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C64
Feb 11, 2011, 07:45 AM
I received my MacBook Air 13" yesterday. It's the base 1.86GHz base model, but with 4GB RAM instead of 2. It replaces a black MacBook from late 2006, so quite a lot has changed. Here's a quick review of the first things I noticed while setting everything up.

THE GOOD

Audio
I bought the MacBook Pro 15" a while back, but had to send it back for various reasons I'll get in to in a bit. One of the things that I noticed was that despite its separate speakers the sound was very hollow. Even the sound on my four year old MacBook was better. So I didn't expect much from the Air, since there can't be much room in there for proper speakers. But I was really amazed to find out that the audio is actually quite good. There isn't much bass, but other than that it's very clear. It seems to come from everywhere: the back, the sides and even through the keys. So even though it doesn't compare to a proper audio set, it's still pretty good.

Form, looks and weight
The form and looks are awesome. It's amazing how thin the screen is. One of the things that I noticed immediately was that the angle in which you type is pretty much perfect. Your wrists lay very close to the desk, and your hands in a slight upward angle. This types pretty great, and is a huge improvement over my old, and now fat, MacBook. Some people mentioned that the aluminum body has sharp corners, but I notice nothing of the sort. It's all very smooth and soft, and even if I try, I cant find any position that typing or using the trackpad isn't comfortable.

1080p
I couldn't really play 1080p videos on my old machine. The Air plays them flawlessly. Both normal movies in Quicktime or Flash videos on YouTube. The latter takes up quite some CPU power (50% or so), even with Flash 10.2 which was supposed to fix this, but it handles it just fine. The biggest relief: the fan doesn't even spin up and it stays completely silent, also with Flash videos. Every Flash video on my old MacBook caused the fan to go insane and I could sometimes hardly hear the sound over the sound of the fan. Not so with the Air.

Boot up time
I don't care about boot times, because I only reboot when there are system updates that require it. Otherwise I always put it to sleep. But, since the SSD is supposed to be fast, I tried it out. From the moment I press the power button to OS X being fully loaded: 15.0 seconds. And the first 5 seconds is just a black screen. The last 2-3 seconds is when you see OS X come up. I don't have that many startup items installed yet, but still. I haven't really noticed much from the SSD other than this, but everything is very snappy for sure.

THE OK

Trackpad
It need to get used to the new Trackpad. I miss my dedicated button. Something that'll change over time, I'm sure, but still. By default you can right click with two fingers at the same time. On the old trackpad, you needed to put two fingers down, and click with the third. Here though, you just need the two. Thing is, most of the time when I'm working the with trackpad, I have my fingers resting on it. I mean, it's huge, so where else are you fingers going to go? But this means that half that time that I click with one finger, it registers more fingers and makes it a right click. Very annoying.Fortunately there's an option to turn it off. I enabled the right lower corner to function as the right click. For some reason though, this doesn't feel right either. But again, something that needs time. I can always turn it off altogether though, and simply use ctrl + click.

Other than that, the click itself is rather loud. Again, because I rest my fingers on the trackpad the tap-to-click option isn't an option; that would only cause accidental clicks all the time. The old MacBook had a very silent click, which is really useful when you're working in a reading library and you don't want to annoy other people with your constant clicking. The MacBook Pro I used had an exceptionally loud click though. That just wasn't funny anymore and I was ashamed to even use it. The Air's is reasonable, but it is clearly audible, even from a distance. In most situations it doesn't really matter though, but it would've been nice if they could make this completely or near silent, just as the keys barely make a sound.

Another thing I notice is that the glass trackpad doesn't feel as accurate as the older ones. Maybe it's the different resolution, so that I'm just a bit off. But I have a lot more difficulty making precise movements for some reason.

THE BAD

LED backlight
The foremost reason I had to send the MacBook Pro 15" back was the screen. The higher resolution gave me headaches, but the normal resolution didn't come with an anti-glare option. The glass glare is too much for me, and so I was glad to see the Air had a glossy screen but without the glass. The glare on my black MacBook, which has a similar glossy screen, never really bothered me, so it seemed the perfect solution.

The LED backlight though was horrible on the MacBook Pro and it seems the same is true for this MacBook Air. Since there aren't any screens anymore — at least not in proper machines from Apple — that use the older LCD/CCFL backlighting, I don't have much choice. I'm going to give this a try for at least a week and see if my eyes adjust. But for now, the eye strain is pretty severe after using it for a while. I don't know if it's the brightness or the flickering (which happens when you dim LEDs, and to which some people are more susceptible than others).

