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.

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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.