MacBook Air, A Viable Option for the Road Warrior?

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Since Steve Jobs revealed Apple’s latest offering, “the world’s thinnest notebook”, the media has been a buzz with reviews and comments on this new addition to the MacBook product line.

For hardcore Macheads who live, breathe Macs and refer to the WinTel world as the “dark side”, this member has been a long time coming. Although, we haven’t carried out an extensive survey, when it comes to the response to the MacBook Air we believe that the camp is divided.

From the get-go, the MacBook Air impresses us all with its miniscule footprint but once we get over all the oooh and ahhs of it being so tiny, realworld application and benchmarks come into play. Its not that we’re responding negatively to the new boy on the block but everyone’s writing rave reviews on what’s so wonderful about it, instead we decided to highlight the notso desirable aspects of the new MacBook Air. If nothing else, just to bring some objectivity when it comes to making purchasing decisions. So, here’s our two cents on the subject…

Yes, its thin. Yes its light and “wow!” it even comes with a webcam and sexy backlit keyboard. We know there are some of us who will decide to purchase a MacBook Air or any other Mac just knowing that it comes with the sexy backlit keyboard but lets take our head out of the clouds for minute and mull over this.

One of the most controversial bets that Apple Inc has taken with the MacBook Air is the elimination of the optical drive from the unit itself. Apple Inc made this brazen move years back with the decision to stop shipping Macs with floppy disk drives, because, at the time, the floppy disk was seen as an archaic technology which was on its way out. Is Apple Inc right again this time? That in the next few years we’ll be seeing less of the ever popular optical media we’ve grown so accustomed to?

For the time being, its almost certain that the MacBook Air Superdrive will be part of any MacBook Air purchase, which at time of writing retails for USD$99.00. Just read on, you will understand what we’re on about in a minute.

Not that we’re taking the mickey out of the MacBook Air – it is an engineering wonder but here are the minuses that come mind:

  • It only has 1 USB 2.0 port
  • There’s no audio-in jack
  • Firewire is missing completely
  • There’s no Ethernet jack
  • The battery is internal (for those of us who carry spare batteries its going to be a hassle to swap out the battery now)
  • It uses a 1.8″ hard drive which is currently dominated by Toshiba and Hitachi and tops out at slightly over 100GB
  • The Remote Disk feature that allows the MacBook Air to borrow another computer’s optical drive can ONLY read optical media – it cannot play DVD media, play music CDs or burn CD/DVD
  • MacBook Air’s MagSafe charger works in the MacBook/MacBook Pro and vice-versa but the regular MagSafe won’t stay attached to the Air when it is sitting flat on a desk
  • The Novatel U727 (3G USB modem) won’t fit in the MacBook Air without a USB extender
  • The MacBook Air Superdrive only works with the MacBook Air because Apple Inc has made the USB port on the Macbook Air way over spec to be able to supply sufficient power to the Superdrive and finally;
  • Its the slowest Mac in the stable; according to benchmarks, its only almost on par with the current generation MacBooks

So, what’s the impact of these notso openly discussed ‘comprises” that Apple Inc itself has made to produce the world’s thinnest notebook?

  • You can only hook up a single USB device to the unit at a time, unless you lug a USB hub with you everywhere you go
  • Forget about using Garageband extensively without a USB-enabled audio-in interface
  • Throw out the Firewire only hard drive casings; its time to upgrade to USB only or mixed Firewire and USB casings: also no Firewire signals the end to directly importing your home-made videos into iMovie via Firewire
  • The MacBook Air, like its namesake lives for a totally wireless environment. Barring that, you’ll need to purchase the Apple USB Ethernet adapter which at time of writing, retails at USD$29.00
  • Save some money; there’s no need to purchase that spare battery, just make sure you’re always near an AC socket or buy an additional Apple Magsafe Airline Adapter which at time of writing retails for USD$49.00
  • Bear with the limited hard drive space until the industry makes larger capacity 1.8″ hard drives
  • Buy that MacBook Air Superdrive, if you’re ever going to use optical media – how often will you be around another computer to host your optical media?
  • Forget about doing anything hardcore on your MacBook Air, the performance benchmarks seem to indicate light to medium work only. Based on the existing MacBook’s performance, we’re expecting the MacBook Air to be slightly disappointing – definitely not a notebook for the heavy user; stick to the MacBook Pro range if you’re always hungry for more processing power

 

In summary, if its a tiny notebook that you want, then the MacBook Air is probably your cup of tea but that comes with the caveat that you’re the sort of road warrior that doesn’t actually need the performance or accessibility to optical media whilst you’re on the move. If you are that kind of road warrior, then unfortunately, it looks like the MacBook Air is far off the mark and its probably more advisable to work out in the gym more and get a MacBook Pro.

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Another viable alternative is to hunt down a 12″ 1.5GHz PowerBook G4 that’s in good nick. For the price you’re paying for the MacBook Air, the 12″ 1.5GHz PowerBook G4 is probably not too far off in terms of performance and comes with all the jack/ports that you’ll ever need, plus a built-in optical drive too. All that, and a great savings that might be enough to go toward your next iPod or iPhone purchase?

As much as we hate to say it, there’s no running away, “size matters”.

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