Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2011) Review

The 11-inch MacBook Air adds a backlit keyboard and faster Core i5 processor to one of the sleekest ultraportables on the market.

by Mark Spoonauer on July 20, 2011
3.5 star rating    Price as Reviewed: $1,499.00
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The 11-inch MacBook Air has been on a tear ever since it first debuted back in October of 2010, combining a razor-thin design with instant-on responsiveness for an affordable price. Apple believes the latest version is so good that it has decided to let the smaller of the two Airs kill off the MacBook, making this laptop the only $999 option in the company's lineup. That's a lot of pressure for a notebook that weighs just 2.4 pounds. But the 11-inch Air is definitely up for the challenge. It now features a more powerful Core i5 processor to run the new Mac OS X Lion, a backlit keyboard, and a Thunderbolt port for blazing fast transfer speeds. (Our $1,499 configuration ups the RAM from 2GB to 4GB and adds a whopping 256GB of flash storage.) Does this machine have what it takes to be your everyday notebook?


Although it's been nine months since the 11-inch Air launched, the design still looks thoroughly modern. From the sleek profile and rounded edges to the large glass touchpad and backlit logo, this notebook is iconic. Both the display enclosure and base are made of aluminum, giving the 11-inch Air a sturdy feel. While the model we reviewed last fall suffered from a display that flopped backward when you picked it up, this time around the lid didn't budge.
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2011)
At 2.4 pounds, the 11-inch MacBook Air weighs a tenth of a pound more than its predecessor because it now features a backlit keyboard. However, this elegant notebook is still the lightest system in its class. The Acer Aspire One 722 (3 pounds) and HP Pavilion dm1z (3.4 pounds) are both heavier, as is the 11-inch Samsung Series 9 (2.9 pounds). Only the Samsung rivals the 11-inch Air's thickness; Apple's ultraportable still measures 0.11 to 0.68 inches at its thickest point, while the Series 9 measures 0.66 inches.


It's cool and pretty quiet. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the 11-inch MacBook Air registered 88 degrees Fahrenheit between the G and H keys and only 78 degrees on the touchpad. We consider anything higher than 95 degrees uncomfortable. Even the underside stayed a relatively frosty 86 degrees. The only area that really warmed up was the bottom-left side by the hinge, which reached 97 degrees.
The only time the 11-inch MacBook Air's fan got loud was when we ran the demanding Cinebench benchmark, and even then the laptop was quieter than the VAIO Z.

Keyboard and Touchpad

So much for one of the few complaints we had about the original 11-inch MacBook Air. Apple has managed to add a backlit keyboard, which makes it easier to use the laptop in dim conditions. An ambient light sensor adjusts the strength of the backlight automatically, but you can also change it manually using shortcut keys on the keyboard. For such a thin design, the layout on the 11-inch Air offers a very comfortable typing experience. The keys offer plenty of travel and springy feedback. Plus, all the function keys are tied to a direct action, whether it's adjusting the brightness or activating the Launchpad (a new feature in Lion).
At this point, Apple should probably just put on a clinic for Windows laptop makers on how to make a great touchpad. The huge 4.1 x 2.5-inch glass trackpad on the 11-inch Air is by far the best in its class. And you can do more with it now, thanks to the Lion OS. We could easily double-tap with two fingers to zoom in on a specific area of a website, and we used a three-finger swipe up to launch Mission Control (where you can see everything running on your Mac).
As expected, two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom both worked flawlessly. And there's a new way to scroll; Apple has added a natural scroll option under settings that lets you scroll as you would on the iPad or iPhone. So you drag down to drag up content; if this doesn't feel natural to you, you can just disable this setting.
Making selections on the 11-inch Air's trackpad is as easy as clicking down on the trackpad, though you can activate tap-to-select under the settings.
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2011)

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