Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New MacBook Air models

Today Apple hosted a live webcast, 90 minutes long, to preview their newest version of iLife 11, Lion (OSX 10.7) and their latest MacBook Air. Initially, the video required Safari 5 and OSX 10.6.4 to watch, but I just tested the replay on my Mini running 10.5.8 and Firefox 3.0.14. I don't have a Tiger Mac to test it on, but you should be able to view this using this link.

Nice as iLife looks, and the cool new features in Lion are impressive, the "One more thing..." revealing the new MacBook Air models was a jaw dropper. From being merely a niche product, the new portable can serve as your only Mac, with just a few limitations.

There are now two models, a 13" and an 11" model, the size of a netbook. At its thickest point it is 0.68 inch, tapering to .11 inch at the front. The 13" weighs 2.9 lbs; the 11" weighs 2.3 lbs. The screen resolution of the 13" is higher than the current Air as well as the 13" MacBook Pro.

There is no optical SuperDrive, like the current Air model. Want one? They have a $79 external USB drive. There is no hard drive. It was designed around flash memory storage, which on the smallest, cheapest model holds 64Gb data, and the largest can hold 256.

These smaller drives may be a deal breaker if you are used to carrying 100Gb of iTunes and 50Gb of iPhotos and movies. Those can be offloaded to an external USB drive but then you wouldn't have them with you so you might want an iPod if that's important.

USB-only drives are as low as $79 for a terabyte so if you don't have backups yet, now is the time to buy one. Set up to back up via Time Machine (10.5 and 10.6 only) the Migration Assistant can use this drive for data migration from your old Mac to the new one.

There is no FireWire. I am sad about this. People who already own FW drives for backup can use the USB port all those drives also have. It does mean that Target Disk Mode, which let you plug one Mac into another, is gone. Except when upgrading, this feature is seldom used anyway. It comes with two USB ports and a slot for an SD card, like their current laptops. Tiger Macs doing clone backups with SilverKeeper or SuperDuper can still plug in to the new one and do manual migration (drag and drop your files in the correct places).

The trackpad and the keyboard is full size. For desktop use you can use either USB or wireless keyboards, mice and trackpads. Printers can work either through your network or your USB port. If you have several USB devices you will want a powered USB hub.

The battery life is even better than before. The 13" will run for (up to) 7 continuous hours on the wireless Web (meaning visiting web sites that don't have videos that run it down quicker) and the 13" runs for 5 hours. Standby time (closed and in your bag or on your desk unplugged) is as long as 30 days. This is partly due to the flash storage and shares this kind of battery life with the iPad. The way most people use their laptops is an hour or two at a time, then close it until later. This will let the battery last you all day.

The processor is a little slower than the current MacBook Pro, but much faster than the current Air. The graphics card is about equal to the Pro. Both models come with 2 Gb RAM, upgradable to 4.

Price for this? Well, the original Air sold for $1799. A flash drive added a lot to that cost. The 11" model starts at $999, same as the white plastic MacBook (but the MacBook has a large hard drive, DVD drive and 4Gb RAM). The 13" Air starts at $1299, upgradable to a 256Mb drive for $1599. Add $100 each for the RAM upgrade and faster processor.

Other add-ons include a USB-to-Ethernet adapter for $29 so you can plug right in to a network if wireless is not available. AppleCare is $249. Since the only Apple external display is their 27" LED model for $999 (including camera, speakers, microphone and extra USB ports) you might want to buy a standard 21" to 24" DVI display without all those extras for under $250.

Once you stop thinking about all those extras, realize that for $999 you have everything you need (except AppleCare) if your needs are simple.

Watch the movie via the link above, or if it ceases to work just go to the Apple site and all the videos and descriptions you need are there.

Oh, one more thing 8-) The MacBook Air models are available today. If you order from the online Apple Store, they ship within 48 hours; the independent Apple dealers, the Mac Stores and MacPac and others should have them by the weekend, as should the official local Apple stores. If I hadn't recently purchased my 13" MacBook Pro (which I still love) I would be on the horn for one of these today.

As always, I'll be available to help with setup when you get yours.

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