So I Got an Air

December 15, 2010 | 10 Comments

Last Monday, a silicon angel (hmm, might not be the best choice of adjectives) in a FedEx suit (and, strangely, an unmarked Dodge Caravan) arrived at my door with my new MacBook Air. It’s been a good week and a half.

After the Air was introduced I avoided the Apple store for about a month. This is a significant act of the will since it’s only about two miles from my house. But I knew that seeing the Air would probably set some cogs in my brain to churning, wondering how well an Air would fit in my workflow. And if I could figure out a way to afford it. Well, I went to the store, the cogs slowly started gaining momentum, and here I sit typing on an Air.

I got the base model with an upgrade to 4gb of RAM. I never considered the 13″ screen, partially because of budget, but mostly because 11″ was what I wanted. I didn’t consider a processor or storage upgrade, completely because of budget. I won’t do a full review — David Sparks and Ben Brooks have already done a fine job of that — but here are some thoughts on my experience so far.

It’s Small

I mean, it’s really small. And light too. I still marvel at it when I see it on my desk. And it makes my old 13″ MacBook Pro look like a crazed leviathan. Or something like that. So small apparently that case manufacturers aren’t sure what to do with it — somebody really needs to make the perfect bag for this. I have yet to find one and the Apple store, as of a week ago, still wasn’t carrying any.

64gb is Plenty

Really. It is. I transitioned from a 13″ MacBook Pro, which was my only computer, to a dual setup of a base model iMac and this Air. The iMac becomes my HQ and my primary machine for media and doing design work. So, all I need on the Air is my Dropbox folder with all my active projects (about 4gb), the iWork suite, and my day to day apps like OmniFocus, Yojimbo, Scrivener and CSSEedit and Espresso for development work. No iLife. Photoshop for editing on the go, but none of the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite. I copied over about 4gb of essentials from iTunes too. And you know what? I have about 28gb free. (Patrick Rhone describes the same experience.)

It’s Snappy

This has been said in every review of the Air, so I’ll just confirm it. It’s really really really responsive. I mean really. I was concerned about having only a 1.4gHz processor, but everything moves in and out of the flash storage so fast that apps load more quickly than on my 3.06gHz iMac. PhotoShop CS4 loads in 5 seconds, probably twice as fast as the iMac. Of course, the processor means rendering will be much slower, but I rarely work on anything larger than a 1500×1500 design comp, and the processor has been sufficient for that.

5 Hours is Really 5 Hours

The 5 hour battery life claimed by Apple is the most reliable battery life claim I’ve had in an Apple laptop. I usually work in a coffee shop until mid-day, and then work from home in the afternoon. I have yet to use the power adapter for the Air anywhere besides my desk. Which is nice because the power cord with the longer cable attached takes up as much space as the Air in a bag. (Not that I have a small bag yet, because manufacturers still haven’t sorted that out, even after my plea above.)

It’s Small

Yes, I already said that, but this is the other kind of small…the almost too small kind of small. It’s the one critique I have. I was worried that the 11″ might not have enough screen space to be productive. That’s not an issue, because it has more pixels than my 13″ Pro had — 25000 more, in fact. But those pixels are packed into a smaller space. Text is crisper, but it’s also smaller. I find I’m adjusting the text size in apps like Notational Velocity to see things better.

So, yes, this has been another gush about the MacBook Air. I’m sure there is more I could say, but I’ve gushed enough for now.

  • ditching the ipad?

    • John Chandler

      don’t think so. still some unique uses for it, but might make it more available to the family. 🙂

      still using it for ebooks and some consumption stuff, for capture on quicker outings, or for presentation notes, among other things

  • John, stop it. Now I want one. Jerk.

  • yeah dude… seriously… even for me this makes me want to go out and get one!

  • So what about the size? Kidding.

    Nice post. . . and I’m jealous.

  • Ok, so a couple of negative queries I’d love your take on… (and please take in the context of a MBA wannabe for years now)

    It seems so suited for quiet hacking next to one’s slumbering loved one and yet no back-lit keyboard. Do you miss it?

    The MBP is rumored to dump the optical drive next spring, so if you had your druthers today between the MBA and a smaller MBP with SSD, and a bit more CPU oomph, would you make the same call?


    • John Chandler

      Hey Mark,
      When are you going to wander in to Sodade so I can show it to you?

      I don’t miss the back-lit keyboard at all. I was aware beforehand it doesn’t have one, but haven’t even thought about it since I got the Air.

      The second question is going to vary by person. Of course I might find the new MBP’s pretty nifty when/if they show up, but I’ll already have a whole lot of use out of this current one that I won’t have any gripes about! I really am surprised how little of an issue the CPU is on the Air.

      • Hey thanks for the updates John. Good point about the CPU; I keep hearing that the MBA feels faster to MBP users.

        I’m getting more an more telecommute hours in so I expect I’ll see you soon. =)


  • I’d be interested in hearing if you have any problems with Scrivener synching via Dropbox. There’s a lengthy discussion of the topic on the Scrivener forums, with an official (from Keith) policy that it’s not a good idea. Scrivener stores its documents in OS X packages, and Dropbox doesn’t always know how to handle that.

    That’s too bad, because a Scrivener/Dropbox combination would make a near ideal combination, allowing writing on multiple computers (on the go or back home) with no need to remember to synch every time.

    • John Chandler

      I’ve heard of the issue, but I’m a gambler I guess. I think I lost data out of one Scrivener file a few years ago that I was able to recover from Time Machine. Other than that, I usually have 4-5 different projects going in Scrivener with no issues.