In my last couple of posts, I kind of hinted that I got a new device and did not want to spoil the fun until I had a chance to get settled with the new device. Well, as you can see in the title of this post, the new device in fact an Apple MacBook Air 13″.
Now, some of you might be ready to pelt me with rotten tomatoes or are wondering why in the world would I buy a new Apple product after lambasting Apple on their treatment of iPhone users. Well, my reasons and rationalizations may not be enough to cover all of the concerns and questions.
For the past year, I have been wanting to pick up a netbook, so that I could have a lighter-weight alternative to my 6-odd pound Lenovo ThinkPad W510 mobile workstation. The idea is that I could carry a netbook around with me so that I can download photos that I’ve taken with my Nikon D300, then preview them and delete the ones that I didn’t want.
I looked the various 11″ netbooks from Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Dell and HP, both products targeted at consumers and business users. I even considered a couple of netbooks in tablet/slate form, but none of them really had the same robust feel on a proper Lenovo ThinkPad T or X series or HP EliteBook series of laptops. The screens were pretty cruddy for inspecting photos, the mostly plastic shells and not-so-impressive screen hinges, the 2GB memory limit (some business-class netbooks could take 4GB, but would also come with Windows 7 Professional), meh-tastic stock SSD, and other niggles all did not exude confidence as something I would spend my money on.
Ever since the current generation of MacBook Air laptops came out, I have been interested in what it could potentially offer. I really liked the 13″ screen (the lower resolution of the 11″ model was befitting for a premium netbook, but was not good enough), lightweight yet sturdy industrial design, and actually has a good, non-clicky keyboard. The two things that had kept me from seriously considering the MacBook Air was the cost and it is an Apple product.
So back I went to look at what Dell, Lenovo or HP could offer with their ultra-portable laptops and even considered a convertible table from Lenovo or Dell. The problem that I ran into was the base cost of the ultra-portable laptop or tablet, without 4GB of RAM or an SSD. Considering that whatever I wanted to buy would have to be able to take a little bit abuse now and then, the chassis had to be made from metal and/or alloy and had a decent SSD. Even with a Dell Premier discount from work, an E4310 with the base Core i5-560M, 4GB of RAM, 128GB mobility SSD, 3-year warranty and Intel 802.11n wireless, the cost would still be a bit more than the MacBook Air 13″ that I wanted (more on that in a bit). Also, the E4310 would end up about 1 pound heavier than the MacBook Air 13″, including the AC adapter. I’m also still not sold with the overall build quality or the performance of the Dell SSD. Of course, I could order it with a based hard drive and buy and slap in a mid-range OCZ Vertex 2 SSD and would end up costing about the same (+/- $50).
Two Sundays ago, I stopped by a local Apple Store, again, to take a look at and play with a MacBook Air 13″. I was sold on the form factor, the unibody aluminum case, the (glossy) screen and the overall performance. I was still skittish about the price, but remembered that I had an Apple iPhone gift card that could be used on an iPhone or any other product at an Apple Store or Apple’s online store. That helped lessen the hit to the wallet.
By the time I went home, I decided to go with the MacBook Air 13″ base model (which has a Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz/6MB cache, 2GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD), but wanted to upgrade the RAM to 4GB and add a USB Ethernet adapter, iWork suite and requisite AppleCare. The total ended up just under $1800 with 2-3 day shipping and before applying the gift card.
The laptop arrived Friday morning, at which I immediately and carefully opened the box, plugged it in to charge up the battery and plugged in the USB Ethernet adapter and into the guest network at work. I powered it on and the Apple startup sound boomed a bit too loud (I feel dirty each time I hear it), then proceeded to walk me through the initial setup. Once that was all done with, I opted to start pulling down the latest updates, which totaled to around 230MB and took about 45 minutes to download and install. I rebooted it and was back at the desktop in under a minute. That’s faster than the time it takes for my ThinkPad to accept my fingerprint, power up and get to the Windows is starting animation. Granted, my ThinkPad has to spin up a hard drive and do a quick scan of the four 4GB memory modules :D
I have been using the MacBook Air 13″ as my primary laptop over the past couple of days, making sure that I downloaded and installed Firefox 4 RC, Google Chrome, Sequel Pro, Cyberduck and went through all of the System Preferences to get everything set up the way that I wanted. I also caved in and configured the default Mail client to access my personal and GMail mailboxes, as well as using iChat as the IM client of choice. I had to install and trust the self-signed CA certificate that I use on my personal servers so that the various browsers and applications would be happy. I have run into a couple of glitches with the iChat application and the Google Talk tunnel I have set up on my personal Jabber server. I also set up the Address Book and iCal applications to sync up with my calendar and contacts hosted by Google.
The low weight and thin form factor almost makes my geeky want of any tablet disappear. Sure, it is larger and weighs more than a Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab or the Apple iPad/iPad 2 and takes a bit longer to “boot up”, but it is so much more usable for personal and work purposes.
It has been several years since I used Mac OS X on a regular basis, so I had to re-learn the OS X nuances and differences compared to Windows 7 and the GNOME desktop that comes with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. I also have not had a chance to install Nikon Transfer and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, but that’ll have to wait for another day or two.
I have yet to use the new Apple App Store for OS X, as I have found all of the applications that I care for off of the project’s websites. The only application equivalent that I haven’t really found yet is something akin to Foobar 2000 on Windows. I tried Clementine, but it kept on throwing errors when trying to play FLAC files off of my file server or ones that I’ve copied to the local disk. I would prefer not have to deal with iTunes or QuickTime, so I may have to switch over to VLC as my music player.
I am also still getting used to the multi-touch gestures and the two-finger “right-click”. The trackpad itself is quite nice and is a step up from either of my ThinkPad laptops (sorry IBM/Lenovo). It almost negates the need for a trackball for most tasks, but may not be ideal for working with digital photography workflow applications.
All in all, I am impressed with the MacBook Air 13″ and I feel that it is almost worth the cost. The only cost that I really have to complain about is the AppleCare for the laptop. $249 isn’t a bad price, but I’m kind of spoiled on the Dell or HP business support contracts and the fact that AppleCare does not really provide an on-site option.
Is it a perfect device for my needs? I can’t really say right now, but ask me again in about six months. Am I feeling buyer’s remorse yet? No, not yet. Can I recommend it to everyone? Not really, as it is not the best bang for the buck for a device that is only used for e-mail, web browsing and watching the occasional movie or TV show. If you want something that feels like a professional-class laptop and weighs just about 3 pounds, the MacBook Air in either form should at last be considered.
…and yes, I am still looking forward to replace my iPhone 3G with an HTC Evo Shift 4G.