July 31, 2011

The MacBook Air, redux

I have owned three MacBook Air models. Luckily I skipped out on the first one, which had serious issues with heat and sudden crashes. The minor update that led to the second MacBook Air was the first one I got, and then it struck me. This is the perfect typewriter, way beyond any laptop I had ever owned, and those are numerous I can tell you that.

I loved that Air, all its 1,6 GHz of low voltage processing power, the touchpad and even its awkward two buttons, the whole package. It was underpowered with its 2 GB of RAM and the 4200 rpm hard drive, combined with heating issues that firmware updates and some sensible usage sorted out for me personally. Still, best typewriter ever, thanks to its wonderful keyboard and the form factor. Love it.

The Air refresh was something I’d been waiting for a long time. I ordered the 11″ version, maxed out with 4 GB of RAM and whatever SSD storage I could get (128 GB, right – don’t have it here so can’t check and I’m writing this offline, go figure). I had always said that when Apple released a computer with a smaller screen than 13″, which I think is overkill most of the time, I’d buy it.

My initial take on the 11″ Air was mixed. I loved the form factor, but the keyboard wasn’t as good as my previous Air. Also, going from 13″ to 11″ for writing was fine, but anything besides writing felt unnatural. That was obviously a mixture between being used to larger screens and the difference in resolution, but still, it bothered me a bit. Almost to the extent that I, when the next Air generation would arrive, contemplating giving 13″ another go. Also, I hated the lack of backlighting on the keyboard. That’s essential when writing in the dark, not just for finding keys (I don’t need any characters or labels) but for the balance in light between screen, computer and you when writing in the dark.

A few weeks ago Apple released an upgraded Air, with a backlit keyboard, and I ordered the 11″ model again, maxing it out with 4 GB of RAM and the i7 processor choice as well as 256 GB SSD.

And I’m at peace. This is everything that was so awesome with the previous model, the form factor and the snappy SSD, but cranked up a bit. With a backlit keyboard and a Thunderbolt port.

This computer is still new and one can never tell how a computer performs early on. Everything will load fast, feel fresh, and so on. Two months in, then we can talk, but I’m not the least worried. The possible problem with performance won’t be hardware (unless Apple screwed up somewhere in the manufacturing), it’ll be the new OS, Lion. I’m not worried about that either, but that is the Achilles’ heel here.

Why aren’t I worrying? Well, the previos Air ran circles around my 17″ i7 MacBook Pro with 4 GB RAM, thanks to the SSD of course. It was so bad that I had to order a 240 GB Vertex 3 SSD from OCZ and swap out the old hard drive. Pecking order was restored, the MBP was faster than the Air, all was well.

Still, my first 11″ Air could’ve easily have been my primary computer. It was that fast. Still is, by the way.

And the new Air? Well, benchmarks tells me it kicks my old Air’s butt thanks to the i7 dual core processor, which makes sense since it is superious to the old Core 2 Duo. Other than that, there aren’t so many things that differ between the old and the new Air, this is a classic hardware upgrade within a product line generation, nothing more.

I’m on the road right now, and will be for several weeks to come. I’m not bringing my workstation (aka the 17″ MBP), I’ll manage with the Air and an iPad. In a way I’m dreading how this will work out, because I’m pretty sure that when I get home I’ll question why I need the MBP at all. The old 11″ Air had no problems powering the 27″ Cinema Display at the office, and the new one won’t either (although I won’t be able to link two Thunderbolt Displays thanks to the underpowered Thunderbolt chip in the Air, keep that in mind if you plan on swapping your workstation with that setup). While my MBP is a quad core i7 at a higher clock frequency than the Air is, I seriously doubt I’ll miss that horsepower 95% of the time. So why not just bring the Air to the office, hook it up and work as I always have, making the MBP obsolete?

Why indeed? I have no idea, but I already know I’ll ask myself that question when I get back into the everyday life again.

It has never been this easy being a road warrior. Between the Air, the iPad, the iPhone, and a mifi 3G router, I can do just about anything. Incidentally, that’s exactly what goes in my bag, along with a Moleskine notebook and some pens, when I need to go work. And I can work wherever, whenever, as long as I have a decent 3G connection. In Sweden, that’s not really a problem – I’m sitting by a lake in the forest right now, and when I turn on the mifi I’ll have a 2 Mbit connection right away. Sure, that’s pretty crappy overall but it’ll do, I am in the woods after all. The same might not apply all over the world, but the complete sense of freedom this brings, bringing the office with me whenever I need to (which incidentally was why I swapped out my Mac Pro with triple screens for a 17″ MBP) and being able to set up shop wherever I need. I love it, plain love it, even though I might not take advantage of it all the time. It is the possibility that makes it great.

I wonder if I’ll ever buy a big heavy laptop again. I also wonder if I’ll ever buy another desktop, despite being really happy with my brand new 27″ iMac that sits in the apartment at home. SSD in particular have gotten us so far, and we’re only grasping at the surface on what we’ll be playing with in the future.

For me, it’ll be lightweight and pleasant to write on. Since my first contact with the Air product line, that has been the only computer fitting the description, and I’ve fiddled and tried so many. Right now, I can’t even begin to imagine what I’d want more, besides more horsepower of course. Not that I really think I need it, that’s just the greedy geek talking.

He should shut up, that geeky guy, and let me focus on the one reason I actually bought this thing in the first place: To write on, because it is still the world’s best typewriter.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.