February 17, 2008

MacBook Air: Rambling First Impressions (PG!)

Lots of people have asked for my impressions, so I thought I'd post a more sober (literally) look at life with my little MacBook Air. With no cussing!

• It feels really nice, like a pebble. A large, smooth pebble, from a stream. This shape speaks to me, like the MOTOPEBL did, except that was a crappy phone and not a really nice computer.

• It is super-solid. It feels way more structurally solid than any laptop I've ever owned. I don't know if this like a synesthetic illusion because it is so beautiful, or because it has curved surfaces (== less flex!), or because it's just so darn light that there's not a lot of mass to flex.

• The prominent feet and rigity make the machine seem wobbly on anything but a 100% level surface. The antique wood tables at Zoka are not that perfect, so every time I type the machine rocks like a shopping cart at K-mart. Mushier feet, maybe? I dunno, you guys are the geniuses, you figure it out. But, seriously, wobbling things make me nuts. I'm going to start stuffing napkins under the corners of the machine, and that's not good advertising. [UPDATE: John Siracusa provided a great suggestion for this: the MacBook Air should have only three feet; three points always form a plane.]

• I love how the port door on the right opens and closes; it's a very solid-feeling mechanism, and very natural. Also, I feel like I'm in Star Trek (the new one).

• I don't run on battery much, but I've noticed it seems to take a billion years to charge it if it gets discharged, at least the first couple times. Odd.

• I got the 64GB SSD. It seems pretty awesome, but I can't fit my (legal) iTunes collection on it, even without movies, after I put my iPhoto collection on it and my source code and just a couple apps (Acorn, Twitterific, Zuma, iWork so far, MarsEdit coming).

• I'm moving over my old stuff as I need it. Copying stuff over AirPort is super-slow, but the ethernet adaptor is pretty decent. I tried to copy World of Warcraft from a friend's PowerBook (I have a legal copy, don't worry) and it was scheduled to take five hours, since she doesn't have 802.11n, even. Using the ethernet adaptor it was, like, five minutes. No surprises here, but the take-away message is, ethernet adaptor is a good idea.

• I don't try to access CDs or DVDs from my machine -- my previous machine didn't even have a working drive -- so I don't really care that it doesn't have one built-in. The external one is a thing of beauty and I almost want to buy it just because, but it doesn't work with other machines so that kind of stinks.

• The screen is so very, very bright compared to the (1st-gen) MacBook Pro. Games look much better. It's not something you realize you want until you get it -- you think increases in resolution or color depth are cool, but when you get a brightness upgrade this dramatic you realize AH! THIS is what I really wanted! Who needs more pixels when each of my pixels now shines so very, very brightly? ("I've seen things, you people wouldn't believe...")

• I think the machine's smallness is tearing up my neck. I'm sitting 8-10 hours a day working on this thing, and I end up looking DOWN at it more than my 15" MacBook Pro. I've had neck cramps since I got it, but I'm still adjusting, and I'm also in crunch mode with Delicious Library 2.

• It compiled Delicious Library 2 from scratch in 1'59". The 2.33GHz MacBookPro takes 2'04". SSD's LOVE compilations.

• SSD's love context switching, as well. Having an SSD is a lot like having 64GB of RAM in your machine. Sure, I'm going to lose in a Photoshop filter race with your machine, but I'm going to crush you switching between the 15 applications I have open right now. Again, it's not a surprise to say that if video editing or cutting-edge video games is your primary purpose, you'll probably find the MacBook Pro faster. But if you're writing software or just snurfing the web and running lots of apps, this machine is faster.

• Bizarrely, it still has a sudden motion sensor in it. Think about that for a minute.

• More bizarrely, if I drop the Air a foot (onto a soft, fluffy pillow on my bed -- I'm not an idiot) the sudden motion sensor will still shut down the SSD (tell it to park its heads?) and stop processing for a second. I think that's pretty funny. Hey, hardware guys: "SSD stands for SOLID-STATE DISK."

• I admit there could still be problems I don't know about with dropping SSDs, and I'm just being snide. I'm sorry, hardware guys. Still friends? Buy you a drink? Hug it out?

• I like using the "pinch" gesture. That's the only one I've really used. So far, it works great in Finder (icon mode) and iPhoto and Safari (just feels bizarre there, honestly) and two places Delicious Library 2 (shhh!). It's the right solution.

• The "swipe" gesture should have been mapped to "start scrolling and then after I stop the swipe keep scrolling slower and slower until you stop naturally or I stop you" like scrolling works on the iPhone. The Air team didn't ask me, but they should have. This would have been trivial to add to Cocoa (we added it experimentally once to DL2, may put it back). Sure I could file a RADAR bug on this, but isn't it more fun to complain on my blog like a prima donna? (Yes. Yes it is.)

• Jonathan Ive should design a laptop bag as beautiful as the Air, that just can contain the machine, a power cord, and a Wireless Mighty Mouse. I'd be in heaven. Nobody seems to have addressed the "I want a small, slim bag that can still hold a power cord without having a giant wart in the side" market. Like, duh, bag designers, STOW THE POWER CORD ABOVE OR BELOW THE LAPTOP, not STICKING OUT THE SIDE WHERE IT CREATES A TENT AND LOOKS UGLY AND BANGS MY KNEE.

• The Air runs World of Warcraft pretty damn well. Sure, I don't have, uh, specular water reflective anti-aliased spectroscopic quadrophonic roto-tilling turned on. But, you know, I can, like, heal things and run around and pick liferoot and run around some more. (PHEAR MY HEALING, EVIL-DOERS OF AZEROTH!)

• The Air's main performance limitation is heat, and mainly from the GPU. When it starts doing graphical things, it gets hot. When it gets hot, it starts venting out the bottom-back. If there's not enough clear vents (like, if you are in bed, and it's resting in your lap so the bottom vents are perfectly pressed into the fluffy down comforter) then it underclocks the GPU and you go into slide-show mode. This will happen in Zuma if you try hard enough, or if you're watching Hulu.com, even, but it's pretty easy to get it in World of Warcraft. Throwing off your comforter and getting nakeder with your Air is the only solution at this point, and also, it feels... so deliciously wrong.

• Note to hardware guys: don't put vents there, bokay? Laptops are for bed. Don't put vents right where the laptop touches my leg. (Aw, come on back, hardware guys! I still love you! Look, sometimes I just get a little angry, and when I've been drinking, well, you know my temper...)

• On the other hand, if this baby is plugged in and sitting on a flat surface, I can play Teh WoWz all day and it's great. (Not great for shipping DL2, so I don't do it, but I could. It's nice to know it's there, like a beautiful ex who still wants to have sex with you.)


This isn't a machine for everyone, nor should it be. Just as there should be three types of spaghetti sauce, you and I should not HAVE to agree on what we want in a machine. The machine should, instead, be designed to agree with us.

I admit my last post was a bit over-the-top; my point was supposed to be: "Look, this machine may not be for you, personally, but please acknowledge that there are people for whom it is perfect." For instance, Gabe told me he wants a new MacBook Pro, and I didn't try to push the Air on him (...much). He's an artist and a gamer. He wants pixels, and lots of them, and FAST. The MacBook Pro is going to run his Windows games faster than pretty much every laptop.

I will try to steer him towards the biggest MacBook Pro that has the LED backlight, because it's just SO DARN PRETTY. And if anyone offered a 128GB SSD, I'd be recommending that to all my friends who have cash to burn. Because it's the future, baby, and it's beautiful.