MacBook Air 11” Mid – 2011 Review

26/02/2012

MacBook Air 11” Mid   2011 Review

Pros

- Excellent battery life, display and keyboard
- Great performance thanks to the SSD and fast processor
- Beautiful head turning design

Cons

- Limited connectivity options
- Smaller screen not suited to all tasks
- Some users may not like the glossy screen

The MacBook Air is my new best friend, a companion that I have lusted after like a lovesick teenager since the day it was announced, a companion with such beautiful simplicity that it oozes class from every one of its anodized aluminum openings.

For the first time since I began commuting to London some 8 months ago, I am now able to comfortably sit to the small table in front of me in the cramped compartment and type at full speed. My iPad 2 has been a great stand in since I made the switch from being a laptop owner to making my main machine a desktop back in the summer of 2011, but the typing experience isn’t ideal and they don’t make InDesign for iOS (yet). Even back in the days when I had my 2009 15” MacBook Pro the experience was never ideal, it as too big to fit within the limited space available in the train carriages, and ruined my back when walking from the station to the office. Things needed to change.

As soon as the revised Air was announced, I knew it was to be mine. No longer was this machine an expensive toy – it was now a true and proper mobile workstation, capable of keeping up with me throughout my day and still having battery to spare on the way home. My prayers had been answered; the perfect form factor for my needs has arrived.

Build Quality & Design

The MacBook Air continues with the Apple design language that we have become accustomed to since late 2008, the unibody construction provides a stiff chassis to house the lovingly arranged components. The fit and finish is unlike anything else on the market, all of the unibody laptops are robust sadists, begging for more workload to be thrown at them. A timeless piece of design coupled with minute attention to detail in manufacturing that leads to a truly premium piece of engineering.

MacBook Air 11” Mid   2011 Review

The only sacrifice made for the keyboard is the half height row of keys in the top row (Function keys) and this barely makes any difference in most use cases. The 2011 Air also sees the return of the much longed for backlighted keyboards that Apple has used in the rest of its laptops since 2008. It’s back in this revision and it’s one of those things that you don’t realize how much you missed until it comes back.

MacBook Air 11” Mid   2011 Review

Display

The 11” display running at a resolution of 1366 x 768 has a relatively high pixel density, meaning that most of the time you don’t really notice the smaller screen size. After a while you naturally adjust to working within the slightly smaller area and I had no trouble working on a variety of files from Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign during my time preparing for this review. The display is bright, clear and everything that we have come to expect from Apple over the last few years. It should be noted the the display is glossy and there is no matte display option available for the Air, so those who loathe the mirror polish effect on the displays should look elsewhere. I never found it to be a problem and have used the unit in a variety of lighting conditions without issue, others will beg to differ but the best advice I can offer is to go to the Apple store and try one out before making a purchase to see if this makes a difference to you.

Performance

Stunning. I could stop there but I would be doing the Air a disservice. Quite honestly I was shocked at how powerful and quick the Air is. In pretty much all areas the little beast leaves me 2011 iMac for dead. This is largely due to the performance of the solid state drive (SSD) that Apple has selected to be used in the new Air, along with the arrival of the excellent 1.6GHz Core i5 processor that I have in this unit.

Apps like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop open in seconds, with great performance switching between apps and minimal load times for even complex files for both. Multi-tasking is a pleasure, with the Air able to perform admirably running multiple browser instances, even running Flash (a classic stumbling block for machines running OSX).

MacBook Air 11” Mid   2011 Review

The unit I purchased (the £999 price point) includes 4GB of RAM and this has been plenty powerful enough for the variety of tasks I threw at the Air, you should however, hear in mind when selecting your Air, that memory and storage are no longer user upgradable parts as they are crammed so tightly onto the logic board it makes it nearly impossible to upgrade.

Connectivity

The 11” Air includes the standard Apple Magsafe Adaptor, a USB 2.0 port and the headphone jack on the left hand side of the unit. The right includes another USB 20 port and the fabled Apple Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt is the stuff that dreams are made of for professionals looking to connect their laptop to a larger display or dock with a huge array of hard drives, sadly at the moment the choice of peripherals is rather limited, but with pioneers like Lacie (a hard drive manufacturer) contuing to move their inventory over to the interface it surely wont be long before we have more choice and value offerings avaiulable to use the ridiculous throughput of the Thunderbolt port.

MacBook Air 11” Mid   2011 Review
MacBook Air 11” Mid   2011 Review

I didn’t have a Thunderbolt drive available for testing, however, after purchasing a Thunderbolt cable from the Apple store I was able to successfully dock the laptop to my 2011 iMac (also with Thunderbolt) and take control of the display to use it as an external monitor. This worked great and the on board graphics processor in the Air was more than enough to power the 1920 x 1080 display on my iMac.

The only slight downside in this regard for me is the lack of SD card slot that Apple has included on the 13” variant of the Air. This really is a handy way to get more content into the laptop, and with larger cards available all the time, could have been a handy way of expanding storage when the laptop starts to become more “full”.

Battery Life

It’s my pleasure to announce to you that the 11” Air has excellent battery life, with my tests bringing it in between 5-6 hours regularly depending on brightness of the screen and how processor intensive the tasks I was using it for were. This is truly the first laptop I have ever owned where I can leave the charger at home. I regularly use it for the entirety of my morning commute (over an hour) and then through all my meetings each day (anywhere from 2-3 hours) for taking notes, then all the way home at night (another hour at least depending on how forgiving the train operators are feeling on that day) without getting into the last 10%. On days where I used Photoshop or Illustrator a lot this dipped a little, but was still always at least 4.5 hours. I’m sure I will eventually give in and purchase an extra power adaptor to leave at the office, but for now I am living in a blissful world where my laptop is not only slim and light, but literally comes with no strings attached.

Wrap Up

In summary the Apple MacBook Air 11” is a brilliant combination of speed, portability and utility and would be a great companion for anyone who spends a lot of time away from their desk, commuting or at meetings. Users who don’t get out and about as much might find that they prefer the 13” Air or even the 13” Pro for those who might need more storage or would like the option to add more RAM or a bigger hard drive later on. The Air hits the sweet spot for me in terms of performance and portability and I wouldn’t swap it for any other laptop on the market.

MacBook Air 11” Mid   2011 Review

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