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:-
* 1.3Ghz dual core intel i5 processor
* 4Gb of memory
* 128Gb of "hard disk" - it's actually zippy SSD
* 1,440x900 pixels on screen backed with Intel HD Graphics 5000
I have to say, 128Gb is not huge, and if you've a large video, photo or music collection I'd advise the 256Gb model. You should be OK with 4Gb of memory though unless you plan to run an awful lot of programs simultaneously.
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
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.
on 31 December 2014
Here is my non scientific review for Mac Air 13” upgraded with i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 512GB PCI-e based flash drive. I know the listing may be different, but there are no i7 option on Amazon, that’s why I’m posting my review here. I ordered mine from Apple.co.uk, it is also a UK model with UK keyboard and OS X Yosemite out of the box.
I am (was) a Windows guy with more than 20 years experience with Windows machines only, this is my first real experience with Mac and their OS. In this review I will tell a little bit about my choice, why Apple not Windows, and also some things of professional background, how this laptop does with my weekend photography job. I also added some comparison with few numbers. Review turned out a bit longer than I expected, but still I really hope you will enjoy it and it will help you.
First, WHY Apple Mac?
For some time I couldn’t decide, should I buy a Mac or a new, powerful and nice looking Windows based laptop. In terms of design, I always preferred Apple, I love aluminium bodies of all MacBooks. But, I have always been slightly scared of their operating system, which is completely different and, to be honest, it’s somehow limited too. I used to be an Apple hater for some time, but, for a big surprise for me, when I fed up with Nokia and their Windows Phone smartphone (Lumia 800) about 20 month ago, I went to store and bought iPhone 5 (latest model that time) and I was amazed, how better the phone was, compared to “simple” Windows Phone. I wanted to throw my Lumia almost every day, with iPhone, it never happened! I now bought iPhone 6 on release day and never regretted my choice, I think they are a big step in front of any other competitor at the moment, even if there are some limitation compared to Android. I also have two pricey Sony Android phones and I have something to compare. So keeping this in mind, I decide to try a Mac, with their OS.
And WHY MacBook Air?
I went to the Apple store and looked for my favourite laptop, I really wanted to see before order. I felt in love with Air’s super slim design, it’s about 3x thinner than my previous Win laptop, WOW! Actually, I always liked it, but never considered it because of Mac OS. I also liked the larger 13” and 15” MacBook Pro, but they are slightly bigger and not so impressive & portable anymore. Can’t say that I’m taking out my laptop everyday, but I know, that 15” version would always leave it at home and keeping in mind, that in successful personal Mac experience, I will get large desktop iMac too, I wasn’t very interested in 15 inch model now.
In the 13” league, there are 3 offers currently, the Air, the Retina MBP and, for some reasons, Apple still offers older design 13” MacBook Pro without retina screen. Between new retina MBP and Air, many will consider Air for it’s lower price, Air is actually the best selling MacBook, probably for it’s price. But in my case, the upgraded version cost me £1449, which is more than any base 13” MacBook retina, so, why then I picked up the upgraded Air over 13 inch retina ProBook in the end?
Here I will make some notes and points in several categories.
First and foremost- the size and battery.
Even if you think the difference between them are not that huge, there is still some. Air is also a way better battery life, because of lower spec CPU, not sure about maximum 12hours, but I can easy go 10hours with 9/10 lvl brightness and 2/10 lvl of backlight keyboard. 13 inch retina can’t do that! And Air wights less too.
This is one very big point for Air here. Probably this is the most important thing- size/weight/battery life. Even if there are better ultrabooks on the market, running Windows, there are no better ultrabooks in Apple family, none of their laptops can do so long with one charge! And look at this sweet size, it’s just incredible! I can now use my laptop like my iPhone, charge during the night, and use all day long. Saw Lenovo’s add for their X1 carbon, comparing to Air, how good battery is in their machine, and how bad in Air’s, but in reality, reviewers couldn’t get even close to Lenovo’s stated numbers.
Body, battery and design gets 1 vs 0 , clear Air win here.
Screen- most discussable component on Air.
A little downside of Air is it’s screen. Many will say that retina is the most wanted option on Air, and I agree, retina screens are technically better- colour, contrast, resolution… they are just better! But for my eyes, that ultra high resolution on 13” screen is just too high, it’s difficult to read smaller texts on it, it’s like having a full HD resolution on the phone’s screen, how far you can read it? You can zoom in text on pages/word, but can you zoom in the menu bar or other system texts? A thing to consider before going for retina screen with it’s ultra high resolution. On 15 inch screen it’s different story, because of actual size of the screen, but in 13 inch league, I see it more like marketing thing, a selling point for Apple over competitors. I don’t need selling numbers, I wish the Air’s screen was better, in terms of colour accuracy, but I definitely don’t need that ultra high resolution.
Anyway, tech is one thing, but I will add some personal thoughts about Air’s screen too.
