AnandTech Reviews 2013 MacBook Air (11-inch) – An iPad Alternative?

AnandTech is never the first out with Apple new product reviews, but I’m always interested in reading their detailed, in-depth analyses of Macs and iDevices.

AnandTech’s Vivek Gowri bought and tried a second generation MacBook Air back in 2010, but returned it, finding it “unbearably slow,” noting that its 2GB RAM was basically laughable, and the standard 64GB SSD got a whole lot more indefensible as time went on.

He observes that performance improved in the newer 11-inch Airs, but even so, the 13-inch Air with its higher screen resolution, 16:10 aspect ratio, and larger battery, seemed to be the way to go, especially after the price dropped to $1199. Now the mid-2013 entry level 11 and 13 inch Airs share the same basic specs: 1.3GHz Haswell ULT processor, 4GB LPDDR3, and a 128GB SSD, and the price difference has dropped to $100, with the 13-incher now $1099, making it an even better deal, considering the extra battery life (12 hours versus 9 for the 11) and larger, higher resolution display. “And honestly,” says Gowri, “the 13 is not only a more usable primary computing solution, but also a better computer overall.”

However, he says its easier to recommend an Air 11 now that the base model has the 4GB/128GB combo he’d consider the minimum for any ultraportable computer without any caveats, but that where the 11-inch Air becomes really interesting is when you stop thinking about it in terms of its larger sibling, but rather in terms of the iPad. He observes that Not only is the 11-inch Air dimensionally similar to the iPad, now with it’s Haswell processor it has roughly equal battery life too, and theres just a $200 price difference between the 128GB iPad and the 128GB Air 11, or just $100 if you factor in the cost of an iPad keyboard, making it really something to think about as an iPad alternative. He notes that the 11-inch Air is just under a pound heavier than the iPad, with depths within a quarter inch of each other and the average thickness of the wedge-shaped Air essentially the same as the constant thickness of the iPad, and with far superior power, versatility, and connectivity including both USB 3 and Thunderbolt, and a backlit keyboard built in.

Gowri summarizes that when a tablet doesn’t offer an inherent advantage in terms of size or battery life, it’s a lot harder to justify skipping the sheer versatility and power you get out of a real notebook computer, even a small one, and that the notebook is basically better at doing anything other than reading, and gives you far more computing horsepower and far more control over everything that happens – media, browsing, documents. Factor in the real, physical keyboard and in terms of productivity, and the laptop’s functional superiority is inarguable. Gowri says he’s not trying to recommend that people buy the Air over the iPad, but just to point out just that its possible to do so with very little compromise other than purchase price, which is startling, and if you need the most mobile productivity machine you can get, its hard to top the 11-inch MacBook Air.

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