Help me decide on Macbook Air 11 inch or 13 inch
January 29, 2011 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Help me decide on Macbook Air 11 inch or 13 inch

I just bought a Macbook Air 11.6 inch with 1.6GHZ, 128GB SSD and 4 GB RAM at the Apple Store in the mall. I just looked at the Apple store online and I can get the 13inch model with 1.86GHZ, 128GB SSD and 4GB RAM for the same exact price -- so I get extra screen space and a faster processor (as well as an SD slot) for no extra money if I order online.

My primary pc and laptop are windows machines, but I'd very much like to use the mac for everyday computing. I bought it for portability, but truth be told, the difference in screen size is not going to put me over the edge when I am traveling. I think either would be fine..but i'm looking for some advice on what you guys think. Any real world experience with either one of these that you can tell me about?
posted by Yunani to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might go to an Apple Store and take a look at them in person. Pick them up, get a feel for which you like better.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:23 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

The SD slot could be a deciding factor if your camera uses them, because it would allow you to back up your camera's memory card on the road without having to carry an external card reader or a camera cable along.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2011

if you're going to be carrying it around a lot, get the smaller (lighter) one. i thought i wouldn't care because they were close enough. i was wrong.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 11:38 AM on January 29, 2011

I just got the 13" configured as you mention and I'm loving it so far. I'm finding it very portable, although that's partly because my previous laptop is a 7-pound monster. Performance is also good enough that I don't notice any issues, but I'm not doing very much with it apart from browsing and using Office.

To me, the extra 2" of screen, higher screen resolution, and SD card slot easily put it ahead of the 11". It's extremely portable without feeling small or cramped.
posted by sinfony at 11:39 AM on January 29, 2011

At this point it's really about size and the slot. If you need the slot and don't care about it being heavier or bigger, get the 13". FWIW, I have the 11". I haven't had processing issues using Vectorworks, PS, or Illustrator, and I don't care about the SD card reader. I like the tiny size, and the lack of a couple inches of space on the screen are not an issue for me. You need to decide if it will be for you.

FWIW, I switched from a 13 macbook.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:52 AM on January 29, 2011

I also recommend the 13" ... I use it like a full notebook. The 11" just seemed to small.
posted by geoff. at 12:08 PM on January 29, 2011

posted by geoff. at 12:08 PM on January 29, 2011

First: I've been using the 11" MacBook Air as my sole computer since December. It's been amazing.

Please don't get the 13" MacBook Air. It's just a silly purchase. Consider that the 13" Pro, which is, in the scheme of things, not much thicker, starts at a lower cost and pretty much blows away the Air in every spec category ( see here for the details). The Air has a higher resolution screen at the moment, but this will only last until the next iteration of the Pro, which according to the internets is going to be very soon.

Go handle the 13" pro and imagine how the slightly thicker body could impact your use/travel. It's difficult to come up with any situations where you would really notice (not literally of course, I assume you have sensory organs), yet you get something that is MUCH more powerful. The important factor, as I see it, is the footprint of the computer, which is roughly the same between the two.

However, the 11" is (in my eyes) only a slightly silly purchase. Sure it's crazy expensive and sort of underpowered, but it's significantly smaller than the 13" Pro, and I consider that a significant, if not important for many people, advantage.
posted by Patbon at 12:56 PM on January 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

That last sentence was poorly proofed, but you get my point.
posted by Patbon at 12:57 PM on January 29, 2011

You definitely have to get some hands-on experience, but from my relatively brief testing, the 11in feels how the Air is meant to be, and the 13in makes you more conscious of the extras that the Pro offers. (Basically, Patbon's point.) I used a wee small Toshiba Portege (9ish in screen) as my working computer about a decade ago, back when Japanese ultraportables were highly sought after, and the 11in Air is much more in that tradition than the recent generation of netbooks.

