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Summary:

2010 has been the year of gadgets and gizmos. iPad, Microsoft Kinect, Roku and Boxee — each week had a new surprise. I decided to pick the one that was part of my daily life had the most impact on both my life and work.

macbookair

Kevin Tofel, who writes about consumer mobile technology for GigaOM, yesterday posted list of his top seven favorite gadgets of 2010. He didn’t pick any winners, but he did inspire me to write a post of my own. Unlike Kevin, I decided to pick a winner.

I essentially focused on devices that are part of my daily life and were launched this year. My list had four devices: the iPad, the Sprint Overdrive Mobile Hotspot, the Sonos S5 and the MacBook Air. Having just acquired the Roku Box and the Microsoft Kinect, I didn’t quite have enough time with those two to make an informed decision, though at first blush, I absolutely love those two gizmos. Roku, incidentally is on NewTeeVee’s list of top five video gadgets of 2010.

My most important question when picking the device was actually pretty basic – can I live and work without the particular gadget? So from that perspective, here is my pick.

MacBook Air 2010 Edition:

The 2.13 GHz, 256 GB Storage, 4GB RAM, 13-inch screen version of the MacBook Air is my gadget of the year.

The Back Story

It is safe to assume that at some point or the other in my life, I have owned most if not all models of Apple’s PowerBook and MacBook line-up of portable computers since the introduction of OS X. Whether it is the aesthetics, or it is the ease of use of the software, I have always found working with Apple’s devices easier. However, there was one problem with them – they were almost always heavy, which was quite a pain considering that I travel a lot for work and often work from remote locations.

So three years ago when Apple announced the MacBook Air, I was quick to order it. It was underpowered – a slow processor, anemic memory capabilities, a tiny hard drive and a somewhat limited set of expansion options. The battery only compared to my stamina. Nevertheless, the weight of the device was right and it was worth the many compromises. It forced me to essentially respect the less is more philosophy in new ways. The Mac Book Air’s second version got a little better, especially as Apple offered SSD drive options. I upgraded and loved taking it along when I travelled. For other times, I used a 15-inch MacBook Pro.

A Machine For All Reasons

And then in October 2010, Steve Jobs introduced the new MacBook Air. The newly redesigned, unibody version of 2010 MacBook Air had some clever technology hacks, that improved the performance almost exponentially. Indeed, our own Apple channel here at GigaOM aptly dubbed this new MacBook Air “the future of notebooks.”

I had initially received the 13-inch 1.86 GHz version of the machine for review. I felt it was underpowered and wanted more storage and more memory. I ended up spending extra dollars and snapped up the top of the line unit and have not regretted it for a second. And within two hours of using this device, I knew it was time to make this my main machine.

A sturdy body and a great keyboard complemented a speedy SSD drive, faster processor and more memory. And the best part was – the battery lasted forever. Going to New York? No problems – this laptop cruised across the country without needing a charge. The dedicated graphics chip makes it easy to watch videos, which look so much better on the old fashioned screen. (I hate those glossy screens, for some odd reasons.)

More importantly, Apple made some tweaks that allowed the computer to turn on instantly and wake-up from sleep mode even faster when you flipped open the screen. Open the screen and start taking notes, writing a blog post, manipulate a photo or upload a video.

Getting on the web and replying to email is almost an instantaneous act. Furthermore, it doesn’t get hot like other Apple laptops – though Adobe’s Flash when used inside Safari or Mozilla Firefox does cause the computer temperature to go up – but since I use Google’s Chrome browser, it doesn’t matter that much to me.

Why is it my gadget of the year?

I use it almost 12-to-16 hours a day: in other words, it is almost always on. I often watch Netflix on it, I use it as my music console, I use it write, reply to emails and surf the web. It slides into my favorite bag (which unfortunately was too small for a regular laptop) where it snugly sits keeps company with my iPad, my Moleskin notebook, my Sprint 4G Overdrive Hot Spot and my beat-up Montblanc pen. It aesthetically pleasing, it is well constructed, it is well priced and it is not ostentatious. It is a classic, much like a well-made plain white shirt. I get more use from this device than anything else I own. It makes working fun.

