I have been using my new 13″ MacBook Air for just over a week. It is unbelievably thin and light. I am on a business trip now, so I have already used this laptop at home, at work, in cafes, a hotel, the airport, the airplane, in cars, restaurants, and more. Right now I writing this review with the Air and I am sitting at the Banff Springs hotel tethered to my iphone, half enjoying the breathtaking view of the mountains.

It is much faster than I had hoped, the screen is spectacular, and the battery is much better than any new laptop I have ever used. After such a short time, my 15″ Macbook Pro seems ridiculously clunky and heavy. This is by far the best laptop experience I have ever had and I truly believe that this is the future of mobile computing until we find a better alternative to the traditional keyboard.

The biggest problem with the original Air was the cost and the power. Too much cost (way too much for the SSD), too little power. With the new Air models, that has all changed.

I am currently testing the 13.3″ model with 1440×900 pixel screen resolution, 4GB of RAM, 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA GeForce 320M, and 128 GB flash storage (in other words, the base 13″ model with a RAM upgrade). This exact model cost $1450+tax. I am hoping that it will replace my current 15″ MacBook Pro which runs something like this: 1440×990 pixel screen resolution, 4GB of RAM, 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT, and 500 GB 7200rpm hard drive.

The real question is: how does the flash storage compare to a hard drive? The answer is: the increase in speed changes the feel of the computing experience. Anyone who has used a recent iPhone or iPad will know what it is like. Instant on. Applications load in seconds, not 10-20 seconds. I understand that flash memory performance can degrade over time – so I guess only time will tell how this new technology fares in the long run. Right now – it is great.

My standard software configuration is a full suite of Apple (including iWork and Aperture), shareware, and open-source software running in Mac OS X and Windows 7 running in a virtual environment with my development tools, Microsoft Office, Cisco VPN, etc. I switch between the two constantly throughout the day. On my MacBook Pro I have been using Parallels (always the latest version) for virtualization, but on the Air I am currently trying out Oracle’s free Virtual Box. The response times from apps within Windows 7 on the Air are fantastic and better than in Parallels on my Pro (although to be fair my Pro is in need of a reinstall).

Everything feels snappier. The low profile is more comfortable to type on. My shoulder bag feels like I forgot my laptop. I can sense the beginning of a long and enjoyable relationship.

Is there anything I don’t like? There are two things that I will have to learn to live with. One is the absence of the backlit keyboard. It is a small thing, but if you like working in low-light settings like myself – you might miss it at times. The other is disk space. I find disk space on a laptop is like space in a house. The bigger the house, the more junk you end up with. Just as moving in to a smaller space forces you to trim down your possessions moving from a 500GB hard drive to a 128 GB flash storage does the same thing. I think of this as a positive change. I could have spent the extra $$ on 256GB flash storage, but I wanted to make things work with less space and less cost. The only thing I am going to miss about the space, is having my entire Aperture library on my laptop (not the source images – these won’t even fit in to the 500GB drive, which is why I bought Aperture – so that I could store my source images offline while still having access to all my photos). Fortunately Aperture allows me to export portions of my library as a separate project which I can then import back in to the main library.

In summary, I think that these new MacBook Air laptops represent the future of mobile computing. It is hard to want more. Hopefully storage and battery life will continue to increase, and apart from that – this is clearly the most enjoyable computer I have ever used.

Some background:

I have been using laptops extensively for 10 years, and I used laptops prior to that ever since the very first Apple Laptop (yes, the one with the lead acid battery). I have spent countless hours working primarily on IBM ThinkPads and Apple MacBooks. I use them in the office, at home, and traveling (in cars, airplanes, trains, campgrounds, hotels). My laptops are well-used. They have scratches and dents, stains and stickers. I work in Windows and Mac OS X and Linux every day and I have used all three operating systems consistently and concurrently for almost 10 years. I am an avid amateur photographer and I currently maintain a 50,000+ photo library in Aperture (on my laptop). I shoot, edit, and create videos regularly. I play video games – but not very often. I am a programmer and spend a lot of time programming.

So far this week I have used my new Air:

– indoors and outdoors,
– tethered with usb and bluetooth to my iphone, wireless, wired (via usb adaptor)
– to import photos using the SD card slot to Aperture
– watching movies from an external USB drive
– work (programming, testing web apps)
– writing proposals, articles, etc.
– to run everything while also running the following background software: XAMPP, Time Machine, Mobile ME sync, DropBox, Growl, and Tortoise SVN (in Windows)

Have I experienced any of the problems that some others have reported? I don’t think so. Occasionally it takes a few seconds to wake up from closing the lid and twice I think it has shut down by itself while the lid was closed – but this is probably related to Virtual Box and the other background software I have running. I had trouble on my Pro with Parallels when leaving it running and putting the laptop to sleep. But that is the good thing about a real working test – you test everything all at once.

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