Mossberg, Baig and Levy pass judgment on the MacBook Air - Beautiful, but a compromise

Mossberg, Baig and Levy have passed judgment on Apple's MacBook Air. The conclusion - Beautiful, but a compromise.

Mossberg, Baig and Levy have passed judgment on Apple's MacBook Air.  The conclusion - Beautiful, but a compromise.

MacBook Air

Let's start by looking at what Walt Mossberg had to say:

Apple finally has entered the subnotebook market, introducing a lightweight laptop meant to please road warriors. But, typical of Apple, the company took a different approach from its competitors. The result is a beautiful, amazingly thin computer, but one whose unusual trade-offs may turn off some frequent travelers.

He's clear on the trade-offs:

But then there are those trade-offs. The sealed-in battery means you can’t carry a spare in case you run out of juice, and you have to bring it to a dealer when you need a new one. There’s no built-in DVD drive. The thin case can’t accommodate a larger internal hard disk. And the machine omits many common ports and connectors.

Mossberg carries out his own battery tests:

In my standard battery test, where I disable all power-saving features, set the screen brightness at maximum, turn on the Wi-Fi and play an endless loop of music, the MacBook Air’s battery lasted 3 hours, 24 minutes. That means you could likely get 4.5 hours in a normal work pattern, almost the five hours Apple claims.

And finally, the conclusion:

If you value thinness, and a large screen and keyboard in a subnotebook, and don’t watch DVDs on planes or require spare batteries, the MacBook Air might be just the ticket. But if you rely on spare batteries, expect the usual array of ports, or like to play DVDs on planes, this isn’t the computer to buy.

Baig's review is also mixed.  The positive:

The MacBook Air laptop that CEO Steve Jobs unveiled last week turns heads. And now that I've used this Twiggy-thin, 3-pound marvel for several days, I can also report that it's a remarkably sturdy-feeling machine, especially given its size and weight.

And the negative:

But with too few ports, a sealed battery that you can't replace on your own and no built-in CD/DVD drive, Air is not the ideal laptop for everyone. And while battery power is impressive, it pooped out in my tests well short of the best-case, five-hour scenario Apple has been touting.

Baig is nowhere near as impressed with the battery as Mossberg:

Air's battery life is decent. I got about three hours and 40 minutes as I surfed the Web, used Remote Disc and wrote. The battery died an hour sooner when I watched The Cooler, but I made it through the movie. On a long flight, it would be nice to carry a spare, but unfortunately you can't replace a battery yourself. Apple sells and installs batteries for $129.

Levy loves how skinny the MacBook Air is:

Certainly Apple has fulfilled its goals in terms of thinness. The Air is a lithe sheath of aluminum so slim that it can slide under my office door.  Packed inside the shell--which is three quarters of an inch at its thickest point, trailing off to a wispy 0.16 inches--is two gigabytes of memory, a bright 13.3-inch screen (lit by cutting-edge LED technology) and a full-size keyboard.

But even he gets back to the compromises:

But in service of slimness, something had to go, and depending on how you use computers, these compromises might either be negligible or deal killers. To maintain its Zen-like profile, the Air has a minimal selection of ports--one USB, one for video output to a bigger screen, and a single jack for earphones. That's it.

Levy also thinks that the hard drive is too small:

More disturbingly to power users, the maximum built-in storage option--the only one--is an 80-gigabyte hard drive. Apple insists that if it used the 160-gig hard disk drive it offers in its high-end iPod classic, it would blow the profile of the MacBook Air. Eighty gigs isn't much these days; you can get a bigger drive on even Apple's low-end MacBook.

Levy draws a somewhat gloomy conclusion:

These omissions are troubling--especially to someone in a down-turning economy deciding whether to spend a premium sum for a computer with subpremium storage.

Thoughts: I'd expected the reviews by Mossberg, Baig and Levy to have focussed more on the positive aspects of the MacBook Air and less on the negatives, and after reading all three reviews I'm left with the feeling that while all three love the compact size and sexy aluminum chassis, the compromises present a problem.  The truth is that most ultraportables are a compromise, it's just that the MacBook Air takes minimalism to a whole new level.  The way I see it, the macBook Air is caught in the crossfire between the small hard drive and only one USB port, limiting both storage and expension.  It all depends on what's important to the buyer - small size or features.

One thing's for sure - the MacBook Air is no iPhone.