Apple's MacBook Air divided opinion when it launched in 2008. Some were charmed by the machine's razor-thin design and light weight. Others were repulsed by its high price and merely average performance.
The latest iteration of the Air aims to win over the critics by sporting the same super-slim dimensions and aluminium unibody construction as the 2010 model, but adding more powerful components and the latest version of Apple's Mac OS X operating system, 10.7 Lion.
The 13-inch model we tested, with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 chip and 256GB of flash storage, can be yours for £1,350. You can add a 1.8GHz Core i7 chip for an extra £100. You can also get the 13-inch model with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 chip and 128GB of flash storage for £1,100. The 11-inch models start at £850.
Thin end of the wedge
The design of the Air hasn't changed since last year's model. It's as beautifully thin as ever. At the thickest end of the wedge, the Air measures 17mm, and tapers down to only 3mm. It's so thin that we were afraid it would slice through our delicate, pasty skin.
The aluminium unibody design makes the Air feel incredibly well built and look incredibly stylish. We were unable to find flex in this guy no matter where we shoved our meaty sausage fingers.
The Air is one of the few pieces of tech we get in the office that causes the whole team to gather around and coo in wonder. It's beautifully constructed.
At 1.35kg, the Air isn't the lightest machine around, but that extra weight does help it to feel robust. You could also see this as a security feature -- if it were too light, you wouldn't know if it had been stolen out of your bag until you got home and broke down in tears.
Lift the lid and you'll be met with the classic Apple keyboard. The new Air sees the triumphant return of the backlit keyboard.
We were pretty disappointed to see the backlit keyboard disappear from the previous version of the Air, as it made stalking people on Facebook at 5am much more difficult. Getting up to turn on the light is the sort of sickening physical excess we should all have left behind in the Middle Ages.
The keys are the same size as before and offer the same comfortable typing experience. We're glad to see Apple hasn't messed with a good thing. Apple also hasn't messed with the trackpad. It's large and offers the same slick finger-sliding experience that MacBook users have come to know and love. It supports those all-important multi-touch gestures too.
The 13-inch screen is as gorgeous as the rest of the Air. It has an impressive 1,440x900-pixel native resolution and is almost as bright as the sun. Reading small text on Web pages is perfectly pleasant and sitting back in a comfortable armchair to watch high-definition video is a total joy. Add a warm cup of tea and some kittens to the mix and you've pretty much got our ideal night in.
The new Air is pretty similar to the old one in terms of its ports. There's a multi-format card reader, two USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack. There's also a Thunderbolt port, which performs the duties of a mini DisplayPort but can transfer video and data at super-fast speeds too. Still, there aren't many peripherals that use Thunderbolt at the moment.
Our review model had a 1.7GHz, dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB of RAM. Last year's models made use of Intel Core 2 Duo processors and 2GB of RAM, so we expected a decent increase in performance. That's what we got.
When we ran the Cinebench 11.5 benchmark test, the Air returned a score of 2.24. By comparison, the 13-inch Air we saw last year, with a 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo processor, scored 1.1. The new Air's performance is significantly improved.
The MacBook Pro offers a more powerful range of processors, but the Air is impressively potent for such a thin machine. You'll find browsing and video streaming a breeze, and video and photo editing will also be dealt with admirably.
No longer is the Air slumming it with netbooks in terms of performance. It's challenging the big boys.
With Intel's Core i5 processor, you should be able to tackle some light gaming too. There isn't a dedicated graphics chip, so you probably won't be able to run the latest titles, but older games, such as Half Life 2, should play perfectly well if you dial down the settings slightly.
Navigation is a quick and responsive experience. Using multi-touch gestures to swipe between multiple desktops, each containing various programmes, felt pleasant and never sluggish. Streaming of 1080p videos was also handled well, even while multitasking.
Our Air offers 256GB of flash storage. Flash storage is more compact and resilient than a traditional hard drive, as it contains no moving parts. Such storage also offers a much faster read/write speed, which helps the Air to wake from sleep instantaneously and start up very quickly indeed.
As flash storage consumes so little power, the Air is able to offer great battery life. It can slumber in standby mode for up to 30 days, so you could theoretically pop off on holiday, get a charming tan and not have to worry about pressing that pesky power button when you return. If you're not unconscionably lazy, shutting it down before you leave will be a better bet.
To test the battery, we ran a 1080p video on a continuous loop until the Air ran out of juice. It managed to last a very respectable 3 hours and 40 minutes before waving a little white flag and packing up. Apple reckons you can get 7 hours of Web browsing time on a full charge and we reckon that's pretty accurate.
The battery is completely inaccessible inside the unibody chassis so, if you need to replace it, you'll have to send your little baby to Apple.
Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air is as thin and sleek as ever, but, thanks to the new junk in the trunk, it's much more willing to tackle demanding tasks. You may well have to sell a lung, and potentially a kidney, in order to afford one, but you can rest assured that you'll be buying a quality piece of kit.
Edited by Charles Kloet