And the One’s That Didn’t Make The Cut

My Runner-Up: Sonos S5, in tandem with the Sonos wireless dock is perhaps the second most used device in my apartment. It is a high-quality sound system, it is affordable and it has spectacular sound. If you live in a small apartment, this is a great option.

And in the third place: The iPad didn’t make the cut for the top spot, mostly because of my work rhythms and how I do it. And despite my own early excitement, I have not been able to make it an efficient part of my work flow.

That said, I read almost exclusively on the iPad, thanks to great apps like Evernote, Instapaper, Reeder and Flipboard. I often compose memos to myself using Writer and during baseball season, the At Bat app from MLB. In fact I wouldn’t know what to do during the baseball seasons without the iPad and MLB app.

And had the MacBook Air not shown up this fall, well, iPad would have been my runner-up for 2010.

Why Not a Single Phone?: You will notice that there isn’t a phone on the list – reason is simple: I have a love-hate relationship with by Blackberry Bold. I will not use the iPhone as long as it has network problems. Android doesn’t do it for me, but hopefully things will be different next year, especially from Samsung, which has started introducing great looking Galaxy Series of devices in the market.

I am currently enamored with the new Nokia X3-02 device – a feature phone that combines touch with traditional phone elements. It is inexpensive, it is super sleek and it has enough web services built into it to make it useful in the brave new world of connected phones. It is aesthetically appealing and is well-designed phone, though the build in camera is of poor quality.

  1. MacBook Air has been my dream laptop since first day it came out.
    New version is just a bit better, but concept is awesome from day 1.
    Won’t settle for anything else.

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    1. I have owned an Air since day one, but have not yet upgraded to the 11″ version, which is my choice. They are fast! Word and Excel loads in seconds. It restarts in 10-15 to a full ready state.

      If you recognize that you are the limiter in the work equation, these are great machines. Processing video? Obviously not.

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  2. “it is well priced”

    $1000 for a fricken netbook? Are you loaded?

    You can install OSX as dual-boot on any $299 netbook out there, and those will perform about as good as this.

    It is simply unbelievable how silicon valley bloggers can be so blinded by Apple.

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    1. Oh! Excuse me! Upon reading I see you’re actually talking about a $1600 Macbook Air? Are you serious? “well priced”? This is about 5x too expensive!

      Google’s Chrome OS Notebooks are going to have about same screen size and keyboard, about as zippy UI but for about $200 no contracts needed.

      You need to get excited about something truly “well priced” that truly pushes the “future of notebooks” otherwise this kind of promotion is just of a SF jet set multi-millionaire lifestyle.

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      1. Well priced doesn’t mean it has to be Kmart pricing for technology. Speaks more about how little you value your own time and effort if you want to waste your life screwing around.

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      2. I’ve had the the Cr-48 for a week, stealthy black and all, but it’s no Air. Full sized keyboard, but just a single core Atom and integrated video. YouTube works in SD, but that’s about it. Its trackpad behavior is unpredictably awful, especially compared to Apple’s.

        Flash games from the Chrome Store such as Canabalt drop frames, and don’t even get me started on Hedgehog Launch 2. And as Flash support for Linux is incomplete, it is not capable of running an Adobe Air-written mission-critical site my business relies on.

        My 4 year old loves it, though.

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      3. I think you and I have a different idea of what works in terms of technology products. I think if the OS-X on a netbook works for you, great. I like the complete experience and yes I do think it is well priced. Compare it with similar machine from Sony VAIO and you can see the difference.

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      4. I’m not sure what you’re talking about. The MacBook Air has been the perfect machine to use when I’ve been travelling cross-country in my G6.

