posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 29th Feb 2008 15:41 UTC

"The ports, setup, & performance; Conclusion"
The ports (or lack thereof)

Three ports: mini-DVI, USB 2.0, audio-out. No, FireWire, no ethernet, no second USB port. Apple has concluded that the world is going WiFi anyway, so let's discard of all those ugly holes in the side of your laptop. The three ports are located in a collapsable 'slot bay', which has its ports all cozily snuggled next to each other, which means you need really small plugs in order to actually use the ports.

The MacBook Air also lacks an internal optical drive. While this surely helps in keeping the Air light, thin, and beautiful, it also severely limits the device. This means you are always dependent on other computers or peripheral devices if you want something off a CD or DVD.

Apple has two ways to get around this problem: the first solution is optical drive sharing. Any Windows box or Mac can share its optical drive with the MacBook Air, which then becomes accessible on the Air itself, provided they are on the same network (of course). There are limitations; you cannot watch DVDs or listen to CDs, and you cannot rip them either. This feature also allows you to remotely install Mac OS X on the Air.

The second solution Apple came up with is a really, really slick external Superdrive, which comes in at USD 99/EUR 89. The device uses the USB 2.0 plug, and works just fine, and looks really good while doing it. Sadly, the drive only works with the Air, so forget using it on your other Macs (I would have bought this drive immediately to 'upgrade' my PowerBook from its combodrive to a superdrive if it were not for that fact). The drive works with just about any format, including dual-layer discs.

The lack of an ethernet port also raised some eyebrows. This issue can be solved by the optional USB-to-ethernet adaptor (USD 29/EUR 29), but that means yet another device to carry along - which kind of defeats the purpose of the ultra-portable.

In conclusion, I am guessing whoever thought of the brilliant idea to leave out all the ports and the optical drive never really left the Apple campus or the local Starbucks, since out in the real world, freely accessible WiFi is uncommon. Sure, my university has WiFi, but that is only for students and employees. Cafeteria with WiFi are still a rarity in The Netherlands (even in Amsterdam), and WiFi hotspots out in the wild? You have more chance of spotting a dodo in Antarctica than finding one of those around here. And this is The Netherlands we are talking about - a country with very high internet and broadband penetration, and one of the richest countries in the world with a very high population density. What about the rest of the world? Anything else but the western world? Rural Germany, France, or United States?

While I would love to see a world where wireless internet is ubiquitous, we still have a very, very, very long way to go before we ever reach that utopia. In other words, the MacBook Air caters to a world that does not exist yet; a world that the Air will most likely not even see in its lifetime. For a device that is meant to be taken on the road, it simply lacks the connectivity options to deal with actually being on the road.

The setup

Settig up the Air is a breeze, just like any other Macintosh, thanks to the excellent migration assistant that ships with Mac OS X. Just boot up your 'old' and new Mac, load up the migration assistant, connect them via a FireWire cable, and off you go... Wait, the Air lacks a FireWire port, right? How would this work?

Enter, unsurprisingly, WiFi. Yes, you can now use the migration assistant over WiFi, and contrary to the experiences of other reviewers out there, it worked just mighty fine for me. The Air had some trouble finding my PowerBook, but once they found each other, it just took a lot of waiting to transfer the 8GB of data that I needed transferred (just 8GB? I am such a lousy geek). I in fact do not know how long it actually took, seeing I needed to leave for work about 3 hours into the process. When I got home three hours later, it was all done, and my Air looked exactly like my PowerBook.

The performance

In all honesty, I do not think I am the right person to be telling you about performance, since I do not place my computers under a lot of stress. I do not play games, do not do any heavy compiling, and I do not edit video like Eugenia does all the time. I do use Photoshop, but since even my 1.25Ghz PowerBook G4 with 2GB of RAM serves me just fine on the Photoshop front, you can see how I would not be hindered in any way by the Air's supposed lack of power compared to the ordinary MacBook.

The Air performs just fine in my book, and I feel little in the way of slowdown for my usage patterns (email, IM, browsing, university work) compared to the ordinary MacBook I tested in November last year.

The conclusion

The MacBook Air is an excellent piece of engineering by Intel and Apple, and both companies deserve praise for making such a slim, beautiful, and sexy laptop. If it are looks you are looking for, look no further than the MacBook Air - I find it the best-looking notebook money can buy.

It does have a serious set of limitations, but those limitations are based largely on personal usage patterns and expectations of what a laptop of the Air type needs to be able to do. My personal opinion is that since the Air is supposed to be used 'on the go', it better be equipped for being 'on the go' too, and in that area, the Air simply does not deliver. It works fine for an urban, western lifestyle (did I actually use those three words in a single sentence? May god striketh me down), going from work/university to Starbucks, back to home. But leave that comforting triangle, and the MacBook Air kind of starts acting like a fish that cannot swim. However, that opinion is based on my personal expectations of an ultra-portable notebook; seeing there is no set definition of this niche of the market, it is hard to generalise that opinion to the rest of you.

Then there is the issue of money. The MBA costs USD 1799/EUR 1699, which is a lot of money for a laptop that actually does less than the 1099 ordinary MacBook - and let's face it, the normal MacBook is no heavyweight either. It is completely up to you if you are willing to spend that much more money on a laptop that gives you fewer features, better looks, and more portability.

An eery feelings creeps up my spine. Are we looking at the laptop equivalent of the PowerMac Cube? Yes we are, with one major difference: Apple is on a winning streak. The Cube was launched in a pre-OS X, pre-iPod world, and those two things alone seriously hindered the Cube. The Air does not have those disadvantages, and as such, I am sure it will be a hit for Apple.

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Table of contents
  1. "Introduction; The look"
  2. "The keyboard, speaker, & trackpad"
  3. "The ports, setup, & performance; Conclusion"
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