MacBook Air Review: Thin, Light, and Utterly Mainstream

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When I’m out and about I rarely miss them. For my own Air, I splurged on an external DVD burner, but have only needed it about three times to date. (Two of those instances were when I wanted to install Windows 7 and Adobe Creative Suite CS5.) I have Apple’s USB Ethernet adapter, but have only used it to ensure high-quality Skype video when I’ve guested on TWIT.

Airs are also devoid of user-installable upgrade capability: if you want 4GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, you’ll need to buy them now or forever hold your peace. My own Air has just 2GB of RAM, and I’ve occasionally felt an obligation to bristle at the fact that it can’t be upgraded to 4GB. But you know what? It’s not a real problem. The machine isn’t perceptibly slower than the 4GB MacBook Pro I once used.

Of course, you may want an optical drive built into your laptop. Or a great big hard disk, or a profusion of ports, or a bigger display, or something that comes in at a lower price. That’s fine; lots of people do, and notebooks that have all of the above and more aren’t going anywhere. But the Airs don’t suffer from the traumatic compromises traditionally associated with machines in their class.

(PHOTOS: TIME’s Steve Jobs Covers)

You might also be interested in an Air-like system built to run Windows–and there you might run into trouble. The MacBook Air hasn’t proven as influential as I might have expected among Windows laptop makers, a group of companies who usually err on the side of more stuff at lower prices over Apple-style elegant minimalism. Windows machines that bear any resemblance to the Air at all tend to be cheaper and chunkier. Or, like Samsung’s Series 9 and Sony’s Z Series, slick but pricier than an Air. (What was that about an Apple Tax again?)  Or, like Dell’s Adamo, just plain unsuccessful. I hope that the new Airs inspire Apple’s competitors to try again.

My list of Air nitpicks is short. If these laptops were available with embedded 3G (or 4G) wireless, I’d be thrilled–and since Apple can build it into an iPad, I figure that it’s possible to squeeze it into a Mac. I also regret the absence of a slot for SD memory cards on the 11″ model; if it had one, I might pick that even more portable Air over its 13″ friend, which does have an SD slot. Then again, if Apple ever decided to build a 14″ or 15″ Air, I’d consider that, too.

Mostly, though, I think that these are the terrific portables that Apple set out to build. By sticking with the Air concept and refining it, the company is redefining what an everyday notebook is–and I suspect that it’s just getting started with this idea.

MORE: Apple Rolls Out OS X Lion, Faster MacBook Airs, Kills MacBook

This article originally appeared on Technologizer.

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