the battery life of the 13.
    As for harddrive I am not concerned. Most of my applications these days are web apps or don’t take much space. I use dropbox for a lot of my files.

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  2. I would have to go with the 13 inch version as I feel the 11 is to close to the size of the iPad. If I need that level of portability, typically I don’t want to do the type of creation work that the full Mac experience affords me.

    What made netbooks so popular IMO is not the small size, that was a offset to creating a cheaper product. It was the fact that it was cheap, that made the category so wildly popular. We have had small laptops from Sony from the longest time, they simply have not hit the price points that netbooks have hit.

    I don’t see the new Air as a amazing product in the computer industry…it is for Apple users. But this category, premium powerfull mini laptops, has been around in the Windows world for quite some time. It’s new to the Apple world. What is awesome is a unified App store for the Mac. Even if not all the best software will be there due to the strict rules, it’s a important step in the right direction in putting software retail completely online, and digitizing products that no longer need a physical vessel to be distributed.

    I have to say, I can see myself becoming a Mac user in the future beyond my Ipod/Ipad/Iphone world. I’ll still have use for a PC perhaps,but it it may not be my Machine of choice in the coming years. Very interesting…

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  3. Am I missing something here? Why wouldn’t someone just get the 13″ Macbook or Macbook Pro, if they’re going to get a Mac of that size? Does the new Air have features that exceed or differentiate usefully as compared to them? Or is it a lightness (of weight and cost) that’s a big influencing factor here? Looking forward to others feedback.

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    1. Reasons Some one may choose the 13″ Air over the 13″ MBP:

      -Higher Res Screen
      -Longer Battery Life (Apple states the MBP gets 5 Hours in the test’s used for the Air)
      -You get a thinner package by leaving out that optical drive you never use any more. (for those that apply)
      – Very Fast Instant on and operation because of the integrated SSD

      For me, and possibly others, these reasons make a very compelling argument. As most will find, the 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, while its not the fastest on the block, is very good on battery, and does get the job done quite well, especially when paired with the new SSD. Rendering Movies and images will be quick and smooth because the computer is able to quickly store the data it’s processing much more efficiently.

      High Res screens are always nice to work on for seeing that little bit of extra detail, especially since this one is 16:9, as most video we work with is now in that aspect ratio.

      That thinner package is always a extra delight that you can’t put a price on when your pulling it out of your bag.

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  4. It may not be a Macbook Air, but it’s half the price, twice as powerful, and also uses an 11.6″ screen:

    http://lgponthemove.blogspot.com/2010/09/first-impressions-hp-dm1z-notebook.html

    Oh, and it also has a HDMI port, SD card slot, multitouch trackpad, impressive speakers and a great keyboard.

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    1. Nice laptop BUT they should move the KB back and increase the trackpad size. The DisplayPort provides HDMI through a cheap convertor. HDMI has limitations and the support for large > 4Megapixel arrays is there for DisplayPort and not HDMI. This is why lots of graphic cards are providing DisplayPort and NOT HDMI. Also HDCP sucks and blows and people hate being treated like criminals when they use HDMI (pet peeve). The MacBook Air 13 has a SD Card slot. The absence on the 11 inch is weird and a WTF moment. As is the choice of Core2Duo over i3. I think that Apple should have gone i3 for MBA i3 i5 and i7 for 13 15 and 17 inch MPBs. But that would make too much sense. Maybe they are just clearing out processor inventory prior to a January upgrade (this has happened before).

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  5. @luscious – the HP dm1z is neither half the price nor twice as powerful as an air. With an SSD the plastic HP is over $850, close enough to the air that I’d consider the air for construction quality alone.

    On the performance front, the 1.5ghz AMD chip and gpu in the HP don’t hold a candle to the Core2 Duo / Nvidia 320 combo. Don’t mistake the air for an atom based system – even the 1.4ghz C2D blows the AMD and atom CPUs away.

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    1. Did you factor in 64-bit performance Darren? My benchmarks show the K625 beats a T9600 Core 2 Duo, and at $525 nicely-equipped, it’s an impressive buy with a very solid GPU.

      True, the SSD does bump up the price, but unlike the Air, it is easily replaceable/upgradeable.

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  6. So, this Air lets you do the best you can do, period, no matter where you’re working, as a netbook of Mac world, priced close to the MacBook Pro. One of those dual-core 1.7GHz 2GB, Windows 7 netbooks lets you do the best you can do, period, no matter where you’re working, for less than $500.

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    1. That was good for a chuckle. No, make that “That was good for uncontrollable, hysterical laughter until tears came out of my eyes.”

      I’ve been developing for and supporting Windows literally as long as there’s been a “Windows,” and the last five mixed shops I worked in all came to the same conclusion. A Windows PC is cheaper, but a Mac is less expensive. In a business IT setting, the differential over the life of the Mac is at least ten Macs for the support cost of a Windows PC. I have never worked anywhere where the Mac user-satisfaction median rating was less than three times the equivalent number for Windows usees, and productivity (and therefore business value) closely tracks that number.

      Seriously, how can anyone afford to deploy and support Windows anymore?

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      1. In a recession, at least there’s an affordable alternative to Apple. With 250 million, the fastest selling operating system in history, Windows 7 on computers, lots of people, way lots compared to Macs, are able to afford to deploy and support it.

        Apple caters to rich people, it charges more for its products, so only the rich can buy them. Shame on Apple that its 1994 commercial was about freeing the masses from Big Brother’s information grip, and it turns out that cheap netbooks, phones and other devices, used in Rio favelas to Arizona cul-de-sacs has enabled wider access of information, and these devices run overwhelmingly the gamut from Linux to Android to Windows to Symbian, etc., but not from Apple.

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      2. Nice try, Tim.

