The Mac Book Air – One Year In

Last July, I splurged and bought me a Macbook Air. The product line was refreshed, and brought faster, more energy sipping processors. I had been using a monster MacBook Pro (still have it) 15″ that was loaded. Max memory, SSD boot/spinning rust extension disc, and the high resolution screen. But lugging it around was tiring.

The factor that tilted me in favor of the air was the lightness, and the battery life. Purported to be 10+ hours (I regularly get 12 or more hours on a charge), was the key point. I was honestly considering a chromebook (the google one with the retina level display), that was about 3/4 the price, but when I went to see it at the local Best Buy, I was underwhelmed.

How has it held up to a year of daily use? Quite well. It is my main home PC. I write on it, I do some light web development, and of course consumption of media. It is comfortable to use, and even when there is 10% of battery left, it isn’t a mad dash to find an outlet to charge it up (once my 15″ MBP hits 15% you get really nervous). I have taken many trips with it, so I can say that it holds up well to the rigors of travel, and it is a joy to use even on a cramped fold out table on a typical airplane seat (nb: I am a million miler on United, so I get complimentary economy plus seating).

I went for the 13″ version, mainly because I have big hands, and I like having the extra room for typing. This has worked out to be a wise choice.

I was worried about the fairly limited size of the SSD (I upgraded it to 256G before I bought it), but it really hasn’t been an issue. Mostly, I have no music files on the system, relying on the Apple iTunes Match, my Google music collection, and the Spotify premium service I pay for. (on my MBP, I have about 160 gigs of music and videos)

Another fear that I had was system performance. I have always bought the fastest, highest capacity, “best” Mac Book Pro out there. Reasoning being that I use a system pretty hard, and keep it 3-5 years, so the difference in price isn’t really a factor in the long term. Now I was stepping to something with fewer, slower processors, less maximum memory (and memory that isn’t upgradable), less storage. Would I regret it? So far, the answer is “no“. The system is well balanced between what it is intended to do, and what resources are required. I can run an instance of MAMP, do some light web development, fiddle with Matlab, have several documents being edited or created in the MS Office programs, and it really just works.

Unlike my experience with Windows systems, where as time goes on, enough cruft is added that greatly reduces the “responsiveness” of the system, my Mac’s by and large do not see this. And indeed, after a year of daily use, many programs installed, and used regularly, it feels as snappy as the day I bought it.

I belong to a listserv that focuses on Mac OS X, populated by many industry leaders, and extremely cool people (I knew some of them when I was at Cisco in the early aught’s) and while a few of them do have the latest macbook airs, many bemoan the lack of the retina display, and thus choose the MBP 13 with retina display. I will admit that I looked hard at that, and the screen is gorgeous. But it is a pound heavier, and you get about 1/2 the battery life (but there are more options for upgrading storage). Perhaps someday Apple will grace the MBA line with the retina display, but I would trade that “nice to have” with the awesomeness of 12 hours of battery usage.

All in all, if you are a Mac person, and you are honest with your needs and requirements, (and they fit the envelope of the Mac Book Air), it is hard to not recommend this system. There is awesomeness knowing that with the 20% battery power I have remaining, that there is between 2 and 3 hours of use before it shuts down on reserve power. Can’t beat that.

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