ANALYSIS |Like an anorexic fashion model, Apple's new super-thin MacBook Air has made too many compromises for the sake of being skinny.
|MacBook Anorexic: too many compromises means it will appeal to less potential buyers
Like an anorexic fashion model, Apple's new super-thin MacBook Air has made too many compromises for the sake of being skinny.
1. 80GB iPod hard drive being used as a system drive. It's 4200 RPM slow and after years of encouraging people to amass a horde of digital media, how can Apple really expect people to fit their iTunes library, digital videos and so on onto 80GB? With notebook hard drive capacities topping 500GB in a single 2.5" drive, surely Apple's customers would have preferred a slightly thicker form factor with a beefier drive?
2. Non-expandable memory: 2GB of RAM soldered onto the motherboard... sure, that's a lot of RAM today, but if I were buying a notebook worth between $AUD2500 and $AUD4300, I'd sure as hell want the ability to add some extra RAM in later to cater for future Mac OS X upgrades, virtualisation and memory hungry apps like the Adobe suite. (To be fair, other subnotebooks also have soldered RAM, and sometimes have only 1GB, but still... looking at this from the perspective of someone looking for a thinner, lighter MacBook Pro, this is a significant limitation.)
3. 64GB flash-memory as an option in place of the hard drive is nice, but for $AUD1400 more, it seems unlikely many people will take it up. (Update: reader Jeff Singleton points out that the SSD drive is more than "just a flash drive" -- SSD disks offer greatly enhanced reliability and much faster throughput than mechanical media can, which is a fair point.)
4. One USB port: not only is the MacBook Air expansion-limited on the inside, it can't connect to many things at once on the outside, unless, of course, you carry a USB hub with you, which kinda defeats the purpose of having an ultraportable notebook to begin with. And since it's a recessed design (a flap on the side of the notebook has to pop open for you to access the port), quite a few USB accessories aren't going to be able to plug in there without the use of a USB extension cord.
5. No wireless broadband: if anyone's going to buy this notebook, it's the regular traveller who is tired of toting 3KG of extra cabin baggage everywhere. These people are also exactly the same people who find wireless broadband really, really useful. But despite the fact that HSDPA modules can be manufactured as small as a postage stamp, Apple didn't include one. Guess what you'll be using that one USB port for? A soap-on-a-rope style wireless broadband dongle, or a fat broadband stick. It's not a very elegant accompaniment to the world's thinnest notebook.
6. Underpowered, last-gen processor: despite Apple claiming the MacBook Air has the 'latest' processor in it, it's actually a slow old 65nm version of the Core 2 Duo, topping out at 1.8GHz. Presumably Apple's legal eagles would argue that since Intel made a special version of the processor that has a smaller chip casing than others, it is literally using the "latest" release from Intel. But in this case, "latest" certainly doesn't mean "better".
7. No microphone port: sure, it's not the most essential feature given the proliferation of USB microphones, but again, I'll point out: one ... USB ... port.
8. Non-replaceable battery: you have to send the entire notebook back to Apple for replacement of the battery. Which will have attrocious battery life within about two years. Note to Steve Jobs: this is not an iPod.
9. Thin but not that thin: Steve Jobs says the MacBook Air is thinner at its thickest point than competing notebooks. But the Fujitsu Q2010 is only 19.9mm thick at its thickest point, and that's 0.5mm -- yes half a millimetre -- thicker. However, in the Lifebook, you get integrated HSDPA/3G/GPRS, an ExpressCard slot (34/54), SD card slot, two USB ports, inbuilt VGA out, Ethernet, Firewire, fingerprint sensor. I'd say that functionality is worth an extra half millimetre.
10. Oh, and no Ethernet port: yeah, OK, you can order the optional USB Ethernet adaptor, but that one time your router stops working wirelessly and you really need to log in via Ethernet to fix the configuration... hope you've got that USB adaptor with you.
Post mortem: Yes, there are some really nice features of the MacBook Air: the multi-touch trackpad, the fact that it doesn't have a tiny, cramped keyboard like many ultraportables, some clever workarounds for the fact that it doesn't have an optical drive -- the ability to comandeer another Mac's drive over a network, and so on.
But the fact is, apart from the screen and keyboard size, everything else in the MacBook Air is a big compromise.
People who were looking for a viable "pro" upgrade path for their PowerBook G4 12" will be disappointed, as will anyone who wanted a lighter version of the MacBook Pro.
Will it be a success? I'm willing to bet that there will be an initial rush of sales from people who want the hottest, latest, slimmest thing in the airport gate lounge, but for the rest of us, who are balancing the specs with the portability, the MacBook Air will ultimately turn out to be a sales dud.
(Please note: pricing in the article is listed in Australian dollars since APC is an Australian website.)
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