Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nearly two years ago, I got a Macbook Air. It's been nearly two years, and here are my thoughts:

  1. Portability is really nice. Yes, I'm more productive with a big screen and big keyboard and so on, but I really enjoy using the computer everywhere. The Air is lighter than most laptops, and as a result I've found that I use it while sitting on the couch, while laying in bed, while sitting outside, etc. I move it around a lot. Being 2 pounds lighter than the Macbook Pro makes quite a difference.
  2. The battery life is acceptable but not great. It lasts 2–4 hours, even though the battery is nearly two years old. If I'm at my desk I leave it plugged in, and I usually don't plug it in anywhere else. I do run out of battery life at times, and I end up taking it back to my desk. It'd be nice to have more battery life but at the same time I don't want to carry any more weight, and 2–4 hours seems like a reasonable tradeoff. I'm too lazy to carry around a second battery even if the battery were swappable, so being unswappable doesn't really matter to me.
  3. The 64GB SSD is great. It's fast. I don't want to go back to a regular hard drive. However, 64GB is a little small for me. Snow Leopard helped; it freed up quite a lot of space. But I think I need 120GB to fit all my data. I also like that I can move the machine around without worrying about hard drive crashes.
  4. I really don't miss the CD/DVD drive. The only time I've needed one was to upgrade to Snow Leopard.
  5. I occasionally need ethernet. I have to carry around a USB/ethernet adapter, and when I have that plugged in I can't plug in any other USB device.
  6. The built-in sound is pretty bad. There's a speaker underneath the right side of the keyboard, and when you're typing your hand blocks it. When I'm at my desk I use external speakers but I wish the laptop speakers were stereo and better placed. If Airtunes worked for non-iTunes apps without hackery, I'd use that.
  7. Over time the machine got slower, to the point where I couldn't watch Youtube videos anymore. That's pretty bad. But after reading lots of message boards, I learned that the problem isn't the CPU. It's the cooling (heatsink, fan). When the system becomes hot, it slows the CPU down to a crawl.
  8. Along the same lines, I was frustrated that my Flash game experiments were so slow on the Air, but after some careful measurements I determined that it's the overheating, not the CPU, that's to blame.
  9. I finally had the dreaded Macbook Air hinge problem. Apple's finally covering this under warranty, and they agreed to repair my computer. Except that my case has two minor dents in it, and they're unwilling to repair it unless I pay $250-500 to have the dents fixed. Ughhhh. I told them no. I'm not getting AppleCare again.
  10. Also something I learned on message boards, vacuuming the vents helps the cooling. This was a huge improvement; the computer is now fast enough for most things I do. Oddly, after vacuuming, my hinge seems better.
  11. I'm a fan of matte screens but this came with a glossy screen. And it really was nice. I can use it outdoors in sunlight! It turns out the glare on the Air is much lower than on the Macbook Pro.

My original (rev. A) Macbook Air has had its problems but it's been a good machine for my needs. My main complaints are about the overheating, the slow video, the high price, and the small SSD. It looks like rev B. (October 2008) solved these issues. I don't know if the new machines still have the hinge problem. My minor complaints are about battery life, the sound, and ethernet, and none of those have been addressed in the new version. The screen and CPU speed have been much better than I expected.

Compared to a middle-of-the-line Pro, the Air now has the same video card, a larger cache, and an anti-glare screen that I can use outside. I don't need a faster CPU or more RAM. If I were sitting at my desk most of the time, then the Pro's better speakers, more convenient ports, larger screen, and lower cost would be reasons to get that instead. Or just get a desktop machine. But I really enjoy the portability, so if I were looking at a Mac laptop today, I'd get the Air over the Pro.

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Mason wrote at Friday, November 13, 2009 at 3:07:00 AM PST

Macbooks are indeed nice, myself having owned the Pro. My main issue with Apple is their choice to restrict the OS to exclusive (and expensive) hardware. Big Brother should not be telling me which software I can run on which machines. Windows 7 is very nice as a desktop experience, although Linux is still the better platform for Open Source development. I'm hoping Google will save the day with ChomeOS and their new Go programming language!

Amit wrote at Friday, November 13, 2009 at 8:56:00 AM PST

I'm not a big fan of Apple but I do like some of their products. I use Windows 7 on my desktop machine and Linux at work for software development. The Mac laptop is in between: it gives me a nice place for development, and also gives me a good experience for browsing, playing music, playing videos, etc.

paul wrote at Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 3:57:00 PM PST

I am considering an Air since the introduction of the iPad was a dispappointment.... Thanks for sharing your experiences. I indeed typed in google 'experiences macbook air' and found your review. Thanks again. It was helpful!