(I like small laptops. My work doesn't require screen estate on the go. Your work might be different.)
posted by holgate at 1:38 PM on January 29, 2011

I went to the Apple Store to hold both of them, and I eventually picked the 11". I love it so much! I figured if I was getting the Air, I'd get the tiny one, and I have no regrets at all.
posted by katypickle at 1:54 PM on January 29, 2011

I have the maxed-out 11" - it feels faster than my previous two year-old MacBook 2.0ghz Core 2 Duo, principally due to the very neat SSD. I am not missing the SD card slot (never had it) or the DVD drive (only had cause to use it once, and then just used the Remote CD thing).

The only thing that was a problem was that the 128GB HD was smaller than my previous 160GB HD - however, that was handily solved by backing up and deleting a whole load of old podcasts.

Compared to my old laptop, it's a dream - light, fast, tiny, longer battery life. I take it to far more places, and I use it far more often. You couldn't ask for more.
posted by adrianhon at 1:57 PM on January 29, 2011

Thanks for the replies so far; lots to consider.
I've been playing around with the 11inch model that I have.
The speed and storage space are just fine for my mobile computing needs: internet and just toying around.
I'm still undecided on whether I should get the 13 inch or not but I will go back to the store tomorrow to have another look.

I bought it for portability, but I will use it around the house more than on the road so I want to make sure i can fully enhance the user experience. Perhaps keeping the 11 inch model but hooking up to a monitor at home will do the trick.
posted by Yunani at 2:59 PM on January 29, 2011

I have the 13" you're considering (typing on it now at a coffee shop) and love it. The screen size feels perfect to me, I am glad I did not get the smaller one. I do not own a car and so I spend a lot of time riding around on my bike with it, and it weighs next to nothing, I love how portable it is (and how long the battery lasts). If it was not easy to carry around I would never bring it anywhere, but I throw it in my bag more often than not even if I don't really need it.
posted by bradbane at 3:46 PM on January 29, 2011

I have the 11" model. The only time I've even wondered about whether the 13" might have been better is when I'm working on stuff that requires many windows to be open at once. So I think it depends on what you're planning on doing with it*. I bought it intending it mainly for recreational stuff like internet browsing, email, writing, and only the occasional bit of real (web development) work, so I haven't regretted going with the 11".

* It's worth noting I've never liked the way Macs of any kind handle multiple applications being open at once, though; there are certain UI problems in my view. So, likely the 13" wouldn't even solve this for me. It *would* make it less portable, however, so again I'm happy with the 11".
posted by springbound at 4:18 PM on January 29, 2011

I went with the 13" MBA over the 11" and have absolutely no regrets. I have terrible eyesight and I'm getting to the point where I need bifocals, so I felt like I needed the extra screen size because I need to read pages with bigger text. It travels extremely well, the battery life is fantastic. The only downside is that every time I use it, I become more and more angry with the PCs laptop that I still have to use for work.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:46 PM on January 29, 2011

I disagree with pretty much everything Patbon says. The best spec'd Air (2.13, 4GB, 256GB) is $200 cheaper than the closet 13" Mac Book Pro. (2.4, 4GB, 256GB.) Yes, you can get the pro with a spinning disk for cheaper but that is a very very serious downgrade in performance. I went from a 2.4Ghz 13" Pro to the best 13" air and it destroys the performance of the Pro. And I really push my computers (I do a lot of dev work, compiling, VMs, etc) The SSD in the Air is inexpensive and a serious performer. The screen also is so much better. Only get the Pro if you need Firewire or an optical drive.
posted by neustile at 5:16 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I bought the bes specced 13" MBA earlier this month and love it. The screen real estate is what sold it for me. Mrs arcticseal will likely switch to an 11" MBA once her MacBook dies (she still misses her old 12" MBP).
My work Dell sits looking petulant by comparison.
posted by arcticseal at 5:22 PM on January 29, 2011

I don't have an Air, just a MacBook Pro, but I'm delighted I ended up with the 11" model despite initial concerns I'd want it to be bigger. I can carry it around everywhere and it's perfectly sized for working on. Love it - I'm really glad I didn't go for the bigger one.
posted by Kirn at 5:39 PM on January 29, 2011

Only get the Pro if you need Firewire or an optical drive.

