11 inch Macbook air

Date: 2011-03-13 09:23:37 Created: 2011-03-13 05:16:13

11 inch Macbook air, on top of 12 inch Powerbook and with a first generation Ipad on the side.

Background

John Gruber called the Macbook air the Ipad pro the other day. It struck me that it was pretty much exactly how I was thinking about it too. Everything the Ipad does well I want to keep doing on it, but there is no way I will be able to code on the road using it. This was my simple motivation for getting this eleven inch Macbook air. I considered Apple’s laptop offerings and ended up with the eleven inch air and the fifteen inch pro as the main choices. Then it became clear to me that I would not be retiring my Imac at home regardless of which I chose, and that made the choice a lot easier. With a “base camp” computer doing syncing, backup and library services back home, the extra power and space of the Macbook pro did very little to motivate the increased bulk and weight compared to the air. What sense would it make to go for anything but the most portable option when bringing it along was such a main point?

Also, I had a 12 inch Powerbook as my main computer for quite a few years, so I knew that a computer of this size was something I could live comfortably with.

Decision made and gut feeling all in favour, I ordered the cheapest eleven inch option, with the maximum amount of RAM; then sat down and began refreshing the shipping status page until the day it was delivered.

Setup

As I do not intend to live off of this computer, I intend to keep as small a set of applications and media as I can on it. The big thing I have installed is Xcode with the IOS SDK. Gimp, Xquartz, Textmate and some other small applications have also come along. Chrome, for example, got installed in the course of the first evening - for use when Flash is absolutely needed. Flash is not installed by default on the Macbook airs, which brought me to a halt as I was about to reserve some movie tickets. Flash downloaded, the disk image and I stared coldly at each other for a few moments. Then it went into the trash, letting out a small sigh, and Chrome came down instead.

I have to say, apart from the fact that actual reservation will not work, SF bio’s site is a much calmer and more pleasant experience without Flash. I wish that was not such a common thing.

More notably, I have thrown out Iweb, Imovie and IDVD and I do not plan to really store anything in the way of media onboard. Right now I have almost 36 GB free, so for my intents and purposes it looks like a 64 GB SSD will be roomy enough.

Mobile me put a golden edge on setup. Mail accounts, keychains, bookmarks, contacts. Getting all that over the air without anything else and without anything more than a login required is almost worth the price of admission on its own.

The large kind of small

When I use it, the Macbook air actually feels large. Seated in my lap with me typing away on this text, the screen feels wide, roomy and clear and the keyboard actually feels very spacious. I started wondering how that could be considering this computer is actually an inch smaller than my old twelve inch Powerbook, but then I realised the obvious. This little cheater is widescreen, while the Powerbook was 4:3. So there is quite a bit more width, and the keyboard makes the most of it.

So the keyboard is nice and spacious. It also feels surprisingly different to both my aluminium wired keyboard and my old 12 inch Powerbook’s keyboard. Not worse in any way - which is high praise as the 12 inch’s keyboard is one of my favourites ever - just different. Stiffer, yet with a good amount of travel. It may be some kind of illusion, but it seems to me like the keys are a bit farther apart than I am used to from other keyboards.

I still notice the aluminium edge every now and then pressing the edge keys, as the keys and the edge are exactly level I sometimes touch the aluminium instead of a key and thus find these keys to be somewhat harder to hit than the rest. This will probably cease to bother me pretty soon, I recall noticing the edge of the Powerbook’s keyboard too at first.

Of course, as soon as you handle the air, or just watch it from the side, it starts feeling very slim and small, even next to the Ipad. Soon after I got my Ipad I picked up a nice messenger-style bag for it. The bag is meant for more general netbooks, but the Ipad fits nicely. So does the Macbook air. In fact, they fit in there at the same time, nice and snugly. This, I think, says something about the relative thickness of the Macbook air, the Ipad and the average netbook.

The air is very sturdy, and the combination of sturdiness, form and weight makes it somehow more fun to handle. I can pick it up and hold it by a corner, and it feels safe. It is light and grippable enough that it feels safe to hold in a pinch grip when closed (especially if you grip the thick end - the tapered design helps with this).

It is oh so quiet

It really is. There is no hard drive and no optical drive. Whenever I use the one on my Imac I am surprised by the sheer amount of noise. There are small fans, and I think I might have heard them when I first turned the machine on, but otherwise I am pretty certain they have remained completely off. So, when I use this computer there is no sound of the machine apart from what I create by tapping on it. That silence really is a defining feature for me.

I am not yet used to this, but it is a really nice thing to not be used to. The hum of the Imac has started to feel bothersome all of a sudden.

Power overwhelming … ?

Battery charging seems to be faster these days than I am used to. Perhaps the hardware and software knows the battery better nowadays and can thus charge it quicker. I think it is way too early to say anything more on the topic of batteries or run time. The estimation of remaining time seeems accurate enough, and I have got through whole days of light but frequent usage without getting into the red and without charging. So far, so good sums it up nicely.

The feel of speed

There, I just rebooted.

Took about 50 seconds from clicking “Yes, I am sure I want to reboot” until I was back at a fully functional desktop. The first 20 seconds were shutting down and getting to the startup chime.

Okay, another try, now it only took about 34 seconds and I got to the startup chime in about five. This is all pretty irrelevant though, if my past laptop usage is any indication I will reboot or shut down very rarely. In any case it is way faster to get to a usable desktop than my Imac, on which there is a lot of drive-thrashing involved after the desktop appears but before I can actually get anything done.

I also should not compare is general speed, because the difference between a brand new, cleanly installed system and one which has been through several years and OS upgrades is a huge one indeed. But I can sum up my impression quite easily, and I think that has meaning and value. I have been doing Xcode development, general browsing and emailing as well as quite a bit of writing of various kinds. My summary is this: without exception, everything has launched and ran a lot faster than I expected. Unless something drastic happens, this will be a wonderful main development machine for me.

Another speed-related thought I had was that the air feels fast in an Ipad kind of way.I can not put an exact definition on that, but it feels right. A result of my state of mind working in tandem with size, solid state storage and plentiful resources for the tasks I have thrown at it, I suspect.