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Macbook Air - is it worth it?

4607 Views 11 Replies Latest reply: Jun 1, 2008 5:01 PM by Bostonimann RSS
bpatton Level 1 Level 1 (10 points)
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May 30, 2008 6:54 AM
Hey everyone,

I'm currently in the market for a new Macbook machine. I'm attempting to wait till after July for purchase, since rumor has it that Apple might be refreshing the Macbook product line design, especially the Macbook. However, the Macbook Air has caught my eye, and after researching as much about it as possible, I figured I'd go directly to the fan base to find out opinions from everyone.

My first and foremost concern is the fact that the Macbook Air has an iPod disk drive in it (I would never be able to afford the SSD). I've had an iPod disk fail on me fairly early on in use, so this has me a bit sheepish about it. Has anyone heard or experienced problems relating to the hard drive and the Macbook Air?

Secondly, durability. At my IT job, we have the Macbook Air now on display, and I constantly receive comments from customers that they would be too worried about breaking the Macbook Air by carrying it along in their backpack or case. I've held it myself, but can't really get an idea of durability of the Air. Anyone have any comments on this?

I'm tittering between the Macbook Air and the Macbook Pro. I only really use my laptop now for programming (Terminal, Dreamweaver, and a Firefox), with the rare access to Photoshop and InDesign. All my printers are wireless, and every where I go is wireless, which is why the Air caught my eye. I DO plan to get the Macbook Air SuperDrive when I purchase, just to stay on the safe side, but will rarely use it. Can't think of any device I own that has a Firewire port on it.

Guess I'm looking for someone with more insight and experience with the Macbook Air than me, and seeing who loves and doesn't love their product. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks everyone!

MacBook, Mac OS X (10.5.3)
  • mistersquid Level 3 Level 3 (795 points)
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    May 30, 2008 8:27 AM (in response to bpatton)
    I'm going to give my honest opinion of the MBA having owned one for a month now and taken one business (academic) trip with it. I have a fear, though, that a moderator will delete my post because he/she believes Mac discussions readers can't handle earnestness, irony, or facts. That said:

    The MBA is an excellent machine. While it is sturdy I highly recommend at least a lightweight case. I would personally never put a laptop of any sort loose in a carrying device. I use the incase sleeve that goes for 30 (US$) at Apple retail stores.

    The machine can handle medium-duty processing up to and including light digital signal processing. So, Photoshop is not really an issue.

    When you first purchase the MBA, the main problem for users who are already set up on a different machine is migrating their set ups. I did mine wirelessly using Migration Assistant. The original account was on a wired dual 2.5 GHz G5 and the process took about 13 hours. Even then, Migration Assistant converted a few of the apps into binaries that the OS doesn't know what to do with, so I had to install those softwares from scratch/download. Not really a problem or even an annoyance, but if I discovered software I needed on the road, potentially an issue. In this area, I would recommend purchasing a 30 (US$) USB-to-Ethernet adaptor to wire the MBA before migrating.

    The HD is smallish. I use an iPod as a bring-it-with HD solution, but my set up is rare. If you have large iPhoto, Mail (POP) repositories, the MBA will be a bit claustrophobic.

    The keyboard is a dream.

    The wireless has issues. It intermittently disconnects and for no reason I have been able to discern even after trying different things for one month now. Sometimes this intermittency is very annoying (several times an hour). Most times its once or twice a day. It rarely goes more than three days without disconnecting itself.

    Under 10.5.2 (not asserting causal relation, only correlation), when my MBA was using 15% of its processor capacity the enclosure temperatures would get high enough to cause the fan to rev to max. The sound is a high-pitched whine that is fine when I'm by myself though it does accelerate my fatigue when I'm writing. Others on this board have said that in public places such as library the sound is embarrassing, and I don't doubt these reports.

    Since updating, I believe my fan may have relaxed. Not sure what's going on, but the fan seems less aggressive.

    The sound on the MBA has issues. For one, the mono speaker on the right side of the keyboard is awful. Using headphones is acceptable, but there is an issue with digital gurgling when the sound volume rapidly decreases and, according to one report, increases.

    The lack of a firewire port makes upgrading and backup tricky. I use USB-to-Ethernet to clone the MBA hard drive before upgrading (so far once), and the process is not quick. I have not had occasion yet to restore from the backup (so I don't know it will work), but at least one other user has documented restoring the MBA from a Time Capsule backup. The process looks tricky and prone to it-must-be-just-so-ness. I'm crossing fingers I will never have to consult that post on a need-to-do basis. Firewire is a serious missing feature on the MBA and I hope the designers are trying to shoehorn it in now.

    Finally, the weight of the MBA is wonderful. I cannot say enough about how useful the MBA has become around the house and while traveling. A machine that I can support with one hand without full exertion makes the machine mobile, not just portable. In fact, I love this aspect of the MBA, I wish the MBA were even a quarter-pound lighter.