Well, also keep in mind that the 13" pro is near a refresh and pretty much the most in-need of an update of any computer in apple's current lines. I've been looking into similar options and the current 13" pro isn't fundamentally all that different from the 2+-year old 13" unibody macbook (from before they were reclassified as pro) that I'd be replacing. In fact spec-wise, my 2 year old computer is identical to the low end 13" pro in processor (still a core 2 duo), memory, and disk space. So I'd wait until the refresh (rumored to be 1st half of this year) before trying to compare them meaningfully, or just get an air if you need it right now.

I don't have an Air, just a MacBook Pro, but I'm delighted I ended up with the 11" model

You must have a 13", there is no 11" MBP.
posted by advil at 7:57 PM on January 29, 2011

Last week I bought two MacBook Airs, a 13" for my wife (whose old macbook was about to die), and, because I couldn't stand the thought of her having one and not me, I bought an 11" for myself... damn they are both sooooo sweet.

The 13 inch has more drive space, which the wife needed, that was the selling factor for that purchase.

Personally, mine is an internet machine... my stuff is on the cloud, I didn't need the drive space. And I don't mind the smaller screen... I do well with the Droid, the Air feels like a luxury!

The card slot is not a critical factor, I bought a card reader on Amazon for $15 that is much more functional (read, more different slots) than the one on her 13".

As said above, if you need the 13" of landscape, don't get an Air, get a regular MacBook.

That said.. I'm typing this on a white MacBook, one of my work machines... it sits on the counter all the time, has more capacity.

The air is great if you need small... if that's not the primary factor for you, the MacBook is a much better buy..
posted by HuronBob at 10:32 PM on January 29, 2011

Wait a second... no seriously wait. There are rumors of a MacBook refresh coming soon. Like next week. The rumors center around the MacBook Pro line, but one never knows with Apple.
posted by Gungho at 6:51 AM on January 30, 2011

I've been running an 11" Air for the past couple of months, having moved from an 15" MBP from 2006. Once I started auto-hiding the dock and keeping it on the side of the screen, I haven't really felt the sacrifice for screen real estate. But like others, it's mostly a browsing machine, and I run a NAS at home to ease the needs for internal storage.
posted by hwyengr at 12:57 PM on January 30, 2011

I ended up taking the 11 inch back today. If I order the 13 inch spec'd the same way as my 11 inch, it can only be purchased I'm deciding what to right now. I am surprised how much bigger the 13 inch feels. I think it's because the screen is more of a square whereas the 11 inch is wide. I have a 13 inch pc laptop that has a wide screen and i prefer it much more to the square style. So I'm in a bit of a conundrum right now.
posted by Yunani at 1:33 PM on January 30, 2011

I picked up an 11" Air for my wife before Christmas, and she found a couple of insurmountable problems with it. The first was an interference problem between the external monitor connection and 802.11g WiFi. When using a DVI connection, WiFi didn't work at all on most channels, and worked poorly on the remainder (channel 1 was best if I recall correctly. When using VGA, there were regular 'glitches' on the screen which seemed to correspond to WiFi activity. The Apple Store replaced it, but the replacement had the same problem. Later we learned that there's a capture bulletin about this, but there was no documented fix as of early January.
If you plan to use an external monitor and WiFi, check to see whether this has been fixed.
The straw that broke the camel's back was some sort of problem accessing the SSD. She now has a 13" Pro, and is quite happy with it.
I also have a friend with a 13" Air, and it reboots after playing movies for several hours. They're great little machines when they work, but make sure yours is reliable before using it as a primary machine.
posted by dttocs at 6:15 PM on January 30, 2011

As a final follow-up for this thread, I ended up buying a 13 inch macbook air. I've had it for a little over a week now and I absolutely love it. No problems with it yet! (fingers crossed).

I will say that I ordered from Apple on a Monday and by Friday it still had not even been processed. I cancelled the order, bought it through Macmall with 24 hour Saturday delivery and had it the next morning....and it was cheaper than buying through Apple.

Couldn't be happier with this laptop. It works for everything I do only a daily basis and can easily see it replacing my Dell XPS (which is a great laptop).
posted by Yunani at 3:41 PM on February 13, 2011

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