Analysts and users are still talking about the new MacBook Pro with Retina display, which was unveiled last month during Apple's keynote speech at the annual WWDC. However, this wasn't the only new system that Cupertino ousted at the event. As expected, the standard MacBook Pro and MacBook Air have been updated for 2012. We'll look at the latter today.
Steve Jobs introduced the first MacBook Air with mixed reviews in early 2008. However, a number of redesigns and hardware updates over the years have resulted in a line of products that had a huge impact on the industry. PC manufacturers have struggled to match the extremely thin and simple design of the Air, prompting Intel to announce the Ultrabook initiative at Computex 2011.
New for the 2012 MacBook Air is the Intel Ivy Bridge processor with HD 4000 graphics, storage and storage options with higher capacities as well as an improved 720p Facetime HD camera and support for USB 3.0. The 13-inch system also received a $ 100 price cut, which now starts at $ 1,199. However, the smaller 11-inch system retains the same starting price of $ 999.
The system on our test bench is the 13-inch base MacBook Air that comes with a 1.8 GHz dual-core Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor capable of up to 2.8 GHz, 4 GB DDR3L-SDRAM with 1600 MHz, 128 GB flash memory and integrated Intel boosts graphics.
The new MacBook Air doesn't deviate from the design of previous models, which is certainly not a bad thing. The notebook has a wedge shape that is narrower at the front and thicker at the back. Of course, we use the term thick loosely as the system is still extremely thin and light at just 0.68 inches at its thickest point and 2.96 pounds.
At the front of the air is a small section in the base just big enough to hold a finger or two underneath to lift the display. By opening the lid, the glossy 13.3-inch LED display with diagonal and backlighting, which works at 1440 x 900 with an aspect ratio of 16:10. Just above the screen is the 720p FaceTime HD camera.
We find the MagSafe 2 power port, a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack, and an integrated microphone on the left side of the Air, while the right side houses an SD card reader, another USB 3.0 port and a Thunderbolt port . There is nothing of interest on the back or the back except four rubber feet and a number of non-standard screws for access to the internals.
The well-known white Apple logo is located on the outer lid and lights up when the system is used. The keyboard and touchpad are also familiar and exceed all expectations in my tests. It's also worth noting that the keyboard is backlit when working in a poorly lit environment.
The Air arrived with OS X Lion pre-installed, although Apple is quick to point out that OS X Mountain Lion will be available soon and anyone who buys a Mac today will get a free upgrade to the next version when it becomes available later this summer is.
It's worth noting that I'm a Windows user only. Therefore I check the hardware with so-called fresh eyes. I have extensive experience with iOS, so not everything is completely new to me, but it's still different.
However, the process of setting up a new user is not that different from that on a Windows computer. You will be asked to select your preferred language and keyboard layout, associate or create an Apple ID, and provide or take a photo to use as your profile photo when you sign in to the device.
One of the great things about working on a Mac is that only one company sells it. Translation: Apple does not download the Mac with licensed bloatware to further fill its pockets and create a headache for the end user. This is a common problem that Windows buyers face and that is usually only excluded by boutique manufacturers or when building their own system.
If you are unfamiliar with working with the Mac operating system, there is definitely a learning curve prepared to get frustrated and frequent google for help. Apple veterans should feel right at home, although Julio, our editor-in-chief, notes that OS X Lion came with a number of iOS-like features that had their own learning curve for a while.
For example, the trackpad gesture for scrolling up and down has been inverted to mimic a touchscreen. Launchpad and Mission Control are two other features that longtime Mac users have either customized or completely ignored. All in all, new OS X versions come out frequently (every 1-2 years) and mostly improve on the previous version without major paradigm shifts or disruptions.
I chose to install Windows 7 alongside OS X using Boot Camp as part of our tests and benchmarks, mainly for reasons of necessity, as Apple's operating system was not fully compatible with our suite of benchmarking software. In particular, Fraps doesn't work on OS X, so I couldn't collect apple-to-apple results in StarCraft II to compare against recently tested Windows computers. The experiment had an added side effect as I could see how well Windows 7 works on Mac hardware.