I Bought A New Apple MacBook Today: Small and Light.


But not as light as air. Alas, I just can’t see going with the new MacBook air. The price is OK (for now), but it’s just too much compromise for me, and here’s why.


In a previous article about what Apple might do regarding new laptops, I said this (emphasis added):

When the latest MacBooks came out, Apple announced they replaced both the iBooks and the 12 inch G4. While the MacBooks are not large, and were thinner than the 12 inch G4, they were larger to hold, or put in a backpack, or use on an airline tray. For some people, while thickness is important it’s not as precious as length and depth, so the MacBook has always felt bigger then the 12 inch.

Ideally, Apple could make a 12 inch widescreen and put 1280 x 800 resolution on it. Could they use the existing 13.3 inch instead? Sure, but subs are supposed to be noticeably smaller notebooks. Starting with such a screen limits how small one can make its width and depth. Look at the current MacBook and imagine shrinking the edges so they hug the screen/keyboard. That’s only going to shave maybe an inch. Not bad, but not necessarily sub notebook territory.

Now compare the MacBook air (top) and MacBook specs below:



Unfortunately, Apple did use a 13.3 inch display, but didn’t “hug” the display. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the MBA’s footprint is larger than the MacBook! So it’s thinner, but depth and width mean a lot more than I think people realize. I’m sure the cost of the unit is a bit lower because Apple used the ubiquitous display, but in the real world of, say, an airline tray table, the new MBA is really no different than a regular MacBook, except it’s a lot slower.

To be sure, it’s lighter weight; the 3 lb. MBA has a big advantage there over the 5 lb. MacBook. But with the MacBook you’re carrying a bigger hard drive, more speed, an optical drive, and a lot more ports (for less money). Even the “thin” advantage of the MBA is only a third of an inch (measured at its thickest). And I can’t stress this enough, the MBA is as large — actually, a bit larger — as the MacBook when you actually set it down and use it. Thinness doesn’t mean anything once you open the thing up for use.

No. The MacBook air is not for me. Frankly, it’s too big for the compromises made and the cost. In fact, I don’t see size as a big advantage of the MBA at all. Rather I see the advantages as follows:

  • Weight (40% less than the MacBook)
  • Durability (I’m guessing here, but if the aluminum machine is as solid as their new wireless keyboard, this thing is tough)
  • Backlit keyboard (I love this feature)
  • Cool factor (there is certainly that, this thing looks great)

For me, that’s not enough. If it had the footprint of or less than a sheet of paper, then maybe.

Bottom line for me is that the MacBook air may kick the competition’s sub-notebooks’ ass, and certainly for those where weight is the ultimate criteria you’ve got a sweet machine available. But for me all it does is make me appreciate the old 12 inch G4 PowerBook (and, for that matter, the current MacBooks) that much more.

16 thoughts on “I Bought A New Apple MacBook Today: Small and Light.

  1. Pingback: smart status failing macbook air

  2. When the Cube came out, I was in the process of buying a Mac. I was going to get the dual 450 PowerMac and then the Cube came out and momentarily charmed me. I did love the tiny form factor, but I realized I was going to give up a whole CPU worth of computing power, and that was an unacceptable compromise. So in the end, despite thinking about the Cube, I got the PowerMac.

    Turns out that was the right decision since I was happy with that machine from when I bought it (about a month after the Cube’s introduction) to when the PowerMac G5 came out. That’s quite a few years to get out of a machine. I went right from the dual 450 G4 to the dual 2.0 PowerMac G5.

    It seems to me that you give up a lot less when you take the MacBook Air and compare it to a MacBook or 15″ MacBook Pro than you did if you gave up a PowerMac versus a Cube. There are few applications that will not run just fine on a dual 1.6ghz Core Duo.

    I’ll still get my MacBook Pro but I think the overwhelming majority of computer users will have no problem at all with the power and even storage of the Air.



  3. Maybe the MBA is Apple’s showcase computer. They want to get it into the hands of executives who are on planes waiting in airports showing off that Apple logo. It’s a status symbol, too.

    Maybe those executives will consider Apples for their companies when they start using one for their trips. Hmmmm? Maybe…

    I would like to have a MPA. My MacBook is heavy and I would not envy carrying it too far from the couch. I used to have a Powerbook G3 and that sucker was hard to carry after 3 blocks. Every pound really counts.

    I rarely use disks, but if I did…we have remote disk…so smart. So smart.


  4. I think a lot of people find screens smaller than 13″ to be too small. That is why current subnotebooks only cater to a niche market. I think the 13″ screen will make this a better seller than any other subnotebook.

  5. Yep, this is the real story—it’s not a freakin’ subnotebook.

    It’s more like all the compromises of a subnotebook in a normal small laptop size + (somewhat pointlessly) superthin.


    Jobs got it dead wrong when he said screen size is one of the compromises of a subnotebook.

    The 12″ PB has a full size keyboard, and an 11″ widescreen is about the same width as a 12″ 4:3 screen therefore making that display the smallest possible you can still pair with a proper keyboard.

