MacBook Air Review -- A Multimedia Master In A Tiny Package

MacBook Air review

By now, you've no doubt heard about Apple's new MacBook Air models that were announced during a press event last week. If you stopped by an Apple Store over the weekend, you may have even seen the refreshed 11.6" and 13.3" machines out on display; though if you were checking either of them out from the side, they may have eluded you, since they're only 0.68" thick at their chubbiest points. Nevertheless, they're worth paying attention to, and you may be surprised to know what happens when you partner the 13" Air's ultra-slim body, full-sized screen and a few choice downloads off of Steam for Mac.

I ran some fast games and HD video through the larger new Air's 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, NVIDIA GeForce 320M, 2GB of RAM and 128GB SSD (though it can be upgraded to sport a 2.13GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD); and in the end, while no one's going to buy this aluminum-encased netbook competitor as a primary gaming machine, it will make you think twice about how much you really want that DVD/CD-RW drive in your laptop.

Weight Loss

At 2.9 pounds, the 13" Air will make an impression on you before you even crack it open. The tapered shape starts at 0.68" and only gets thinner. Apple made that possible by keeping the inside parts compact and condensing the hard drive into 128GB of flash memory. Sticking with the Core 2 Duo didn't attempt to grab any new speed records for Apple, but it did allow them to assemble a featherweight computer that barely feels like it's there on your lap.

The Eye Candy Doesn't Stop When The Power Comes On

I would have been perfectly content to see this machine run "Portal" with a minimal amount of clipping, but with a two-button mouse the game played like butter without any noticeable stumbling. It would be a perfectly normal reaction to see one of these Airs for the first time and think of it a concept laptop, meant to be appreciated primarily for its product design and portability, but this little guy handled "Left 4 Dead 2" well enough that it had me double-checking the system info to make sure I had the specs right.

MacBook Air Portal

What It Can Handle

HD video can be a real pleasure to watch on the the 13" Air's 1440 x 900 screen, though some streaming HD video sources (YouTube HD, CBS.com HD) produced less desirable, slightly rougher experiences — and it should come as no surprise that Flash doesn't come pre-installed for Safari. For most media, you'll feel like you're using a thinner MacBook rather than a netbook with a bigger monitor. It's not made for handling lots of memory-heavy video editing, but for playback and casual tinkering, it won't roll over.

What Your $1300 Buys

Two USB ports, an SD card slot and a Mini DisplayPort accompany the baseline 1.86 GHz setup for the 13" Air. There are less expensive netbooks and laptops out there for your money, but the total package and experience it delivers make a compelling case if it's in your budget. It really is a fully functional MacBook, save the missing SuperDrive.

Should It Be Your Next Laptop?

If you've been eying a MacBook, don't need a Pro and your lifestyle revolves around downloadable content, the 13" Air is an option that should handle your basic day-to-day workflow and still let you have some fun with a few Valve games during your leisure hours. It performs like a real, grown-up laptop, and won't weigh your bag down while you're on the run.

What About The 11''?

(By Russ Frushtick)

You may be wondering about the other Macbook Air build, the 11.6 inch option which comes in a bit cheaper, starting at $999. I've been tooling around with one for the last few days and have been equally impressed with its versatility.

Perhaps most incredible that it'll actually run games. Not with quite the amount of speed as the 13-inch, which has more processing power, but 3D games from a couple years ago like "Portal" and "Call of Duty" run passably, as does "Team Fotress 2." I wouldn't recommend a MacBook Air for gaming purposes, but it's cool to know that you have the option.

So what would I recommend the 11'' version for? Put simply, it's one of the best travel laptops you can buy. It's tiny and ridiculously light (only 2.3 pounds), making it ideal not only for a backpack but also for a small to medium-sized messenger bag or purse. Its size makes it fit easily on an airline tray and, now for the best part, the TSA has declared that the 11'' doesn't need to be removed from a bag during x-ray screenings! That's something that doesn't apply for the 13'' model.

Basic travel needs like email and internet browsing are a piece of cake (though, like the 13'', there's just WiFi, so you'll need an adapter if you want to plug in somewhere), and the 11'' handles popular HD movie file formats like a champ.

In a lot of ways, the 11'' Air is like an iPad with a keyboard. The iPad's one issue is that it's tricky to type anything extensive on it, and since the Air has a full-sized keyboard, you're basically golden. Granted, it's more expensive, but with that expense comes a more versatile device that isn't limited to just running what gets approved on the App Store.

Which Is Right For You?

The single determining factor for whether to get the 11'' or the 13'' is size. For what you should be using the Air for (everyday use instead of hardcore video editing), the performance is going to be similar. It's more about whether you don't want the extra bulk in your bag or how much the screen real estate matters to you. Whatever you choose, I doubt you'll be disappointed. The MacBook Air is one of the coolest devices Apple has ever made.

Do you agree with this assessment of the new MacBook Airs? What are your major points of curiosity with it? Share your responses with us in the comment section below.