Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    MacBook Air might be too lightweight for serious users

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver January 29-February 4, 2008; issue 953

    January is peak season for techno-lust, with three trade shows that set the pace for what’s going to happen for the rest of the year. In quick succession, the Las Vegas-based Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is followed by the San Francisco MacWorld Expo, followed by Detroit’s International Auto Show.

    MacWorld always gets coverage outweighing the Mac’s relatively modest market share. At the 2007 show, Apple CEO Steve Jobs got headlines introducing the iPhone. This year, the company’s news was relatively modest: movie rentals online, a software development kit for the iPhone, applications for its iPod Touch and much needed updates to Apple TV.

    Oh, and one more thing. Jobs introduced a new notebook model. Added to the company’s two lines of notebooks – the entry-level MacBook, with a plastic case and 13-inch screen, and the more expensive, metal-clad MacBook Pro series, with 15-inch and 17-inch models – was what Jobs referred to as the thinnest notebook ever: the MacBook Air. Tapering from 0.76 inches to 0.16 inches at the front, and weighing in at about three pounds, the aluminum-clad Air offers a 13-inch display and full-sized keyboard; it’s a stunning design that fits into a mailing envelope. I think I’m in love.

    But wait: in order to be ultrathin, Apple had to treat the Air like a supermodel forever on a strict diet.

    Before rushing off to slap down $1,899 (or $3,248 for one with a no-moving-parts solid state drive) for one of these, pay attention to what’s been left out.

    To slim down, the Air is missing a number of things common in heftier, but more capable models – even ones priced much lower.

    For instance:

    •No built in CD or DVD drive. You can get an external one from Apple for $99, but that’s one more thing to tote around, and awkward for watching a DVD on a long plane flight. Alternatively, clever software let’s you share the drive on a nearby better-equipped desktop or laptop (Mac or PC).

    •No ethernet. It’s WiFi networking or nothing. Bluetooth is built in, though.

    •Only one USB port, so plan on toting around a USB hub if you commonly connect more than one gadget.

    •No Firewire ports, unlike every other Mac model since about 1999.

    •No removable battery. When (not if) the battery starts to lose charge or ups and dies, Apple will replace it for $169. If you’re in the habit of carrying around a second battery to double battery life on the road, don’t bother. (Though the Air’s promised five-hour battery life is better than many laptops with two batteries.) (afterwards: later info shows that the battery is removable; just unscrew 10 screws on the bottom of the case then another 9 on the battery itself. Oh- did I mention that the screws are of a variety of lengths? Pay attention to which goes where!)

    •RAM is soldered in; the built-in two-gigabyte is fairly generous, but if you need more, too bad.

    •At 80 gigabytes, the iPod-sized hard drive is relatively modest in capacity and relatively slow. The $1,000 extra solid state (flash memory) drive is even smaller: 64 gigabytes.

    With all those limitations, it isn’t going to work for most users as their main work computer. I know a number of disappointed owners of Apple’s very portable (but long in the tooth) 12-inch PowerBook G4 who had hoped for a more modern replacement. This isn’t it.

    Instead, the target market seems to be users who already have a capable and powerful computer who can afford to compromise on functionality to get something that is stylish and easy to carry around. There are suggestions that it will be mostly bought by those looking for the technology equivalent of a pair of Gucci shoes.
    (To be fair, ultralight notebooks from PC manufacturers like Panasonic, Fujitsu also include many compromises and often cost $1,000 more than the Air.)

    I’ve asked Apple for the loan of one; maybe when I have it in my hands, my mind will be changed, but for now, love isn’t enough. I think I need something with a few more pounds. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
Search WWW Search