The MacBook Air Doesn’t Get Enough Credit

38 Comments

I’m typing this article on a MacBook Air. It’s the best notebook I’ve ever owned, and it’s a notebook that is severely underappreciated by anyone that doesn’t own one. Anyone reading this on an Air knows that it’s truly the lightest, full-featured notebook available and an absolute pleasure to type on for hours due to the exceptionally thin front lip and bouncy keys coupled with a super wide trackpad in a body that’s just over three pounds. Unfortunately, the MacBook Air has a bad reputation.

Anyone who hasn’t owned one simply doesn’t understand. They see a speed that tops out at 2.13Ghz, and an SSD at only 128GB of storage, and that’s before they nearly faint when finding out it has only 2GB of RAM and a single USB port. The next question is always, “How do I burn CDs?”

Back in the 90s, Apple had a program where it would give you one of its computers risk fee for around 30 days as long as you provided your credit card number (in case you don’t send it back). It was a genius program, because many people who’d heard Macs were terrible would try one and be hooked after only a few days. The same might have happened to the iPad if Apple hadn’t marketed the heck out of it leading up to release day. People knew it would be amazing, but the general consensus was, “What do I do with it?” That’s where the MacBook Air sits today. It’s a machine that most people want but simply don’t know where it fits into their workflow.

I’ve been a Mac user since early 2000, and back then, when working from a café or library, everyone would stop by my tangerine iBook and ask, “Are Macs really worth it?” After the success of the iPod and the Intel switch, people stopped asking, because many people were already Mac users. They already had one in their bag. The sale was made.

That didn’t start happening to me again until late 2009, when I purchased a MacBook Air. I was skeptical, but I had a 17” MacBook Pro at my desk and thought if I didn’t like the Air, I could send it back within two weeks. Two weeks later, I sold the 17” MacBook Pro and bought an iMac. Today, when I sit at a café, that same coolness of owning a Mac back in 2000 takes people over when they see the Air. Their first question, “Is it worth it?” Yes. Yes it is.

People at Apple know this. I know employees that are designers, product managers and retail workers at Apple who all tell me that they love the Air and that it’s the most underappreciated machine in the notebook lineup. If Apple knows it, why doesn’t it do something about it?

There’s a trend at Apple that I see repeatedly. The machine with the lowest sales remains stagnant until Apple gets around to fixing it up. The Mac mini was plagued with this problem, and sat dormant from a design perspective from 2005 to 2010. The Mac Pro has far worse sales than the mini, and it sees a minor speed bump once every 18 months, but if you own a PowerMac G5 manufactured in 2004 and sit it beside a Mac Pro that just arrived from Apple yesterday, they look strikingly similar. Just compare a PowerBook from 2003 to a MacBook Pro today and you’ll see where Apple spends most of its time innovating.

The MacBook Air’s design has remained unchanged since it was introduced in January 2008, when the SSD model cost close to $3,000. Apple continued dropping the price and enhancing the features, to where today’s high-end model can be had for just over $2,000 and can handle most everyday tasks. If a laptop is your only computer and you do any digital media creation, the Air isn’t for you. If you have a desktop computer and occasionally fly across country only working on spreadsheets, PowerPoint documents or watching movies, the Air is going to be your new best friend. I’m not a designer, and I’m not a digital magician. I’m just a guy that writes, emails, reads news and watches YouTube videos, and for that, the MacBook Air is the best machine money can buy.

I’m not going to speculate what the next Macbook Air should have. I’m only here to make a case that anyone that hasn’t used one should give it a shot and that Apple needs to throw some marketing dollars behind it so everyone else knows what we MacBook air owners have known for a long time: It’s the best notebook Apple makes and it also happens to be the smallest. It’s a machine for 75 percent of the portable Mac users out there, and too many people are buying more than they need when the MacBook Air fits in just nicely.

38 Comments

Flawless

I purchased my Air in August 2008. Today, thought I still love it, it’s battery is giving me problems. It takes 4-5 hours to charge from 0 to 100%. It takes 1 hour 45 minutes from 100% to 0%. It has started lagging occasionally when I sit on Skype or YouTube. It overheats from the part where it’s been charged. Despite all this, it’s still my baby!

Bob D

I have always liked small, light computers, but I think the iPad has a lot of advantages over the Air.

Price
Size – the Air is thin and light, but not small at all.

Weight

More reliable – solid state, which you CAN get in the Air, but it drives up the price even further.

Runs MUCH cooler,

The 3G model can access the Internet from anywhere.

MUCH better battery life – very important for travel.

Less expensive software (and even greater variety)

Far easier to use operating system.

I had hoped for a 10″ Macbook Air for years, but having used the iPad, I think it is just a better design, really optimized for portable use.

jsebenius

I’ve had macs since the 80s and am crazy about the macbook air (128G ssd version). While much bigger macs happily sit on my desks at the office and home, the Air is a spectacularly capable machine for traveling and getting real work done on the road and out of the office. I really value the form factor and light weight and expect to buy the next version as soon as it comes out, assuming it has greater ssd capacity and a general upgrade. I hope Apple is listening. This machine is a real winner for a group of us.