        ** sarcasm **

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      5. I need OS X and there is not a chance that a netbook is going to provide what I need. Sorry, I have used them. Secondly, my first gen Air was $1,700. That was purchased nearly three years ago! I have $15,000 in software on my machine!

        Your priorities may not match mine. And, the base 11″ is $999. Please. It will still outperform the three or four $299 laptops you buy in the next five years. Good luck.

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      6. > Google’s Chrome OS Notebooks are going to have about same screen size and keyboard, about as zippy UI but for about $200 no contracts needed.

        [cite needed]

        I have yet to see pricing information since Chrome laptops are NOT FOR SALE YET, and Google isn’t a hw manufacturer.

        Seeing how Google capitulated with Android on the carriers, I see no reason why they wouldn’t do the same with the netbook, a device that absolutely NEEDS network to even function… another device designed to work with carriers.

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    2. In fact, we had 3 relatives arrive for the holidays – with 4 notebooks, 2 iphones and an XBox. We have a separate wi-fi network for the guesthouse.

      They all spend time every day playing with my wife’s new 11″ MacBook Air.

      Cost? Well, we didn’t buy a Dynex TV at BestBuy either. Though, we did trade-in our second-oldest laptop on the MBA at PowerMax. Try that at WalMart!

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    3. Why is it that when people compare prices across OS’s (Windows netbook, Google Netbook, MB Air) they forget about the operating system?

      Unless it’s running Mac OS X I won’t pay $20 for it. Mac OS X is worth a lot of money to me, and I gladly pay for it.

      Also, your $200 netbooks are built like $200 netbooks. The Macbook Air is an industrial design gem. Why do I care about this? Because I can afford it.

      When you do work on the machine, spending a few hundred more for something you love is miniscule.

      Buying computers isn’t arithmetic, there’s a human enjoyment element that needs to be taken into account. People who love Macs, love them, and will pay Apple hundreds of dollars more to not have to use second-rate OS’s like Windows.

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    4. Charbox, Are you sadistic? I ran OSX on a mini10v the touch pad had me throwing the thing against a wall. Plus to get half the battery life of an air you had to add the hemoroid battery pack to it which is completely annoying comes off because of the flimsy design. All I can say is you get what you pay for. If you live on a machine for 12 to 16 hours at a time you definely want to go the Cadilac route.

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    5. Hamranhansenhansen Monday, December 27, 2010

      MacBook Air is not a netbook by any definition, especially not the 13-inch model Om is talking about. That is a full-size PC with the most popular Unix operating system and a full digital media suite. Grow up!

      The highest-end MacBook Air costs less than a Starbuck’s coffee everyday. Do the math:

      - $2048 for the highest end MacBook Air 2.13GHz 4GB 256GB and 3 year AppleCare service plan
      - that is $682.67 per year
      - that is $56.89 per month (less than many pay for a Wi-Fi or 3G connection)
      - that is $1.87 per day (less than many pay for coffee)
      - that is 13 cents per hour (14 hours per day, Om said “12-16 hours per day”)

      And there is no anti-virus required, no system utilities required, no Geek Squad virus cleanings. The OS patches itself every week automatically, so you can often skip an I-T consultant entirely. Om may not even need to add any 3rd party software because so much is included, but if he does, it is cheaper than on Windows PC’s. For example, Keynote, which is the best presentation software in the world, is $19 at the Mac App Store and installs and updates itself.

      Investing in yourself and your business starts with a workhorse PC with Unix operating system like MacBook Air.

      The reason Mac users look down on PC users is not because you pay less for your PC, it’s because you pay MORE, you just get a lot less. I have a friend who traded in her $1000 per year in PC I-T consultant fees for $300 per year for Mac mini plus AppleCare, period. Om is running $1.87 per day for the highest-end MacBook Air and highest-end software, service, and support. A MacBook Pro 13-inch with AppleCare is only $1.34 per day, period. And you don’t have to even know what a driver is, let alone download them, so you can focus on your work and hopefully be as successful as Om.

