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Friday, 18 January 2008


I've been travelling around with a Fujitsu P1510 for the past 2 years and find it a great ultra-light (~1kg) notebook/tablet for storing and reviewing images. Editing is a bit a stretch on this older machine but I prefer to do that on a desktop and large monitor. It may not be as flash as the new MacBook Air but it's been a faithful and functional photographic tool. I'd certainly recommend looking at the P1620 or even the T2010.

Thing is, there's a whole class of small noteboooks and subnotebooks that are as capable as this one (or more), and significantly smaller.

I'm writing this on a Panasonic "Let's Note R6" (http://www.kemplar.com/panasonic_r6.php for example) and it has the same memory, larger harddrive, ethernet and replaceable battery (both absolute deal-killers for someone who travels a lot - do you accept cameras without a replaceable battery?), nine hour battery lifetime, splashproof keyboard and drop resistant, and is a lot smaller and a third lighter. The next larger machine (about the size of the new mac) offer optical drive. Subnotebooks from other manufacturers offer similar performance.

The only thing it offers over other machines is the thinness. And frankly, as someone who drags a notebook around for work every day, all day, I have never felt that to be a factor. Size, yes, that is very important. Weight is at least as important. But thickness? Nah. The reason they can say it's the thinnest notebook out there is because other manufacturers have come out with very thin notebooks from time to time (Sony had an even thinner carbon-fiber one a couple of years ago) but they just compromise too much for something that frankly isn't important other than for meeting-room bragging rights.

Until you run out of battery far from a power socket, and realise you can't do a thing about it. Not real useful for a field laptop.

I'll admit to being very anti Mac but was sufficiently interested to do some googling on the subject and found a quick review here
with this wonderful comment :-
"it's nothing more than the Paris Hilton of laptops - expensive, slim and pretty, but ultimately useless."
About as irrelevant to most of us as the photographer's watch recently reviewed on Luminous Landscape.

Cheers, Robin

Don't forget that you can control cameras remotely with computers now and having a svelte laptop to capture, control and preview images on a larger, bright screen can be very attractive. To me this is the ideal travel laptop, particularly for international flights where carryon restrictions get evermore, well..... restrictive.

I ordered mine the day the MacBook Air was announced.

"Thing is, there's a whole class of small noteboooks and subnotebooks that are as capable as this one (or more), and significantly smaller."

But do they have a good and full-sized keyboard for touch-typing with adult hands? This is important to me, and the reason I won't get an OX computer or an Asus Eee.

I think the MacBook Air would make a great laptop for anyone who needs an ultraportable, but remember the days when film was the thing that took up the most space in your bag? Traveling with a laptop kind of sucks no matter how small it is, but traveling with 20 rolls of film is as easy as tossing the loose rolls in a ziploc bag.

Eloake, that's a good point. To each his own of course, but the R6 I use is good enough that I use this machine - and an R3 before it - exclusively for all my writing and programming (both of which I do all day long, every day).

Being thin is not a particular advantage the way spread and weight is; you can get the bigger brother of my R6 (or any number of good machines from other makers) with that same size keyboard, less weight and without all those compromises.

And the more I think of the lack of a swappable battery the more I have to wonder what on earth the designers were thinking. A laptop battery will last you, oh, two to three years at the most, and you'll have lost a fair bit of its capacity after a year already if you use the machine with any regularity. When you travel, having a spare battery is near necessary, just like having a spare for your camera. It is a consumable and an accessory, not an integral part.

Would you accept a DSLR - a high-end DSLR no less - that you could not swap batteries while being out using it? That you had to leave plugged in regularly to recharge, even though you may want to bring it out with you? One that, if the battery goes bad, you'd have to send it in for "repairs", at your expense?

I think there is one thing about the MacBook Air that makes it NOT so suitable for the traveling photographer (besides the lack of an interchangable battery): that is, it looks really, really flimsy and delicate.

I think this machine was designed primarily as a proof of concept for the idea of "full wireless" more than for practical usage. I'm guessing that the target market will primarily be Silicon Valley slicksters and people with an excess amount of money to spend on a second (or even third) computer.

