MacBook Air 11": Initial Thoughts

OK, I admit it; I’ve been coveting a MacBook Air ever since it was released back in 2008. The concept of a sub-3 pound laptop that was just an inch thick was appealing. Now, I should give you a little history. The first time I ever used a laptop was on a business trip in 1992. The company where I was IT manager (among other things) had just bought a whole slew of new Macs and our VAR (remember VARs?) threw me a PowerBook 140 to play with for a few weeks. I think they were hoping we would buy a few, which we did eventually. 

The PowerBook 140 weighed almost 7 pounds, had a 16 MHz (that’s right, MHz) 68030 processor, 8 Megs of RAM and a 640x400 greyscale screen. I bought my first laptop in March of 2001. It was a PowerBook G3 (AKA Pismo). The G4’s had just come out and the G3 was a steal at $1450. Again, it weighed just over 6 pounds, had a 400 MHz G3 processor and a 14” screen. 

I’ve carried a variety of MacBooks and MacBook Pros since then, and while they’ve always been faster than the ones before, they’ve not been much lighter. My work-issue laptop is a 2009 MacBook Pro, 2.8 GHz with a 15” screen. It’s a great machine and continues to serve me well. But after schlepping around my 6-pound MBP in my giant Swiss backpack (filled with all kinds of other gear I might need someday), I decided to slim down. 

Now that the Airs are fitted with Core i5 or i7 processors and SSDs, they’re performance machines. I have a good friend who works for Apple and has been carrying Airs since they came out. I spent about an hour with him talking about the pros and cons, and the workflow of having a small, light go-anywhere laptop for the road and a 15” at home. 

Now that I’ve had the Air for a few days, I can say my friend was right. It is amazing! I’ve used a lot of Macs over the years, including some big-honking Mac Pros. And the Air is the first machine that works as fast as I do. Apps launch so fast, I don’t even bother to keep them all running all the time (which saves battery life), and I love the fact that I can close the screen and stuff it into my bag right now without worrying about the hard drive. 

In fact, I bought a small little messenger bag from STM (my daughter calls it a “man purse…”) and even when filled with the Air and iPad (which can be used as a second display using Air Display), it weighs less than my backpack without a computer. 

The Air does have some limitations, chief among them storage. You can get it with a 480 SSD, but it’s pretty spendy. I opted for the 128, and after looking through my documents folder, determined I have been carrying around a lot of files unnecessarily. I started looking at modification dates and put the files I use on the Air, and the rest on a portable USB drive. The drive stays on the desk, but can travel with me if needed. To keep things in sync between my 15” “office” machine and the Air, I’m using DropBox. 

Initially I was concerned about the screen size—I am getting old after all. I compared the 11” and 13” at the Apple store and discovered that the 11” has such high resolution that it’s easy to see even though it’s a bit small. I plan on doing mainly writing, email and web browsing in the field and it’s easy to blow the fonts up as needed. The 13” seemed almost as big as the 15” so I went small. I have a 23” 1080P display in the studio that the Air hooks up to for doing anything that requires more screen real estate, and the graphics card has no trouble driving it. 

Thought it’s been only a week, I think I’m going to have a hard time ever going back to a conventional laptop. This little Air is so convenient, light and fast that it’s changing the way I work. I’ll have more reports on the workflow I figure out as I do so. But my friend Scott was right; it’s amazing. 

What’s your laptop story?

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