What They Said: The 5 biggest drawbacks of the MacBook Air

via DVICE by Kevin Hall on 1/24/08

Apple MacBook Air roundup.jpg

The MacBook Air may be one of the thinnest laptops ever made, but Apple had to make some sacrifices to shed all that poundage. Did the company go too far? Some reviewers on the Web think so. Of course, a lot of the criticism centers around the stunted functionality the Air suffers because of its excised features — such as the lack of an optical drive and Ethernet port.

But that’s not all the reviewers nitpicked. The Air has issues that go beyond its jettisoned components — the single USB port took some heat, for example, and not for the reason you’d expect. Click Continue for five downsides of the MacBook Air that have come to light since its big debut.

1. It does have an optical drive, after all
Apple offers an external CD/DVD drive for the MacBook Air. Be forewarned, however, if you buy one, it will only work with your MacBook Air — other MacBooks just don’t pump out the power necessary to keep the external drive running. That’s all right, since other Macs tend to have optical drives. To its credit, it looks like the Air has one powerful USB port.

2. Single USB port is picky on drive size
The USB port is hidden in a foldaway hatch alongside the headphone jack, and it looks like anything but your average thumbstick may have trouble connecting with the MacBook Air. Make no mistake: not all USB drives are created equal.

Engadget tried the slim Sprint / Novatel U727 USB EV-DO modem and couldn’t get it to fit. Since Wi-Fi is your only option with the MacBook Air, it’s important — especially to us bloggers — to have an alternative when that isn’t available.

It’s like the iPhone’s recessed headphone jack all over again.

3. Power cord options more finicky than a cell phone’s
Let’s say you misplace your power cord. Well, if you happen to have one of Apple’s other MagSafe chargers sitting around, you’ll have to accommodate the MacBook Air if you want one of them to fit. Gizmodo confirmed that, on a table, other MacBook chargers won’t fit in the Air, though the Air’s charger will work with both MacBooks and MacBook Pros.

So you’ll actually have to put your laptop in your lap, which may not be so bad according to Steven Levy from Newsweek. Levy says, “the Air doesn’t run as hot as Apple’s other laptops — it’s actually possible to work for an hour with the device on your lap without the feeling that your fertility is at stake.”

4. Low battery life
Apple’s best-case scenario for the MacBook Air is five measly hours. Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal found that with the screen’s brightness all the way up, music playing and his Wi-Fi active, the MacBook Air only managed 3 hours and 24 minutes. With all of that turned off, Mossberg says, “you could likely get 4.5 hours in a normal work pattern.”

What’s worse, the battery is sealed into the laptop. Forget carrying a spare with you to swap out if the battery is low. But, as David Pogue of the New York Times points out: “That’s a familiar Apple trick for saving bulk; as on the iPod and iPhone, sealing the battery eliminates the need for a walled compartment, battery contacts and a door.” The worst that can happen? Your battery dies and “you’ll have to pay Apple $130 to install a new one,” says Pogue.

5. Remote Disc isn’t quite there yet
Apple does offer an alternative in recompense for the MacBook Air’s lack of an optical drive: the Remote Disc feature. It allows you to install software onto the Air using another machine, even a computer running a Windows operating system.

Edward C. Baig from USA Today gave the feature a whirl, though the trouble he ran into wasn’t necessarily the Air’s fault: “I ran into initial snags trying to remotely install software from the DVD drive in a Dell PC, until tweaking settings in Windows.” Baig reports that Apple is “working with the companies to try to resolve compatibility issues.”

The Bottom Line
The MacBook Air is a challenging design — no question there. It has the screen and keyboard of your average notebook, yet shares the attractive slimness and low weight of an ultraportable. Apple has tried its best to balance sacrifice with functionality, and in the process toes the line between a logical step forward and a radical leap.

Is it for you? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

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