The 11″ Apple MacBook Air

A couple of weeks ago I took the plunge and bought a new laptop. I have been looking at small lightweight notebooks for quite a while and I have been trying to work out out whether the iPad or any of the other tablets would be OK for the work that I do. You see, I am getting a little bit older and I want to carry less weight – partly because I seem to be getting on and off of planes a lot more and partly because I would like to use trains instead of automatically driving everywhere.

Until very recently nobody made the right piece of kit. Apple have been promising to come close with the first and second generation MacBook Air models as well as the 13″ MacBook Pro but, somehow, none of their kit has quite got it right. I have looked at Windows notebook and sub-notebook models from a range of manufacturers and both HP and Sony have come close.

Then along came the third generation Apple MacBook Air and I am delighted by the 11″ model that I now own. I bought an i5 powered model with 4Gb of RAM and a 128Gb SSD drive and I am blown away by the performance – even compared to my 2010 15” MacBook Pro with an i5 processor and 8Gb of RAM.

When I got the new Air I posted on a Facebook group that I would report back about it. Two weeks later and having done a few jobs with it I thought that it was time to post my opening thoughts about it. It came with OSX Lion loaded which threatened to present a few compatibility issues with older versions of applications. Indeed, my main workhorse application Photo Mechanic was being reported as having one or two issues with slide shows. Two days after getting the Air Camera Bits released a Beta version of the software designed for OSX Lion and I have been using it ever since. In fact the second Beta is now loaded and it all seems to be going swimmingly. Issue number one sorted.

Issue number two concerned the software that controlled the two 3G USDPA mobile broadband dongles that I rely on when I am on the road. The 3 network posted an update for their drivers within a day or two and so I was left waiting for Vodafone to follow suit. It wasn’t a deal-breaker though because I have a Mifi unit for the Vodafone network and the new Air seems to work flawlessly with that. A few days ago a fellow Apple enthusiast and Vodafone customer Edmond Terakopian noticed that Vodafone had quietly put an update on their website and that meant that issue number two was sorted as well.

Issue number three was to do with loading Apple’s own Final Cut Express. It just would not load onto the MacBook Air and work. The first attempt to load it ended with having software in the Apps folder that wouldn’t open without getting a compatibility error message and the second attempt left me without even that. I searched some forums looking for the answer and the Apple community finally pointed me in the direction of an upgrade to Apple’s plug-in manager which let issue number three finally sorted.

What happened next is still a mystery. It seems as if getting Final Cut Express working stopped Aperture from functioning. Every time I try to launch Aperture I get an error message telling me to check with the developer to see if the version of Aperture is compatible with the latest OSX. Well, as far as I know I have the latest version having downloaded it from the App Store. Issue number four is most definitely NOT sorted!

That’s enough of problems – what about the good stuff? Well, the Air is small and light and pretty quick considering the specification. It runs my basic applications (Photo Mechanic, Photoshop CS5 for Adobe Camera RAW and Transmit) very well and the gloss screen is far less of an issue than I feared it might be. The lack of a Firewire 800 port means that my workflow has had to change a little – I am not ingesting everything as a matter of course on this laptop. Instead I am using the UDMA enabled Lexar USB card reader to do a rapid initial edit and only import the pictures that have a chance of making it into the edit – cutting a stage out of my usual workflow.

Someone, somewhere wrote that the best camera is the one that you have with you and with the MacBook Air that same description will be applied to laptops. So many times in the past I have left my laptops in the car or at home because they are heavy enough to notice. Even with the small power supply I would be happy to carry the Air almost all of the time.

The big bonus, apart from the size and weight of the MacBook Air is its solid state hard drive – which is a revelation. To say that it is fast to boot would be an understatement. To say that it is quick to perform it’s tasks would be to equally shortchange it’s efficiency. I hope that I will always get SSDs from now on, they make all sorts of sense and they are tougher, quieter and see to produce a lot less heat. Finally, a laptop you can use on your lap without getting second degree burns! This new MacBook Air is as quick as my seemingly far better specified MacBook Pro. It weighs very little, has excellent battery life and stays cool.

Given the choice between buying either a MacBook Pro OR a MacBook Air I would probably say that a Pro with a SSD would be the best option if it is your only computer. I am lucky, the Air isn’t my only computer and it isn’t crammed full of Apps that I use twice a month so it is running sweetly and I love it.

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