MacBook Air Review: Thin, Light, and Utterly Mainstream

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When Steve Jobs unveiled the first MacBook Air at Macworld Expo back in January of 2008, he induced lots of oohs and aahs over its astoundingly thin case. I don’t, however, remember many people declaring that it was Apple’s first pass at building the garden-variety Mac of the future. I sure didn’t–in part because I was too busy bemoaning the things that it lacked, such as built-in Ethernet.

Super-thin laptops similar in concept to the Air have been around since at least Digital’s 1994 HiNote Ultra. People have usually assumed that they were aimed at well-heeled businesspeople with decidedly undemanding computing needs–or at least at folks whose real computer is something brawnier and more feature rich.

(PHOTOS: A Brief History of the Computer)

Today, Apple is releasing two new Airs, the successors to the much-improved ones it rolled out last October. It isn’t pitching the new models as specialty machines. Even more than with their predecessors from last year, it’s treating them as well-rounded, versatile computers that happen to be really thin and really light. In fact, a tagline it’s using–”The ultimate everyday notebook”–doesn’t even mention their lack of bulk. And just to clarify things, it’s discontinuing the last machine in its lineup that was simply called a MacBook. From now on, if you want a Mac portable, you’ll choose between a MacBook Air and  a MacBook Pro.

For the past few days, I’ve been reviewing a 13″ model loaned to me by Apple, but I didn’t need any arm-twisting to accept the notion of it as a mainstream notebook. I’ve already been using its predecessor as my primary system since last fall, dual-booting it between OS X and Windows 7. (And spending a fair amount of time explaining to curious passers-by that it really is the computer I spend most of my time on.)

It’s been exactly nine months since Apple announced the most recent 11″ and 13″ Air models, so it’s no shocker that today’s updated models aren’t radical departures from their predecessors. Their aluminum unibody cases are all but unchanged, as are the quoted weights (2.38 pounds for 11″ and 2.96″ for 13″, or very, very slightly heavier than the previous models) . The sealed-in batteries have the same quoted lives as before. The screen resolutions are the same. The starting price point and most basic configuration–$999 for an 11″ Air with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of solid-state storage–are the same.

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