Favourite Travel Toys: MacBook Air
One of the things that I am passionate about is travel gear. Me walking into an outdoors store like Mountain Designs or REI is dangerous — not quite as dangerous as walking into a bookstore, but close. This is why I love sites like HerPackingList because they often cover topics that I am thinking about already, like “do I really need a pair of jeans?” or the ever-present “should I take my dSLR?” And while I have not travelled light in recent times — because I have been staying at a home base with family and because of the rather large size of my camera — I am always keen to try out something that may make my travel life easier. If any of the things I have learned (often, the hard way) can help out other travelers then I’m happy!
The first “travel toy” I want to make special note of is my 11 inch MacBook Air (and I use the term “my” liberally because it’s actually my work laptop). I was given this laptop a few months ago and quite simply, it’s fantastic. I can walk around the office with a cup of tea in one hand and my laptop in the other and I feel completely confident that I won’t drop it because it’s only 1.08kg (2.38lbs), which could almost be lighter than my iPad + case. I can throw it in a small backpack and easily carry it to and from work without causing any back pain (which I unfortunately experience all too often because of an old whiplash injury). The Air is so much of a change from my own 13 inch MacBook Pro that the latter seems like a hulking behemoth when I pick it up now.
Size comparison of the iPad vs. the MacBook Air
I am currently sitting on the plane to England writing on the Air, which is the first time I have travelled any significant distance with it. Aside from the things I had already noticed when using it around Brisbane, these are the ways it’s already been extremely handy on this trip:
- It takes up less space in my backpack, which means my backpack takes up less space, so I’m less likely to get harangued by grumpy gate agents that want to see if my bag is less than the requisite 7kg.
- It actually fits in the hydration reservoir section of my bag (which the 13 inch does not). This is great because I don’t have to reorganise everything in the main section of my backpack to try to get my laptop out at security, or get a backpack designed for a laptop (which is good, because I’ve never been able to find a laptop backpack that I’ve liked).
- It fits on the tray table! This is one of the key reasons I like the iPad for travel — because it is actually usable within the plane itself. I’ve never found the 13 inch (and especially anything larger) to be at all usable in the confined space of cattle class. I always end up with my hands crunched up against my stomach as I try to find elusive keys on the keyboard, before I eventually give up. Plus, I was never able to fit the screen in between me and the seat in front so I could watch any TV/movies. Now, the Air is happily on the tray table even with the seat in front reclined. I’m not inducing carpal tunnel by putting my hands at weird angles and I’m not angering my neck by putting at an odd angle to be able to read the screen. And I am actually writing on the plane, which I always put off because getting set up was just too much effort.
- It fits in the seat back pocket. The 13 inch Pro does this, but just barely, and usually threatens to fall out or block me from putting my tray table back up. The Air comfortably fits and does not get in the way of my knees (which nearly touch the seat back as it is).
- It is a fully functioning computer. Don’t get me wrong, the iPad is a great device…but it’s designed for consuming media, not creating it. If I want to play Angry Birds, the iPad is still my go-to device. However, it’s just so much easier to use a computer that already has a built in keyboard rather than trying to futz around with connecting a bluetooth keyboard, which may or may not run out of charge, and then having to set up the iPad at an angle where you can see what you’ve typed but also navigate on the screen accurately if you need to go backwards or forwards in the document. I can probably write three times the amount in the same period of time on a laptop and I’m significantly less frustrated at the end of the day. And yes, I know that the iPad has multitasking, but it’s not the same as having multiple windows up on screen at once!
I did have my reservations about using this computer as my sole computer, but I’ve found that most of them are really not anything to worry about, notably:
Yay! My fingers aren't twice the size of the keys!
- Keyboard size. The keys on this machine must be slightly smaller than the standard MacBook keyboard because I have to readjust when using the 13 inch, but it’s only a small adjustment. I don’t find myself consistently hitting any keys incorrectly.
- Speed. Yes, the MacBook Air comes with a processor that doesn’t match the lifting power of the 17 inch MacBook Pro, but it does the job and does it well. I use the machine for programming at work (and our coding environment takes more out of computers than anything except Photoshop) and it works just fine. If it can handle that, it can handle Lightroom, Chrome, and document editing.
- Screen size. When the first netbooks came out, I was jealous of the size of people’s laptops but I couldn’t envision myself actually using a screen that small. How would I be able to see what my photos actually looked like? How could I view an entire webpage without having to *gasp* scroll horizontally? This screen is substantially larger than the 7 inch netbooks I’m talking about, and I’ve found that it’s plenty. In fact, I get made fun of quite a lot at work for sitting in front of 2 blank 24 inch screens and instead using my little 11 inch.
- Hard drive space. The Air comes with a lightning quick SSD, but it is pretty small. Fortunately, so is my external drive that has 320GB of extra space for my photos.
Overall, would I recommend the MacBook Air to someone that is considering travel and isn’t sure which laptop to take, or even whether to take one at all? Yes. I would have loved to have had this laptop when I was backpacking around New Zealand. In the grand scheme of things, it would not have increased the weight of my bag by much, and it would have been so much more convenient than hunting down internet cafes, where all of my writing was to a timer and all of my photos had to get backed up on DVDs that were then sent overseas for safekeeping.
For more information on the two models of MacBook Air and their pricing in your country, please visit Apple.