At the Apple keynote address in October this year, Steve Jobs jokingly asked the audience, “What would happen if a Macbook and an iPad hooked up?” But he wasn’t kidding then as he later unveiled the new range of Macbook Air laptops – they truly are the ‘next generation of Macbooks’. With the addition of 11 and 13-inch notebooks to the Macbook Air range, Apple is clearly sending a message - that the future of laptops are devices which are ultra light, ultra portable and ultra performers – all without the help of an optical drive. We tell you why the Air might be a worth considering – whether you swear by Macs or PCs.

For the Macbook user

If you’re an Apple loyalist, you’ll love it, though you might think that the Air would be a downgrade from the Pro. The folks at Cupertino have a different take on the subject though – they feel that the Air is the notebook of the future. The Pro has been marketed as a complete solution – a notebook to take care of your work and personal needs. So let’s see how the Air matches up to it. We got hands-on with the 11.6-inch version.

When you first lay your eyes on the Air, you’ll wonder if it can really pack in everything that the thicker and larger Pro has to offer. The 11.6-inch Air weighs just 2.3 pounds, and we found it really easy to carry around. It’s also incredibly thin - measuring just 0.68 inches at its thickest point and 0.11-inches at its thinnest. Its 13.3-inch big brother isn’t so big either – weighing just 2.9 pounds and measuring the same in thickness.

We’re used to the sturdy build of the Pro, so we naturally wondered about the Air being flimsy. But the Air too is constructed from a single piece of aluminium, just like the Pro, and is equally resistant to bumps and falls.

If you’re used to the Pro, you may think that a 11.6-inch notebook might be a compromise on functionality, but we found that the Air incorporates a full size keyboard and trackpad. The trackpad supports a variety of multi-touch gestures, which we explored in detail in our Apple Magic Trackpad review.

Inside, the software isn’t very different from what you get on a Pro. It’s powered by a 1.4 GHz Core 2 Duo Processor and Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics. The 13-inch is slightly more powerful, with a 1.86 GHz processor. We had multiple windows open – a few Safari browser tabs, iPhoto, iTunes, TextEdit and QuickTime, and all the applications ran smoothly.

The screen is LED backlit, and at 1366x768 pixels, its high def. Apple promises 5 hours of battery life, and the Air didn’t let us down when it came to that.

Other features that the Air has to offer is a FaceTime camera and the new suite of iLife applications.

For the PC-user

If you’re wondering whether its time to change loyalties from a PC to a Mac, the Air might just be the laptop that changes your mind, however it does come with its share of negatives.

When it comes to looks, most notebooks fail to match up to Apple’s pure aluminium, minimalist design. And we have to say that the compact Air is one of the most beautiful feats of manufacturing we’ve laid our eyes on.

One of the most interesting things Apple has done with the Air is to eliminate a conventional hard drive, and opt for flash storage instead. The Air achieves its size-zero form-factor by doing away with the exterior casing of a hard drive, and using just the flash chips themselves. While this makes the notebook ultra portable, you get only a limited amount of storage. The 11-inch Air is sold in 64GB and 128GB capacities, which is really limited when you compare it to the 250GB-500GB standard that most notebooks seem to be loaded with nowadays. The 13-inch isn’t much better when it comes to storage – you can opt for a 128GB or 256GB version.

It could be argued that you can increase your on board storage by using a portable hard drive, however, the Air is equipped with only two USB 2.0 ports, which could be a bit of a hindrance if you like your notebook to be a media hub. The Air also lacks a card reader, which is pretty standard on most notebooks today. However, it does include a Mini DisplayPort, for digital video output.

These negatives might deter you from making the move to Apple, but there are some positives you can consider.

What you do get with an Apple product is amazingly fast software. The Air took us less than a minute to boot up, which is a refreshing change if you’re used to a regular Windows boot up time. It offers up to 30 days of standby time, without draining any of the battery. We woke up the Air from sleep mode after two days of it being on standby, and found that the Instant On promise that Apple makes really works. The battery levels were the same from where we left off, and the notebook gave us a few hours of juice before the battery died out.

Like we mentioned earlier, a full sized keyboard and trackpad are a welcome addition, especially because most laptops with a small form-factor tend to compromise on these features.

The lack of an optical drive could be a big set back for many notebook users, but Apple does allow DVD or CD sharing wirelessly from any other Mac or PC that’s nearby. Given the fact that most content can now be shared on a memory stick, or is available for download, the lack of an optical drive shouldn’t be a deterrent.

What we think

When we first saw the Air at a special Apple preview event a few weeks ago, we were under the impression that the lack of the optical drive and small size classified the laptop as a netbook. However the team from Apple were quick to point out that this was in fact a notebook – because its powerful processors and graphics make it almost as capable as the Pro. The first generation of Macbook Air laptops didn’t make a mark as performers, but our hands on experience with the new breed of Air laptops only reinstates what Apple says – “It’s a real Macbook in every sense of the word.”

11.6-inch – 64GB/128GB: Rs 60,900/Rs 72,900

13.3-inch – 128GB/256GB: Rs 79,900/Rs 98,000

Mac App Store

The Mac App Store will definitely add a whole new dimension to your Macbook Air. It will be just like the one for the iPod, iPhone and iPad. The Apps will be organised according to category. Before you purchase an app, you can read user reviews and developer descriptions, and even see screenshots. Once you’re satisfied with what you see, it’s just one-click and the app gets downloaded on to your Mac. Apple will also notify you of updates so that you always have the latest versions of all your apps. Apps can be downloaded for any Mac you own. The store will launch on January 6, 2011.

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