Review round-up: MacBook Air (mid 2011) models


The 11 and 13 inch MacBook Air were released last week to much fanfare, and had us Apple addicts trampling over our Grandmas graves in an attempt to get all the gossip on whether we should be upgrading and/or switching from the Pro. Reviews of the new release are spread across the internet like an oddly pleasant rash, and rather than making you wade through them all, we’ve collected the best bits from the best ones here:

Regarding the Air’s specifications…

Cnet says:

“The cheapest model offers 64GB of flash storage, a dual-core 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 2GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics card. If you’re willing to stump up £1,020, you can get a version with 128GB of flash storage.”

The 13 inch version, reviewed on the same website is a slight step up in terms of performance with:

“1.7GHz Intel Core i5 chip and 256GB of flash storage… You can add a 1.8GHz Core i7 chip for an extra £100. You can also get the 13-inch model with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 chip and 128GB of flash storage for £1,100.”

Regarding Thunderbolt…

Much has been made of the new Intel Thunderbolt port added to these updates, a major factor in increased performance , with T3 saying that it can

“Carry video as well as being a super-fast data channel. Capable of handling up to 10Gbps in both directions, it’s around 12 times as fast as a FireWire 800 port and over 20 times quicker than USB 2.0. Mini DisplayPort screens can be plugged straight into a Thunderbolt port, and using adapters, you can also connect DVI, VGA and HDMI screens.”

The speed of the Thunderbolt port is clearly a huge bonus for the 11 inch version with its low levels of storage, enabling swiftly transfer of data to external hard drives as and when (almost certainly) necessary.

On the display…

The 11 inch version has a 1366x 768 pixel resolution. Of this model, The Telegraph says:

“The screen is great: high quality, bright and sharp. It’s better than anything you’d find on a netbook and easily bears comparison with Apple’s larger laptops.”  They also go on to say how well the 11inch syncs up with Lion, the latest version of OS X, with “the new Air really highlights some of Lion’s features. Full-screen apps, for example, were surely designed with the 11” Air in mind.”

Of the 13 inch screen Cnet was overwhelmingly positive:

“The 13-inch screen is as gorgeous as the rest of the Air. It has an impressive 1,440×900-pixel native resolution and is almost as bright as the sun. Reading small text on Web pages is perfectly pleasant and sitting back in a comfortable armchair to watch high-definition video is a total joy.” It also lauds the return of the backlit keyboard, as do other reviews, and its “ambient light sensor [that] detects visibility is poor, and lights up the keyboard for easy typing.”

On the performance…

Pocket-Lint, reviewing a 13 inch 1.8 GHz model says:

“Unless you’ve bought a brand new MacBook Pro in the last couple of months, chances are this will be faster than older models and that’s an impressive feat given the MacBook Air 2010 model which many felt made you give up performance for that thin design.”

Cnet, looking at the 11 inch wasn’t quite so effusive in its praise:

“When we ran the Xbench benchmark test, the Air scored 123.50, which is pretty average… [and] despite having a dedicated GPU, the Air’s graphics performance isn’t up to much… Don’t expect this machine to handle games well.”  It did, however, add this caveat: of “On paper, then, the Air’s performance isn’t great. Anecdotally, however, we never found the Air to be sluggish. Swooping around OS X and opening software all proved reasonably swift and, most importantly, high-definition video played really smoothly, with only very occasional stutter.”

In conclusion…

As with any Apple, gadget or sexual persuasion, whether or not you’re going to get on with an Air comes down to a matter of preference.  Their weight is a winner (1.06kg for 11inch, 1.35kg for 13),  the thinness (0.68 inches) mind-boggling to those of us that can remember our Dad’s Acer 10 years ago and reception across all reviews was positive (at least 4/5 for each model).

It seems that if you want to be using a lot of Final Cut and similarly demanding programs you might still want to stick with the Pro but, according to pocket-lint, “rather than the Pro being the only option for those that want speed, the MacBook Air is now a laptop that gives you speed, style, and slinkiness in one package. The days of having to be penalised for wanting something ultra portable are over.”   Similarly, T3 vaunted its ability to not just be a supplementary machine, adding “over the years it has grown in power until today, it’s more than powerful enough to use as your main machine. It’s not cheap, but Apple computers never are, and given the quality it’s far from overpriced.”