    All of this taken together means that I believe the MBA could serve as a main machine only for someone with medium to light computing needs. A serious computer user would not be able to use the MBA even with a Super Drive (which I think is unnecessary if you have networked machines with optical drives in them). You need a case and you should have a USB-to-Ethernet adaptor.

    I give the MBA a B+. It is a very good machine. It has a few problems but no deal-breakers. Given the MBA features and shortcomings, I think a ten to fifteen percent reduction in cost would make the machine a much better value. At present, the MBA definitely has that annoying early-adopter tax.

    As you go to market, keep in mind WWDC being 9 June. Happy shopping and I hope you follow-up with a report of what you decide to do.
    Mac OS X (10.5.3)
  • Morgan2 Calculating status...
    Currently Being Moderated
    May 30, 2008 8:46 AM (in response to mistersquid)
    I think your wireless/wifi issues are more of a leopard issue than an MBA-specific one. Me and plenty of others have those same symptoms on leopard machines. Tiger machines connect fine. It's been frustrating. But I haven't had any of those issues since going 10.5.3 on my MBA, but that doesn't mean anything as it's an intermittent problem. Still, I'm hopeful.

    As to the OP's question. I think the MBA is worth it. I use mine for surfing, traveling, light design and photo work (I do most of my work on my dual G5). It's a great machine and a spectacular second machine. I'm not sure I'd want it as my only laptop, since I also do music and need firewire, but if you can live with the smallish hard drive (or carrying an external HD), then I'd say go for it. I do think it's built pretty solidly, but I wouldn't just be tossing it (or any laptop) around really.
    Dual 2.7 G5/MBA/30g ipod video, Mac OS X (10.5.2)
  • mistersquid Level 3 Level 3 (795 points)
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    May 30, 2008 8:53 AM (in response to mistersquid)

    Message was edited by: mistersquid
    Mac OS X (10.5.3)
  • NA Smith Level 2 Level 2 (345 points)
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    May 30, 2008 9:40 AM (in response to bpatton)
  • mgerbasio Level 1 Level 1 (20 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    May 30, 2008 11:58 AM (in response to bpatton)
    One thing I'd like to add is poor bluetooth implementation is a big issue for me. I haven't tried it with the update, but I haven't had any luck getting a modem connection to my 3G phone working at high speed. Although I haven't tried a bt headset, I understand there are issues with sound too.

    For what I use it for, it works well.

    Regards-Michael G.
    Macbook Air, Mac OS X (10.5.2)
  • lenn5 Level 4 Level 4 (2,530 points)
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    May 31, 2008 6:12 PM (in response to mistersquid)
    You didn't mention what your thoughts are on the MBA's display. I'm hoping it's an improvement over the MB's LCD.

    iMac Core Duo 1.83/2gig, Mac OS X (10.5.3), PB 12"/768ram, iPod Touch, Airport Extreme N
  • Soft Reset Level 4 Level 4 (1,790 points)
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    May 31, 2008 8:38 PM (in response to lenn5)
    The MacBook Air uses an LED-based screen vs. the LCD found on the current MacBooks. I personally think that all things compared, the LED display to be brighter and crisper. The argument can also be made to power consumption, with a increase on the side of the LED.
    MacBook Air (1.6GHz), Mac OS X (10.5.3)
  • Bostonimann Calculating status...
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    May 31, 2008 9:30 PM (in response to Soft Reset)
    Your post is inaccurate. You state that the screen is LED not LCD.

    The screen is in fact an LCD. I think what you were getting at is that the screen lighting is generated by LEDs and not by a CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp) that you find in the earlier generation Macbook Pros (the newer ones now use LED lighting as well). LCD lighting is brighter and uses less energy, but it has nothing really to do with the screen quality.

    When you think an actual LED display, think the red lit watches of the early 80s.
  • Soft Reset Level 4 Level 4 (1,790 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    May 31, 2008 9:39 PM (in response to Bostonimann)
    +Its 13.3-inch widescreen LED backlit display delivers 1280-by-800 resolution which produces vibrant images and rich colors. The LED technology also conserves battery life.+

    There we go... we'll go with that for my answer. But thank you for the clarification, Bostonimann.
    MacBook Air (1.6GHz), Mac OS X (10.5.3)
  • Bostonimann Level 1 Level 1 (20 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Jun 1, 2008 5:01 PM (in response to Soft Reset)
    No problem Soft. Happy to help.

    I could see how if you didn't otherwise understand the technology, you could read a kind of dangling modifier into the language you quoted. That is, the term "LED backlit display" is meant to discuss the LED backlighting, not the screen technology. Yet, to be clearer it should read "LED backlit LCD display."
    1 Mac Pro; 2 Macbook Pros and a Macbook Air, Mac OS X (10.5.3)


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