I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

Summary: What, I really want is an affordable, yet much higher performance, Chrome Notebook. A natural fit for now just might be the MacBook Air until OEMs starting taking off with Chrome OS.

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Having used my Chrome Notebooks given to me through Google's beta testing program for some time now, I can safely say two things:

  1. I love the Chromebook for what it is (and so does my wife, for that matter)
  2. The Chromebook has several major shortcomings

So what does this have to do with the MacBook Air, a device to which I gave these glowing words:

The new MacBook Air actually isn’t a terrible choice for high school students...as a highly portable machine for the average liberal arts college student, it isn’t a terrible choice either. At least the aluminum would ensure that it could survive most backpacks.

My problem really, as usual with Macs (despite typing this on a Mac right now), is that value-for-your-money proposition. That problem, though, has always seemed to be exacerbated with the Air. Aging processors, too little RAM, anemic graphics, all in a wonderfully trendy, super thin little package. At least if I'm dropping some serious cash on a MacBook Pro, I'm getting myself a new Core i7 and some AMD graphics power.

But wait! The MacBook Air isn't for Photoshop power users. It isn't for running Final Cut. It is for accessing the Internet in an extremely light-weight, convenient package. My Chromebook is also thin and light, and is made for accessing the Internet. In fact, it's worthless if it isn't connected to the Net.

The Chromebook's shortcomings are largely performance- and durability-related. Try opening a few browser windows and several tabs on a Chromebook and you'll be reminded that you're only using a glorified netbook with all of the performance limitations that go with them. The plastic body flexes and the keyboard is very good, but nowhere near great.

A MacBook Air would address both of these issues. While the Core 2 Duo processors in the Air are hardly speed demons, they'll blow away Atom processors any day. I can crank up the Air to 4GB of RAM and, if I keep my background applications to a minimum and stick with a web browser, I suddenly have a Chrome notebook with an awesome keyboard, extreme durability, excellent portability, above-average notebook performance, and local storage besides.

If I look at the MBA for what it is (an instant-on, extremely portable Internet access device), suddenly its technical shortcomings don't seem so significant. Sure, it's still too expensive. But I've come to rely on my Chromebook for hours of correspondence and writing every week. I'd happily pay for a premium version of it. Since even a retail version of it doesn't actually exist, the MacBook Air is about as close as you can get.

Samsung and Lenovo may both have it beat with their latest ultraportables, but (and I never thought I'd say this), the MBA's cost is easier to justify. It's dated processors put it at an attainable pricepoint in the super-portable-but-not-a-netbook category.

No doubt, the Chromebook was built for low prices and will more than meet the needs of the average consumer. My wife has yet to complain about performance. It will be perfect for school installations and a variety of business settings. But the next iteration of a Chrome OS notebook needs to be a lot more MacBook Air and a lot less Asus eee PC. Those of us who live in the cloud and make our livelihoods here need some more get up and go. And we shouldn't have to buy a Mac to get it.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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47 comments
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  • So often a consumer falls into the "specifications" trap

    What are the computer's specs? What can the computer DO?

    These two questions are at the heart of any computer review and really, only the "what can the computer do" question has any real merit.

    Any online search can point to various computer benchmark results. For example, MacWorld published benchmarks that indicated a 13" MacBook 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo (mid 2010 model) performed very slightly slower, overall, than the 13" MacBook Air 1.88 GHz Core 2 Duo despite the apparent slowness of the MBA's CPU chip set.

    (The 11" MacBook Air 1.4 GHz Core 2 Duo performed roughly twenty percent slower than those other models .. for comparison sake)

    So, obviously, specifications alone can be misleading. Chris tried to point out that, in the end, what the computer is used for or its overall utility are far more important than specs or an "outdated processor".
    kenosha77a
    • It is strange to hear that Air's CPU/RAM is not for Photoshop since this ..

      @kenosha7777: ... device is faster than almost any x86 workstation from five years ago when that CPU power and RAM was considered perfect for running Photoshop.

      So, <b>what exactly made the very same CPU/RAM perfect for Photoshop then, but now, all of sudden, is making Macbook Air unusable for that kind of work?</b>

      Of course, now we can get even much faster CPU and bigger RAM, but even CPU/RAM performance of Air was considered as superfast for Photoshop years ago. Every professional was in envy for Air's CPU/RAM performance.

      So, actually, Macbook Air works perfectly well with Photoshop according to five years ago standards, and unimaginably, fantastically fast beyond any wildest dreams of Photoshop professionals from ten years ago. It is incredibly fast with that work, if you ask them.
      DDERSSS
      • Exactly, the amount of CPU / memory you need is vastly overrated. Would

        love to see screaming quad-core Arm ChromeOS netbooks though.
        DonnieBoy
      • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

        @denisrs So we'll load the mac version of a five year old photoshop program and let it eat...
        athynz
      • missing: GPU

        @denisrs

        Graphics programs are more heavy users of the GRAPHICS processing unit, not the CPU...

        That said, even with graphics factored in, the MBA could probably run circles around my gaming desktop (which is going on 3 years old, and was "budget")
        shryko
  • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

    You forgot to also mention that with Mac OS, you are not restricted in the number of apps that you are able to run at the same time and you get a fully functional OS that is able to run on lower spec hardware. Windows Starter Edition allows only 3 applications at a time to be running.
    Wakemewhentrollsgone
    • NO THREE APP LIMIT

      @ptorning <br>'Little knowldege is dangerous' not for you but for others. Especially when you express your ideas on a forum.<br><br>There is no such limit on Win7 Starter and yes, I have used it.<br><br>http : //windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/products/windows-7-starter-top-questions
      VoicesInTheHead
      • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

        @VoicesInTheHead

        Thankyou for that. It was widely reported that W7S, like Vista Starter, would only be able to run 3 programs. I stand corrected.
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
    • doesn't the chromebook run CHROME, not windows?

