Apple MacBook Air Early 2008
Style over substance - and thank God too
A final complaint is the non-removable battery. We've never been too bothered by this in a phone or a music player, but here it's a concern. Apple has had its fair share of battery recalls, but with the Air there's no mailing out replacement power packs - it's a back-to-the-shop job. While the battery life is very good - yes, we got more than six hours out of ours with the screen backlight turned down low - lots of people like the reassurance of a spare battery.
This isn't a deal-breaker for us, but it is a disappointment and Apple will lose some customers because of it. Ditto the port limitations, though again we found ourselves not bemoaning the absence of Firewire and Ethernet anywhere as much as we'd anticipated we would.
It's the form-factor, stupid
We have a cheap no-name external DVD drive that we bought to install Windows on our Eee PC, and that works just fine with the Air for installing apps more quickly than Apple's clever over-the-network drive sharing software can. We tried it nonetheless, and it works, though CD and DVD playback's impossible. Some early reviewers rightly pointed out that copying a drive full of data over the WLAN and onto the Air is very slow, but then who'd have expected it to be otherwise? Use a cheap USB hard drive instead - that's what we did, and it was much quicker.
We didn't notice any particular wireless issues beyond the general fact that MacBook Pro and Air speeds are below the laptop par, a result of the metal casing and slim window used to lets signals pass in and out. We had no problems connecting and staying connected to a variety of access points. The experience was no different from connecting using either our old MacBook Pro or a Windows XP-equipped Eee, and certainly superior to networking a Vista-running Vaio.
The Air is a 'love it or loathe it' machine, but don't let the naysayers put you off if it offers the form factor you prefer. Of course it's not going to be the laptop to suit everyone - you can buy cheaper or more capable Macs and PCs - so it's not a must have for the price-conscious buyer or the power-hungry. It's pricey, but with the exception of the tiny, basic Eee, the Air's no more expensive than other slim'n'light laptops.
If form-factor is your prime concern, then the Air provides a good computing experience, and if our time with it is anything to go by, its port and optical disc limitations proved no handicap at all. Again, if you think they're going to be, there are plenty of other laptops out there that'll meet your needs instead. Of course, if you want to run Mac OS X on a thin'n'light machine, this is really your only option. If you don't then you're not going to chose the Air no matter how smart it is.
For us, price notwithstanding, the Air hits the mark. It's effectively as portable as our Eee, but with a much better battery life, a bigger screen, and a much more usable keyboard and touchpad. It's got the performance for a wide range of mainstream apps, but put it in your backpack and you'll forget it's there.
This is style over substance in the very best possible way.