The Strange Allure of the 11-Inch MacBook Air

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I wrote this piece back in July 2013 and published it on my now-defunct Tumblr incarnation of this website. It describes my reasoning for wanting an 11-inch MacBook Air, a device that still has a bit of a legendary status in my head.

It’s a device that’s small and light enough to take most anywhere, but still incredibly powerful, with a suite of software that would allow me to get most anything (but gaming) done. I’m re-publishing the piece because I still think about this stupid little awesome computer.

Cue the lame Swoosh that cues a trip back in time to July 2013

I’ve spent the last few weeks annoying the hell out of friends and family, staying up late doing forum research, and giving myself headaches. That can really only mean one thing: I’ve been looking into a new computer. A new MacBook Air, to be precise.

And I do very much aim to be precise. I’ve reached the conclusion that the iPad mini as a “carry everywhere” device just isn’t doing it for me.

The iPad mini does 90% of what I need to do while I’m out and about, but it can also be frustratingly limiting because of how much useful complexity I’m forced to give up. I love how simple and beautiful apps can be on iOS, but manipulating a file – be it a picture or plain text – in multiple apps just feels plain unwieldy. Every single app creates its own version of a file, so it can be taxing to remember which app had the latest version of that picture I was editing. I find it a lot easier to just have one file that can be opened and manipulated by different apps, as it is on a desktop OS.

Then there’s the frustrating lack of keyboard shortcuts in iOS in general (iOS 7 adds a few more of them, but not nearly enough to make the experience comfortable for me). It’s frustrating to have to reach up to reply to an email, when a quick Cmd+R would accomplish the task so much faster.

It’s for these reasons that I’m trying something different, and will be leaving my iPad mini at home (or I may just sell it, depending on how iOS 7 performs on it).

However, one thing I really don’t want to give up is having a machine so thin and light that it can basically go anywhere with me. This means that even the 3.6 lbs. 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro is out of the question, as I like to carry my convertible 2Unfold as a messenger bag most of the time, so I need to keep my load as light as possible (or my pansy shoulder tends to tighten up).

So the machine I’ve chosen, after a sickening amount of deliberation, is a built-to-order mid-2013 11-inch MacBook Air.

  • I went with an 11-inch over a 13-inch because I want a device that I can take out and use at a moment’s notice, and I was delighted to learn that there are no differences between the two sizes when it comes to power (CPU options are the same across both models); I also have a 24″ monitor at home, so the screens make virtually no difference when I’m working at my desk
  • I went with an i7 processor to make video editing just that much faster
  • I opted for 8 GB of RAM because my current 2009 13-inch MacBook Pro has that amount, and there was no way I was dropping down to 4 GB again
  • I paid extra for the 256 GB SSD right out the door because I knew that 128 GB would not be enough once I accounted for video files, my music library, and photos; I’ll likely need a bit of external storage down the road, but 256 GB is plenty for right now

My MacBook Air is making it way to Ontario as I type this. The two big tests I have for the laptop are 1) whether the text size and 16:10 ratio will prove workable in the long term and 2) whether 2.4 lbs. really does feel light enough to take virtually everywhere in my messenger bag. I’m acknowledging that the 11-inch Air is a somewhat riskier choice. The 13-inch is a perfectly comfortable size, and it’s really only 0.6 lbs. heavier than the 11-inch…but something about the 11-inch form factor just feels right.

The iPad has not lived up to my expectations thus far, and that’s because I need it to be a lot more of a powerful, malleable computer system than Apple wants it to be at present. I’m hoping that starting from the other end – using a laptop with tablet-like weight and superb Haswell battery life – will yield far more satisfying results and bigger, geekier grins.

Cue the Swoosh sound that returns us to October 2014, where I write this conclusion

In the end, I didn’t actually end up keeping that 11-inch Air. The kicker for me was probably screen resolution: my eyes just aren’t quite good enough to easily read that text on an 11-inch machine. I’m happily using a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, iPad Air 2, and iPhone 5S.

However, a Retina MacBook Air in 11 or 12-inch variety would still tempt me, and I’d probably at least try it out when it inevitably hits store shelves in the next year or two.