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Hands-on with the MacBook Air

Firsthand account of Apple's latest laptop.

MacBook Air
MacBook Air: I've eaten thicker slices of pizza. CNET Networks

Say what you will about Steve Jobs, but when he pulled Apple's latest laptop out of a standard inter-office envelope I stood in awe--of both his showmanship and of the laptop's remarkably slim design. Though the MacBook Air is not quite the thinnest laptop ever, it is among the thinnest we've seen (the Fujistu LifeBook Q2010 and Toshiba Portege R500 both measure 0.8 inch thick, but neither tapers to 0.16 inch like the Air).

These data can't really convey the MacBook Air's wow factor--thus the envelope trick. Yet even with that visual I wasn't quite prepared for how very slender this laptop would be. When I picked it up, my mind took a few seconds to get past the incongruity of such a broad, bright 13.3-inch display in a package the weight and thickness of a Dr. Seuss hardcover.

MacBook Air touch pad
The multitouch trackpad uses gestures similar to the iPhone. CNET Networks

Once I put it down and started working, I was extremely pleased with the new multitouch trackpad, which incorporates a range of gesture controls that will be familiar to iPhone users. It's a smart move on Apple's part; not only are the gestures easy to learn, but they're difficult to forget, making it far more likely that users will stick with Apple products once they've become used to the interface. Writers and students will be pleased as well with the MacBook Air's keyboard, which is full size and similar to that of the standard MacBook. (It actually feels the same as the keyboard found on regular MacBooks, but I couldn't quite be sure without a direct side-by-side comparison.) In terms of interaction, the MacBook Air is probably the first 3-pound notebook that hasn't asked users to make some kind of compromise.

That's not to say users won't have to compromise at all. Everyone around me seems to have a different take on the MacBook Air's missing features. For example, I don't care about the optical drive but bemoan the lack of Ethernet and cellular connections, while my video team is shocked that the laptop lacks FireWire and my business-minded friends can't believe there's no expansion slot. But in my mind the MacBook Air is hard to beat if you're primarily looking for an eye-catching, extremely portable laptop that's (relatively) competitively priced.

You can get the full hands-on experience by watching my First Look video of the MacBook Air at CNET TV.