I love Apple. I’m a devout Mac fan. I have an iPhone, MacBook Pro, Cinema Display, iMac, multiple iPods, Apple TV (first gen), and even an Apple Hi-Fi. I have not used a Microsoft product in over a year. I use Pages instead of Word, Numbers instead of Excel, Mail instead of Outlook…you get the picture. When I heard the rumor that Apple was releasing a sub-notebook, I was thrilled. I loved the idea of getting a shinny new iMac and an ultra light laptop and keeping them synced. Not only did I like that it would travel light, but since I work from home it would also be great to have something small to carry from room-to-room with me while I worked throughout the day.
When Steve Jobs did the big reveal, I was thrilled. I dug the whole computer-in-an-envelope thing, and of course it looked beautiful. The icing on the cake for me came with the confirmation that it would have a solid-state hard drive. In my mind that meant that this may actually load up faster than my MacBook Pro, which would be great. In theory, since the hard drive is the slowest part of my machine, the Air should be able to outperform my machine on simple tasks, like launching a Web browser.
But then the price came. Over $1,800 for a base model, and over $3,000 for the SSD option! Now just to be clear, I’m not an overly price sensitive consumer when it comes to computers. Since I spend a good part of my life on my machine, and it’s the tool I use for work, I don’t mind dropping a small fortune on it. But that price seemed way out there. I really expected to see something around $800 – $900 for a sub-notebook.
The price seems especially high when you consider that the lowest end Air is nearly the same price as the lowest end Pro, and the high end Air dwarfs the price of the top of the line 17” MacBook Pro. Considering that I would need a separate desktop to go with this machine, the price seemed way out of line.
No in defense of the Air, it had some features that other sub-notebooks couldn’t touch. First off, it’s small and sleek. It is without a doubt one of the sexist computers on the market. Second, the screen size, at 13.3” is amazing for a sub-notebook.
Then the reviews started to come out, and I noticed a strong contrast in the media. From the more mainstream media, like Walt Mossberg gave the Air a solid review, stating that it was perfect for road warriors. But the blogging community was much more harsh.
Even with the insane price point, I was seriously considering purchasing the Air. I couldn’t stop thinking about how nice it would be to have something so light and small to work on. So I started reading a lot of reviews, and asking anyone who had one what they thought about it. In going over the reviews, I started noticing the difference in reviews. While more mainstream news sites were enamored with with the Air design and size, they were comparing it to other laptops like the MacBook (which costs hundreds of dollars less). While more Web based media was comparing the Air to sub-notebooks like the EeePC, which costs about 1/4 the price.
Personally I find the comparison to the EeePC more applicable, at least for my own needs. If I want an ultra light portable, I’m willing to note have an optical drive, or a lot of inputs. Both machines have that limitation. The Air offers a much larger display, which is never a bad thing, and of course it runs full OS X. But the EeePC is lighter and offers a swappable battery. Having a full OS on the machine would be nice, but honestly I would only be using it for web-based apps and possibly to plug into a projector to do a presentation. The Air offered a lot more storage, but I already own a 32 gig thumb drive that can hold all my data, which also makes it easier to transfer files from my main machine. And how the EeePC doesn’t hold a candle to the Air in aesthetics, the EeePC size gives it a wow factor of it’s own. I kind of found them to be a tie, with the price point being a substantial tie breaker.
Add to this the idea that when I travel somewhere like Hong Kong or Costa Rica, the idea of losing or breaking a $400 EeePC is much less dramatic than a $2k Air.
That was a few months ago. Now I’m seeing plenty of other companies pushing out “EeePC killers”, like Dell, HP, Pioneer and many others. All these machines aiming for the sub-$500 market. Once again in defense of Apple, none of the machines have a 13.3” screen. But some of these machines are including a lot more options, including built-in 3G wireless connections, which is no doubt a major feature for real road warriors.
The 3G issue brings me to some of the issues surrounding the Air. There have been reports of connectivity issues with the Air, and that the slim design factor has killed the ability to use some devices, such as 3G USB add-ons and even some headphones. And there have been a good number of overheating issues brought up.
When seeking out people who had purchased the Air, I started to notice an interesting trend. Everyone I personally know who has purchased an Air was a Windows user. I don’t personally know any Mac users who have purchased an Air.
I asked my friend Russ, who is just as much a devoted Mac user as I, and he agreed. The only Mac person he knows that purchased an Air was David Heinemeier-Hansson. Granted, that’s a pretty good endorsement for the product.
Russ brought up some interesting points about the Air. First off, why do they not use the 160 gig HD available for iPods? He also felt that the price point he would consider purchasing an Air for is under $1k. When I mentioned the low price point of Dell, Russ’s response was “but then you’re stuck with Windows” in a kind of lets not get crazy tone.
Russ also said, “The only way I would buy a MacBook Air is if somehow if guaranteed me a speaking spot at every SXSW”.
I asked my friend Andrew, who purchased an Air right before SXSW, why he decided to go with the Air since he was a Windows guy previously.
“Design… it’s just too damn sexy. I’ve always had ultraportables and intended on sticking with them. The air looks great, has a great screen, and I finally decided to make the jump to Mac OS to see if everything I’ve been hearing is true. Now that I’ve got a Mac, I’ll never go back. Common story I’m sure…It also helped that more and more technology folks are using macs. Walking around SXSW it’s like 80% mac.”
There are rumors floating around about a Mac tablet that looks like a wider, longer iPhone. It’s hard to imagine the Air and the tablet not competing with each other.
One major disappointment I had with the Air is when I went to check one out at an Apple store. I didn’t notice any speed difference in the SSD when compared to the standard hard drive. I did a boot up of both units at the same time and it looked like the SSD was maybe a second faster. When I asked the sales guys about battery life, they told me the SSD was comparable to the standard model. And even worse, a guy who said he owned the SSD model said he was only seeing about 3.5 hours on his. I get that on my MacBook Pro now!
When I say that the Air is a dud, I’m not saying that people are not happy with the product. I’m simply going off my own feelings about the product. I would very much like to have one. As much as I think the competing models are better values, I don’t own one. When I think about working on something other than a Mac, I agree with Russ that I shouldn’t be thinking crazy. But since I do a lot of video editing and actual work on a laptop, I don’t see the Air really being my only computer. And the idea of having to purchase a new desktop to go with my $2k laptop seems a little crazy.
Here is what I would like to see from Apple to get me on to an Air. First a significant price reduction. I agree with Russ that my sweet spot would be under $1k for an Air. Second would be a solid-state drive that actually increases performance, and has at least 120 gigs of space. I would also like to see a 3G solution. I don’t care if it’s built in or just something that fits the USB. In order for this machine to be truly a great travel machine, it’s going to need great connectivity.
The truth is that I’m sold on the looks as well. And anything that helps bring more people over from the dark side is a good thing. But in this one instance, I’m waiting for the next model before making my decision. Unless of course anyone wants to sell me their used one for under $1k.