Top positive review
46 people found this helpful
Beautifully designed, incredibly thin and fast - I love it!
on 20 December 2014
If you're like me, you'll have spent ages comparing features and specs before splashing the cash on a new laptop. I certainly did, and I finally settled for the Mac Book Air, and here's why.
Quick word of warning first - if you already own a Macbook Pro or Macbook Air, and want a techie comparison best skip this review. I've come from a Windows background, and I'm not an expert on the Apple mac line-up, and this is meant for similar non-experts.
Firstly, the hardware - which is just stunning. It's incredibly thin and light at just 1.4Kg (just over a bag of sugar), and I hardly notice it in my case. The unibody design, carved out of a single peice of brushed aluminium gives this device a firm but incredibly light-weight feel, with a huge track-pad and beautifully made back-lit keyboard - great for typing in bed when it's dark. It's astonishing really, that a device this thin is so rigid - it just screams top build quality and beautiful attention to detail.
Just like the iPad Air - this really is "a thing of beauty".
Apple make a point of not comparing the numbers, (it's all about the experience not just a comparison of numbers) but here's a summary of this device:-
* 1.4Ghz dual core intel i5 processor
* 4Gb of memory
* 256Gb of "hard disk" - it's actually zippy SSD
* 1,440x900 pixels on screen backed with Intel HD Graphics 5000
In terms of connectivity you get:-
* Mag Safe 2 power plug.
* 1 x Thunderbolt port - to attach to fast external disks etc
* 2 x super-fast USB 3 ports (one either side - nice touch)
* Headphones output for external speakers
* 720p front facing web camera
* SDXC Card Slot for photos
Apple hardware is more expensive than the equivalent running Windows, but you do get what you pay for,. This includes the cleverly designed "Mag Safe" magnetic power socket - so if a small child accidentally pulls on the power cable it disconnects from the laptop rather than dragging it crashing to the floor.
These machines don't come with a wired network connection - it's assumed you'll connect using WIFI, but they are well future proofed - as they support the latest 80211ac standard - basically the same as before but faster. Be aware you may need to update your router to make use of this. My existing router is fast enough - but it's nice to have the future proof design.
As a prior Windows laptop user, the multi-touch trackpad is a real revelation. You can scroll down web pages or documents (two fingers up/down), or scroll through web history (two fingers left/right), or (just like the iPad), use three fingers to scroll through your running applications. This is a fantastic feature if you're constantly switching between two apps, for example a web page and a document, or a web page and your mail application.
Open the "System Preferences" window and you see a short video illustrating how you can configure the options. It's hard to over-state the benefit of the track-pad. It's so wonderfully accurate, it makes your laptop a real pleasure to use (again compared to my Windows laptop).
As already stated, the keyboard is fantastic. Island style black keys - nicely spaced out, and back-lit. There's a set of dedicated keys along the top to control features including screen brightness, play, fast forward and stop, plus sound.
Of course you don't get a CD/DVD drive - but all software is available online through the Apple Mac Store, and another nice surprise - consistently cheaper than equivalent windows software, and without the annoying collection of boxes, software keys and disks to avoid losing. You can of course buy an external DVD drive if you really need one (I found several on Amazon for as little as £26 - and it means you can leave it at home).
Battery life is quoted at something silly (9-12 hours), and I generally get an entire day of general use (web browsing, videos, mails etc), before I started get a warning - so you should be able to take this on a long haul flight or a long train journey without any problems.
Where this really shines though is the screen. It's apparently 1,366 x 768 pixels, and looks just stunning. Videos are crisp and clear, but where is really shines is reading or writing text.
Sound quality is not bad, although not as good as I'd have hoped - but I plug in external speakers myself - or better still, stream music wirelessly to a bluetooth speaker. it's worth noting, you can now stream anything on screen (videos or Netflix) to an Apple TV - including high quality sound. A great bonus.
I get to test an awful lot of wireless bluetooth speakers, and they're a fantastic way to listen to music or the radio streamed from your Mac, iPad or Smartphone, and sound quality is astonishingly good.
