Which should I get -- the 11 or the 13 Air?
June 16, 2013 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Now that the Macbook Air refresh is out, I'm looking to finally pick up an MBA. I've read the other questions here. I've googled extensively. I've been to the Apple store and tried both models. But I simply cannot figure out which model I want!

I have my 27" iMac at home, and it's my primary computer. It's great (and will also work as a second monitor if needed), but obviously it's not exactly portable. I'm looking for a secondary computer that I can actually work on while travelling or in a coffee shop (or really anywhere but my apartment), and the iPad isn't cutting it. (I'm a web developer, and you just cant code on a iPad).

I use a beast of a MBP at work (2010 15"), but I hate travelling with it. I don't travel often, but when I do... ugh. I also shouldn't take it on personal trips, and I have a couple of 8 hour personal flights ahead of me to think about.

The reasons I like the 11: Smaller, more portable. I'm not a huge person, and that extra 1/2 lb makes a huge difference in my bag. This is a huge thing for me. The 11" seems like a laptop I could have with me all the time. It's so tiny (in a good way!). Also, it's $100 cheaper; that is a factor, but really not a huge one.

The reasons I like the 13: The slightly bigger screen. I can't figure out how big a deal this will be. The 13's 1400x900 resolution is the same native resolution as my MBP, and thats ok without full screen apps - I basically work with an IDE and a terminal (or browser) side-by-side. I'm sure I could get used to switching between full screen windows. I could care less about the SD slot, but of course the battery life is better on the 13. But 9 hours for the 11" is still freaking amazing. I dont need 12 hours (... do I?)

Going into the apple store I thought I'd prefer the 13", but I walked out thinking I preferred the 11". But to be fair, I was hemming and hawing the whole time.

I am really stuck here. Because it's technically a custom machine (i5/512/8GB RAM ordered with my company discount), I don't think I can try and return unless it's faulty? Regardless, I'd rather not have to deal with that hassle. So -- for people who also pondered the 11 vs 13 decision (in the last 15 months, which was the last time the question was asked!), which one did you make? Any regrets?
posted by cgg to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As a coder, I'd never be able to survive on the 11". I had the 13" for a while, and spent probably an hour standing in the Apple store staring at both. Right now I have a 15" Retina and I don't think I could ever go back — vertical space is so important for me when coding.
posted by mcav at 12:30 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something I ask people whenever they ask 'what should I get in a computer' is 'what are you going to use it for'. This is, in my mind, the key to determine which is best for you.

You mention an IDE - do you actually plan on doing serious dev work while on the go? I'm not sure either machine is particularly well suited for that (limited screen real-estate). If you plan on 'docking' the machine, and hooking it up to a large monitor (perhaps with external keyboard/mouse) when you are doing your dev work, then the small screen won't be an issue.

The size and weight (half a pound does make a different) may cause you to bring the machine more places with you than you otherwise would - I have a 12.5" screen now, I carry it tons of places, when I had a 15" notebook it barely left the house. I was concerned when I dropped to a 12.5" screen, but now I think I could have (perhaps) gone down to a 11".

I'm a tad apple igorant; are the keyboards identical? (keyboard quality was a huge determination in me going with lenovo vs other notebooks).

Switching between windows might be okay for a little while, I don't think it'll be that pleasant an experience for you (in either 13 or 11"). If you use is casual (a little debugging/writing/coding, mainly surfing/research/etc) then I'd probably lean towards to 11".

If you can, come back to this thread after you've made your purchase and let us know if you were happy with it.
posted by el io at 12:35 PM on June 16, 2013

I live on my 13" Macbook Air. I am also a programmer and I've always found it enough. It's so light, and the SSD makes such a huge difference. It makes my 15" MBP seem like suuuuper slow and like a ton of bricks. Never found it a problem for lines of code, and I've even worked with large resolution graphics in Photoshop. When I seriously work I do have a second monitor I plug into, though. 11" always seemed way too small for me.
posted by xtine at 12:35 PM on June 16, 2013

My BF is a programmer and has the 11" MBA. He really likes the portability. At work he can hook it up to an external monitor. When he works everywhere else he maximizes portability.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:37 PM on June 16, 2013

Both models have the same size keyboard. The bigger Air has a bigger screen and a bigger battery, but I personally prefer the crazy portability of the 11" Air the killer feature.
posted by devnull at 1:03 PM on June 16, 2013

Typing this on my 13" MBA. I came to this from an older 15" model, and really appreciated the weight reduction and the increase in battery life. I was also torn between the 11" and 13" but the 11" screen is too small for me to use with multiple xterms and emacs windows on screen.

So far people have mentioned easier carrying (less weight) vs more screen real estate, but one other consideration is battery life. The new ones have crazy battery life, but from what I remember, the 11" goes 8 hours and the 13" goes up to 12 hours? 12 hours is enough to survive a long flying day without having to scrounge for power during a layover - that would certainly tip the balance for me.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:09 PM on June 16, 2013

I find using the 11" like looking through a letterbox, so I got the 13". I travel light, and I've never found the size or weight to be an issue.
posted by caek at 1:25 PM on June 16, 2013

I love my 11" for its portability. I have an external monitor at work, and you have an iMac, so you'll really only care about the size when using it away from home. THere, compact size is often an advantage.....
posted by JMOZ at 1:30 PM on June 16, 2013

The size of the 11 means I actually bring it places, which means I actually code.

It's a "short" screen for sure which is a bummer for screenshots and photoshop.

I make extensive use of spaces, and sweep gestures for switching between apps -- browser, terminal, editor. Coding runs fine on Sublime Text.

