Review: Apple MacBook Air 11.6" (2010)

Our score: 4/5
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November 12, 2010 10:53 AM
 
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Published: November 11, 2010 11:00 PM
By Alexandre Botella
Translated by: Jack Sims
A year on from the previous generation, Apple has renewed its MacBook Air range. The sales arguments advanced by Apple for this 11.6-inch send you straight into dreamland: a fusion between the sort of mobility you get with the Ipad and the performance of the Macbook Pro. Let's see what it gives in practice.

Update: Note that it looks as if some models have a bug affecting the screen when coming out of standby. Lines of colours appear right across the screen or there may be flashing colours. Apple is working on an update to correct this. Although not all machines are affected (such as the one we tested), the problem is sufficiently widespread for Apple to be looking into it.

Hardware, design and build: well finished but with limited connectivity

In general Macbooks are reputed for their impeccable finish. The Macbook Air 11.6-inch is no exception to the rule. Its brushed aluminium shell is not subject to scratches. After carrying it round in a rucksack for three days, a quick once over with a rag was all that was needed. A very nice object to have around!


Asus Eee PC 1015PE

The keyboard with separated keys (15 x 15 mm) is very nice to use. Supple and relatively quiet, it offers good ease of use for word processing. Some might have preferred a slightly different arrangement of the 'fn' key, placing it to rhe right of 'Ctrl' rather than to the left, but this is a small detail.

The touchpad (multi-touch) is made of the same material as the rest of the shell. It takes up a third of the length (10.3 cm x 6.3 cm). The glide is supple and precise. In contrast to the old version of the MacBook Air, the touchpad of the 11.6-inch is clickable. And therefore has no buttons. For those who've never used a Mac touchpad, you put one finger on the touchpad and click with another for the left click. For more information on usage, you can consult the explanatory video on the Apple site.

Asus Eee PC 1015PE webcamThe webcam is obviously not the best ever seen on a laptop. The image is slightly blurry and very rapidly loses detail when in low lighting.

Connectivity isn't very extensive: 2 USB ports, a headphones socket and a mini Display Port out to link up a monitor. And what about the Ethernet RJ45? No longer there. You now have to use a Wi-fi network to connect up... or spend out on a USB/RJ45 adaptor. Apart from the fact that you're being asked to buy something that even the lowest end netbook has, the adaptor will of course also take up one of your two USB ports.
 
In terms of noise, the machine is inaudible if you don't glue your ear to the side of it. Better still, it remains so even when you push it to take on more demanding tasks.

    MacBook Air 11.6-inch temperature readings when you push the components hard
    Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
 
Asus Eee PC 1015PE Asus Eee PC 1015PE
Webcam

Underneath (no component is accessible)
Asus Eee PC 1015PE macbook air 11,6 pouces 2010
Power in, USB port, headphones, mic

Mini Display Port out, USB port


Processing: mainly office docs and Internet

When you take a look at the spec of this ultra-portable, the processor looks to be the weak link. In practice, performance is very close to what you get on the Dell Inspiron 11z. The Macbook Air has an Intel Core 2 Duo 1.4 GHz and can therefore handle multitasking and is well-adapted to office-doc use. Photo retouching and video editing and encoding are also well within range but it takes its time to complete tasks.

The OS starts up in 19 seconds and it takes under 10 seconds to turn off.

High definition video playback, whether 1080p or 720p, poses no problem. Its Nvidia GT 320M is perfectly able to cope with this sort of task.

Note that there's an SSD, which reduces installation time for software, copying times from an external hard drive and overall responsiveness.

Gaming: very limited

The MacBook Air 11.6-inch hasn't been designed for gaming. However, as long as you're reasonable with your graphics settings, the NVIDIA GeForce 320M GPU does honorably well on a few undemanding titles. More recent games work with graphics settings at a minimum, and most often at low resolution.

Audio: headphones de rigueur

The new Air brings... stereo. What joy! Long live new technology! Nevertheless, you have to admit that the placement of the speakers under the keyboard with no dedicated opening does result in pretty good audio as long as you don't push the volume too high. Many other netbooks would do well to follow the example of this model. The headphones out is still as clean as ever.

Mobility, battery life: good enough

Apple claims 5 hours. Our test - video playback, headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m² and Wi-Fi disactivated - gave 4h17. This is reasonable but nothing exceptional. If it's battery life you're after, you're better off going for the MSI Wind U115 which gives over 7 hours. This Apple is however very slim. It slides into a bag and weighs just 1.06 Kg.
4/5 Apple MacBook Air 11.6" (2010) DigitalVersus 2010-11-12 00:00:00

Pros

  • Very slim and light
  • Large multitouch touchpad
  • Shell nicely finished
  • HD-Ready screen (1366 x 768)

Cons

  • Glossy panel
  • Very reduced interface connectivity

Conclusion

The Macbook Air is an ultra-portable with a good power/size ratio. Note however that if size is not a decisive factor in your choice, the MacBook Pro offers better battery life and much better performance.

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