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Recently I posted an entry about my thoughts on the Windows Surface RT that I have been using for over 8 months. Many took that as me complaining about the Surface so I posted another entry a few days later where I clarified it wasn't so much about the Surface as it was that I've come to realize that a full size tablet is not a laptop replacement or laptop-lite solution for me. Recall I said that I had come to the conclusion that what I thought worked for me was a small ultraportable laptop that I could use as a laptop that had a full and static keyboard. I had been considering this move for a while and looked at the different options on the market, and finally settled on one.

About two weeks ago I picked up a new Apple MacBook Air 11" ultrabook. I'll cut to the chase: I love this device! I was torn between the 11" and 13" but thankfully the configuration I wanted was available in my local Apple store (thanks to ample stock and back-to-school timing) so I was able to take advantage of Apple's "bring it back in 14 days for a full refund" policy. I took the 11" hoping the screen would be big enough. I quickly found out that it was. The selection criteria for the hardware were the following:

  • No compromise on performance: I did this with the Surface RT thinking the underpowered device would not bother me too much but in the end, it did and I found myself using it less.
  • Run all my apps I run today: I'm not going near ARM again… not for a very long time.
  • Weight: When I travel I'm likely to take this along with my regular Lenovo ThinkPad w520 so I don't want to add too much to my backpack.
  • Battery life: I wanted it to blow my socks off. Ideally, when I head to a coffee shop to work out of the house for a half-day, or when I go to a conference, don't want to feel like I need to take the power pack.

I'm the type of person who has trust in a few brands so if you aren't on the list, for whatever reason, I didn't really consider your offerings. It really came down to the MacBook Air & the Lenovo Carbon X1. I went with the MacBook for a few reasons.

The battery life claims blew me away. Apple claimed up to 9 hours on the 11". This past weekend I was on a road trip and while my wife was driving, I pulled it out to get some work done. WiFi was turned off and the screen brightness was at about 65%. After working for about 20 minutes, OS X (the Mac operating system) said it had about 10 hours and 43 minutes of charge remaining and I was at a 92% charge! I'm also running Windows 8 as a VM using VMWare Fusion for some apps that I can't get on OS X (like OneNote & running full blown macros in Excel 2013)… when I do that, battery life plummets as expected. I've noticed some apps also kill the battery (just installing the most current & patched Lync client from Microsoft dropped the battery down to <2 hours… even when it's running but not signed in). Looking forward to doing a real "turn a movie on with the screen at full brightness, WiFi connected and see how long it will go" test but frankly, I haven't had that much time in the last two weeks to drain it down!

The new Intel Haswell chip in the MacBook Airs are stunning. I did max out the CPU option to 1.7Ghz… you can't get the screen open fast enough to start logging in before the machine has woken up and ready to go. Zero lag… I'm very pleased with the perf of this thing.

The physical form factor of the MacBook Air is awesome. It's super sleek, thin and light. In fact it's so sleek it's the only non-tablet I've owned that I wanted to get a case for it so I picked up a sleeve so it wouldn't get banged around in my backpack.

While not a requirement, I was looking forward to spending some time in the Mac OS, OX X and upcoming update to it later this fall. This isn't a slam on Microsoft or Windows 8, I just wanted to use something else. For some reason I've been able to pick it up a lot faster than I did the last time I had a Mac (MacBook Pro ~2009). Nice to see what other vendors are doing too… plus I haven't been all that impressed with Windows 8 (or the upcoming 8.1 update… everyone is going gaga over Windows 8.1 and I can't get past the "that's it? That's all you're addressing?").

I very much recommend the MacBook Air 11" as an ultraportable. The one I got maxed out the CPU (1.7Ghz), memory (to 8GB) and disk (to 512GB SSD). I don't plan to do anything hard core development work or SharePoint work on it (although I did install Visual Studio 2012 in the Windows 8 VM just for the heck of it and coding wasn't a bad experience surprisingly). This device is for the non-coder in me.

Now this seems like quite a change for someone like me, but this isn't the first MacBook I've owned. In fact I owned a MacBook Pro around 2009 and loved it, but decided it wasn't the replacement for a solid workstation replacement for someone who did a lot of virtual machine work.

If there were a few things I could change on the MacBook Air they would be a touch screen, have the screen be one of those Retina displays (but I'm sure that would kill the battery) and possibly pull a Lenovo Yoga fold-over trick. The last one would likely screw up the awesome aesthetics of the device, but it would be nice to have it as a tablet-mode, but certainly not that important.

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