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  3. Did you type this on an iPad?

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    1. Now why would I do that?

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  4. And the comment that made this review hogwash: “For other times, I used a 15-inch MacBook Pro.” The vision of carrying two laptops to meet all purposes rules out the Macbook Air.

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    1. Tim

      That was with version 1 of Macbook Air because it was supremely underpowered and it was used when traveling and working from non-office locations.

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  5. Having worked my way through many thousands of dollars of Netbooks, Flybooks and all the other Windows PC based tiny computers, there’s no way I would revert back to them after getting my 11″ Mac Book Air.

    1. You always need to update them, on a weekly basis. Time lost a good anywhere from 5-20 minutes or more usually unless you leave them running all the time.

    2. Screen size-even the 10 inch models just aren’t big enough.

    3. Way under powered. Single Core Intel processors don’t handle multi-tasking, video or audio intensive work very well. The Flybook does, but it’s way more expensive than the average Netbook, and it has a dual core.

    4. The Air is fast, nimble and light. I have been on the road for 15 days and have not missed my desktop iMac or my 15″ that’s connected to a 24″ monitor. I haven’t even missed my 13″ Mac Book Pro that was my Mac of choice for over a year. The experience will have me looking at the next generation of Air’s at 13″ in the New Year.

    Oh, and I guess you’ll say I’m rich (but I’m not) I’m just someone who prefers quality, after blowing through quantities of Netbooks whose only redeeming value was they were uber-light.

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  6. What is your “favorite bag” I am looking for the perfect bag.

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    1. It is a barbour hunting bag. it is about 12 years old and it is still going strong. it is tiny and the most importantly, it is not a man bag. it is actually pretty affordable compared to some of the fancy bags — about $125 or so. I have not looked recently, but it is a classic.

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  7. I dont see how macbook air is better than toshiba portege R700 series. Toshiba is lighter, Faster processor, More HD storage, cheaper, with Widi and wimax. I cant help but admire apple for creating such a fanfare for mostly an inferior product.

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    1. Just to add something, Toshiba portege also has dvd burner built in and still manages to weigh less.

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      1. Haha DVD burner hahahaha i would guess .0002 percent of the population HAS EVER burned a DVD on a laptop.

        Around 2006 it was apparent that the only market physical media would serve was the landfill market.

        Bet that Tosh has some hot serial ports. My do matrix printer news a aster computer.

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      2. Yeah! :D

        That’s exactly why we prefer the streamlined Macbook Air! It doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary crap (dvd burner?? It’s 2011 god damn it, just let it go!) trying to hide the inferior user experience.

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      3. Geo – good one…I havent used the dvd burner either, but I use it as a dvd player a lot. there is still a lot of content thats not avaliable on netflix in digital streaming format. Widi is awesome as well, not having to plug anything in and just wirelessly streamign the whole laptop experience to tv is awesome. i know u apple fanboys will say we have airplay! air play only plays content from itunes. so e.g. if u want to stream netflix or vimeo, widi is your only option.

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      4. @Geo: My do matrix printer news a aster computer.

        Well, if you typed the garbage above on a Mac, you should use your AppleCare to get the keyboard fixed :-)

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  8. Hey Om,

    Great to see that I’m using the same phone that you proudly own. :D

    Help me out. :D how do you connect to WiFi? I’m not able to connect. In Opera Mini it always takes GPRS as default connection. Did you face any such problem?

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  9. Just bought a Sonos S5 for xmas after my trusty Roku Soundbridge broke…and Im loving every second of it.

    Sonos + Spotify + iPad = home audio ecstasy

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    1. That is musical heaven for me too :-)

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  10. “Mother of the king”? Well, anyway, I agree that the MacBook Air is a very nice gadget worthy of much attention, but any balanced assessment would have to swing overall honors to the iPad. Focusing on the MacBook Air with this kind of lead-in is just media attention-seeking.

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