11.6-in. MacBook Air: Don't Call It a Netbook

Design

When Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the newest Air laptops, he described them as what you'd get if a MacBook Pro and iPad hooked up. I get where he's coming from: In hand, the 11.6-in. Air feels a lot like the iPad, though it's a bit heavier -- the iPad weighs 1.5 lbs., while this Air clocks in at 2.3 lbs. (The 13.3-in. model weighs 2.9 lbs.)

But in use, the Air feels less iPad-like and more like a traditional MacBook Pro. That's partly due to the operating system: The iPad is all multitouch and runs iOS, while the Air uses a traditional keyboard and trackpad, and runs Mac OS X. That distinction might get a bit blurred next year with the release of Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion," which will crib some elements from iOS, according to Apple. Stay tuned.

In revamping the Air, Apple tweaked the design by sharpening some of the rounded edges of the all-aluminum unibody case and making it even thinner than before. At its widest point, where the screen and bottom case meet, the Air is just 0.68 in. thick. And at its slimmest -- the front edge -- it tapers to an almost impossible 0.11 in, just a smidgen more than a tenth of an inch thick!

Travel note: When carrying the Air around, I found that it's safer to hold it at the thicker edge so you're less likely to drop it.

Even though this one is thinner than earlier models, the unibody design process Apple uses to shape the aluminum body makes the Air feel sturdier than before -- in particular, the screen assembly has less flex. As before, the hinge along the back operates smoothly, making it easy to raise the lid with just one finger.

The bezel around the Air's screen is different than in MacBook Pro models. It's wider, and it's aluminum, not black. I like the all-aluminum look; it makes for a more unified design aesthetic. The bezel also holds the redubbed "FaceTime" camera, which in addition to video chats over iChat can now be used for FaceTime chats with iPhone 4 users. (You'll need to download the FaceTime app first, however.)

From the side, the Air has a wedge-shaped profile when the lid is closed, and a much-needed second USB port has been added. Other ports include the headphone/speaker jack and a Mini DisplayPort that can be used to connect an external monitor. Gone is the little drop-down door that held the lone USB port in the last model -- and with it, the nagging worry that the door could break.

Also gone: the glowing LED indicator that lets you know the laptop is sleeping.

With the lid closed, the Air has a wedge-shaped profile.

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