Apple MacBook Air 11-inch review

Full review: Smallest MacBook - just don't call it a netbook

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A few weeks ago we brought you news of Apple's new MacBook Air upgrades, you can read our 13-inch MacBook Air review here, but the 11-inch version is something different, and the closest thing Apple has created to a netbook. Although Apple certainly doesn't call it a netbook and after using it for a while, it becomes clear comparisons aren't fair.

With a beautifully crafted unibody design, the Air is stunning and a true design marvel, the aluminium lid feels strong, yet the whole device measures 0.3cm at the slimmest point.

There's no optical drive, connections include: two USBs, a headphone jack and Mini DisplayPort, there's still no Firewire, but you get N WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 though. A card slot would have been useful.

The highlight of the MacBook Air is the 11.6-inch LED backlit screen. We played back a selection of high definition trailers and colours are bold and eye catching, with bright whites and excellent contrast. Even-off angle you can still see the text quite clearly.

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch: Memory and battery

Apple claims to have taken what it's learnt from the iPad and put it into the MacBook Air. On a physical level, the 11-inch version is certainly looks like the spawn of the MacBook Pro and iPad.

The most significant similarity is internal though, where flash storage is available out of the box on all MacBook Air models, not just via an upgrade. Getting rid of the chip's hard drive enclosure (so you're just left with the actual chip) frees up (so Apple claims) 90% more space, enabling room for a larger battery.

Apple claims battery life of 5 hours. With moderate browsing, WiFi on, brightness at 50%, some video playback and streaming and continuous typing, we got around 2 hours 45 minutes, although if you can easily stretch it further. The new standby mode means you can in effect leave it shut for 30 days, but when you start it, it continues as before. In addition, open the lid from sleep and powers on instantly - a nice touch.

The MacBook Air is available in two flash memory configurations, 64Gb and our 128Gb version. Unless you're incredibly diligent about backing up your data, or only use it casually, neither will be enough for the Air to become a primary laptop for most people.

Despite its small size, the MacBook Air never feels cramped. It's helped by the generously spaced low-profile keyboard. Each key is an ample size and although the keys are a bit shallow, it certainly doesn't feel much different to a 14-inch MacBook and certainly far more comfortable than some 11-inch laptops.

The Multitouch Trackpad is excellent as always, customise it as much or as little as you want, but once you get used to the gesture it's far quicker than a conventional trackpad.

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch: Processor, graphics and FaceTime.

The Nvida 320M graphics card ensured there was none of the sluggishness we've had from ultraportables while streaming HD video from BBC iPlayer. In processor terms the Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB RAM aren't particulary fast, but for general tasks it's fine. We opened multiple browser windows, streamed HD video, played back video and typed without any sluggishness.

The Air is equipped with stereo speakers that project the sound through the keyboard, unfortunately there's very little audio power, so even at maximum volume audio quality sounds weedy, although it's hardly a surprise considering the size of the Air.

Download the FaceTime beta and the built-in webcam lets you communicate with iPhone 4, iPod Touch and other Mac's over WiFi, quality is dependent on your connection, but we had no problems with drop-ours of sound quality accepting a call from a friend's iPhone 4 over WiFi.

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch: Conclusion

Our main issue with the Apple MacBook Air is the price. At £850 for the basic model and £1000 for our review model it certainly isn't cheap (although lets not forget the original MacBook Air debuted at around £1200). Especially when you consider you can get a MacBook with a 10-hour battery, more storage and a 2.4Ghz processor for £850.

The original MacBook Air was definitely a luxury product, but thanks to its portable nature, the extra USB and by switching to Solid State memory the 11-inch version is infinitely more useful. If you've got the money it's perfect for business trips.

However, we'd be tempted to pitch the 11-inch Air as more of an iPad rival. OK, the operating systems are slightly different, but it takes up a similar space in your bag (only weighing a few hundred grams more), adds the keyboard many iPad users crave and you've got the Mac App Store coming soon. It's certainly a viable alternative to the iPad for anyone whose main prioirty is work and email. Surely a MacBook Air/Apple iPad hybrid has to be next on Apple's release list?

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch price: From £849

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch release date: Now, link: Apple

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch Specifications

  • OS: Mac OSX
  • Screen: 11.6inch LED backlit screen, 1366x768 pixels
  • Processor: 1.4Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics
  • Memory: 2GB Ram
  • Storage: 128Gb Flash
  • Connections: 2x UBS, 3.5MM jack, N WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1
  • Optical drive: n/a
  • Battery claimed: 5hours
  • Dimensions/Weight: 300x192x30mm/1.06kg