Putting the MacBook Air Laptop Through Its Paces

Last night I dreamed of small Mac laptops and today those dreams were fulfilled. The MacBook Air has arrived, a third MacBook model that brings incredibly small size to the MacBook line at a premium price.

After spending 20 minutes with the MacBook Air at Macworld Expo Tuesday, I've got some first impressions that will have to last me until we're able to walk away with a shipping unit and put it through the usual testing rigamarole in the Macworld Lab.

At the risk of sounding obvious, the MacBook Air is incredibly light and tiny. Its looks owe a lot to the MacBook Pro and previous silver Mac laptop models, but its curved edges and tapered shape are unlike anything we've seen on a Mac laptop in a long time, if ever. Someone sitting next to me just likened it to a really big iPod nano, and that's not far off.

Port Check

Because of the product's curves, there aren't flat spots on the side for ports, as there are on existing Mac laptops. On the left side, near the back, is a slightly recessed space on the MacBook Air's underside with a MagSafe power connector. As a result, the MacBook Air comes with a different power brick, a smaller 45-watt brick than the one the MacBook uses. And the adapter's tip is different, a right-angled silver shape that's designed to nestle snug against the MacBook Air's side. If Apple had used the current MagSafe adapter, it simply wouldn't fit--that adapter sticks straight out, an orientation that would prevent you from setting the MacBook Air down on a desk.

On the MacBook Air's right side is a drop-down door with three ports. (It's not a door that you flip open to expose the ports--you actually pull the door down, and the three ports come down from within the computer.) There's a standard speaker/headphone minijack, a USB 2.0 port, and a micro-DVI port. Yes, IT people, this means you will need to carry around yet another spare set of Mac laptop display adapters--mini DVI for MacBooks, DVI for MacBook Pros, and micro DVI for MacBook airs.

Video-Out Prowess

The best news I got about the MacBook Air was its video-out prowess. It seems to have the same skills as the MacBook, namely that it will drive a 23-inch Apple display as a secondary display. For someone like me, that's a key feature--speaking as a guy who uses his MacBook at work hooked up to a 23-inch display, robust video-out features are important.

The good news is, MacBook Air ships with two video adapters in the box, one for VGA, one for DVI. An optional $19 S-Video adapter is also available. And for those who simply must have Ethernet connectivity, Apple will sell a $29 USB Ethernet adapter.

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