Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More on Living With the MacBook Air 11.6" - Day 8

One Cool Laptop
    One of the things I hate most about laptops is how hot they run. If you don't put some kind of pad under them, they'll cook your legs. Or you can use it on a desk, but then that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? On cold days, I used to slip my fingers under the laptop to warm them up.

    Well, the MacBook Air 11.6" is incredibly cool, most of the time running close to body temp. Not much use as a hand warmer. It will get warmer if you're watching videos since the processor has to work harder, but it's still not bad.

Too small? Nah.
MBA and 1/4" hardboard pad
    Under all my laptops I've used a piece of hardboard to insulate myself from the heat. I don't need it for this purpose with the MBA, but I'm trying one out to see if it will keep the laptop steady. The MBA is so small that it tends to rock a bit on your legs when you're typing. The board isn't a necessity and I'm not even sure I'll keep using it, but might be something you want to consider. Hardboard is like pegboard material but without the holes. It's available at home improvement stores.

    I wouldn't bother taking the board on trips. After all, the whole point of getting the small MBA is for its lightweight design.

Carrying Cases
11.6" on hardboard
    Right now, you're out of luck on finding much of a choice for cases for the 11.6". Even the Apple Store doesn't have them. Some manufacturers are doing advance orders, such as SF Bags, and I'm sure Incase and others are scrambling to get something to market. I've read on forums that other netbook or laptop bags aren't a perfect fit. The MBA is wider than the norm due to its wide screen format. We'll just have to wait a bit.

No CD/DVD Drive
    Nope, you can't watch DVDs on this laptop, at least not without buying the optional external MacBook Air SuperDrive for $79. I haven't missed it so far. You can "borrow" a CD/DVD drive from another Mac or PC using Apple's Remote Disk feature. I used it to install some software, but couldn't get an older version of Quicken to work, nor does Windows install by remote disk. Not a deal breaker for me since there are usually other ways now that so much is online. And if not having the optical drive helps chop a couple of pounds off this unit, I'm willing to make the trade.

Daily Use Report
    My main worry was about the smaller screen size compared to my 13" MacBook. I did notice it initially, but after a week of daily writing (some days for several hours) I don't notice it at all. It's like this is normal. Part of this is due to the higher screen resolution, which provides more info onscreen. Of course it's all a bit smaller, but it doesn't bother me.

    I write with MS Word 2011, iTunes (gotta have tunes!), a browser, NoteBook (by Circus Ponies), and Pages (iWork by Apple), all open at the same time. Usually I also have Mail, Evernote, maybe another browser, and perhaps Excel (timeline for my book). Honestly, I can launch just about every application I have and the machine still keeps humming along just as fast as ever. I think it's using the fast Solid State Drive as backup RAM, but the SSD is so incredibly fast that I don't even notice it.

    I did pay to get the upgraded model: 128 GB SSD drive (up from 64 GB), 4 GB RAM (2 is standard), and the 1.6 GHz processor (up from 1.4 GHz). These upgrades were $100 a pop. But I tried the lower end model in the stores and launched everything I could, then copy/pasted a Word doc until it reached over 1,000 pages and tried a few Saves, disk copies, etc. It still screamed. I was duly impressed.

    My primary reasons for getting the upgrades were, 1. I'm using this as my main machine, not just a travel notebook, and 2. Apple has the new OS coming out next year, Lion, and it's possible it might benefit from more RAM and a faster processor. You can't upgrade either on these machines. And 3. I have a pretty large iTunes library and 64 GB SSD didn't give me enough headroom. Right now with everything installed, I'm using 75 gigabytes, so I definitely needed the larger drive.

    I'll be glad to answer any questions about the MacBook Air. Just leave a comment or drop me an email.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Living With the MacBook Air

    I want to talk about using the MacBook Air 11.6" as a daily machine, especially for writers.

    After 2 days of setup (syncing my iPhone, moving files, installing applications), I'm ready to go. I decided to do new installations of software instead of using Apple's Migration application because my old MacBook had three years of crud from multiple installs and some issues. I wanted a fresh start.