Walter Wright

Why has no one mentioned an Air with touch screen? You might be able to cut the weight even further by doing away with the keyboard and the pad.

Darin

I recently switched from a unibody 15″ MacBook Pro to a MacBook Air last month and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. I love this machine, hands down the best Mac I’ve ever owned – this coming from a biased fanboy with an iPad, iPhone 4 and 27″ iMac at work. It’s not the most powerful, nor does it have the best screen res, it’s just incredibly portable, snappy and quite a looker. For my use, the iPad is a consumption device and anytime I need to get a little real work done (I’m not a graphic designer or media editor – mostly email, iWork, etc.), I rely on the Air (while at home and traveling). However, I was surprised at the quickness of the 128GB SSD and the modest 2.13 Gb of memory. I know it’s not for everyone and managing your media library on an external drive may aggravate some, but for me, its the perfect portable rig. I would also add it does run a little warm and I’d like to see Apple do away with the trackpad button, beef it up a little and how bout a retina display, running at a real cool temp? Yeah, I can dream can’t I?

Daniel

I would be willing to consider an Air if they update it with the new no-button trackpad and 4gb RAM.

Still, I don’t understand why it needs to be priced so far above the 13″ macbook pro.

Jot

” I’m just a guy that writes, emails, reads news and watches YouTube videos, and for that, the MacBook Air is the best machine money can buy”

Problem with that list is in Apple’s mind that is what an iPad excels at. iPad Lighter, no fan noise, battery last forever, for consuming much nicer to hold.

lambday.y

It is indeed the best computer I’ve owned. I do major programming on it, and it works. Ergonomically, it’s the only thing I’m willing to use (I get tendinitis, and the thinness and tapering are absolutely crucial). All laptops will have this form factor in five years, so why not get it now?

Tyler

I have had virtually every mac since the Apple II and the Macbook air is a POS. It performed horribly, heated up ridiculously and I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. One of the only Apple products I have ever been disappointed in having. The concept is fantastic but the execution was a huge fail. Sad but true.

Armen

MBA’s can’t stream Netflix movies. As another posted noted, they overheat. Unless you watch movies in a meat locker, the video starts to jerk and freeze 5 minutes in. No SMC fan controlling software tricks fix this problem. Flash-heavy sites such as this one are also impossible to view on an MBA: http://us.blizzard.com/diablo3/

I realize the fault lies with Silverlight and Flash developers. But you mustn’t write such a positive review without mentioning this. The MBA isn’t just an awesome, albeit expensive notebook. It is one that does not support important, popular use cases.

D

If they made the next MacBook air a hybrid iOS Tablet/Mac OS X laptop I would buy it in a second.

Esa Mehdi

I have a MacBook Pro at work (2007 model) and have been waiting for an upgrade to the Air. I work in Sys Admin and it would be perfect for me rather than lugging around the Pro which is heavy.

I’d like them to keep the current screen size and better processor/bigger hard drive would be perfect for me.

COME ON APPLE CAN WE HAVE A REFRESH PLEASE!

Chris Maddison

I’ve had my 2009 Macbook Air for almost a year now and I still like it. I think your opinion of it depends entirely on how you use it and what you expect from it. I purchased the Air for university as i didn’t want to lug any extra weight around in my bag than necessary. The Air is perfect for the office type word/excel stuff I do at uni and then when I come home I work on my iMac which has the power and screen space I’m more used to as a graphic designer. Even today I still have people coming over and commenting in amazement when they see how thin it is.

Eric

A future version of the Air should include a cellular antenna in addition to the other usual bumps. The retina display should eventually make its way into all Apple products, including the Air. I assume the next product to get it will be the iPad. Hopefully the Air wouldn’t be too far behind that.

Kenny T

I completely agree with what the writer has said above. I own a Macbook Air (mid 2009 revision) and it’s been great. I also have the iPad. But I don’t quite think the MBA has lost any of it’s sheen from the iPad.

In fact, I find myself wondering why I got the iPad in the first place.

The Macbook Air is practically invisible inside a document bag. It’s so light on the shoulders, I am not reminded I have a laptop inside my messenger bag that I use for travel. I do design posters, but mainly use Pages. Despite the Macbook Air being called underpowered and lacking in RAM, it performs well enough for today’s needs. Sometimes ppl can get pretty jaded with “specs envy”. Not every average user needs quad core + hyper threading… and etc etc.

DB

i LOVE macbook air, and i’m dying to get one. i don’t need a redesign, the current form factor is perfect, and i hope they stay at 13″ screen. the reason why i haven’t own one is because it is in dire need of a spec upgrade! the only things i hope they change: price can be lower, more than one USB please, maybe a firewire would be nice. other than that, i love it the way it is.

Bebe

I love my MBAir, but it’s recently been replaced in my affections by my iPad. The perfect trio in my house is the Mac Mini, MB Air and iPad. Oh and the iPhone, but that’s more like an extension of my arm.
The price tag is secondary to me – I don’t mind paying top dollar to get just what I want.