There's a long thread about this on the Apple Discussion forums with similar experiences from many others: http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1677617. There doesn't seem to be a solution, other than not using the screen. Obviously not everyone experiences this the same way, but when you do, it's not pleasant at all.

I do notice that it makes a huge difference how much light there is in the room. In a dark room, the eye strain becomes a lot worse, where in a fully lit room it's more bearable. But every time I look at another monitor that doesn't have LED backlights I'm reminded at how strained my eyes are.

I'm hoping I'll get used to this, because I already love this Air, and there aren't any other options left. But I do believe that returning this might be the only options to save my eyes if this doesn't get any better. I've been using it today for a few hours and I already feel like I've been staring at it none-stop for 5 days. The moment I look over to my external monitor, that doesn't have LED backlights, my eyes adjust and everything feels completely comfortable right away. When I look back at the Air's display, it nothing but discomfort. I've tried every possible brightness setting, calibration profile, brightness application, but there doesn't seem to be a single setting that's actually comfortable. Oh well... we'll see.



C64
Feb 12, 2011, 01:06 PM
Battery life
Another day, and I'm still not sure about the screen. The whites are too white, or everything is too dull. It's a pity there isn't something in the middle. I'm mostly working with 2-3 brightness-blocks from the left. Once advantage of this is that the battery is holding out a long time. I've already used it for about 7 hours on end, with WLAN enabled and just doing regular things. That's pretty amazing, especially since I'm used to 2-3 hours max. Currently I've had it off the loader for about an hour and it's indicating there's 6:30hrs left. It goes up and down a bit depending on the brightness you set the screen to, but it's a pretty accurate guess from what I can tell so far. And this really helps a lot with the portability as well. I'm never really away from a wall plug for more than 7 hours a day. So whenever I need to go somewhere, I can be pretty sure I don't need to carry around the power adapter, which saves even more weight.

Heat
My old MacBook was a nice way to keep warm in the winter. The whole casing was pretty warm, and whenever a YouTube video came by it almost burned away the table. The Air is icy. It's almost uncomfortable when it's been idling or in standby for a while, you're wrists are really cold when touching the aluminum. When I'm not stressing it, it's completely cool. The bottom doesn't even feel warm. It's just normal / room temperature. Right now the CPU is at 41C (106 F), and there are plenty of apps opened up. The only time the bottom gets warm to the touch is when I'm watching HD videos. But still, it isn't hot, just warm and not even noticeable when using it on my lap.

Speed
I've been getting a better idea of how speedy this thing is. I've opened up every application I could find, and it's all instant or 2 bounces at most. And even under heavy load, opening up new thing is still very fast. Doesn't really matter how heavy the applications are. Whether it's just Mail.app or Photoshop / Illustrator CS5, it's all flying. Whenever the 4GB of RAM is filled up I still don't notice any slowdowns. I'm guessing that at this point it's all the SSD.

hfg
Feb 12, 2011, 01:30 PM
Battery life
Another day, and I'm still not sure about the screen. The whites are too white, or everything is too dull. It's a pity there isn't something in the middle. I'm mostly working with 2-3 brightness-blocks from the left.

You might try adjusting the "contrast" to see if that helps. Hold down all three "control-option-command" keys and press the "< or >" keys to adjust.

torbjoern
Feb 12, 2011, 01:59 PM
Nice review. Btw, have you calibrated the screen?

PeterKG
Feb 12, 2011, 02:37 PM
You might try adjusting the "contrast" to see if that helps. Hold down all three "control-option-command" keys and press the "< or >" keys to adjust.

This doesn't work.

C64
Feb 12, 2011, 03:02 PM
You might try adjusting the "contrast" to see if that helps. Hold down all three "control-option-command" keys and press the "< or >" keys to adjust.
Nice, thanks. Didn't know about that one. It seems it already was at the most left setting (pressing < until it doesn't change anymore). Setting it to the right only makes everything sharper. I'm finding that some light behind me makes a huge difference though, but not enough to really make it comfortable to work for long periods of time.

Nice review. Btw, have you calibrated the screen?I tried various options, but I can't really seem to find proper settings when calibrating it manually. You can't really tweak one setting and see what it does. It goes in steps and by the time I'm done the whole screen is completely messed up. So I'm sticking with the default profile which, other than the bright whites, looks pretty good. I also tried a couple of profiles I downloaded from these forums, but non of those really made much of a difference in terms of eye strain.

