Putting the MacBook Air Laptop Through Its Paces

No Optical Drive

There's no optical drive in the MacBook air, and David Moody, Apple vice president of worldwide Mac product marketing expressed to us the ambivalence that Apple seems to have about the current state of the computer optical drive: "Some people will need [an optical drive] Others... maybe." If you want a MacBook Air but are afraid that you're going to run into a situation where you simply must have an optical drive, Apple will sell you an external $99 USB SuperDrive, nicely color-matched, specifically for the MacBook Air.

For basic optical drive needs, though, Apple's new Remote Disc software will let the MacBook Air take control of the optical drive on a Mac or PC. The laptop comes with software you can install on Macs or PCs, enabling the feature. Then when you click on Remote Disc in the Finder's sidebar, you'll see a list of all the computers on your local Bonjour network that have Remote Disc installed. Click on a computer and one of two things will happen--either you'll just take control of the drive, or (optionally) the user of the other computer will be prompted to allow you to take control.

When we tried the feature out, it worked seamlessly. We double-clicked on a remote PC across the room, and after about five seconds I could hear its optical drive quietly begin to whir. Within another few seconds, the Microsoft Office 2008 install disc appeared in the Finder on the MacBook Air, just as if we had inserted that disc in the MacBook Air's nonexistent optical drive.

All Aluminum

Open the magnetic latch of the MacBook Air and peer inside, and you'll get a sight that looks a lot like a miniature combination of the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. There's aluminum everywhere, with the exception of the black backlit keyboard and the 13.3-inch display. That display, at 1,280-by-800 pixels, is slightly smaller than the one on the MacBook, but its higher resolution means it's got the same number of pixels as its larger cousin.

Just above the display is an iSight camera, flanked by two small micro-perforated circles. The one on the left is an ambient light sensor, which lets the MacBook Air automatically adjust the brightness of the display and of the keyboard backlighting. the one on the right is a microphone.

As far as I can tell, the MacBook Air's keyboard is identical to the one on the MacBook, complete with square keycaps and the same solid feeling when typing.

Multi-Touch-Enabled TrackPad

Aside from Remote Disc, the other big new software addition with the MacBook Air is the modifications to the Keyboard and Mouse preference pane to support the new multi-touch enabled trackpad. In our demo, we saw the gestures at work in both iPhoto and Safari, though presumably these are features that third-party developers will be able to add to their applications as well. In Safari, we saw the iPhone's pinch gesture adapted to allow you to size the text in your browser window up and down. You can also swipe with three fingers to use the browser's forward and back buttons.

It's quite a mind-bender to see full QuickTime movies in the System Preferences pane, but that's the interface Apple has chosen to get across the various gestures the trackpad supports. The more prosaic side of the preference pane collects the gestures by finger: one-finger actions (tap, drag, drag lock), two-finger actions (click, scroll, pinch, rotate, zoom), and one three-finger action (swipe).

Finally, it's worth mentioning that the MacBook Air's tiny 0.16-inch thin front side still has room for two pieces of actual hardware: an infrared receiver and the ubiquitous pulsating sleep light.

Jason Snell is the Editorial Director of Macworld.

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