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First look: MacBook Air a solid addition

  • Story Highlights
  • MacBook Air slim, capable
  • Lack of on-board optical surprising, but understandable
  • No FireWire, SD card slot or built in Ethernet port less welcome
  • Too big to be true ultraportable, but still solid addition to lineup
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By Dan Ackerman
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CNET.com

(CNET.com) -- As was heavily predicted before its unveiling, Apple's new laptop, called the MacBook Air, is not quite an ultraportable but is still very small.

Mimicking the 13-inch silhouette of the current MacBook line, it's .76-inch thick at its thickest part. Apple calls it the "world's thinnest notebook."

Though the MacBook Air is not quite the thinnest laptop ever, it is among the thinnest we've seen (the Fujistu LifeBook Q2010 and the Toshiba Portege R500 both measure 0.8 inch thick, but neither tapers to 0.16 inch as the Air does).

The MacBook Air includes the usual iSight camera, an LED backlit display, an ambient light sensor, and a big touchpad that works with multitouch gestures, such as rotating a photo by twisting your fingers on the touchpad.

As for what's inside this slim laptop, we're looking at a 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, custom-made by Intel to fit into the slim chassis, 2GB of RAM, and a choice of either an 80GB standard 1.8-inch hard drive or a 64GB SSD drive (which really should be standard for something so forward-looking).

Moving up to the SSD drive and faster CPU drives the price up from $1,799 to a whopping $3,098.

Bluetooth and 802.11n were expected, but the lack of an optical drive is a surprise -- it's a smart space and power-saving move we expect to see in more ultraportable laptops. External drives will work, and the Air can connect wirelessly to an optical drive in another nearby computer.

Missing features we're less happy about having to live without on include any kind of mobile broadband, an SD card slot, FireWire, an onboard Ethernet jack, and Express card slot.

Getting a chance to use a test system, we were extremely pleased with the new multitouch track pad, which incorporates a range of gesture controls that will be familiar to iPhone users. It's a smart move on Apple's part; not only are the gestures easy to learn, but they're difficult to forget.

Writers and students will be pleased as well with the MacBook Air's keyboard, which is full size and similar to that of the standard MacBook. In terms of interaction, the MacBook Air is probably the first three-pound notebook that hasn't asked users to make some kind of compromise.

The MacBook Air is available for preorder now and should ship around the end of January.

The prerelease hype was already huge for Apple's next laptop, and it's hard to say if anything could really live up to it, but this seems at first glance like a solid addition to the MacBook lineup.

However, we'll have to keep waiting for a true ultraportable, something that's been missing from the Apple lineup for several years. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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