13-Inch MacBook Air Review: So Long, Fatty

The new 13-inch MacBook Air is Apple's katana blade: thin, durable, powerful, sleek. But does it have enough mettle to be your weapon of choice? Dropping the metaphor: Can you ditch your MacBook Pro?

It's been two years since the last MacBook Air refresh. Two years for Apple to redefine the ultraportable laptop space again. And I do mean redefine: the new Air comes with a flash storage solution that's never been used before, still offers almost insultingly meagre port options and boasts a spec-list that looks like a normal notebook computer's - even if it does use a previous-gen processor. There's no question that this laptop is different. And that's the point: that the Apple experience doesn't degrade when you go MacBook Lite. This product rev silently screams - at least on paper - that the Air is good enough for many of us to break up with our MacBook Pros.

Someone sawed the 13-inch MBP in half. That's how it feels looking at the MacBook Air. No appreciable difference in the keyboards, other than the MBA riding a little lower. The trackpads are exactly the same. Comparing the two head on, the Air's brighter/crisper/richer screen separates the two, but not much else does. The Air is pretty spot-on identical to its big brother - until you pick it up.

The 1.5kg gap between the two laptops might not seem like much, but it's a godsend. Secure in your man-purse, the 13-inch Air is sturdy enough that you don't worry about it, and light enough that you don't think about it.

And honestly, it hums. The souped-up Air I tested can't keep up with the bigger Core i5 MacBook Pros, but it's just about as zippy as my year-old 13-inch, 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo rig. Full screen 1080p YouTube videos play flawlessly. Converting a two-minute, 720 MP4 file (Muppets!) in Handbrake took a little over four minutes minutes - not lightning quick, but respectable for a file of that size. The Air struggled a little more with 1080p, wheezing along for 13 minutes to finish a roughly five-minute clip. But it got the job done.

How do you use the MacBook Air? Just like your MacBook Pro.

Good lord it's light - you want to toss it around like a Frisbee. Beautiful design. I'll be dreaming about this display long after I go back to my old one. Boots like it had never been off; wakes up like it had never been asleep. Powers through multiple tabs, streaming music, iMovie rendering, Photoshop editing simultaneously without a single spinning beach ball. A Geekbench score of 3026 shows off CPU and memory performance that's just slightly behind a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo 13-inch MacBook Pro (3239). My shoulders and back have never been more thankful for a review product. Nearly all day battery; you can save even more weight leaving the power brick at home. There's no other ultraportable that nails the keyboard and trackpad like this. Someone asked if they could hold it in the elevator.

So expensive; you could buy two Toshiba Portégés with a month's cab fare left over. No optical drive, though you can get an external one for 99 bones extra. No Ethernet port. 256GB pushes the limits of my storage comfort zone. Fan acts up a lot during heavy lifting - the Air can multitask, just grumpily. Not having a backlit keyboard is like not having pay TV; you don't really need it but notice when it's gone. It's only slightly less up for serious gaming than the 13-inch MacBook Pro is, meaning it's not up for serious gaming. The speakers are tinny - typical for an ultaportable, but that doesn't mean you have to like it. The price. The price.

This is the first time I've been genuinely sad about returning a review unit. Partly because I enjoyed my time with the Air so much, but mostly because I very definitely know I can't afford one on my own. But you'd better believe I'll start saving up. If you aren't pushing your MacBook Pro very hard - if you're someone who mostly surfs the web and sends email but also needs the extra oomph to edit photos, render videos and stream brilliant-looking HD Modern Family episodes, then there's no reason why you shouldn't at least lust after this machine.

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