    What would have made sense, then, is to go to 11″ widescreen and make the thing a little thicker. You would probably have sacrificed CPU (but really, a dual-core 1.6 or 1.8 GHz CPU is overkill for something like this) and it would have been thicker—but it would have weighed less, had more ports, and probably cost no more.

    The WOW is higher on this MacBook Air, but a true subnotebook MacBook would have been better & more useful to a wider audience.

    (Where the heck is the 160 GB iPod Classic 1.8″ drive?

    Also, I have to go with Gruber on this: the iPhone’s always-on EDGE feels a lot more useful than a notebook’s WiFi—couldn’t Apple cut an Amazon Kindle like deal and bundle at least EDGE and preferably EV-DO or UMTS into the MacBook Air?)

  6. Joe,

    It’s larger. Whether .02 or .002, it’s larger. It’s not the lousy two-hundredths of an inch that matters, the point of the article is that this is allegedly a sub-notebook, yet it has the same footprint as their consumer laptop! The footprint should be smaller. Considerably smaller. That’s its great failing, in my opinion.


    You are certainly correct that I hardly speak for all people (nor did I intend to). I no longer travel, but I lived out of a suitcase for 4 years and the weight difference then would have weighed heavily (pun intended) in my decision.

    And I didn’t minimize it; weight is the first advantage I listed. I think you’re right this is a Road Warrior machine. But they must be RW’s who have a home-based machine as well, and can live with the other compromises. When push comes to shove, most people will not live with a sub-notebook’s compromises, which is why they are not large sellers. I do not believe Apple addressed those compromises in a useful manner, despite their claims to the contrary.

    This will be a niche player. Whether that niche is enough to keep it alive, I simply don’t know.

    I still see this machine’s major claim to fame as simply being so thin, and that will not be enough. I hope I’m wrong and there is the “huge market” you speak of, but I don’t think so.

  7. As you say, For some people, while thickness is important it’s not as precious as length and depth, so the MacBook has always felt bigger then the 12 inch. That’s some people. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently, and it seems that airline gates are getting farther and farther apart. Those ounces and pounds really add up. It’s the weight that bothers people. Size and power aren’t as important. Talking to and watching fellow travelers, more work is done in hotels than in airplanes. Most airplane work I see is reading reports, maybe some light editing. Watching movies also comes in high. I don’t need a 250 GB hard drive to do that. Just give me enough space for my main applications, adequate speed for processing documents and room for a movie or two, and I’m happy. Very few road warriors do movie editing that requires huge drives and very fast processors. I’ve had my MacBook for 4 years. Has an 80 GB drive, and I still have 45 GB left. I think there is a huge market for this – particularly PC road warriors who are taken with iPods and iPhones, and want to take the plunge.

  8. “If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the MBA’s footprint is larger than the MacBook!”

    Its exactly 0.02 inches wider and deeper.

    You’ve been reading Thurrott’s columns for so long you are starting to complain about Apple as he does! LOL

  9. 40% lighter?! In a genuine, fully Mac OS-supporting machine? It’s the answer to my dreams (not to mention my aching back!)

  10. Don,

    I hope more people think like you, as I’d like to see the Air be at least a moderate success. For me, however, it’s claim to fame is it’s size, and the reality is it’s not that “small”, thinness aside.

    It’s cool, though.

  11. I’m not sure, but I think if I were in the market for a laptop I would seriously consider the MacBook Air. There are several reasons: The back lite keyboard; the wireless CD/DVD function, the LED screen, the size and, of course, the mult-touch keypad.

    Still, as much as I like the new MacBook Air, I think I rather pay a little more and get the MacBook Pro 15 inch, LED instead.

  12. @Tom

    As for the iMacs, it was not really a radical new design compared to the Macbook Air. I maybe wrong but I have noticed that the Apple “Rev A curse” usually apply mostly to Apple’s mobile computers more then any of its other product lines.

  13. The G4 cube may be a good comparison. Amazing machine, but where’s the market?

    I wonder how long the multi-touch trackpad will be exclusive to the MacBook Air. My guess is for quite a while, because it’s another level of differentiation. If you want the “wow” factor of multitouch, then pay up.

    Will anyone pay $3k for the SSD version? It’s a great feature, but what a price (as Steve J. alluded to in the keynote).

    Anyway, I enjoy the blog. Keep up the good work, and enjoy your new machine!

  14. Fanboi,

    I bought an iPhone right off the bat, also the version 1.0 aluminum iMacs, and later even Leopard. I think Apple’s track record on “1.0” releases is pretty darn good. If the air seemed a good deal to me I wouldn’t have hesitated to buy it.

    Prediction? I mentioned in my first impressions article that I wondered if they have another G4 Cube on their hands. That’s my biggest concern. I still see the air as a bit of a niche machine, and while the $1,799 is OK today, it won’t be in a few months, and because of all the custom innards I question Apple’s ability to continually keep it fresh and lower the price. Especially without brisk sales.

  15. What’s your prediction, though? Will the MacBook Air be a success? It’s thin, but is the value there?

  16. Plus, the MacBook Air will probably have a few “version 1.0” bugs, especially with the radical design. Good choice.

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