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 connectivityIn 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!
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.
The 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
||Underneath (no component is accessible)
|Power in, USB port, headphones, mic
||Mini Display Port out, USB port
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.
Processing: mainly office docs and Internet
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.