Macbook Air 11″: The Perfect Travel Machine

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Background

Here’s the thing. I own a 2.5GHz / 8GB RAM / Quad-Core i7 / 512GB SSD Macbook Pro 15″ that I use as my main computer to do all the heavy lifting I need (i.e. image processing in Aperture, code compilation & building in shell, manage my 94GB iTunes library, …etc.) It is reliable and powerful and I love it. It’s also a pain in the butt to shlep around when I’m on the go. It’s heavy enough and big enough to be absolutely immobile, at least for me. Here’s what the word mobile means to me:

Mobile: (adj.) Able to move or be moved easily and freely without any additional physical, mental or emotional hindrance to the person initiating the move (i.e. me.)

What I really need is a completely mobile machine. A travel machine. Something to use when I’m on the road speaking or attending a conference or chilling on a beach in Mexico. This travel machine has to be super light, super small and powerful enough to get things done. It also had to fit into my travel messenger bag (right.) This machine has got to be more powerful and more versatile than the iPad, which I also own but rarely use, and much lighter and far less bulkier than my Macbook Pro, which I’m on all the time when I’m at home.

Why Macbook Air?

Right about now you’re probably thinking, “come on, can’t you just use the iPad?!” or “man up, dude, and just shlep your Macbook Pro around and stop complaining.” Let me address these two passing thoughts quickly before we move on with the rest of the article.[[MORE]]

Let’s talk about the iPad. As much as I’ve liked it at first, I’ve increasingly become weary of its lack of a physical keyboard and command-line access. I tried the wireless keyboard for a while, but it kept dropping off to the point where it was never reliable and simply useless. When I’m on the road, I oftentimes need to get access to work’s VPN or to update a piece of code on my Github account, amongst other things. The iPad is just not made to do these tasks effectively. You really need a computer to do that, which brings us to the Macbook Pro and why it too is not a viable solution.

Mobility (check definition above) is paramount when traveling. When I travel, I travel light. I almost never check in luggage unless I’m going skiing or camping. I have a carry-on and a computer bag. In the computer bag, I normally carry my passport bag (when traveling internationally,) my Kindle for reading, a couple of magazines, iPhone charger, a couple of pens, headphones and a point & shoot camera. That’s it. Trying to fit my Macbook Pro into a medium-sized bag proved impossible. I would have lived with shlepping around the extra weight, but I definitely didn’t want to carry around a computer bag big enough for it. So I definitely needed something different.

After months of thorough due diligence, I decided to go with the 1.6GHz / 4GB RAM / Core i5 / 128GB SSD Macbook Air 11″. This spec had just the right dimensions, weight, and power to be the perfect travel machine for me. Quite frankly, it’s powerful enough to be the main machine for most people (more on that in the parting thoughtssection below.) During my research, I had three main factors in mind against which I measured my options. Those factors were:

1. Portability

To me, portability means two things: light, small and mobile. That basically excludes all the machines in the Macbook Pro line because light and mobile they’re not. That leaves me with either the 13″ or the 11″ Macbook Air. Although both are lighter and smaller than the Pro machines, the 11″ machine definitely feelsmuch lighter than the 13″ model and fits perfectly in my messenger bag, while the 13″ machine does not. So in the portability department, the Macbook Air 11″ has no parallel.

2. Performance

Although I won’t be doing hardcore image processing with this new machine, I still need it to be powerful enough to handle Keynote presentations and the occasional image processing and code compilation tasks I’ll invariably end up doing on the go. So in that respect, the higher end 13″ and 11″ machines are good enough for what I needed. The mid-2011 update beefed up the processing power of the entire Macbook Air line that it rendered it comparable in performance to the mid-2010 Macbook Pros. That was a huge leap forward in performance for the Macbook Air and it made me realize that regardless of which Macbook Air I pick, I’m going to get a powerful machine.

3. Screen Size

The Macbook Air 13″ is the clear winner in this category. But you could get an extra inch on your Macbook Air 11″ screen real-estate by hiding the dock. This makes the screen feel bigger on the 11″. I also learned to appreciate the power of the two-finger tap zoom, which comes very handy on the 11″ screen. As a matter of fact, it was so handy it rendered the screen size category irrelevant in my decision.

Conclusion and Parting Thoughts

In the end, portability was the deciding factor for me. I decided to go with the higher-end spec of the Macbook Air 11″, and I’m glad to say it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time as far as electronics are concerned. As far as productivity on the go is concerned, the Macbook Air 11″ blows any tablet, including the iPad, out of the park. If you’re in the market for a new computer and if nothing you do requires serious processing power (i.e. image processing in Photoshop, video editing in Final Cut Pro, …etc,) then I highly recommend getting the Macbook Air 11″ (or 13″ if screen size is very important to you.) If you plan to make this machine your main computer, I highly recommend getting the Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Display to hook it up to. I have the older 24″ display and I love it. If you can afford to wait, then I’d recommend waiting for the rumored merger between the Pro and Air lines which promises to pack the Macbook Pro power into the Macbook Air body. You’ll get the best of both worlds, that’s of course if you’re patient enough to wait. Patience does pay off in this case 😉 In the image below, I put my Macbook Air on top of my Macbook Pro to give you perspective on the huge size difference between the two machines.

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9 thoughts on “Macbook Air 11″: The Perfect Travel Machine

  1. I totally agree with you on the MBA. 2 questions: what model, brand is your bag? (need a good compact messenger w/handle) Have you found a good compact VGA cable? (folded mine’s nearly as big as my computer now!)

  2. Hi Tim,

    I got my bag at a QCon conference a year ago. I’m not sure who the manufacturer is.

    I don’t carry cables with me when I travel. I only carry a VGA/DVI dongles. That’s about it 🙂

    Hope this is helpful.

  3. Did u ever feel the screen to be too small for your keynotes or photo editing with say aperture? Considering the 11″ or 13″ and just know it will be my main computer as well. Does the battery life affect u?

    1. Hey Owen,

      If this is going to be your main computer, I’d go with the 13″. It definitely has a better battery life than the 11″. I don’t mind the battery life for my 11″ MBA since it hasn’t been an issue so far.

      Hope this helps!

  4. Fantastic article! I have spent a few hours today deciding whether to buy the MBA 11″ and like you, I have a 15″ mcPro as my main machine. I notice the weight of the mcPro when I’m traveling and feel that the MBA 11″ would be perfect, as I also wish to travel light. You have addressed all the points I wanted to consider and the image of the two machines along with hiding the doc for extra screen size have sealed the deal for me. Thanks for such an informative article.

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