Mossberg Passes Judgement on MacBook Air

MacBook Air 2010

On Wednesday Walt Mossberg, technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, reviewed the latest versions of the MacBook Air in his article "MacBook Air Has the Feel of an iPad in a Laptop". Available in both 11" and 13" models, they start at $999 and weigh as little as 2.3 lbs. Mossberg's review is general very good. He praised Apple for finding a way to bring that which was best about the iPad: fast boot time, long battery life and resumes where you left off. Mossberg claims that both models of the MacBook Air do all these things fairly well with few drawbacks. Apple claims that the 11" MacBook Air will get 5 hours of battery life on WiFi and the 13" will get 7 hours of battery life on WiFi. Mossberg contends that even with his "...harsh battery tests..." he found that both models live up to Apple's claims.

...even with all power-saving features turned off, Wi-Fi kept on, the screen on maximum brightness and a continuous loop of music playing. The 11-inch model lasted four hours and 43 minutes, versus Apple’s claim of up to five hours. The 13-inch model lasted six hours and 13 minutes, versus Apple’s claim of up to seven hours.

He compared these times to the new Dell M101Z, an 11.6" netbook, which costs about $450 and isn't anywhere as slim or light as the MacBook Air and uses a conventional hard disk. The battery life achieved with the same type of harsh battery testing yielding only 2 hours and 41 minutes of battery life. Not nearly as long as the 11" MacBook Air's battery life.

Regarding the speed of resuming work, Mossberg couldn't verify Apple's claim of 30 days of standby time; but he did find that the new standby mode does give uses a very iPad like "instant on."

This standby mode kicks in after about an hour of idle time, and replaces the traditional hibernation system, where your current activity is saved to a conventional hard disk just before the battery dies. With hibernation, getting back to where you were can be slow and somewhat uncertain. With the new “standby” mode, the process just takes a few seconds, only a bit longer than normal sleep.

Of course resuming from standby mode is one thing, booting is something entirely different. Apple has designed the MacBook Air to be a notebook that you only boot or re-boot occasionally; much like an iPad. You will have to boot occassionally though and even in that the MacBook Air is extremely fast.

In my tests, a cold boot took 17 seconds and a reboot, with several programs running, took 20 seconds. By contrast, the Dell I tested took more than three minutes to fully boot up and be fully ready for use.

Mossberg found these new MacBook Air's to be very solid computers. They have bigger screens than competing netbooks. They boot faster. Their batteries last longer. They have full size keyboard. He did find somethings he didn't like about them. He thinks the low end model comes with too little memory, only 64mb. You can add more memory, but at a cost. Neither model has a built-in DVD, but you can add an external one for a little extra. Even more pointedly, you have to decide what you want when you buy them becuase the neither the memory nor the storage space can be upgraded after purchase.

Mossberg notes that the MacBook Air notebooks are not designed to be powerhouses of computing. For the general or light user, a MacBook Air 11" or 13" could be a primary computer; but for those that are heavy users they would make better secondary notebooks. That being said, he didn't find them underpowered even though they are using an older intel chipset.

I was surprised to find that even the base $999 model was powerful enough to easily run seven or eight programs at once, including Microsoft Office, iTunes and the Safari browser with more than 20 Web sites open. It also played high-definition video with no skipping or stuttering.

He ends by basically saying that Apple did "... a nice job..." of making these two notebooks feel more like an iPad without sacrificing their ability to get work done. Which seems to indicate that Walt Mossberg thinks Apple has again met the challenge of making computers people want to own, and then want to keep.