When Apple unveiled the original MacBook Air two-and-a-half years ago, it was the thinnest notebook in the world. But it was expensive, low powered and crippled by its single USB port and lack of Ethernet.
Now, as well as revamping the original 13in Air, Apple has introduced a smaller, more affordable version that still performs like a proper laptop rather than a low-powered netbook.
The 11in Air’s new wedge-shaped profile makes it feel more robust and provides space for two USBs and a Mini Displayport, but neither new model has Ethernet, while the SD card reader is reserved for the 13in Air.
The bright 11.6in, 16:9 widescreen display packs in an impressive 1366x768 pixels. Only Sony's similarly lightweight Vaio X Series (from £1100) can match the Air's combination of portability and hi-res gorgeousness. But while Sony's ultraportable keyboard feels cramped, only the Air's function keys have suffered during the process of miniaturisation. The rest of the keyboard and trackpad is full size.
The 1.4Ghz Core 2 Duo processor is sturdier than the Atom found in most netbooks, but its clock speed is actually lower than the original MacBook Air. Graphics have been improved, but the Nvidia GeForce 320M still lacks dedicated memory. And as there's no option to upgrade the RAM, it’s worth spending the extra £80 on the 4GB RAM option.
The MacBook Air struggles with cutting-edge games but when it comes to running the preinstalled iLife apps, it copes admirably. There’s no problem with playing and editing HD video and it even zips along with Adobe's Creative Suite 5 – as long as you don’t try to have too many documents open at once.
Some sacrifices have been made to achieve such a slight form. First, there's no optical drive. The imminent arrival of the Mac App Store means this is no biggie – and the Air can share another computer's CD drive wirelessly if need be.
Second, there's no hard drive. Instead, you have the choice of 64GB or 128GB of solid-state storage. No moving parts make the Air quieter, more robust and less power hungry, but 64GB will quickly be eaten by system software (around 15GB) and applications, leaving you less storage for music and movies than you'll get on a top-end iPod.
Instant on – except when it’s off
Mobile computing is about convenience as well as size, which is why Apple has tried to replicate the iPad’s ‘instant on’ experience. As a result, the Air’s boot up time is significantly reduced – but 15 seconds still doesn’t qualify as instant.
However, the Air’s quoted 30-day standby battery means you can leave the Air in sleep mode instead of shutting down. Open the display and it’s ready to rock.
In use, the battery life is less remarkable. It’ll manage five hours of web browsing and light document editing, but try anything taxing, such as video editing, and the battery life takes a significant hit.
Portability always comes at a price. But with the new 11in MacBook Air, Apple has managed to increase the portability and reduce the price – while creating a thing of exceptional beauty.