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Rory Cellan-Jones

Duel of the skinny laptops

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 7 Feb 08, 17:41 GMT

Darren Waters and I are in a slimming contest – comparing two new laptops which are sold on the basis of their weight rather than their power.
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Darren is looking at the Asus U1E and I've got a MacBook Air.

If it’s about provoking the envy of your friends and colleagues, then I’m the clear winner. Ever since I removed the MacBook Air from the wrapping, I’ve been getting plenty of ooohs and aaahs – both in the flesh and online – from people who’ve lusted after Apple’s ultra-slim laptop since Steve Jobs pulled it out of a jiffy bag last month.

But I’ve an uneasy feeling that this new model could prove to be beautiful but dumb.

To pack everything in to such a slim casing, Apple has had to chuck a lot overboard – Ethernet and firewire ports, an optical drive, and a removable battery. For me the Firewire is the big loss. Last time I got a new computer, I simply hooked it up to the old one via a Firewire cable and sucked out the entire contents.

So how when you get a brand new MacBook Air, are you to install new software or migrate your data from your old machine? Easy, says Apple, we now live in a wireless world - just use your home wi-fi to beam it all across to your new machine.

Oh, that it was that easy - I spent several hours trying without success to migrate.

First, it became clear that I needed to upload new software onto my old computer to perform the transfer. Then I sat and watched while both machines just hung around thinking about it. After half an hour or so - with no data transferred - my patience ran out. So I Googled “MacBook Air migration issue” and came across a lot of people with exactly the same problem, including these testers at ZDNet.

Their advice? Give up, and get an Ethernet adapter. I didn’t have time for that, so I opted to use a synchronisation program which allows me to share my calendar and contacts across different computers, and I e-mailed my browser bookmarks to the new machine.

Since then, things have gone a little more smoothly - but the first few hours of a new relationship are all-important and my slim new friend and I have got off to a rocky start.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 06:29 PM on 07 Feb 2008,
  • Me wrote:

macbook air... it is a dumb blonde

  • 2.
  • At 12:24 AM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Nelson wrote:

Macs have always been about looks with no real substance. I don't expect this to be any different.

What if I want to do something with it that Steve Jobs didn't think of?

  • 3.
  • At 01:04 AM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Behn K wrote:

I'm sorry, but I cannot fail to see this as the Emperor's New Clothes. Why? well as the majority of modern laptops are able to match the features and connectivity of desktops what are the manufacturers to do?
Easy, remove half of the features and put it in a shiny advert!

...and we will buy it because it has a shiny advert and because it's lack of features will be seen as groundbreaking until they release the next edition (with even less but even thinnner!)

  • 4.
  • At 07:46 AM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Robert Hayton wrote:

Macbook AirHead?

  • 5.
  • At 07:58 AM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Tony Roberts wrote:

Apple has always been hot on design but needs to turn up the heat on performance, in some areas, but you cannot fault reliability. Watch out though Apple, since my installation of Business Vista I have not had one glitch on a previous troublesome PC! Laptops are great and very useful but are not the answer to desk power!

  • 6.
  • At 09:07 AM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Ian wrote:

There will always be people that buy for a name rather than functionality - these people are called idiots.

You do have to wonder if Apple have messed up on this one. It's fair enough not to put a CD player on it... Apple will be plugging iTunes to get the music and video onto it anyway.

But only one USB port means that you can't charge the iPod and use a flash stick - silly Apple

Well i don't believe all this thiness is a move in the right direction, they really should not remove so many features that it becomes hard to operate, it may look very good but thats the only thing it does do. :(

  • 9.
  • At 02:49 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Sophie wrote:

If you've never used a mac network (which is possibly the most complex part of using a mac), the MacBook Air solution is still simple - when ordering your Air, cough up the extra £50 for the external CD/DVD drive (the size of a CD case, with its own built in cable). . .the laptop and drive will still be smaller and lighter than your existing laptop. As for Rob's complaint - a USB multiport can be easily acquired for under £20 (and most applers already have a collection. . .one port is all you need on the fly)

  • 10.
  • At 02:56 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Dave wrote:

Come on people! This is a Mac!
There is a VERY good reason why it has only one USB port...

