The new MacBook Air is no longer ethereal vapourware: it's here, on my desk, looking svelte and alluring. But does it have what it takes to be Apple's Next Big Thing? Is there enough space between the budget(ish) Macbook line and the high-end Macbook Pro to justify the Air's existence?
It's beautiful, without a doubt. It's less than 2cm thick but seems thinner thanks to its iPod Nano-style tapered edges. At 1.36Kg it's light compared to the 2.27kg Macbook.
And it's powerful - the miniaturised 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo processor speeds through tasks without delay, backed by 2GB of RAM.
But it's not without compromise. I'll happily forgive the lack of an optical drive, as Apple's Remote Disk software lets you use the drive of any Mac or PC on the same network. Sure, you can't watch DVDs or burn disks - but with iTunes Movie rentals months away, and cheap USB thumb drives flooding the market, that's a compromise I'm willing to make.
Similarly, the built in battery and RAM don't bother me too much either - the 5 hour battery life mean you wouldn't need to carry a second battery with you, even if you could use it. And yes, I've tested the battery life - although my results could be skewed the fact that my review machine is the expensive (two grand!) one with a solid state drive. No moving parts, after all, should mean better power consumption.
But I'm gutted that there's no FireWire port on the Macbook Air. This surely marks the end of the line for FireWire, and the MiniDV camcorders that use it.
What's more, the Macbook Air's lack of audio input means we're back to the bad old days of USB audio inputs. And that's assuming the Air's single USB port is available. (Yes, I'm aware of the existence of USB hubs, but I don't want to spoil the lines of this glorious machine with plug-ins and dongles).
And yet it's pretty much impossible to hold a grudge against the Macbook Air. It's such a joy to behold, and offers hidden delights like a light-sensing backlit keyboard and Multitouch controls for zooming, rotating and moving forwards and back on web pages (you can see these in action in my video review).
Yes, the impulse buyer in me desperately wants a Macbook Air - no surprises there. But the realist says:
- I'd rather have a solid state version because I worry about the durability of the 1.8in hard drive in the cheaper version (ever known an iPod live longer than 2 years?).
- I'm struggling to justify a £1200 purchase when I could get a similarly specced MacBook for £800. There's simply no way I could justify £2000 for the solid state version - and solid state prices are bound to tumble.
- I wonder if they'll bring out one with two USB ports later in the year?
- Is the Macbook Air going to be another G4 cube - small and sexy but too expensive when compared with other Apple products?
So, I guess it's a cautious thumbs up with a big 'wait and see' caveat. But if there's one thing I hate doing, it's waiting...
This Macbook Air is shipping out for a full review, so check back for an in-depth verdict next week. In the meantime: