Macbook Air, now or later?
April 25, 2008 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Should my wife buy a Macbook Air now, or is there a compelling reason to wait a month or two?

My wife's unbeloved Dell laptop is coming to the end and she is eager to get rid of it. Her heart is fixed on a Macbook Air--don't even bother to suggest alternatives as that will get me in trouble.

Given that she is going to buy this machine sometime soon, is there any reason to wait (upcoming improvements or fixes) or should she just go out and do it already? When I google this question I get a lot of advice to wait, but from back in January.

posted by LarryC to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I seriously doubt there will be a revision any time in the next several months, considering it just came out in January.
posted by DMan at 11:34 AM on April 25, 2008

It just came out, and there aren't any rumors at all of updates. Go ahead and buy.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2008

No info here because it's such a new product, but always check this site when considering any Apple purchase:
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you are switching from Dell to Apple, get used to the fact that Apple will always release newer products quickly. A year from now you might think "I just bought one of those!" but a year is an eternity for some Apple product cycles.
posted by mattbucher at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2008

I would suggest waiting for the second revision. First rev apple products are something to avoid, the second rev's are generally very much more stable and a better value for long term operation.
posted by iamabot at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2008

I suggest she try one out for an extended period of time. I did, and it beachballs quite often. (HD slowness) That was a deal breaker for me. If they release one with a faster HD or cheaper SSD option, I will jump on it.
posted by mphuie at 11:44 AM on April 25, 2008

n-thing the wait for second revision. Apple is notorious for buggy first releases in their laptop lines.
posted by onalark at 11:49 AM on April 25, 2008

seconding "wait"

I'm very, very concerned about the longevity of the sealed batter, along with the usual first-version type issues.
posted by Oktober at 11:49 AM on April 25, 2008

Unless she uses it for absolutely nothing but email and browsing, I would avoid the Air. It's a bit more cool tech proof of concept than real working machine. The regular MacBook is a much better machine for general usability and you can actually run a few real applications on it. I know you said not to suggest anything else but it's an expensive toy and once the wow factor wears off you still have use it.
And I agree with the above sentiments, first gen hardware is to be avoided (although I'm typing this on 1st gen MacBook Pro).
posted by doctor_negative at 12:03 PM on April 25, 2008

Get one now. Two months from now it won't be as much fun to get one. Go for it. That's two months of computer bliss.

Besides, what sort of a guy doesn't let his wife buy a new computer?
posted by thomas144 at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2008

N-thing the advice to wait for the second revision. Every time I've bought a rev. A mac I've had issues that made me wish I'd been a bit more patient.
posted by Prospero at 12:18 PM on April 25, 2008

I get the impression Apple refreshes its laptops on a roughly 8-month cycle. The Air is exactly halfway through that (and we don't know whether it'll be updated after 8 months, of course).

As a wild-ass guess, the update will probably be a slight processor speed bump, maybe slightly larger mass storage, and a few other refinements. There almost certainly will not be a price cut (Apple's strategy seems to be incrementally improve a product while holding the price steady).

I don't think there's a lot to hold out for if she could use the machine now. It'll be more than adequate for everyday use. Obviously you don't want to be rendering 3D on it, but nobody buys it for that.

I've got a friend who's bought just about every Mac sold over the past couple years, and he describes the Air as "perfect" for him.

I have to admit, I was underwhelmed by the Air when I read about it and saw pictures of it, but now that I've played with it a little, I'm very impressed by it.
posted by adamrice at 12:19 PM on April 25, 2008

I don't believe there will be a major revision for a while. My reasons:

1) The RAM is soldered to logic the board, so there will not be a minor RAM bump as will usual line updates.

2) As far as I know, there is currently no processor to do a speed bump. Apple used a "one off" 65nm Merom design with a 143mm^2 die size. It looks like the 45nm mobile penryn with the TDP heat output that could be used in the macbook air chassis uses a 107mm^2 die, so it can't just be slotted into the board. Either a redesign will have to take place or another "one off" chip will have to be used, either will take time.

3) Any other Air users wishes (one more USB port, an ethernet port) would require a chassis redesign, which will take time. And I doubt those will even happen.

I think it also should be noted, while Apple is notorious for buggy first releases, the Air launch has been rather good. The main complaints seem to only be fan/heat issues-- A firmware update may fix this, scraping off thermal paste supposedly does too, an app called Coolbook can help).

Given the speed of SSD development I do think we'll see an iphone style price drop on the SSD option.

Anyway, there's a thread here where this stuff is debated more.
posted by sharkfu at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2008

I'm a software developer and a mobile-content entrepreneur; I use my Air for everything and like it a lot. The firmware update last week seems to have solved an over-voltaging problem on some units that was making the CPU overheat and shut down one core, which was the only problem I had with mine.
posted by nicwolff at 12:27 PM on April 25, 2008

On not previewing: the "fan/heat" issue that sharkfu mentions is the thing that this week's firmware update seems to have resolved.
posted by nicwolff at 12:29 PM on April 25, 2008

For the lesson learned that first revisions of Apple products tend to be problematic, I would advise waiting for the second revision. At the very least I'd suggest waiting until after the Apple WWDC conference in June, when a variety of new products will be released. There's a lot of guessing but no certainty about what is coming down the pipe.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:02 PM on April 25, 2008

I'm not suggesting alternates, but I was about to go out and get one until I realized a few things:

No ethernet port (so you have to use wi-fi only for internet access)
No firewire
Battery is not user-replacable
No optical drive
Only one USB port

It is not ideal as a single-computer for a user like me, who was upgrading from the Titanium G4 12". It is good for people who use their computer to go online, write papers, and listen to music.

I ended up going with the 15" MacBook Pro. Bigger than I liked but perfect for my multi-functionality that doesn't stop at internet browsing and music. If I was looking for an expensive secondary unit, I might choose the Air . . . or I might get Fujitsu's LifeBook P8010, Toshiba's Portege R500, or Lenovo’s ThinkPad X300. It has a built-in DVD player, too.

Just sayin'.

But if you're set on getting it, get it now. No major upgrades expected unless she can hold her horses for a year.
posted by arnicae at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2008

Well, this was timely. My wife has been away on a trip and she called from Kansas City, where she went to the Apple store and fondled the Airbook. There is no turning back! And since there are no upgrades on the near horizon I guess she will order one.

I agree with all the comments against buying a first generation anything, and agree that the Airbook is not all that (my Lenovo Thinkpad tablet is all that, thank you very much). But she wants what she wants, and I am lucky she puts up with me, and as Thomas said above, "what sort of a guy doesn't let his wife buy a new computer?"

Thank you for the excellent and informed advice!
posted by LarryC at 3:14 PM on April 25, 2008

I realise it's a foregone conclusion, but I'd like to give my thoughts on the Air...

it's not a laptop. It's a thin client portable keyboard and screen with some laptop abilities.

By that, I mean that it's real purpose is to wirelessly connect to your network, directly or via VPN, and access existing files, storage, and devices, along with the ability to store those files locally and do some work on them while not connected. Secondly, it's a status symbol.

That's not to diss the thing - I happen to think it's a fairly innovative piece of kit, and another example of where Apple is thinking ahead of the curve. I just happen to also think that most people are wrong in thinking of it as just a spick laptop, that it requires a bit more work by Apple (particularly software-wise with regards to seamless VPN access) to fulfil its rightful destiny, and that anyone buying one to use as a "normal" laptop outside of near constant access to a suitable network is going to be horribly disappointed with its restrictions. Yes, it's beautiful, but they'd likely be much happier with a Macbook or MB Pro.

Remember, Apple was way ahead of the curve with the Newton too...
posted by Pinback at 5:12 PM on April 25, 2008

Stop back in 6 months and give us an update of how she likes it...
(My wife is crazy for Apple tech as well... But she loves her Dell XPS 1210)

Personally - I'd be hooped without the Ethernet. I do alot of work which requires me to VPN over heavily-encrypted links - adding WiFi just slows it down too much - and for example, I am stuck in a hotel which does not have WiFi in the rooms - just Ethernet...
posted by jkaczor at 5:20 PM on April 25, 2008

Her decision to switch is primarily an emotional/desire-based one (from how you've described it), so evaluating the right time to purchase based on some return-on-investment or bang-for-your-buck basis is arbitrary and unncessary. She wants the machine that'll make her happy, and she's unwilling to consider alternatives: Just buy it.
posted by anildash at 6:08 PM on April 25, 2008

If your wife is anything like mine, then you might want to take a trip to the Apple store with her and let her fondle a Macbook as well before she buys the Air. It might be that she saw the Air on display (not surprising, since it tends to get pride of place in most Apple shops/sections), but doesn't realise that the Macbook is basically the same size (just a little bit thicker), but also has some advantages over the Air (for instance, it has a DVD drive in it and two whole USB ports).

I'm betting that if you take her to the Apple shop and have a chat about the various features, you can sway her away from the Air and towards the Macbook (even if it is the black one!), which is probably a better long-term purchase, unless she has some specific reason for needing the Air.

As for the question of now or later, I don't think the Air is going to change much in the next few months, so I think now is probably ok (as many said above, it's really only just been released).
posted by ranglin at 6:34 PM on April 25, 2008

if money is an issue, i'd go with the macbook if she's at all receptive. the bang for the buck is much better, unless the primary/only bang, if you will, is form factor.
posted by ncc1701d at 9:25 PM on April 25, 2008

I bought a new Apple laptop just last month. While the Air was tempting (for about 5 seconds), I ended up getting the black MacBook, and that was definitely the better decision for me. The missing CD/DVD drive was a dealbreaker for me, especially since my computer is also my DVD player.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:12 PM on April 25, 2008

You can use both Ethernet and DVDs with the Air just fine via the USB port. The Air is about the same width and height as the MacBook but much thinner and lighter; if you're actually going to carry your laptop around with you this is a radical advantage.

The Air is hardly just a thin client; it's got more CPU and storage than most laptops did a few years ago, and offers comparable performance to other ultra-portables. It's not a gaming machine, or a Photoshop workstation, but you can certainly work on local word-processing and spreadsheet files normally, run business software, or develop local Web sites (and run Apache and Postgres), or whatever else you'd do on a MacBook.
posted by nicwolff at 12:21 PM on April 26, 2008

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