The new MacBook Air: thumbs up, or thumbs down?

While we were all expecting to see a new MacBook Air today, Apple still managed to slip in some surprises. All of the DVICE writers have come together to decide: does the new Air impress, or does it fall short?




Peter Pachal: When the MacBook Air debuted over two years ago, it was met with a lot of hoopla but not many customers. Does the new version — versions — warrant a second look? Not quite. The new starting price of $999 (for an 11-inch model with just 64GB of storage) may get a few more passing glances, but at the end of the day this vision of tomorrow's laptop doesn't have a standout feature that's going to turn any heads. Where's the 3G connectivity? Or the HDMI connector? Or the extended battery life? (The promised five "real" hours is actually pretty routine these days.) And honestly, how can I take seriously a claim that the MacBook Air is "the future of notebooks" when it's using the last generation of processor, a dated Core 2 Duo chip? The future's supposed to be faster, Apple, not just sexier. THUMBS DOWN




Adam Frucci: The new MacBook Air hits a pretty brilliant sweet spot for Apple, the perfect super-mobile laptop computer that's not so gimped as to be unusable by most people — something that netbooks were never really able to do. With the guts to do pretty much everything a casual computer user would need, from Web surfing to video watching to document creation, it's designed for the majority of computer buyers. While people argued that the iPad could be a laptop replacement, the lack of a physical keyboard and full file system made that a tough pill to swallow. But with the super portability and instant-on of the iPad stuck inside a laptop's body, all loaded up with real-deal OS X, this one's going to be a no-brainer for anyone who doesn't care about doing high-end video and photo editing or game playing. I expect the sales of this guy to rival the MacBook Pro before much time at all. Nice work, Apple. THUMBS UP




Kevin Hall: I have to consider the new MacBook Air successful largely for one reason: I didn't care even a little bit about the original, yet the new Air is something I could see being useful. As someone who has always loved netbooks but never took the plunge (testing them out, I always found a dealbreaker in too cramped keyboards or fuzzy screens or sluggish computing), the Air appeals to me as a lightweight laptop I could take on trips or around the city and still get my work done. It's pretty much erased the idea of netbooks for me — or a MacBook that's not a Pro — and I imagine the former is largely Apple's point. That said, I find myself thinking about it as a companion computer and not a standalone platform. THUMBS UP




Michael Trei: To breathe new life into the aging MacBook Air, Apple has made it smaller, sexier, faster than ever, and of course cheaper, especially in the new 11-inch version, but there are still a few significant stumbling blocks. In a world where people tend to stream things more than ever, not including an optical drive is no longer the deal-breaker it was a couple of years back with the original MBA. At least it wouldn't be a problem if the new MBAs included better wireless connectivity options. 802.11n WiFi is fine for general use, but if you're going to be streaming movies wouldn't it be nice to have a 3G option, or failing that, a way to tether the MBA to your iPhone? So while it's nice that the iPad and the MBA decided to "hook up," I wish it was the cooler 3G iPad that showed up for the date. THUMBS DOWN




Leslie Shapiro: This latest revision of the MacBook Air is slightly more appealing to me than the previous version. Lighter is good, thin is always good, and more memory is good — if it's flash, that's good too. What's most bothersome is the price. Jobs stated that Apple is pricing them aggressively, but they're still freakin' expensive for a computer that even Apple is admitting could be the result of a hot date between a Mac and an iPad. The features it inherited from the iPad are great — instant on, longer battery life, multi-touch — but if you've already invested in an iPad, would you want both?

For a literally lightweight notebook, this would be fine. But it still lacks the serious computing power that many people need for an all-around computer. More and more people are just using their laptops as their main computer, and this still lacks what's needed — what are you doing to do when you want to watch a DVD? Sure there are workarounds, but then why not just get a Pro? 

Sexy, yeah, but everyday practical? When did those two ever co-exist? THUMBS DOWN




Adario Strange: With the release of the new MacBook Air, Apple is once again aggressively attempting to get us to change the way we think about computers, in this case the paradigm shift is the (non-optional) move to solid-state flash storage. Just a year ago I probably would have laughed at this approach to a laptop as an underpowered solution to mobile computing. But I've been living with an iPad for half a year, and I'm now a believer in flash storage for mobile computing.

I'll admit that I was one of the first-generation MacBook Air naysayers. The high price for limited power, and the reports of its poor build quality all led me to label the device as all looks and little substance. But with its new unibody design, a much lower price, and an even smaller footprint, I believe the MacBook Air is finally ready for primetime. The only remaining question is: Now that the iPad is a certified superstar mobile computer, is the MacBook Air arriving with too little, too late? THUMBS UP




Raymond Wong: The MacBook Air has always been a niche product and now with the iPad, it feels like its even smaller. The old MBA cost too much and did too little. Sure it was nice and slim, but that was about all it had going. The new MBA on the other hand starts at $999, making it slightly more expensive than the highest iPad. Instant on and long battery life are big wins for me, especially since being mobile is so important nowadays. The high-resolution screens makes it even desirable. I'm disappointed that Apple is still trumpeting the old Core 2 Duo processors with Nvidia graphics and not the new Intel i3 CPUs, but hey if it works, it works right? The only downside is that it doesn't have OS X Lion already shipping inside. THUMBS UP




Evan Ackerman: Steve said that the new MacBook Air is "the future of notebooks," but I'd say it's more like the future of netbooks. The difference is that you aren't expecting a netbook to be some kind of full-featured computing powerhouse… If that's something you need, get yourself a MacBook Pro or a desktop. With that in mind, the relative lack of features on the MacBook Air doesn't matter as much to me. I don't care about optical drives, and I don't mind the two USB ports. As for the storage, yeah, relative to what we're used to, it doesn't seem like much, but get friendly with cloud storage and syncing just the media you need on a daily basis, and you'll be fine.

I'm still not going to buy a MacBook Air, though. I desperately want one, but realistically, I already have a generic netbook that costs less than half as much as even the cheapest Air while offering more options (like the ability to fix and upgrade it myself). It's not as thin, it's not as light, it's not as sexy, and it's definitely not as Apple, but for an extra $500 in my pocket, I'll manage. THUMBS UP




Now it's your turn. What do you think of Apple's MacBook Air relaunch? Thumbs up, or thumbs down?