        A recession is the best of all possible times to stop throwing money down the drain on disposable crap like most netbooks and Windows. Seriously, don’t you have better things to do than spend a couple hours a week (at least) degunking your Windows, and reinstalling every 2-3 months because something’s infested the bowels of your system that just will not go away quietly? I do; I want to use the computer as a tool to do other, more interesting things; the daily Microsoft masturbation gets real old real fast once you discover there are other things to do in life.

        Go back and read what I wrote earlier.

        “the differential over the life of the mac is at least tem Macs for the support cost of a Windows PC.

        That’s not hyperbole; that’s not a number I pulled out of my back pocket; that’s the difference in support costs documented by at least five Fortune 200 companies and a half-dozen startups I’ve seen over the last 15 years or so. Yes, even before OS X and accounting for the considerable leap forward that Windows 95 was, it still wasn’t enough to close the gap.

        If Microsoft built technology as well as they do marketing, I an Steve Jobs and millions of other people wouldn’t be using Macs. Apple wouldn’t have set sales records for what, the last thirty consecutive quarters?

        I’ve been developing for Linux for 15 years; it was my primary desktop for nearly 8. I’ve a similar knock against it as Windows; it simply takes too much effort, training and infrastructure to deploy Linux to people who want to use the computer as a tool, not an ikon. If you’re trying to learn about the history of Unix, or different languages and tools, and all you have is cheap fifth-hand PC kit to run on, and you are willing to relearn important parts of what you already know every time your distro vendor brings out a new version, then Linux is absolutely wonderful. Again, most of us have other things we’d rather do with our lives. I still run Linux every day; I teach courses in it, and I’m writing a book that assumes the reader/student is sitting in front of either a Mac or a Linux PC. Of course, if you have a Mac, you can have both worlds: you’ve got a real, honest-to-Bell-Labs Unix box in front of you, and there are several (free and commercial) packages that let you boot Linux in what it thinks is a dedicated PC… that just happens to be running on your Mac desktop. I know that VMWare, Xen et al run on Windows. I just prefer to run them on a stable, modern system.

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      3. Jeff, you truly live in the Apple Distortion Reality Field.

        If all you do is support some snobbish picture drawers in the marketing department, then maybe the “the differential over the life of the Mac is at least ten Macs for the support cost of a Windows PC” Those emos’ satisfaction median rating would be less than three times the equivalent number for the vast majority of your real employees that use Windows, and dubious productivity of those picture drawers (and therefore their business value) closely tracks that number, maybe.

        In the real world, businesses have many specialized uses for their systems that don’t conform to Steve Jobs’ totalitarian regime. The handhelds of all those UPS drivers, that delivered those iPads, run on Windows Mobile.

        In the real world, at least, you can use your Windows machine for masturbation, even if you have to degunk it a couple hours a week and, and reinstall it every 2-3 months, wink wink. It’s a virtual virus, not the one that makes your dick fall off.

        All you can use your Mac for is to stare at Steve Job’s whiny big head.

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    2. OK, Tim, whatever. Believe what you like; use whatever propaganda you like; follow Microsoft’s billions-annually propaganda campaign. That’s just more competitive advantage for me and my clients. You’re making my job easier, not harder.

      By the way, I was trying to be careful not to diss Microsoft completely. I rely on Office and several other tools every day…on the Mac, and on Windows (running in a very highly locked down, snapshotted VM that still gets compromised on a depressingly regular basis. I’ve gone for the training and the purple FlavorAid. Hell, back in the day, I gave the training and the FlavorAid.

      Microsoft have some amazing people working very hard to try to bring great products to market. Occasionally, they prevail against the multitudinous middle managers and succeed. But consider this: with the exception of Windows itself, virtually every single product we think of as a Microsoft core product was either acquired (Excel, PowerPoint, C++ compiler, SCP DOS, Danger/WP7) or initially developed for another platform (e.g., Word). Microsoft’s success outside the OS monopoly (the history of which has been very well documented) rests largely on their ability to recognise and acquire great software and ideas which became successful outside the Microsoft management black hole.

      Food for thought, loyalists…

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  7. Already broke down and placed the order. I agree with the reviewer. This is going to be a road warrior. It has more than enough power for the modest heavy lifting I have to do. I am running essentially the same applications I ran on my iMac 4 years so ago.

    I have an iPad 3G. That to me is a great home and around town screen. I don’t like opening up a laptop if I’m not going to be somewhere for a longer period of time; but the iPad is not only instant on, it’s easy to handle. Not unwieldily like an unfolded laptop.

    Honestly, I can imagine packing both with me for trips. My iPad fits in a portfolio case and I carry it free. The Air in a backpack to be taken out when the need or opportunity for extended work arises.

    Because I wanted the more work emphasis and the longer battery life, I went with the 13 and maxed the processor, SSD and ram.

    I think the Air will fit well with the iPad. The one I feel will be left out in the cold is my 2 yr old MBP.

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  8. I ordered the 11″ model. I have wanted a macbook mini for a long, long time. I even bought an MSI Wind and loaded it with OSX and it worked pretty well, so I am sure the real thing is going to be great. I retired that unit for the iPad 3G. I was thinking of keeping both, but will probably just sell my iPad as there will be too much duplication of function.

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  9. Christopher Kalie Friday, October 22, 2010

    I’ve waited rather impatiently to upgrade my Rev A MacBook Air, but the loss of the backlighting of the keyboard has me stumped. It’s the most important feature for me when working in low light conditions (which happens quite often). Hopefully somebody at Apple will come to their senses and realize how invaluable this small piece of low tech truly is.

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  10. Of course its better than an iPad, choke splutter… But is better than a MacBook without Flash (for the first time in OS X) no Firewire, Ethernet, Optical Drive, Hmmm… I’m obviously not the target market.

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