So you will rush out and buy it AGAIN when they release the version with TWO on it!!!

  • 11.
  • At 03:10 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Stevie C wrote:

reminds me of the Vaio X505VP I had, oohh 4 years ago?

Deal with half featured notebooks on a daily basis and your patience will wear about as thin as the new Apple Air.

I've cheerfully lugged a philips X56 around that weighted in around 300 grammes more than my x505 and couple of hundred grammes more than my later IBM X41. The full feature set just made it a far more worhtwhile experience.

  • 12.
  • At 03:58 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Simon wrote:

Apple is about design - for looks & functionality.

Yes this is limited by in what it can do , but let's not pretend it is not a luxury item.

This is a cool sexy gadget and people would be more than happy to be seen with one.

If you want more functionality in a laptop Apple do plenty of nice kit along those line as well. What apple have given you is choice.


  • 13.
  • At 04:07 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Adrian wrote:

You're missing the point on this one. The Macbook Air is effectively an engineering exercise for future developments. Can we do without a DVD/ethernet drive with the rise of flash memory storage and WiFi. Will some be prepared to pay for it. Personally I think it looks great but is overpriced for what it is. Drop the HD version price by £300 and it'll sell well. At the moment the MacBook Pro is the only good bet for the money, but then I do proper work on mine not surf the internet all day in a capuccino bar. Apple have always pushed the design envelope, most of the time they win, sometimes they loose. If they didn't we'd all be using beige boxes running Vista.

  • 14.
  • At 04:41 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Jon Farina wrote:

Everyone loves to slam Apple for this and that.

Can I suggest you "haters" take a look at the Asus and see what specs it has in comparison to the Air?

I've been a PC user for over 20 years and I can't help but thinkign that computing is like a religion. You have believers in one camp eg: Microsoft and believers in others Apple or Linux.

Here is the thing... People love to hate the other camps. Why?

Surely a Mac is just a PC properly designed PC with excellent software?

Can I suggest everyone just take a step back and think before they automatically shun one manufacturer or another!

  • 15.
  • At 05:15 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Dave Vary wrote:

Ok so guys have not used a mac i take it, it always takes the next update on the software to get it going after that you will fall in love and any pc you see you will want to spit at!!!

Apple rules!!

  • 16.
  • At 05:28 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Jonathan wrote:

The Macbook Air is not a replacement for a desktop or laptop. It is a standalone thin lightweight wireless computer that is the first in a line of products to come. Apple leads and others will follow - just wait and see, and no Apple does not always get it right, but at least it tries to push the boundaries - ipod, iphone, imac.

  • 17.
  • At 05:37 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Jamie Jones wrote:

I think that what people are forgetting is that there is a reason this is so portable.... because it's meant to be used as a portable machine... use this as a second computer, and it's fantastic.
Imagine you have a presentation to give, a meeting with a client, or fieldwork to complete... copy your work (wirelessly, of course!) from your desktop and slip it in your bag!
It's not trying to replace your main computer, quite clearly, but as a second machine it's exactly what a lot of people have been wanting for so long.

  • 18.
  • At 07:26 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Robin Turvey wrote:

You would think no one had ever made an ultra portable .... you don't need to compromise in the way Apple have - just take a look at the Sony TZ ... GigE, firewire, DVD/RW, replaceable battery, light as a feather and looks that guarantee people look if that's what you want ... VAIO FTW

  • 19.
  • At 02:16 AM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • Richard wrote:

Anyone who says that Macs are all about style and no substance have never owned one. I have a Macbook Pro and it is probably the best laptop on the market. When it came out it was even the fatest PC laptop you could buy.

The Macbook Air is a bit rubbish though. The advantages far outweight any consideration on looks. Thiness may be one thing, but it still has the same footprint as a normal laptop. Add to that one USB port, no ethernet, lack of built in optical drive, soldered and therefore not upgradeable memory, not being able to hotswap batteries and the big price tag, then it starts to look like a bot of a dud.