Levi

Amen, my friend. My thoughts exactly. First commenter (or anyone) who starts listing specs just don’t get it. It is light. That is the only spec that matters. And (at least the SSD version) does EVERYTHING an average user would ever want from a machine and does it well. I run 6-10 programs at the same time. Browse. Office, etc. It gets the job done. If you need power, you won’t be happy. I personally do some computation heavy tasks for work. I have a server I do these on (and use my Air to log into the server). But most people (like everyone else in my family) would never need a better machine. I also don’t use the CD drive, especially on the road. If I need it (need it once every three months) I can use the external at home.

Is it more expensive than the Macbook or the 13″ Macbook Pro? Yes. But it is lighter. And it is just a great feeling machine. Can’t wait for the upgrade. Will be buying one as soon as it comes out. The long line in the family already has their eyes on my current one.

Michael

My Air is my only Mac. Air has actually been my first Mac.

I hook it up to an external monitor when at the office and enjoy its slickness and power (rev c ssd). I’ve owned rev A ssd and now rev C ssd and I love this machine.

Two problems though – one – heat, but can be solved by coolbook and fan noise which can be solved by other app. Two – only 2 gigs of ram. I’d love to have more.

Other than that I’d say “ditto” to the article. I lovez my Air :-)

Patz

I have owned a PBook 12″ (1 GHz G4) from 2004 to last Fall, and have realized that no Mac could beat it for excellent portability with way enough power. Only the MacBook Pro 13″ seemed a worthy successor (and it was only introduced in 2009 or so).

Well, I tried both the 13′ MBPro and the Air, and the Air (128 GB SSD model) is just the most excellent portable Mac ever. It handles everything I throw at it on the road, including some light Photoshop and Illustrator jobs. Amazing machine. The only thing I would change is allow for more RAM, and add a FW800 port, as I’m still a fan of target disk mode. A more beeefy processor? Sure, why not. But not a must at this point. For heavy lifting, there’s my trusty MacPro anyway.

Charles Jade

I have a Revision A MacBook Air, and a 4200 RPM hard drive isn’t merely a specification, but a real performance bottleneck. Couple that with battery life that is half that of other Mac portables, and you have to ask yourself what is the point. I think Apple is doing that too.

You could buy a 13″ MacBook Pro and an iPad for the less than the cost of MacBook Air with an SSD drive.

Berklee

I second that, I have the second revision with the 1.8″ hard drive and it is ridiculously slow. I actually have stopped quitting applications, because it takes too long to start them. And all I use is Safari, Mail, Adium and Textmate. The Air is a great machine, as long as you get the SSD.

Miguel

I ordered my first gen Macbook Air hours after the Jobs presentation. I think once all was said and done with my additions it came out to about $3400. I realized up front that I was going to have some buyers remorse once upgrades happened (I’d LOVE to have the 128GB SSD instead of the 64GB) but I will say that I’ve been less compelled to immediately jump on the iPad bandwagon precisely because my Macbook Air (which I compare to having a rear-wheel drive sports car as a second car) does everything and more.
Of course if the 2nd Gen iPad goes up to 128GB of SSD space, then that might change

jimmy

Macbook Air is the worst mac i have ever used!!! This piece of junk has a major fault. HEAT!!!! Under usual everyday use (mail, browsing, videos on youtube), unless you live on north pole, it gets overheated and the performance is getting extremly low. Even on my old powerbook G4 you can watch a flash video on better frame rate than on the Air. Not to mention the fan that drives you crazy working everytime at full speed! That’s why I sold it on ebay and got a macbook pro!

Milad Ghattavi

i’ve thought a lot about macbook air. i guess a macbook air + a powerful iMac is all some1 should have! the air, for the super portability and the iMac for it’s power.

but definately NOT this macbook air. i own a macbook pro. and it has 4 gigs of ram. i don’t do heavy stuff.. but believe me sometimes 3/4 of my ram is used!
they should really update the air.
i guess there r thinner products out there. surely not as joyful as the air. but still, THINNER.

what i’d like to see on the new macbook air, are:
– higher CPU
– higher RAM
– higher SSD
– the beautiful edge to edge glass
– the trackpad without buttons
– 1 more usb port

and i know, this sounds like a customized macbook pro, as thin as a macbook air.

but i’m waiting anyway.

Wayne

I agree the MacBook air is a good looking but of kit and I have wanted one for a long time but now the iPad is here it doesn’t stand a chance, just look at the size, looks and the price!

Danny

I support this article. Everyone who seems to criticize the MacBook Air seems to point out the price tag, evidence that many of these people have never purchased or owned one. I have both the Air and iPad and I think the Air is the best machine apple has ever created. There is nothing that comes better performance wise that is that portable.

Bryan

The problem now is for what it does it is overpriced. For almost $1k less get a MacBook or better yet for $1.3k less an iPad will work about the same minus the USB. I was in the same boat as you until I got an iPad. Then recently I took a sexing glance at the MacBook air. I thought it was great until I looked at the sticker price and thought about what it does vs the iPad. Sorry no sale. Especially when for $300 more I can just get a new MacBook pro if I want another laptop.

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