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It’s only a matter of time before the Cult of Jobs gains critical mass, assimilation becomes inevitable and resistance becomes futile. If you’re smart and want to achieve early enlightenment, but would like it in a convenient travel-sized package, then you need the MacBook Air.
I mean need it.
Like you need actual air.
Size and Weight
As travellers, we understand that every kilogram matters (and that metric is the only real measurement system). Airlines are clamping down on baggage allowances and you feel every extra gram when you’re trudging around in 30ºC heat looking for a place to stay.
The Airs are light, with the 13″ Air coming in at 1.35Kg. That’s over two thirds of a kilogram lighter than the 13″ Pro (1.35Kg vs 2.06Kg).
The 11″ is lighter still, weighing a measly 1.08Kg. Erin’s 11″ is so light that every time I pick the damn thing up it flies out of my fingers and across the room. Luckily, its aluminium unibody shell keeps it protected wherever it lands.
Mmm, sexy industrial design.
The Air packs an impressive number of pixels into its tiny little frame: 1366 x 768 for the 11″ and 1440 x 900 for the 13″.
Ready to have your mind melted? The 13″ Air’s 1440 x 900 display is the same resolution as the non-Retina 15″ MacBook Pro. Not the 13″ Pro, the 15″!
That’s the screen real estate of a 15″ laptop, squeezed into a 13″ body!
The Magic of SSDs
Consider this: a magnetic hard drive consists of thin metal platters spinning at 5,400 revolutions per minute (that’s 90 times a second) with a tiny little needle flying backwards and forwards across the surface of these spinning disks at barely a hair’s breadth above them. If that thought doesn’t make you want to back up immediately, then I don’t know what will. Also, yay human engineering!
If the needle touches the surface, it’s game over for your data. Think about this the next time you use a laptop on a bumpy plane or bus journey.
Getting an SSD drive is a much more durable option for travelling. Solid state means no moving parts—just little electrons flying around millions upon millions of semiconductors.
And not only are they more durable, SSD drives are faster.
CPU and Memory
Couple the superfast SSD with an Intel i5 or i7 dual core processor and up to 8GB of RAM and you have an ultralight laptop that can handle basically anything you throw at it—even RAW images.
An upgraded 13″ Air with the 2.0GHz CPU and the 8GB memory option is a more powerful machine (using Turbo Boost) than the entry-level 13″ Pro, but with all the benefits of it being small, light and featuring an SSD drive.
For only $100 more than the Pro.
There are other Ultrabooks out there, but these heretics will be consumed by the hellfires once our turtleneck-clad overlords take over.
Only the Air comes with the One True Operating System: OS X (praise be).
I’ve talked plenty about why OS X is the best OS out there and in this not-so-humble author’s opinion, having used Linux, Windows and OS X for extended periods of time, OS X offers the best user experience available so, if you’re new to Macs, then at least try it out for a bit for yourself and see how you get on.
One day you won’t have a choice.
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At the risk of earning the disapproval of our future Great Leaders, there are some downsides to the Air.
Less Disk Space
The most obvious downside is that going SSD means less disk space. Magnetic storage is still cheaper and this is likely to remain the case for a few years yet so you’ll be sacrificing storage for speed.
You do have the option of upgrading the disk at purchase to a maximum of 512GB, but this adds another $300 to the price of the 13″.
Here’s my advice:
- Pick up a couple of 1 TB external magnetic drives along with the Air, partitioning one of them so that it’s roughly 1.5 times the space of your SSD and using Time Machine on that partition.
- Leave the rest for storage (backing important data up to both drives for redundancy).
- Have the best of all worlds and live in a magical travelling digital oasis of rainbows and unicorns.
No discrete graphics chip
Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere can all take advantage of a discrete graphics processor, so that’s something else to consider if you’re going to be doing a lot of 3D or video work as well, but if it’s just photo editing or your gaming action only extends as far as Angry Birds, then it’s the Air all the way.
No Retina Display
I love my MacBook Retina. The display is gorgeous but it is a crazy expensive machine and overkill for all but the most hardcore of users.
If it wasn’t for that display, then without a doubt I would be using the 13″ Air and, if you’re not doing professional HD video work or developing Retina apps, then it’s probably not worth the additional expense.
The Airs are competitively priced with other Ultrabooks, sitting in the middle of the price vs specs field. They start at $999 for the 11″ model, up to $1,899 for the fully kitted out 13″ model.
So, The Perfect Travel Laptop?
Robin Williams sums it up nicely when he talks about the MacBook Air in Good Will Hunting:
You’re not perfect, sport. And let me save you the suspense … [it] isn’t perfect either. But the question is: whether or not you’re perfect for each other. That’s the whole deal.