I also have a theory about the lack of access to the RAM and the non-changeable battery. Given how slim and delicate this thing is I think they are using a sort of "unibody" design, instead of the standard frame with a skin around it. (As in, the frame and the skin are are a single unit.) As such, to cut access holes for the RAM and the battery would weaken the structure.

That's just speculation.

Great, more precious design. Now how about a Tough Macbook? one with a screen that doesn't crack easily, a shock protected HD and a rubber clad shell? That I would buy, to use in the real world.

Remember, the plain MacBook is faster, has a bigger harddrive, has all the expansion ports, a removable (And therefore swappable) battery, the same screen, can be upgraded to 2GB of RAM and has an internal optical drive. All for less money. It's thicker and a bit heavier though. That's the real Apple deal in laptops.

The Air is form over function all the way. It's not really an ultraportable, it's too large in both major dimensions. The Air is simply a very thin, lightish laptop at the cost of performance, flexibility and expandibility. Heck, they couldn't even thickin it by the couple of millimeters necessary to get the 160GB iPOD drive into it.

Three points :

1) In addition to the thinness allowing a larger keyboard than competitors, it also allows a larger, better screen. I think this is a key selling point for Apple.

2) Apple has already had experience with non replaceable batteries in iPods and got through that swimmingly. So I would trust their judgement, that while it doesn't sound ideal, non replaceable batteries won't hurt their sales. Most people very rarely use their laptop very far from an outlet.

3) The thinness as a "wow" factor can't be underestimated I don't think. Whatever the reason people say they buy things (features, reliability, etc) in reality, a lot of decisions are made on what is cool, popular, and attractive.

I'm a fan of desktop replacements. You know, the 5 kilo beasts with 3GHz dual core processors, 17" monitors, RAID, good sound and at least 2GB of RAM.

That aside, I would like to have an ultraportable for futzing around. But the Mac is not that. As already noted, there's no optical drive. If I'm on a vacation I would kinda like to watch an occasional film. And if you use that external drive option it kinda negates _reson d'etre_ for a thin and light notebook.

And the 80GB disk is not enough. Since I shoot in RAW, and average photo is 10MB, I am quite capable of filling several 1GB+ cards in a short time in an unfamiliar and interesting place. Go to a longer vacation and the disk is stuffed. You're stuffed, too.

That's a notebook for people who come into a Starbucks or a similar place and then want to chat with their friends on Facebook.

Plus, however good looking the Mac is, I'm really not a fan of Steve Jobs and his philosophy. His goal apparently is to turn Macs into fashion accessories instead of honest working machines. Just like with the fashion-accessory cars - for instance, Peugeot 207cc - Macs turn out to be a bit of a blah. Good, but not really good enough. I'd rather have a dull, grey, boring-looking HP that has all I need.

Besides, I don't need a Mac to be cool, which is obviously what Apple would like us to believe. I'm cool whatever I choose.*

* With a big nod to Terry Pratchett and the Monks of Cool. :-)**

** Now, that would be a good name for a jazz band, right, Mike?

This little computer falls under the category of "gadget", the casual definition of which is "A device that seduces prospective purchasers with its design and a suggestion that it would be quite useful, if only limitedly and occasionally.".

What I learned in my half-century: The more, the less. That is, the more gadgetry you schlep the less effective and contented you find yourself becoming, whether or not you travel. (That also applies very strongly to camera gear.)

Simplify your life and enjoy it more.

I guess Steve Jobs made it clear in the Keynote Address that they did NOT want to build another subnotebook. They wanted to build the lightest and thinnest full sized/full performance laptop in the market.

So it's my opinion that most people are judging it for what it is not (best example being the comparisons with the EEE PC, just like comparing a $10 phone with a blackberry pearl).

The only actual criticism I agree with is the internal battery thing. That makes no sense at all.

You guys might be making the battery issue bigger than it is. There are plenty of universal battery packs that could be used to power the unit from its power adapter input. It's only a matter of weeks before they become fitted for the MacBook Air.

From an engineering standpoint, it would be impossible to make the unit rigid while sporting an opening large enough to remove the battery, since there is no room for a frame in there. And even more so given that the battery's form factor is large and flat (covers more than half of the unit's surface, if I recall well), thinness obliges. That kind of battery would be very annoying to cart around, anyway. And an external pack can power pretty much anything.