I'm still not sure what the real problem is; the flickering that I might be noticing more than others, the really bright whites or both. Obviously I can turn down the brightness to one of the lowest settings, and the white becomes better, but that also means that the rest loses a lot of color and "pop". But there is a real big difference in terms of comfortability when looking to this screen and an older, more yellowish, TFT. The latter are just way more easier on the eyes, especially when using them for a long time. I hope the two weeks are enough to get used to this. If it isn't, I'll be having a hard time deciding on whether to return it, because apart from the screen this thing is really perfect.

Incase Sleeve
I didn't want a lightweight laptop and still having to carry a heavy bag around, so I ordered this Incase sleeve. I already have an Incase backpack which is really solid and of good quality, and a normal 13" sleeve I can use in any bag. This thing is pretty awesome too. Light, strong, nice shoulder strap with padding (removable), and enough space to easily fit the thin MBA (it's made for the MBP, so you'll have some more room in the cushioned part), charger, maybe a small notebook and some papers. In many cases all I need.


Incase site: http://www.goincase.com/products/detail/nylon-sleeve-cl57324
Good review on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cD4-1NmAjW8

leowyatt
Feb 12, 2011, 04:25 PM
Nice review.

I can't seem to adjust the contrast on my ultimate 13" Air. I press the 3 keys and the < and > buttons I don't see any difference :(

C64
Feb 12, 2011, 05:07 PM
Nice review.

I can't seem to adjust the contrast on my ultimate 13" Air. I press the 3 keys and the < and > buttons I don't see any difference :(

Keep hitting the < or >, it changes a bit every time you press it.

hfg
Feb 12, 2011, 06:09 PM
Nice review.

I can't seem to adjust the contrast on my ultimate 13" Air. I press the 3 keys and the < and > buttons I don't see any difference :(

Use the left side 3-keys, and repeatedly press the < or > (not shifted) keys and watch the screen. Try the > first, as the default seems to be maximum <.

I learned of this operation on this forum ... haven't seen it documented anywhere else.

-howard

Undo Redo
Feb 12, 2011, 08:18 PM
Trackpad
It need to get used to the new Trackpad. I miss my dedicated button.

Other than that, the click itself is rather loud. Again, because I rest my fingers on the trackpad the tap-to-click option isn't an option; that would only cause accidental clicks all the time. The old MacBook had a very silent click...
I enjoyed your review. It's always fun to read other well-thought opinions to see how they differ from others, and my own.

But it sounds like you haven't really given the trackpad a chance...to, as you say, "get used to it." I was annoyed by the loud click of my trackpad before I started using tap-to-click. It took a few days to really get used to it but I would never go back now. If you always rest your fingers on the trackpad, well, don't. It won't take long to change your ways if you try. :)

Prodo123
Feb 12, 2011, 10:10 PM
Heat
My old MacBook was a nice way to keep warm in the winter. The whole casing was pretty warm, and whenever a YouTube video came by it almost burned away the table. The Air is icy. It's almost uncomfortable when it's been idling or in standby for a while, you're wrists are really cold when touching the aluminum. When I'm not stressing it, it's completely cool. The bottom doesn't even feel warm. It's just normal / room temperature. Right now the CPU is at 41C (106 F), and there are plenty of apps opened up. The only time the bottom gets warm to the touch is when I'm watching HD videos. But still, it isn't hot, just warm and not even noticeable when using it on my lap.


A hot computer is a melting computer. The CPU could go up to 130F on a bad computer, and that's the die after it's been cooled by the heatsink. The heatsink itself will absolutely melt through the computer, quite literally, and fry you. The fact that your old BlackBook was hot enough for you to use as a hand warmer shows how bad it is. This means improper ventilation and cooling, and this WILL shorten your CPU's life and performance by...well up to 100%, I guess.
A cold computer is absolutely fabulous. Even if it's uncomfortable, you know that your computer is going to last long. People go to extreme measures to cool their computer, that's why cooling pads exist. The fact that it's cold means it handles load well and will provide great performance for a long time.
Also, it might not be the CPU, too. Although the dies of processing units do create the most heat, hard drives create a lot of heat, too. Since the MBA uses SSD blades and the entire thing is a heatsink, it's going to be a lot colder than a fan-cooled BlackBook, and consequentely will perform better and live longer.
I predict that MBA will live for 8+ years, provided you don't replace it and no damage is done to that computer.