The best devices I've tested and reviewed at every price point are:-
* £25 - Lepow Modre - Really cute design, bright colours and impressive sound for the money.
* £40 - ADX Fusion - Stylish aluminium design and excellent sound quality. Great value for the money from a small UK based company
* £60 - Audio Dynamix Atom V2 - Solid build in a beautiful brushed aluminium design with an impressive sound stage. Incredible value.
* £90 - Audio Dynamix Pulse V2 - Quirky design, but packs a punch way above its weight. Incredible sound quality, amazing value.
* £129 - Soundblaster Roar - Fantastic design with tons of features and a great sound
* £160 - Bose Soundlink Mini - Beautifully stylish with a warm and full room filling sound
* £250 - Bose Soundlink V3 - Simple but stylish design with an incredible sound stage
* £400 - Bowers & Wilkins A5 - Mercedes top end HI FI in a bluetooth speaker. Unlike the others, this is mains only, not rechargable
* £700 - Bowers & Wilkins A7 - Mercedes S Class. Absolute top end HI FI quality at a price to match
But back to the Macbook Air. In terms of software, these are well provided for straight out of the box including free copies of:-
* Pages - a fully featured word processor similar to MS Word
* Numbers - Excel spreadsheets for Apple
* Keynote - PowerPoint equivalent
* Calendar, Mail and iPhoto editor and organiser
* Movie Maker - to edit and publish home-made videos
* Reminders - to remind you
Of course if you need it, you can always buy Windows, Excel and Powerpoint for the mac (additional cost).
I love the fact the Macs now work well with the iPhone and iPad. That means (for example) you can set a reminder on your Mac and have it automatically appear on your iPhone. Likewise, enter contacts on one device, and they're available on all. You can take a photo on your iPhone and it automatically appears on your Mac (and iPad) without having do do anything. Finally, you can even start a document on your Mac and then continue to edit on your iPad by saving stuff in "the cloud".
Of course one of the considerations is which size to buy, 11inch or 13 inch. Well, for my money, it's actually a really close call. You see while in the past there used to be a significant speed difference, now the only real difference is literally screen size and an extra half kilo of weight. On the 13 inch Macbook Air you also get an SDXC card slot (a bonus if you take/transfer a lot of photos), but otherwise there's little difference. The battery life on the 13 inch is quoted at 12 hours (up from 9 hours), so if you're a serious road warrior it's a bonus, but otherwise it's literally down to size.
Be aware as well, you'll also certainly find this Macbook Air is an American rather than a UK model (hence the discounted price). Don't worry, Apple do provide world-wide warranty, and it makes no difference to your support contact, but you will find it as a USA rather than an English keyboard. Again, not to worry. Look down at your keyboard. Over the 3 you'll find a £ sign. On the American keyboard, this is the "hash" sign. Can can however always get the £ symbol, by pressing "Option 3" instead of "Shift 3". As with all US shipments it will come with a standard charger with both the US and UK plug (it's illegal to sell electrical devices in the UK with a UK plug) - so think of that as a bonus. The power is auto-sensing - which means it will work world-wide, in the UK, USA or Europe.
But a final word of warning - and not something Apple tend to shout about. I'm used to being able to upgrade hardware when it starts to slow down. Be aware you can't upgrade ANYTHING on these machines. Even the memory is soldered in place so buy the best you can. OK so you can always attach a large external disk, but it's a bit disappointing you can't upgrade the internal disk or memory.
On balance - I'd have to say I love Apple Macs - and indeed all Apple hardware (iPhone, iPad included) so it's hard to give a purely objective view. But this is a beautifully designed, well built machine - just buy the biggest, fastest you can afford - or accept you'll be selling it on eBay in three years time to replace it.
However, as long as you're aware of the limitations, go for it. This is a truly beautiful device, and will give you years of sheer pleasure. Believe me, once you've moved from Windows to a Mac, you'll never go back.
I do hope this review was helpful.