  • 20.
  • At 02:32 AM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • fi wrote:

how about assessing your personal needs and buying a computer based upon that not on its looks or ability to impress your mates - its not a phone you know ;)

  • 21.
  • At 03:42 AM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • Lee wrote:

Choosing a laptop is like buying a car. There are many, many models out there with a lot of different features. There is no "one size fits all". Some people thinks a stripped down thin laptop is great, others will find that it doesn't have all the features they need, just like cars. The design can be stunning or not appeal at all, just like cars. There will be buyers for the MacBook Air but a lot of people will realize that, while very innovative, it won't do the job for them. What it probably will do is give other companies ideas that they will incorporate into their own new "thin" products. This is a first generation of this product and I'm sure Apple wants to see if it flies. Just like we ohh and ahh at a very expensive sports car, it won't be within the budget or practical for most people.

Question : Why did no other manufacturer develop it, first?

I have a Linux desktop at work, a Macbook Pro for home and when needing a reasonable computer out and about, and a 4GB eee PC for when I just need something to check email, use IM and log into the odd server to prod things.

The MacBook Air isn't powerful enough to be a main machine in the way my MBP is, and really has "STEAL ME" written all over it. I'll stick with the eee PC for my ultra-portable. Functional, light and cheap enough that it's not a great disaster if I chuck coffee all over it in Starbucks ...

I have a Linux desktop at work, a Macbook Pro for home and when needing a reasonable computer out and about, and a 4GB eee PC for when I just need something to check email, use IM and log into the odd server to prod things.

The MacBook Air isn't powerful enough to be a main machine in the way my MBP is, and really has "STEAL ME" written all over it. I'll stick with the eee PC for my ultra-portable. Functional, light and cheap enough that it's not a great disaster if I chuck coffee all over it in Starbucks ...

  • 25.
  • At 04:36 PM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • Jake wrote:

Give it a rest.. it's only a computer! In fact I have bought one of these laptops and it arrives next week.

I for one wanted a lightweight laptop for browsing the web etc and something that would complement my iMac at home.. Nothing complicated, nothing to big, too small or too ugly... something simple, easy and beautiful. I don't need a whole load of connection ports which i'll never use, nor do I need a replaceable battery.. I've almost never used a CD drive in my current laptop.. although I have been lugging it around for 3 years!

Sometimes less is more and this is a prime example of a company seeing a market for something and actually making it.

Who cares if it is a flop? Whether Apple makes a loss or not...? I certainly don't.. remember... it's a laptop! :-)


  • 26.
  • At 04:39 PM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • Jake wrote:

Give it a rest.. it's only a computer! In fact I have bought one of these laptops and it arrives next week.

I for one wanted a lightweight laptop for browsing the web etc and something that would complement my iMac at home.. Nothing complicated, nothing to big, too small or too ugly... something simple, easy and beautiful. I don't need a whole load of connection ports which i'll never use, nor do I need a replaceable battery.. I've almost never used a CD drive in my current laptop.. although I have been lugging it around for 3 years!

Sometimes less is more and this is a prime example of a company seeing a market for something and actually making it.

Who cares if it is a flop? Whether Apple makes a loss or not...? I certainly don't.. remember... it's a laptop! :-)


I have a Linux desktop at work, a Macbook Pro for home and when needing a reasonable computer out and about, and a 4GB eee PC for when I just need something to check email, use IM and log into the odd server to prod things.

The MacBook Air isn't powerful enough to be a main machine in the way my MBP is, and really has "STEAL ME" written all over it. I'll stick with the eee PC for my ultra-portable. Functional, light and cheap enough that it's not a great disaster if I chuck coffee all over it in Starbucks ...

  • 28.
  • At 05:56 PM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • Kelly Mouser wrote:

I'm a bit disappointed to hear about the limitations, because it does LOOK very impressive. Above all, though - it looks flimsy. I don't care if it's constructed of titanium, kevlar or whatever, any complex electronic product of that shape is likely to be pretty fragile.

