Air proves to be worthy travelling companion
Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business
September 23-29, 2008; issue 987
High Tech Office column
Last spring, Apple’s newly
announced MacBook Air laptop gathered a lot of attention. Weighing in
around three pounds, it was slim and sleek. TV ads showed it sliding
out of a manila envelope. But I wondered about its practicality. The
Air lacks a built-in optical drive and wired network adapter and has
only a single USB port. Though its two-gigabyte memory is adequate,
neither the memory nor the battery are removable or upgradable.
ultra-light notebooks from Toshiba and Lenovo, the Air isn’t designed
to be a buyer’s only computer. It’s designed to be a second system for
users who are frequently on the road and willing to trade features for
reduced size and weight.
Since I was going to be travelling in
August, Apple loaned me an Air for road-testing. It accompanied me on
six flights through five countries. The review Air came with Apple’s
optional external DVD drive ($99) and wired Ethernet adapter ($30).
Users wanting to connect an Air to an external monitor or digital
projector would also need to add a micro-dvi adapter ($20).
includes Remote Disc software (Mac and Windows versions), which allows
an Air user to use a CD or DVD drive built into a nearby computer. Less
cleverly, the company seems to have left out instructions on how to
make this work. (Hint: the software is on the Air’s software
installation disc.) While you can’t watch a DVD movie on the Air using
a remote drive, this feature would be handy if you want to install
I needed the network adapter for wired Internet access
in several hotels. I don’t like these sorts of dangly adapters. They’re
too easily lost or left-behind.
Competitive ultra-lights have
Ethernet (and external video) adapters built-in, but the price is a
package that’s thicker than the Air. On the other hand, the Air’s 1.6-
or 1.8-Ghz processor is faster than the 1.2-Ghz model used by the
competition. It also provided more than adequate speed and power for
all the basic computing tasks I carried out on the road. The system
boots up quickly. It goes into sleep mode simply by closing the lid and
comes back to life almost instantly.
Wireless performance (WiFi
and Bluetooth are both built-in) and battery life (a bit under four
hours) were both good. My review Air came with an optional solid state
64-gigabyte hard drive (a $625 option on top of the Air’s $1,900 base
price, which is in line with the pricing of competitors’ ultra-light
models). The solid state drives are more robust and promise better
performance and battery life than traditional hard drives. Published
tests suggest that the technology is not yet fulfilling these promises;
however, I can’t consider it a must-have feature now – especially at
current high prices.
Apple gets bonus marks for attention to
multiple little details. Examples include the “MagSafe” magnetic
connector on the power cable; if someone trips over the cord, it pops
off rather than pulling the laptop onto the floor. Or the keyboard with
letters that glow gently in the dark – very handy on overnight flights.
And all in a case that’s minus the protrusions and stickers of PC
laptops, though that same streamlining eliminates useful network and
And yes, you could install Windows (XP or Vista)
onto it (I didn’t), though the relatively small (64- or 80-gigabyte)
hard drives are not ideal for holding both Windows and Mac OS X.
I write this, the Apple rumour mill is buzzing with talk that the Air
might be updated, perhaps before this column goes to print. But I’m
converted: the model I was loaned was a pleasure to use – a stylish,
easy-to-transport second computer for the frequent flyer.
As long as you don’t lose that network adapter. •