It's thin. It's fast. It's lovely. But is it really better than spending less money on a more powerful MacBook Pro or a PC?
Ever since a certain Apple CEO pulled a silver blade called the MacBook Air from a manila envelope, we've been gagging to get it into our test room. This was initially, we confess, purely down to gadget lust.
But once we'd digested its specs list, a more pressing question arose: is this dangerously alluring (and dangerously expensive) slab of tech really sexy enough to convince us to live with only one USB port and no optical drive at all? It's time to find out.
Out of the envelope the Air really is thinner than a Sony Vaio laptop, just as Steve Jobs promised. But it's also wider than a Vaio, and deeper, and it's hardly the mega-lightweight A4 piece of paper you might have expected. But it's definitely as pretty as you've been imagining.
The Air's keyboard is indeed full-size and gloriously backlit, while the 13.3in, 1280x800 LED-lit screen is dazzling and rock-solid. And the Air isn't made out of silver plastic pretending to be metal. It's metal. Examine our sample and you'll see teeth marks where we tested it. You could sit on it in the park to stop your trousers getting wet. It's practically bulletproof.
Fire it up though and yep, it's a Mac alright. Starting OS X Leopard is quick– about 30 seconds from 0-to-internet on our solid-state drive model. That's longer than some Vista machines take to come out of sleep mode.
Getting around with the massive touchpad and two- or three-finger gesture system feels just right. Perfect, even. The Air's like the iPhone – simply holding and using it is half the fun.
Review continues after the break...
Now for those holes in the spec sheet. The lack of an optical drive's no big deal. Data's downloaded, films are bought or, er, acquired online, files are shuffled around on USB memory keys. Plus Apple's new Remote Disc network drive-sharing feature works perfectly. Our old XP-powered Dell took the OS X disc, installed the sharing tool and up popped the drive on the Air's desktop. Nice.
If you simply have to have a drive, Apple's optional SuperDrive works fine, but it's yet more money – and most rival ultraportables (Toshiba's R500 and Samsung's R45, for example) come with DVD burners as standard. Plus plugging a SuperDrive into your Air immediately uses 100% of its USB sockets.
The Air's single USB port is a disaster. The fashionable Mac crowd will want to plug in a mouse for designing flyers for club nights – so what happens when you want to stick in a memory key or MP3 player?
Sure, you can carry a USB hub if you need more, but hefting around a Tesco bag full of bits to make the Air do what a Vaio does as standard kind of defeats the idea of buying a sleek laptop in the first place.
At least battery life is good, easily hitting Apple's five-hour boast, so you won't mind the Air's lack of a power-saving Ethernet connection for when there's a network cable nearby.
But joyous to use and sensationally engineered as it is, you're paying a vast amount for something that might be bit thinner than a Vaio only because so many usually standard features are missing.
Should you buy it? If money is no option, the Air's the very finest and most beautiful coffee-table laptop around. But advanced Mac users will find its lack of outputs frustrating.
Apple MacBook Air 2008 review
Beautiful, built to last and blisteringly fast, but too expensive considering the lack of connections and its rivals' ever-growing features lists