    Size-wise, the keyboard is exactly the same width as my MacBook and just 1/8" shorter from the bottom of the keys to the top of the number keys (the Function keys are smaller by about a third, but they work fine. I wrote for a couple hours yesterday and it didn't seem much different than my older MacBook.

    The key touch is great--typical Apple. The wrist pad area is about 3/8" shorter, but very usable. Not sure why Apple keeps making the front edge so sharp. Might have to file that down a bit. I used a cleaning rag on my old MacBook (it had a sharp plastic edge) for my right wrist since it tends to hang off the edge a bit more than my left--due to using the trackpad, I guess. Or maybe I'm built weird. MB Air Trackpad is glass like the MacBook Pros, and large. Very nice and not overly sensitive.

    The first thing I noticed is how BRIGHT this LED backlit screen is. Wow, what a difference! After using it for a day, it would be very hard to go back. Haven't tried it outside in sunlight, but might work. Screen is reflective, but not as bad as some.

    Straight across screen Width is 10 1/8" on the Air compared to 11 1/4" on the 13.3" MacBook. Height is 5 3/4" vs 7". But the resolution is better, so the amount of vertical info in windows is about the same.

    Real Experience: I was using Office for Mac 2004 on the old machine, but upgraded to Office for Mac 2011 Home & Student edition. I use Word for writing and keep the formatting tabs (or whatever you call those things labeled Home, Layout, Document Elements, etc) rolled up. I set the Preferences to launch with them closed. This provides more vertical space for the writing window. 

    I tested Word at the Apple Store, opening two docs side-by-side, and found it very usable.

    Let me just say, this computer is FAST. Fifteen or so seconds from cold boot to everything working; 1 1/2 seconds for full Shutdown. With the Solid State Drive (SSD) of memory instead of a standard hard disk, it's lightning fast read & write times. Word launches in 2 seconds. And wake from Sleep is instant, like an iPad.

    If you've seen the advertisement, you know the 11.6" MBA is small and light--and it is. At 2.3 lbs, it's a breeze to carry with you everywhere. Library, Starbucks, conferences. And BONUS, the airport TSA doesn't require you to remove it from your carryon like other laptops.

More in a couple of days.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Technology in Writing

    I took the plunge yesterday, bought into the hype and drove to the Apple Store. I came out with a shiny new MacBook Air. It has an 11.6" screen, a fair amount smaller than my 13.3" MacBook, but I'd tried it out a couple of times in the store and thought it would work. It has a bigger brother with the same size 13.3" inch screen as the current MacBook Pros.

    Macs have long been my computer of choice. In fact, my first one was still in 1984, the year the first Macintosh commercial debuted during the Super Bowl earlier that year. It was a tall, foot-square box with a 9" B&W screen and 128k of RAM. It had a single floopy, but I splurged and bought the upgrade: the external floppy drive. I was a happy man with two disk drives. No hard disk.

    All computers were a challenge in 1984, but the Macintosh caught on due to its graphical user interface (GUI), which changed the way computers worked. For a few years, it was touch and go for Apple and the Mac, but the good times are rolling now.

    After the better part of two days, I've got a clean system with only the software I need installed. I even spent a little time at the Cambria library today doing some writing. All my writing files, bookmarks, mail, etc., are in place and working. And I have my backup set up.

    Let me say that again: I have my backup set up.

    After having a hard drive fail several months ago, I never take backups for granted (I'd just done a full backup the night before the failure).

    For a few posts I'll touch on technology and the MacBook Air, specifically as it pertains to writing. But first let me tell you about something I recently learned about: Dropbox (

    Whether you use more than one computer or just need someplace to store files for backup, Dropbox is pretty cool. 2 GB free. I'm using it to hold a copy of my latest work in progress. After I close the doc, I just drag it to the Dropbox folder and it's stored locally as well as up in the cloud at my free account with Dropbox. I can get to it from any computer. Check it out.