impulse462
Feb 12, 2011, 10:14 PM
A hot computer is a melting computer. The CPU could go up to 130F on a bad computer, and that's the die after it's been cooled by the heatsink. The heatsink itself will absolutely melt through the computer, quite literally, and fry you. The fact that your old BlackBook was hot enough for you to use as a hand warmer shows how bad it is. This means improper ventilation and cooling, and this WILL shorten your CPU's life and performance by...well up to 100%, I guess.
A cold computer is absolutely fabulous. Even if it's uncomfortable, you know that your computer is going to last long. People go to extreme measures to cool their computer, that's why cooling pads exist. The fact that it's cold means it handles load well and will provide great performance for a long time.
Also, it might not be the CPU, too. Although the dies of processing units do create the most heat, hard drives create a lot of heat, too. Since the MBA uses SSD blades and the entire thing is a heatsink, it's going to be a lot colder than a fan-cooled BlackBook, and consequentely will perform better and live longer.
I predict that MBA will live for 8+ years, provided you don't replace it and no damage is done to that computer.

You really don't know much about CPU temperatures if you think 130F (54.4 C) is "hot" for a computer. Mobile CPU's are designed to withstand temperatures up to 105C. While running constantly in the upper 70s+ will, no doubt, reduce the lifespan of the cpu, running at 54.4C with mild load is completely normal.

"Melt through you" Thats the biggest joke I've heard all day. It feels hot on the aluminum because aluminum has a relatively high specific heat.

EDIT: And also, just to inform you, The cpu diode temperatures at idle, and any temperatures at idle, are vastly inaccurate. The most important CPU temperature is the temperature of the two cores. If you really want to test how well your fans/heatsink works and whether or not you have a defective CPU, you should stress test it for at least 30 mins -1 hour. If the cpu doesnt climb to 80+C in the first 30 seconds, the CPU is acting completely normal.

2IS
Feb 12, 2011, 10:22 PM
The heatsink itself will absolutely melt through the computer, quite literally, and fry you.

That's the power of the allspark right there!

Prodo123
Feb 12, 2011, 10:22 PM
You really don't know much about CPU temperatures if you think 130F (54.4 C) is "hot" for a computer. Mobile CPU's are designed to withstand temperatures up to 105C. While running constantly in the upper 70s+ will, no doubt, reduce the lifespan of the cpu, running at 54.4C with mild load is completely normal.

"Melt through you" Thats the biggest joke I've heard all day. It feels hot on the aluminum because aluminum has a relatively high specific heat.

EDIT: And also, just to inform you, The cpu diode temperatures at idle, and any temperatures are idle are vastly inaccurate. The most important CPU temperature is the temperature of the two cores. If you really want to test how well your fans/heatsink works and whether or not you have a defective CPU, you should stress test it for at least 30 mins -1 hour. If the cpu doesnt climb to 80+C in the first 30 seconds, the CPU is acting completely normal.

I speak from experience, I had a crappy IBM ThinkPad from 9 years ago that actually melted from a CPU overheat.

impulse462
Feb 12, 2011, 10:26 PM
I speak from experience, I had a crappy IBM ThinkPad from 9 years ago that actually melted from a CPU overheat.

Your CPU was likely at least at temperatures above 70C. With a defective fan/heatsink, the hotair would likely sit and make the whole chassis very hot.

I had a ThinkPad from 2007 which exhibited this problem. I used to play Halo PC alot, and from the constant heating up and cooling down, something happened to the thermal paste on the heatsink.(not sure what) This would result in my computer shutting down from scorching hot temperatures after just 5-10 minutes of gameplay.

I've overclocked many CPUs and GPUs when i was younger, and temperatures at 55C, while it seems very hot, for mobile CPU's is completely normal.

Prodo123
Feb 12, 2011, 10:31 PM
Your CPU was likely at least at temperatures above 70C. With a defective fan/heatsink, the hotair would likely sit and make the whole chassis very hot.

I had a ThinkPad from 2007 which exhibited this problem. I used to play Halo PC alot, and from the constant heating up and cooling down, something happened to the thermal paste on the heatsink.(not sure what) This would result in my computer shutting down from scorching hot temperatures after just 5-10 minutes of gameplay.

I've overclocked many CPUs and GPUs when i was younger, and temperatures at 55C, while it seems very hot, for mobile CPU's is completely normal.

Nope, the old dino had a functioning fan and a good heatsink. The Pentium M on it overheated, then I think it short circuited or something, maybe it did that thermal paste thing, but it got really hot and eventually hot enough to melt the plastic, lol.
And the irony was, I was backing up to my NAS in the process.