I wish Apple made a 9"!
posted by gregglind at 1:31 PM on June 16, 2013

I like my 13". I think the 11" would be too small for what I do (write code, read pdfs, write about them for graduate school stuff). I use a dual screen desktop for serious code work though. Honestly it's like a light, fast version of my wife's macbook pro, although it's a bit light on storage space.
posted by singingfish at 1:51 PM on June 16, 2013

Typing sucks on the 11 inch. If you like to type, get the 13 inch.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:54 PM on June 16, 2013

You can return custom configurations if you ordered through Apple, so don't worry about that.
posted by signondiego at 3:13 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've owned more laptops than almost any person I know. From some microscopic sony stuff to big 17in beasts, 90s lead slabs, and even an 8in subnotebook.

I've realized that the size of a machine is absolutely paramount when it comes to actually being willing to carry it around. Second to that is power, which the 11in air doesn't lose out on. Even if the 11in wasn't lighter, I'd still prefer it based on the size alone.

1366x768 is very close to the 1280x800 on the old 13in pro and regular MacBook. It is not too "constrained" to do real work on at all. The 1440x900 in the larger one is awesome, but its more like a bonus than a minimum requirement. You also get the same keyboard and trackpad, so that isn't a concern as it has been on... Every previous small laptop ever.

I especially like that the 128gb SSD is standard now, because the 64gb was bullshit and the cost to upgrade was irritating.

There's nothing that would make me get the 13in now. They fixed the slightly low battery life, and the base model is excellent. The 13in feels like the wagon model of a car also offered as a sedan. I can see the utility, but its a bonus, Not a requirement.
posted by emptythought at 3:50 PM on June 16, 2013

I write code every day on an 11" (last gen) MBA with no external monitor. I got used to the limited screen size; I just got used to not looking at more than one thing at a time. It is occasionally annoying, but feels totally worth it for the weight and just general comfort of the smaller form factor.

I usually do webdev, for which the air is just peachy; occasionally I do android dev and it is much more frustrating then.
posted by contrarian at 3:58 PM on June 16, 2013

My parents have the 11 inch. It's very portable (they live in a super rural area so most of their internet comes from public library wifi) which is wonderful. I have very small hands, though, and have a bit of trouble typing on it for extended periods.

I have the 13" myself, and I find that the small step up in keyboard size is critical for typing. I work as a software engineer, and 14 hour coding sessions are way more comfortable on the 13" keyboard. The integrated SD card reader is really nice as well; I used to just use eye-fi but it's sooooo slow uploading RAW image files that I don't use it much anymore. So- in summary, integrated card reader is a great bonus, but if I didn't have to type quite so much, I'd probably be fine with the 11".
posted by lyra4 at 4:39 PM on June 16, 2013

I'm primarily a sysad these days, so my screen is a huge pile of terminal and browser windows. I use a 13" Air (2012 model). I'm sure I could get used to the lower pixel count on an 11", but it wouldn't be fun. The 13" is light enough to carry on my commute and to/from site visits, but my comparison is a 2010 15" MBP, so, you know, my baseline there isn't the best.

Short answer: for me, the extra pixels are a significant benefit.
posted by russm at 5:00 PM on June 16, 2013

I asked the same question about two years ago, and most recommendations came down in favor of the 11-inch, for reasons of portability. To my mind, your situation is even more strongly in favor of the 11-inch because you do have a 15-inch MacBook available to use if you need it.
posted by megatherium at 5:19 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. After spending another sizeable chunk of time in the Apple store this afternoon playing with both models, I came home and ordered the 11. In the end, it came down to the fact that the 11" is the one I want to be carrying around -- its not going to do me any good if i leave it at home. The short screen didn't seem to bother me browsing the web or writing dummy code. (I actually downloaded SublimeText onto the apple store machines... it amazes me they let us do that!) If I do end up using it full time, I'd primarily be using an external monitor with either size regardless. I'm still worried I may regret the smaller screen a bit in the long term, but I was more worried I'd regret carrying around the bigger machine. More importantly however -- i'm excited for the freedom! I'll try and remember to update this thread when i've worked with it for a bit and give an honest assessment.
posted by cgg at 6:10 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hope you like the 11". I had a 13" MBA that replaced a 15" MBP whose graphics went wonky. At home and work, I connected it to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse; that was great. On the go, I had a light machine that didn't weigh me down. It was a great all-around computer that did everything I needed, thought it was slow when dealing with complex graphics.

It gave up the ghost last fall, and I replaced it with a 15" MBP with Retina display. For my ordinary work--writing at home, toting the computer to the office for teaching/office hours/research--it's fine. The extra weight is compensated for by the screen real estate.

But the 15" MPB/Retina is too heavy to carry all the time. I've decided to get the 11" MBA as a machine to take everywhere. The screen still has better resolution than my first Mac notebook, to say nothing of my wife's old Compaq Aero, and the weight is barely more than an iPad plus external keyboard. I'm a writer, not a coder, so the small screen doesn't matter as much (other than reading PDFs while writing), but the weight is really the key for me. The screen on the 11" will be too small for me to use it as my only machine, but as a secondary computer for traveling and projecting Keynote presentations, it should be ideal.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:40 PM on June 16, 2013

I code on a 2011-era Mac Air 11" and a modern Mac Pro 15". The Air 11" is always a compromise of cramped screen space vs lightweight awesome. I can accept this tradeoff, and run say 2 or 3 terminal windows at once, but the battery life of the 11" is just shy of a full day's coding.

If I were to get an Air again, I would lean towards the 13" because: a) it is also pretty darn light, b) longer battery run means I can leave the charger at home, c) screen real estate is always good to have when coding.
posted by zippy at 8:05 PM on June 16, 2013

One little thing that helps with the short screen aspect ratio is dragging the dock to the side instead of the bottom of the screen, if you can get used to that.
posted by dirm at 6:02 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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