I'm not sure what it means....but the majority of comments seem to be from people who don't like or use Macs, so I guess they would know what they're talking about?

I have a really light Fujitsu Lifebook S6220 now about 3 years old that I use for everything (don't have a desktop anymore), but one issue is that the screen is very fragile, and I've cracked it in a bag with a heavy camera, so the next one I buy is going to have a more rugged case.

My wife has a little Sony Vaio with a widescreen display that is even smaller. The earliest ones had this fragility issue and the keyboard was a bit awkward to use, but the one she bought about two years ago has an improved keyboard layout and a thicker plastic case. I'll probably be looking at the latest version of this one when the time comes.

I'm a die-hard apple fanboy (when function is there) but this thing reminds me too much of the Newton eMate 300. Hopefully the life span is about the same.

"I'm not sure what it means....but the majority of comments seem to be from people who don't like or use Macs, so I guess they would know what they're talking about?"

Not me, Bron. I've a BAM (Big-Ass Mac) in my office and a 17" Mac Book Pro as my mobile.

Looks like the R6 actually doesn't have the same amount of RAM -- it sports a max of 1.5GB to the MBA's 2GB. Just a small correction.

The biggest selling point of Macs and many other successful Apple product is the usability rather than the cool factor. Sleek design seems to be a rather more recent concern (and is definitely nice to have).

Many Apple products which sacrificed too much usability for the sake of design have flopped to various degree (the cube comes to mind, or some of the old PowerBooks)...

Time will tell whether the "Air" has retained sufficient usability to attract a decent crowd.

Personally I would love to replace my MacBookPro with a smaller laptop like Toshiba's Portege R500. However, for me, the "Air" fails on several points beside the non-swappable battery: no drive, no ethernet, no docking station, smallish drive, not even smaller (just thinner) than a standard MacBook...

Dear folks,

The battery raises a lot of questions, so here are some more details. It's warrantied for one year, like the rest of the computer. If one buys the extended warranty (something I always do with laptops, but I treat my equipment poorly) that covers the battery, so the coverage is three years. Cost of having the battery changed is about the same as the cost of a battery pack for my Macbook Pro. The big difference, of course, is you lose the use of your machine while the battery is being changed.

I'm fanatical about having multiple batteries. But informally checking around, I've noticed that most of the professionals I know with laptops don't have additional batteries. I can't imagine going that way, but it seems to be common. Obviously that's not meant to change the opinions of anybody here, as I'm firmly in the other camp myself. But it does go to the question of "What was Apple thinking!? "

Battery life: power consumption for this machine will be similar to the current MacBook/Pro series, which I've run tests on. The big power consumer is not the hard drive or even the display; it's CPU cycles. By way of example, my machine does get over five hours run time (which is about what Apple claims) when it's mostly sitting around doing nothing, the drive quiet, the displayed dimmed, the CPUs in their standby states. For typical work, where most of the time the CPU is waiting for you to decide what to do-- word processing, Web browsing, sorting and cataloging files and photos, even movie watching, 3-3.5hrs is the norm. If I'm doing heavy CPU-intensive stuff, like Photoshop or multiple activities which keep both CPUs engaged at near capacity, the run time can drop to as little as 1.5 hours. The same is going to be true of the MacBook Air. If you're using it in the field as part of your photographic routine, you will likely get a day's work out of it. If you're trying to do heavy-duty Photoshopping, don't expect more the hour-and-a-half, and then you're going to be back on the charger for two hours to replenish the battery.

Of course the same thing is true of my Macbook Pro, but then I can swap in a new battery pack. As I said, this machine isn't a substitute for a MacBook Pro, nor do I see it being a photographer's primary machine. I ain't even pushing it as a secondary machine. It just shouldn't be dismissed without some thought.

pax / Ctein
[[ Please excuse any word-salad. ViaVoice in training! ]]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://www.ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear folks,

Thickness vs size:

Form factors are very personal thing. You'll have to evaluate your own situation. I discovered that computer thickness mattered a lot more to me that I thought it would. When I got my new Macbook Pro, I was concerned that it was almost 2 in. longer than my old PowerBook. It's also only 1 in. thick as opposed to my PowerBook's 1.5 in. To my surprise, I found it was easier to pack the new machine in my typical carry/ shoulder bags than the old one. Apparently my packing style is thickness-limited more than anything else. The new machine has turned out to be a lot more convenient to carry around, especially when I'm hauling a bunch of other stuff. Whodathunk? Not me!

