PDA

View Full Version : Basic (p)review of the 2011 13" MacBook Air.




revelated
Jul 23, 2011, 03:59 PM
I come as an owner of the 11" 2010 MacBook Air. Some of these are comparisons to that. Others are as a comparison to the MacBook Pro, as I have owned at least one Pro every year since 2009. This is NOT comprehensive as I don't use all features. And I acknowledge that some of the Cons won't matter to most.

PROS

Base 13" is a great deal if you don't need storage on the device.
BACKLIGHT!
Mail is no longer a battery killer.
More, faster RAM included this time around.
Creating Desktops in Mission Control is easy. This replaced Spaces and I actually prefer how intuitive this process is compared to Spaces.
iCal looks a lot better than it used to. I can actually use the thing now.
Can now resize windows from ANY corner rather than just the lower right.
Backlight keyboard alone does not seem to have very much impact on the battery.


CONS

Mission Control is finicky. It wants the app to be run in Full Screen to be able to separate them correctly within a single desktop. However...
Running apps full screen is a bit of a pain because it disables the Dock. Thus if you're running Firefox, let's say, in full screen you can't then see the unread count on Mail in the Dock. This basically forces you to run a Desktop that is just a Desktop and then run other apps in their own Desktop space.
If you don't run apps in full screen, Mission Control then just "Paper stacks" them in a very unorganized fashion within the same Desktop.
If an app is minimized into the Dock, it does not show in Mission Control. This seems bass-ackwards...if it is minimized into the Dock it should be one of the icons on top in Mission Control automatically. The only way to force this is to manually create the Desktop and assign the app to it, or full screen the app and then switch out of it.
Launchpad shows queued up downloads or updates to existing apps rather than the app itself. So for example, I saw there was an upgrade for iPhoto and started it from the App Store when I was on the plane. But when I saw it was over 600MB I stopped it. Problem is that made iPhoto unavailable from Launchpad becuase it changed to a download prompt instead of the app.
Dock icons look grainy on this screen as compared to older models and the Pro. It's not a deal breaker but it is annoying.
The refresh rate on this panel is absolutely horrid. Just moving the mouse rapidly from one place to another makes my eyes hurt with the blur. I can't imagine trying to watch any of the "Bourne Trilogy" movies on this.
The "x - +" orbs on the window appear to be smaller. As though they want them less used. That's troubling as I use those constantly. It's annoying having to position the arrow "just right" to be able to click it.
Heat level is manageable. Gets moderately warm with regular use. Heat is never unbearable (This is the i5).
No microphone input jack. This surprised me.
That "natural scrolling" is a joke. It turns over 20 years of computing on its head and not in a good way. I turned that stuff off the moment I saw it.
The changes to the side scrollbars irritates me. I don't know why.
The base "Creaks" when you press on it slightly. It seems like the bottom panel is not lined up squarely with something. I've only ever experienced this with one other machine which was the 2010 15" MacBook Pro. Basically, if you just gently squeeze on the SD card slot area, that's where it happens.
Firefox doesn't appear to play nice with the Full Screen/Mission Control. I can't seem to figure out how to force Firefox to go into its own "App" at the top, named Firefox, or how to assign it to specific Desktops.
The backlight will "pulse" at times when the ambient light has not changed. It's like it's reading false lighting somewhere. It's happening as I type this. Doesn't bother me, but I note it.
Some websites don't recognize Lion's Safari correctly. I was browsing two different websites that saw Safari as if it were the iPad version and no matter what I tried I couldn't override to a desktop based version. Not good.
That deal where Safari will re-open whatever tabs you had open when closing the browser is SERIOUSLY annoying. I even went so far as to do a Reset Safari and yet it still keeps on trying to load the same tabs when I open it next.
They got rid of the little pill in the upper right corner of windows that allows you to just minimize the title/tab/address/menu bar. This bothers me. For Safari it's fine because it hides that stuff in Full Screen mode. For Mail it's not, because it still shows the same stuff regardless, and Firefox doesn't even let you go into the real Full Screen mode. In any case, I would have preferred to sometimes minimize that stuff if I'm reading something WITHOUT going to full screen mode, so I still have the Dock icons.
Battery life is also quite finicky. I know it's rated at "up to 7 hours" but I want to stress that this is under EXTREMELY conservative use cases. I'm talking Safari only, no flash, low backlight keyboard, low screen brightness. On the plane when they dimmed the cabin lights, I was able to go to one notch on the screen and backlight, which let me see perfectly, and then it lasted quite well. But here at home, with the screen brightness at just over halfway, running Mail, Firefox and Safari (because right now Safari is the default browser for Mail links), I'm hovering around 5 hours, which isn't bad. Yet if Spotlight gets fired up and indexing, I watched in horror as that figure went down to 2 hours under the same conditions.



For me this machine is basically the perfect companion machine to the MacBook Pro. It provides sufficient power and versatility for the mobile computing powerhouse. It stands well on its own as a decent laptop. It doesn't replace the Pro in terms of the heavy lifting...but it compliments it well. From a hardware perspective this feels like the peak of what the Air was designed to be.


HOWEVER....(and my CONS attest to this)...

Lion has taken a questionable direction with regards to design strategy. It feels very much like Apple's strategy was to create an OS that could be used on both a computer and a tablet, and I'd be shocked if we didn't see a Lion version of the iPad down the road. The problem is a lot of the features just don't translate well to a computer environment at all, yet would feel right at home on a tablet. Things like rotating and the new Mail interface. I know some people have reported things as bugs with Lion...I don't think they are. I think a lot of what we are experiencing are intentional changes...and anyone who thinks it's a bug, is really feeling the negative impacts of the changes. Call a spade a spade.

The 2011 Air is a solid machine that IMO is hindered somewhat by a questionable OS design. If it were running straight Snow Leopard, this would be higher on the chain for sure.



mottdog
Jul 23, 2011, 05:06 PM
Thanks for being honest mate.