11-inch Apple MacBook Air (Summer 2011) review: Thunderbolt and lightning-quick

The new version of Apple's tiny 11-incher is faster even than we expected. But is it the laptop for everybody? Read our review.


Last October, Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air debuted. The tiny, slim ultraportable was the smallest laptop Apple had ever made. Its combination of size and power earned it a four-star review, with caveats: it had a last-generation Core 2 Duo processor, lacked a backlit keyboard, and omitted an SD card slot. We're glad to find the newly released, back-to-school-timed 2011 MacBook Air update fixes two of our three complaints, while keeping a $999 starting price.

Both 11- and 13-inch MacBook Airs have been updated with new, faster second-gen Core i5 processors. The new Air also, finally, has a backlit keyboard. There are more bonuses, too: Mac OS X Lion, Apple's brand-new operating system update, comes preinstalled. A Thunderbolt I/O port for high-speed data transfer and HD audio/video has been added.

Unfortunately, there's still no SD card slot, and memory and storage configurations remain both fixed and limited: the entry-level $999 configuration still only has 2GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage, which many will consider inadequate. We recommend the $1,199 configuration, which has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

Perhaps the biggest change is how the MacBook Air is being sold. Now that the $999 white MacBook no longer exists , Apple has made the MacBook Air the entry-level laptop for everybody (everybody with a grand to drop on a laptop, at least). The $999 11-inch MacBook Air is the most affordable MacBook in Apple's stable.

The 2011 11-inch Air is, undeniably, an improvement over the fall 2010 version. Is it really a MacBook for everyone , though? Not yet, unless you can live with the Air's still comparatively limited storage space. For a more full-size laptop with even better battery life, many might be tempted to get the 13-inch MacBook Air or even the more full-featured 13-inch MacBook Pro. But for sheer portability and performance, nothing can beat the 11-inch Air.

Read our full review of the new 11-inch MacBook Air.

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Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, Summer 2011)

Apple's smallest MacBook is faster, has a backlit keyboard, and comes with OSX Lion, all in time for back-to-school shopping. We go hands-on and look at what's changed.

About the author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.


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