Unfortunately Apple is not likely to give me machines to test to destruction. But for as much as I could flex one at the show, I think the new MacBook Air is as damage resistance, and maybe more so, than my Macbook Pro. I'd really like to be able to test a couple of machines to the breaking point, but I don't think Apple would be pleased with me if I did. But I think the domed covers have been carefully designed. Just a guess.

pax / Ctein
[[ Please excuse any word-salad. ViaVoice in training! ]]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://www.ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Janne,

Depends on what you're after. It's different strokes for different folks. I looked at the machine you've got and I thought it was a very cool machine. At the same time it didn't personally attract me at all. It's too thick and that turns out to be an important form factor for me. A 10" 768 by 1024 screen is definitely smaller than I want It's VERY expensive: fitted out with 1.5 GB of RAM, the 120 GB hard drive, and an extra battery (all of which is required to make it equal or superior to the MacBook Air) kicks the price up to almost $3,300. Not that I'm in the market at all, but if I were I'd buy the MacBook Air in a moment over your machine. But conversely, I'm positive the people who like the advantages and form factor of your machine would never buy a MacBook Air.

pax / Ctein
[[ Please excuse any word-salad. ViaVoice in training! ]]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://www.ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

I'm a lazy kinda guy, so I use a laptop sitting on my lap, legs up on the footstool, just chilling. For me, the light weight with the full size keyboard and that snazzy trackpad make me want the Air. The battery problem isn't a big deal, nor is the hard drive, especially if one also has one of those new 1Tb Time Capsule thingies. I back up wirelessly to my Mini, then to a Lacie when working on my Powerbook G4, so that wouldn't change.
I don't like the price, it should be about $300 less to really get my attention, but that glossy screen would have to go. I really dislike those screens.


Dear Jake,

Add me to the list of glossy-screen haters. I wonder what a can of matte spray would do... ?

I buy my Apple gear thru the "refurbished department" of the Apple online store. Knocked the price of my MacBook Pro from $1,999 down to $1,699 and trimmed $100 off my 23" Cinema display.

Stuff always subject to availability, but great deals.

pax / Ctein

pax / Ctein

Been on a Mac going on 20 years. As a photographer, I travel with a 12" Powerbook @ 4.6 pounds. It sports an optical combo drive and firewire for portable external drive for photo backup.

Each January I hope Steve will announce a replacement for the "old" machine. This year, MacBook Air... I don't think so.

Right now the 12" PowerBook is looking pretty good. I'll happily keep nursing it along.

John Camp,

I remember Steve Jobs mentioning during the Keynote Address that they shrunk the power supply as well.

I travel with OP computers...a lot lighter than the mac....OP! (Other Peoples').

I've been all Mac since 1990 with my Powerbook 100. The Air reminds me of a Cube, as cow-flop. I use a G4 iBook as my mobile unit and the Air would not replace it. My 100gb hard drive is just big enough to get by with my D200 RAW files.

I'll accept everything that makes me travel lighter, so this will sure be a nice addition.