  • 29.
  • At 05:59 PM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • Kelly Mouser wrote:

I'm a bit disappointed to hear about the limitations, because it does LOOK very impressive. Above all, though - it looks flimsy. I don't care if it's constructed of titanium, kevlar or whatever, any complex electronic product of that shape is likely to be pretty fragile.

  • 30.
  • At 08:05 PM on 09 Feb 2008,
  • John Romero wrote:

Another boring Apple product with millions of dollars of advertising thrown behind it to ensure the idiot masses buys it.

Frankly theres nothing in the last bit special about the Air apart from apple managing to charge yet more money for something with yet fewer features. Quite a coup!

Wow. It almost sounds like I'd like one - if I didn't have an excellent little laptop called the eee PC from Asus. It runs a scaled back Linux but still runs fast, and allows me to tinker with it in ways that the Mac Air and Asus U-thingymabob don't. It has some neat features and most importantly feels solid. And it's only £200.

@ Jonathan (#16) - No, Apple believes in the adage 'Great artists create, better artists steal'. Apple's marketing machine is great at making an idea look like their own, but usually the idea has come from somewhere else. Apple just make it prettier.

Oh, and Sophie (#9), I like choice to come WITH the unit I buy, not then think "This is great, but forking out another £100 would make it almost *just* right.

@Nelson: I dunno which Macs you've used in the past but since OSX 10.0 they've been basically BSD Unix boxes with a very user-friendly & intuitive UI. Since they went Intel, they've been able to run Windows too, natively or as a virtual machine. There's very little a MacBook Pro or MacBook cannot do - including running a lot of Linux software.

  • 33.
  • At 05:33 AM on 10 Feb 2008,
  • Dr. Kodi wrote:

Kudos, for those who see this for being a ultra-lightweight, on the go laptop. Not a stand alone work horse. So evaluate it fairly in the light of the class of computer it is meant to be. You don't compare a notebook with a server, and as such don't compare the Air with a full fledged full weight full feature notebook. It the beginning of a new class of ultralight notebooks, maybe someone should coin a new name for them.

  • 34.
  • At 12:09 PM on 10 Feb 2008,
  • Jordan Chitty wrote:

Not many people seem to have either a) used a MacBook Air, or b) have one, so being able to objectively criticise it is not possible.

However, mine arrived on Thursday and as a secondary machine (it's much more portable than my 17" MacBook Pro) it is fantastic. Coupled with a wireless broadband dongle, I have been traveling around accessing files on my MBP remotely and thus the need for any flash sticks, CDs or other media is eliminated.

Granted, it is a fairly expensive laptop but the engineering is stunning and it runs OS X which completely trumps Vista (everyone I know with it wants to downgrade to XP).

  • 35.
  • At 10:34 AM on 11 Feb 2008,
  • John wrote:

I don't have a problem with the Air missing an optical drive or ethernet or even having only 1 USB, they're all reasonable compromises in a mobile second machine in light of my experiences with my eee. What I have a problem with is the form factor, for an on-the-road machine I'd rather have a smaller footprint than a thinner machine, the non-changable battery and memory are a major disappointment, and that USB port is just awkward to use where it is.

Personally, I think the Air will find most favour as an in-home browsing-on-the-couch machine when paired with an existing desktop/iMac and wireless network, rather than as a road-warriors machine or an easy carry to the coffee shop machine, which for the price is not a good market to be targetting.

My ideal is now a beefier 13" machine for serious road use or on the couch, paired with a 24" monitor and USB hub for work at home, and a 10" eee for light-weight mobile use. I've been searching but have yet to find the perfect compromise for me. Please Steve, give us the 13" MBP we all want, I don't want to go with a Dell XPS (cheap but questionable quality) or Sony (quality but very expensive for features).

P.S. Why does everyone but Apple insist on those tiny, glossy touchpads that your fingers stick to and take two swipes to get all the way across the screen??? A Mac is worth the extra for that alone!

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