SHIFT: The MacBook Air — what we really think

The hype is over, the news has broken, and the backlash is in full swing. We're talking about the MacBook Air of course — the big gust of wind coming out of Cupertino this week. It's one of the thinnest and lightest laptops ever made, stacking up well against several competitors, including Sony and others. Plus it boasts innovative features like a multi-touch trackpad. What's not to love?

Lots, apparently. It lacks an Ethernet port and an optical-disc drive. There's no 3G wireless ability. It's frakking expensive.

But what does that mean? Is the MacBook Air a failed attempt at an amazing product or a breakthrough notebook with just a few flaws? We asked all of our writing staff what their first impressions are of the MacBook Air, and the opinions range from admiration to abhorrence. Click Continue to see DVICE's take on the Air, and feel free to share your own in the Comments. Don't forget to breathe.

Charlie White: I like the MacBook Air. No, I'm not buying one, because it's impractical and too expensive. However, its outlandishly thin design is groundbreaking and has already firmly planted a seed in the mind of every laptop designer. They'll try to top its streamlined, aircraft-like form factor while adding truly useful accoutrements such as an internal EV-DO card, a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, a 128GB solid-state drive (for a lot less than $1,299) and up-to-date Intel Penryn processors. Like the iPhone did to cellphones, the MacBook Air will make fat and ugly laptops a whole lot harder to sell. Just look back at laptop design a year from now, and you'll see its influence. THUMBS UP

Travis Hudson: My biggest gripe with the MacBook Air is that it's late to the race, but acting like it's already won. Ultrasmall laptops have existed for years now and UMPCs and other types of portable computers are becoming a regular entity in the consumer-electronics world. Apple's MacBook Air has come strutting into the scene acting like the top dog, but the Asus Eee, HTC Advantage and others are already holding strong in the ultra-portable field. The $1,800 price tag does not justify the speed or performance. Too little, too late. THUMBS DOWN

Adario Strange: There are two ways to look at the MacBook Air. Bad and worse. The first involves the arrogance of Steve Jobs. When I first saw the MacBook Air, I was immediately struck by how similar it looked to the old clamshell Apple iBook (circa 1999), a notoriously cheap and unreliable laptop. For veteran Apple consumers like myself, the MacBook Air appears to be nothing more than a clamshell iBook swathed in sexy "Pro" aluminum. SJ knows this, but still believes (and rightfully so) that you'll pay the premium regardless. Nevertheless, the real problem with the MacBook Air isn't just its lack of a CD/DVD drive, replaceable battery, or Ethernet port, but the fact this incredibly hobbled computer (dumb terminal?) is just $200 cheaper than a full-featured MacBook Pro. That is insanity. But history has proven that Apple fans will often drink the Kool-Aid as long as Lord SJ tells them to suck it down.

But wait, there's even more insanity! The amount of peripherals you'd need to carry around in order to make the computer truly usable actually defeats the purpose of an ultra-slim, ultra-light laptop in the first place. The second reason the MacBook Air is bad for consumers is that it essentially acts as Apple's first aggressive effort to gradually force mainstream computer users to accept less powerful, less customizable, passive (read: dumb) terminal computers. If When such computers become the norm, consumers will lose control of a great deal of their computing experience. In reality, the MacBook Air is merely an iPod on steroids. Imagine paying $1,800 every 1.5 years to upgrade your computer and — gasp! — you've taken an unauthorized peek at Steve Jobs' real laptop business plan. Don't drink the Kool-Aid, you'll get hooked. THUMBS DOWN

Michael Trei: It's hard to deny that the MacBook Air comes packaged in a beautiful and uber-stylish wrapper. To make it this svelte and sleek, something had to give, and for the MacBook Air it was the optical-disc drive. That's fair enough, few of the MBA's competitors can spin discs either, although some (like the Sony TX), manage to squeeze one into a package that actually weighs less. To compensate, Apple is touting the MBA's wireless capabilities, although this argument would be stronger if it supported 3G wireless in addition to its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. These minor caveats aside, it's hard to deny that the MacBook Air will cause a major shakeup in the ultraportable laptop market. THUMBS UP

Stephen Schleicher: While I congratulate Apple for creating a superthin computer, tossing out the optical drive is a real deal-breaker with me. I don't want to hijack someone else's computer on the network if I need to install software or rip a CD or DVD. And what's with that hard drive? 80GB? If I installed the software I use to work and play, there would hardly be any space for movie or music storage. Still, the idea of being able to fling my laptop like a Frisbee is appealing. THUMBS DOWN

Kevin Hall: The MacBook Air gets a thumbs down from me only because I need something more robust in a machine. I respect Apple's willingness to take a risky leap forward, cutting out technologies it sees as on the wane. Alas, unlike the floppy, I still use my optical drive, and sometimes a wired connection to the net is all that's around. If I wanted a casual laptop to compliment my work machine I'd buy an EeePC for a fourth of the price. And the ability to fit in an envelope? Sure, great, I'll send it to someone who can use it. THUMBS DOWN

S.E. Kramer: The Mac Air would be good to own--maybe--as your second or third laptop. You know, the one you bring to Starbucks occasionally to show off. Steve Jobs can't be serious about it being useful to anyone else. External Superdrive? $99. External Ethernet Adapter? $29. Just don't try to fit them both into your one USB port at the same time.

My favorite part about the Air Apple Store listing is the part where it says install/restore DVDs for the MacBook Air come "in the box" without telling customers that with the notebook alone they'll have no way to run those DVDs. If you run into a problem and your external drive isn't around, your computer becomes little more than a heavy piece of interoffice mail. And don't even get me started on the assumption that free Wi-Fi is just floating around everywhere. Even CES, a trade show where the most advanced consumer electronics in the world are shown off, didn't supply Wi-Fi to journalists: We had to use Ethernet cables.

The whole point of a laptop — especially a thin one — is that it's portable. But if you bring your computer on a trip and need a thousand peripherals just to make it do regular jobs like connect to the Internet or watch a DVD, that computer becomes a lot less useful quickly. I sincerely hope that no other computers go the way of the Macbook Air. THUMBS DOWN

Peter Pachal: While I've already criticized the Air in a satirical piece, I have to admit I admire it. Beyond the sleek form factor, the Air represents a big step in an important technological trend: the death of physical media. By eschewing an optical-disc drive, the Air doesn't just lose weight, it untethers itself from depending on those fragile CDs, DVDs, and whatnot. It's just too bad the world isn't quite there yet. And while its Wi-Fi abilities are impressive, the limited range and relatively unwieldy usability (think about it: you have to set up Wi-Fi; cellphones just work) prevents the Air from being a true wireless maven. Actually, without some kind of always-on Internet connectivity (3G, WiMax, or whatever), the Air might even feel out of place in the future. The promise it represents has me pulling for it, but in the here and now I'm afraid I have no use for Air… though I wouldn't mind taking a whiff. That thing is hot. THUMBS UP