I have mine equipped with Samsung screen, there are also LG versions around, you can check it through terminal, copy this in terminal and it will give you result:
ioreg -lw0 | grep IODisplayEDID | sed "/[^<]*</s///" | xxd -p -r | strings -6
Output prefix “LP” stands for LG screen while “LSN” for Samsung.
So it’s a bit of lottery, which one you’ll get, as you don’t know before turning it on and going through terminal. More experienced Mac users will notice without terminal, because Samsung screen is more red&saturated while LG is less saturated & some says it’s washed out (but shows colours more accurately).
You can adjust colours with screen calibration, or you can download and add ICC presets too. I did both, tested different variations, currently set back to default as none of them was much better- if not red, then too blue and vice versa. What I like about this Samsung screen is it’s warm feel, beautiful for web and typing, but I don’t like it when working with photos, I do a lot of photography stuff and this thing annoys me a bit. I haven't did a serious calibration yet, but so far, I’m not very satisfied with it, but this is only from colour representation point, otherwise, screen is nice and sharp. So, if you’re doing lots of photography or design, be prepared for screen calibration. (many professionals calibrates their screens anyway, this is the best way how to get accurate colours on any screen)
It’s 1.5 vs 0.5 now, (0.5 for each of them). Retina screen has better colour accuracy, it’s sharper (because of higher pixel density) and black/white levels are better too. Technically retina wins no doubt, but on the other hand, for 13 inch size, my eyes prefers the old screen and retina with it’s high resolution is more like selling argument not a real time benefit.
Low power dual core processors only on Air, this is another trade off for small size and long battery life, but is it so bad as it may look at the first time? No! When talking about Apple family and their 13 inch machines, they all comes with dual-core processor only, Airs and Pros, no quad option available (Dec 2014). There is difference only in CPU speed and TDP (thermal design power), (here is Wikipedia explanation for TDP: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_design_power )
I did some comparison and here:
we have a small table with CPU’s: number one is i7 from Air, number two is base i5 from 13 inch retina Pro Book selling for £1399 (there are cheaper bases too, currently thee on UK store, I took this because of price), and the last is from 15 inch Pro Book for £1599, this is a base - cheapest model.
As we see, Air is just a little bit slower, not far away from 13inch retina.
And I did some graphic comparison too.
The table shows:
again, first is Air with it’s HD 5000 graphic, then comes 13&15 inch base graphic chip HD 5200 (also called Intel Iris graphics) and then last is top of the range 15 inch with GeForce 750M which sells from £1999.
The 5000&5200 makes no big difference, while there is pretty obvious leap on upgraded 15 inch. Again, you can’t get dedicated GeForce graphic on 13 inch retina, it only comes as option for 15 inch for £500.
So, even the numbers shows that there is some slight advantage for 13 inch retina, I don’t see the big point of getting retina 13 inch because you will probably never notice the lack of power while you will clearly notice the difference in battery life. The only thing is, you can upgrade RAM on MBP to 16GB, but 8GB is maximum for Air, never needed that much anyway.
For me it’s 2 vs 1 now ( 0.5 goes for Air and 0.5 goes for MBP in terms of Hardware).
Besides numbers, here are some words of my experience with Air.
As mentioned before, I do photography, so Lightroom is one of the most used programs on my laptop, after internet browser and Spotify. I’ve been very surprised, how quick this small machine is! I have 20 mpix RAW files from Canon 6D, and it adds effects to them very quickly, there is some slow down when zooming to 100% , especially with some luminance noise reduction on pic, but still, it’s quite good and I don’t feel big annoyance working with pictures. It also syncs effects and adds them to thumbnails very quickly so you can see the actual image just after syncing. Image processing from RAW to WEB size (1500px widest edge) is also fine, 150pictures took about 10minutes to process, compared to 30-40 minutes on my old Windows laptop (with AMD A4300 2.5GHz dual core processor with turbo up to 3.1 and TDP of 35W). And the best thing is, that I could easy use Lightroom to do other pictures while processing those, with previous laptop I couldn’t do anything at that time. Yes, laptop got hot and it start making some fan noise, but I think it’s just adequate for tasks like that.
I did some Photoshop stuff too, but it looks like with one picture, with several layers and some effects, it doesn’t get in trouble. For example, tried some path blur with 5-6 arrows and it adds them instantly on WEB size image, or takes few sec for full resolution image, also when editing full resolution image, there is no visible lag on effect preview, it takes 2-3 sec to add filter when you press enter.
In the end, for me it’s clear win for Mac Air in the 13 inch Mac league. I only blame Apple for selling me Mid 2013 machine on Late 2014, this is just not right, they had to update every model, not only the cheapest one. Yes, the Apple page shows the date of purchase, but I don’t like having old thing for premium price.
Air is one sophisticated machine, it’s light, beautiful and still powerful enough. I am sure I will feel the weight difference in my backpack and I will be happy to have those few extra hours of battery life over that little edge in performance and screen resolution that I could have getting a MacBook Pro 13 inch retina.
And like with every Mac product, you’re not only buying a hardware, but you also pay for design, and all design things cost more than other even if they are made of same materials.