The first MacBook Air will go down in history as one of the most divisive pieces of tech ever created. Either a triumph of design and simplicity or an overpriced, feature-bereft lump depending on your point of view, it split the tech world straight down the middle. Well, Apple's back with another iteration of the envelope-thin laptop -- available for around £1,100 -- but can this one finally convince us of the Air's worth?
Airs and graces
Let's start with the design, which hasn't changed all that much since the last time. We might as well get this out of the way early -- the MacBook Air is astonishingly thin. Even though we've held previous versions, we still passed the Air around, each member of the team turning it over in their hands as if trying to find where the rest of it was kept. It's hard to stress quite how slim the Air is with specs alone, but know that this 13-inch model is 325mm wide, 227mm high and 3mm thick at its thinnest point, 17mm at the thickest.
As you might have guessed, that makes the Air slightly wedge-shaped. It's an astonishingly slim wedge, but there's a definite taper down to the 3mm front lip. This laptop is thin enough to shave with, snowboard on and, if you possess the requisite arm strength, skim across a lake.
It's thin to the extreme, but the MacBook Air is actually surprisingly weighty. It's a million miles from heavy, weighing in at just 1.32kg, but we were struck by the substantial feel of this laptop. We're not complaining, though. For want of a better word, the Air feels expensive, and that balanced weight reflects the high build quality that's evident in its construction.
The Air sports an aluminium unibody and, for the most part, we've no complaints about the design of this machine. It feels very well put together and, despite the thin chassis, doesn't feel like it would snap in a stiff breeze.
There's no backlit keyboard on offer, which is something we really like on the larger MacBook Pro. Secondly, the bezel is aluminium, and we'd hazard that the black glass surrounding the MacBook Pro's gorgeous display looks a little classier.
Those are minor design quibbles, though -- overall, this is an exceptionally good-looking piece of kit.
You've got to use it
The MacBook Air does two things really, really well: style and usability. Indeed, using this laptop is a genuine pleasure at every stage.
The keyboard is incredibly comfortable, with a generous space between each individual key to cut down on accidental mistypings. The traditional Mac 'up' and 'down' arrows persist, and they still seem a little odd to us. If you're used to using a standard PC keyboard, the lack of a delete key might prove a stumbling block.
The trackpad is sensationally sensitive, impressively large (127mm on the diagonal) and all your favourite multi-touch functions are of course possible. We think this trackpad is actually the Air's greatest asset -- we've never seen a laptop with a better trackpad, and it makes Web browsing and cruising around the Air's OS a real pleasure.
The display is pretty impeccable, though at this kind of price you'd expect near-perfection. This 13.3-inch panel has a maximum resolution of 1,440x900 pixels, and it's extremely bright, clear and colourful. Rest assured, from family photos to HD movies, everything rendered on this display is liable to come out looking rather splendid.
So what we have is a beautifully designed, highly usable and attractive machine. But let's be honest, those things were never the contentious issues. Let's get under the hood of the Air and see if we like what we find.
Under the hood
Taking centre stage, we have a dual-core Intel Core 2 Duo processor clocked at 1.86GHz, with 2GB of DDR3 RAM and an Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics card waiting in the wings. That isn't particularly flashy hardware, so how does it actually perform?