Another noteworthy new feature is the remote disc function. Since the Air lacks an optical drive, you can instead remotely use the optical drives of other systems, PC or Mac, as long as they're on the same network. The setup was a little cumbersome for the "host" PC -- requiring us to insert the OS X disc that came with the Air, run a small setup program, and then find and turn on "CD and DVD sharing" in the Windows control panel (the documentation could have been a little clearer on what you need to do to on the Windows side). Once we set it up, however, it worked like a charm. You won't be able to stream DVD movies or music CDs via remote disc, but it's fine for getting files and installing apps. A matching external USB DVD burner is available from Apple for $99, but any USB DVD drive should work.
The display offers the same 1,280x800 native resolution as the standard 13-inch MacBook, but the Air's LED-backlit screen means its lid is thinner with an image that was somewhat brighter, at least with both systems set to max brightness.
The real key to finding out whether the MacBook Air is right for you lies in its stripped-down set of ports and connections. Those who regularly use more than one USB device, or need FireWire, an SD card slot, or an Express card slot will find the single USB jack too limiting. Likewise, we often say the telephone modem jacks and S-Video outputs on most laptops are a waste of space, but the MacBook Air goes even further, removing the Ethernet jack (a USB-to-Ethernet adaptor will run you $29) and offloading video output to a pair of included dongles (one VGA, one DVI).
If you live on Wi-Fi hot spots, use Bluetooth for your external mouse, and only need a USB port to occasionally sync and charge your iPod or iPhone, these limitations may not be a deal-breaker for you. While most hardware vendors offer a choice of mobile broadband options, Apple continues to offer none, which is disappointing for a system so clearly meant for life away from home and office. Without an Express card slot, your only option would be a USB mobile broadband modem, but with the sole USB jack under a tiny flap on the right side of the system with limited clearance, you may need a small USB extension cable to get a bulky USB mobile broadband modem connected (similar to the problems people had with the iPhone's recessed headphone jack).
While the 80GB hard drive included in the base $1,799 model may be smaller than you're used to, the only other option is a 64GB solid state hard drive. With no moving parts, and advantages in heat, power consumption, and reliability, SSD hard drives are certainly the way of the future. The future may have to wait a few years for prices to come down; however, swapping the 80GB platter drive for the 64GB SSD drive is a whopping $999 upgrade. The only other internal hardware option is a CPU uptick, from 1.6GHz to 1.8GHz for $300. With the upgraded CPU and SSD drive, the $1,799 MacBook Air suddenly becomes a $3,098 laptop.
We are pleased to see that the MacBook Air comes standard with 2GB of RAM, but with a processor that runs at a much slower clockspeed than the standard MacBook (2.0GHz or 2.2GHz), plus a 4,200rpm 1.8-inch hard drive (as opposed to the standard 5,400rpm), it's not surprising that the MacBook Air is not as fast a performer as the $1,649we reviewed in December 2007. Do note that the baseline $1,099 MacBook features a slower processor and half the memory of our MacBook review unit.
And as we often point out, any modern dual-core CPU is going to be more than adequate for Web surfing, multimedia playback, and productivity tasks, and we were able to surf the Web, play videos, and work on a document at the same time with absolutely no slowdown or stuttering. We're currently conducting additional benchmark tests and will update this review with new results as they're available.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the MacBook Air is the lack of a user-replaceable battery. While most laptops will be obsolete before their batteries wear out, we are sensitive to the desire to occasionally carry an extra battery for extended field use. We're still conducting our standard DVD battery drain test on the system, and will report those scores shortly, but in anecdotal testing, the Air lasted for nearly 4 hours of mixed use, including video playback, software installation, Web surfing, and productivity tasks. That's reasonably close to Apple's 5-hour claims, but may not be enough for a full day of off-site use.
We're still not fans of Apple's nearly obligatory extended warranty upsell (so much so that we've simply copied this complaint from our last MacBook review). The default warranty for the MacBook is one year of coverage for parts and labor, but toll-free telephone support is limited to a mere 90 days -- well short of what you'd typically find on the PC side -- unless you purchase the $249 AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends phone support and repair coverage to three years.