      @ptorning

      Just a minor point of issue...
      shryko
  • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

    I don't think comparing the Chrome book with any machine in the market right now is fair. The Chrome book, as far as I understand, was given to you and a select group of folks to test the functionality of a new breed of computers. It was not given to you and a select few to test and compare its horsepower, or any other given hardware spec, with any other machine out there. As it is, the Chrome book is a proof of concept, not a final product comparable to anything in the market.
    asg749d@...
    • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

      @asg749d@... <br>Oh come on. Google gave/loaned the laptop to a professional tech writer. Just what do you think they expected him to do? He has written a fair and balanced article.
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
    • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

      @asg749d@...

      I HAVE a Chrome Netbook and it sits unused most of the time. It's a great go anywhere machine but it is very slow. Open a few tabs and it slows down quite a bit. The fact that there's no easy way to get files to/from it or even remote into another system is tough....

      The trackpad is horrible and while it's a great idea it needs a LOT of work.

      I keep thinking of selling my 15" Macbook and getting an Air + iMac and being done with it. But the cost is a little much!
      itguy08
    • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

      @asg749d@... He never, not once, mentioned a benchmark of the Chromebook. He is comparing USABILITY, and for common routine tasks, at that.

      What he should have mentioned even more strongly, is that with the MBA you get a full-blown operating system and complete usability (iMovie??) even when there is no network connection to be found.
      lelandhendrix@...
  • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

    Hi, I have a MBA and frankly have not found anything I can't do on it. Do not be mislead by the CPU game and think smart. heavy lifting? I remote in to a VM to do that.

    I've also come to appreciate the deeper value of the apple approach and while it's not without faults, the MBA has replaced my Windows 7 laptops and is excellent value for money in my personal opinion.

    Weighs squat, takes no space in a bag, can run my whole day on the go without lugging a charger around, and is instant on/off with actual applications that can operate with no net too.

    Having tried it, I wouldn't go back to anything else.
    eiren@...
    • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

      @eiren@...
      Lenovo S10 netbook $275
      9 Cell Battery Upgrade $39
      2 GB memory upgrade $40

      Is there $600 worth of improvement in the actual end-user *experience* between the two devices? An aluminum case, a thinner profile, a full sized keyboard, and a CPU that is more powerful, but that you'll only use for the same basic tasks that do not require a powerful CPU, anyhow.

      Apple allows average people to feel affluent by letting them spend more on something than is strictly necessary. That is their great market advantage. The college student or teacher gets to understand a little of what it might feel like to buy not just a BMW, but the BMW M3 - the Mercedes CLK AMG - relatively speaking.
      dcolbert@...
      • You will notice the processor difference

        @dcolbert@...
        I have a Dell netbook with an Atom N270 processor. It has run (for no less than 2 months in each case) XP, Windows 7, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, and OSX. OS X and Ubuntu are by far the faster alternatives for this machine but nonetheless you really do *know* you are using an Atom rather than a Core CPU when doing any real Internet usage. All it takes is one Flash(!) or Shockwave enabled page and redraws, multiple tabs, background tasks, everything is palpably slower. I have other options so for me it's not a $600.00 difference but I have a friend with one of these same netbooks who would beg to differ. For her the machine is the household's 2nd PC but her primary platform. She just can't say enough about how slow the machine is and how much she would love to pitch it off into the sweet by and by.

        Given the budget for it, I would go for the MBA, or any small form factor <b>notebook</b> (not Atom powered) over a netbook any day of the week.
        use_what_works_4_U
    • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

      @eiren@... I totally Agree!
      PamieK
  • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

    My Macbook Air isn't my "main" machine but I do most of my work on it. It's a really REALLY nice machine.
    Herrie
  • RE: I've now discovered why someone would want a MacBook Air

    The MBA is a self identified 'niche' machine. It doesn't claim to be a be all end all main computer for most any one. It is a highly portable, sleekly designed, light weight computer that one can carry most anywhere with ease and has enough horsepower to get most writing or on the go tasks accomplished. Bang for the buck Apple, which traditionally holds the high ground in price, did the right thing by dropping the MBA from it's introductory pricing up in the high teens to hovering around the single grand mark. At that price and for those purposes it is a great value.
    Speaking of value, you point out in your blog that the Chrome netbook is cheaply made and feels like it. You do tend to get what you pay for, in this case I'll give Google a break in that the device you have from them is a beta. That said, when comparing Apple Macs to any comparable, repeat, comparable WinPC they are far from being overpriced. When you line up features and quality of production you'll find that Apple is right in line with comparable HP's, et al, on price and value. The old Apple tax myth is just that, a myth. I've read, I believe in these hallowed halls, that in the above $1000.00 market, Apple has about a 90% share. Not bad for being 'over priced'.
    Finally, I've an aging, but still very good MacBook Black from nearly three years ago and find it more than adequate for writing and other work related tasks. I did notice that when I was doing iMovie and iDVD that it took an inordinate amount of time, but hey, it's a lightweight laptop, not some aluminum tower with a 64 core processor.
    For it's intended purpose my MacBook Black is ideal. For the intended purpose of the MacBook Air, they are hot little machines that seem to be selling well. The proof is in the pudding.
    dheady@...
  • You are

    You are paying for quality, that's the reason I pay $200 dollars for some Oakley sunglasses, sure I can get a cheap store brand but I know those will fail me when I need them the most...
    Hasam1991