Experiment: Tiny Laptop

This week I picked up a MacBook Air 11″ laptop. I’ve only been using it in earnest for about 24 (busy) hours, but it seems like a useful piece of kit.

In the mid 1990s, I did some damage to my back lugging a hugely-heavy Toshiba laptop (et. al.) around San Francisco, in a shoulder bag, on foot, for a month. It put me on my back, in pain for a few days afterwards, and I seem to re-injure the damage every 18 to 24 months ever since. Yup: I am a dope.

I vowed never to lug around a heavy laptop again, and proceeded to own a series of ultra-light Sony and IBM/Lenovo machines. When the original MacBook Air was announced, I was excited to pounce. As it turned out, my excitement was premature, as the machine just didn’t cut the mustard for the non-trivial computing I needed to do.

Six months ago, I made the switch from my original MacBook Air to a honkin’ MacBook Pro 15″ i7. It’s a stupendous piece of computing. It’s also really big, bulky, and not light. My operating theory was that I’d mostly use the MBP for desk-based work, haul it between home and work, and use my Samsung Galaxy Tab (which experiment is itself well overdue for its own blog post) for more portable work. That plan wasn’t per se not working out – but it wasn’t working great, either.

I type well. I type fast. In fact, these folks say I type really well really fast. A quick test there shows 90 words per minute with 98% accuracy. That’s one word every 666 milliseconds. Maybe I’m the text-entry-man-of-the-beast 🙂 . 54 baud FTW! I’ve been typing virtually every single day of my life since the early 1980s on my TRaSh-80. So the two finger, two thumb, or one finger swiping solutions – on smartphones and tablets – haven’t been affording me the efficiency I want. Keyboards work for me.

The MacBook Air 11″ is about 1 pound heavier and 2 inches longer than an iPad2. It’s freakin’ tiny.

It took me a few hours to get used to the keyboard, but I’m there: I’m creating this blog post on it, and that speed test mentioned above was done just now on it. Thus far I’ve used iWork, Microsoft Office, and Adobe CS4 apps. I also run a local mirror of the play140 database on MySQL server and have been running some gnarly analytics queries against it today. Frankly, I’ve yet to identify any task this machine will barf on. I imagine I’ll find it – but not yet. The 4GB or RAM and 128GB of flash storage seem to be haulin’ ass. It fits in my jacket pocket. Sweet! It takes up a TON less horizontal space when I whip it out at Peet’s or on the subway. It’ll fit on an airplane tray table without drama. I haven’t used it enough to judge the battery life yet – but it clearly doesn’t suck. Well over 3 hours at least. Thus far, the substantial decrease in screen real estate is the only thing that’s been truly painful. I’ll admit it: I’m a pixel slut. The screen on this little beastie has 41% fewer pixels than the screen on my 15″ MBP. Put inversely, the MBP has 68% more pixels than the MBA. Yowza.

Let the experiment continue…


  1. Miguel Roque

    As a new mac air 13 fan boy the only thing I’ll add is that having a flash based laptop that boots up in exactly .3 seconds has changed my computing life.

    I got this thing a month ago and I am not sure if I have shut it down yet.

    I spent an hr agonizing between the 13 and the 11 but ended up with a 13.

  2. Dan

    I’m more WH on this one, but I finally made the switch. Tried an iPad in the interim, and once i copped an air (i went 13 instead) – the ipad has become little more than a toy (and hardly usable to type on in the first place).

    That said, I”m happy. Curious why you didn’t get bigger flash, though?

  3. Will Herman

    Been going through sorta the same thought process. I like having a real desktop, but unlike you, my office is in my house so I don’t need to be as mobile. I also have a laptop for when I do need to be mobile – mostly when it involves a plane.

    I tried the iPad as a substitute, but it doesn’t really cut it. I really need a keyboard and a mouse. Yes, you can add a keyboard to the iPad, but then you might as well have a full laptop.

    Even though I tend to be a Windows guy – which appears to be a dying breed – I looked closely at a MBA. The hardware was just too compelling. But then, Lenovo dropped the news of the coming Thinkpad X220. Loads-o-power, IBM keyboard, USB 3.0, a real Ethernet Jack, about 3 pounds with an 8-10 hour battery. Of course, memory, disk, battery are all field upgradeable unlike the stuff from Cupertino. I want one.

    The downside is that the screen resolution is 1366X768. But, apparently, the screen is gorgeous.

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