OK, lots of points I want to make about the Air, in no particular order.
1) Weight is the big thing on this, I think. In my day job, I manage the computer support for a fairly large fleet of notebooks. I can't get people to switch from a 1.2GH ULV Core 2 Duo Latitude to a 2+GHz one in a notebook that weighs 1 pound more, regardless of the amount of heavy duty computing they are doing. They refuse the extra weight. These are 'mobile professionals' in the finance industry, on the road 30% or more a year, taking their notebooks home every night. These are not the people writing blogs about MacWorld (i.e. bloggers, web professionals). The Air is substantively faster than the existing ultra lights offered by vendors interested in the corporate ultralight market (as nice as Panasonic's laptops are, they aren't marketed worth a damn to corporate buyers). Couple the light weight with full size screen and keyboard, and this would sell in the brazillions if it were 'designed' for XP/Vista (I personally don't like the trackpad driver provided with Bootcamp. Nowhere near as smooth as the Leopard one). These users don't care about extended batteries/swappable batteries. 3 hour life is more than they use. I've never had a request for longer battery life (assuming the battery hasn't worn out due to age, of course).
2)As someone else pointed out, this is a light, full feature laptop, not an ultraportable. Judged that way, it is extremely light.
3)Ultra portables as light as the Air are typically much more expensive than the $1700 entry point. Personally, I don't think any of the upgrade options are worth consideration. At $1700, I think it is a bargain.
4)The Asus EEE PC success has demonstrated that 'consumers' are hungry for a low cost ultra light notebook. I have the $500 8GB model, and it runs XP quite well. I'd love it more if it had a full size screen and keyboard . 8GB of permanent storage is adequate since I store all data on a 16GB SDHC card. Like the Air, the EE is best viewed as a companion notebook.
5)The vitriol in dismissing it prevalent in so many blog posts reminds me of the posts dismissing the iPod upon it's introduction. The thinking was it was too limited compared to the lead sled, feature laden jukeboxes offered by Creative and Archos at the time. I think we know how those predictions turned out.
6) I would be very interested in the AIR if I were presently in the market for a laptop. But I am trying to sell my MacBook Pro before any major purchases.


Sorry Ken T., no disrepect.

As I've been looking at laptops and or an iPhone, as a means of showing clients photos, I'm interested in something like the air. I don't want a replacement machine, just an adjunct machine. The air seems a video iPod writ large, with most of the functions of a laptop. Battery is not an issue, nor the lack of an optical drive, but weight and size is. The shoulder bag already tilts me to the side as is. As a regular Mac, and only occasional Windows user, it is definitely something to look at. Access to all my photos, files, would be good.

Reality jumps up, however, saying "but, but, but", and $1700.00 for a machine that would be used sporadically makes the $400.00 for the iPhone look better, and the phone would eliminate another gadget, my Palm E2, and even lighter, and smaller than the MBA.

Maybe it's time to see just how crispy those credit cards are.

It seems to me that the people who see no value in the "Air" miss the point even with the name to give them a clue. Air stands for wireless not just light weight. It has shoe horned wireless integration to a new level and sort of requires someone to not expect to use it the same old way. Be creative. If you really think about it it can be used for a lot of things. For instance:

The hard drive should be enough for a travel computer even if you take pictures. If you have it loaded up with a lot of other stuff then take one of those super small USB drives to back up your images. Take extra, now cheap, flash memory cards for your camera. They are lighter than anything. Or even lighter than that just back up your images to .Mac or whatever online service you use.

Down load the movie you want to watch on your trip. In the airport hot spot. You don't need a DVD player to watch a movie.

Reminds me of the collective wail when Apple dropped the floppy disk to replace it with the CD. Everyone quickly learned to do without it. Happily.

Dear Winsor,

Well, ummm, no "everyone" did not learn to do without floppies, and definitely not happily.

They were still a common medium of professional distribution when Steve declared them persona non grata.

All my machines, save the most recent one, have floppy drives added. This is not only to access older records. Until thumb drives got CHEAP, which was just a few years ago, and many years after floppy drives were declared 'obsolete', there was no other convenient way to port small amounts of data from machine to machine (drag-and-drop CD burning was neither reliable nor universally supported).

It's not good human engineering to demand people to adapt to the machine instead of vice-versa.

pax / Ctein

"'everyone' did not learn to do without floppies, and definitely not happily. They were still a common medium of professional distribution when Steve declared them persona non grata."

Amen, Brudda. They were part of my magazine's workflow at the time--we passed files from department to department on floppies. The premature banishment of those drives from the machines of the time was a true aggravation. It was years before it stopped being any sort of hassle, and I still have an outboard floppy drive in my desk drawer. That was definitely not a smooth move on Jobs' part.

Mike J.

"'everyone' did not learn to do without floppies, and definitely not happily."

We don't have any more floppies in our office (except for the memento mori above my desk); we have hundreds of syquests (what do we do with these?); hundreds of zip disks (no, I take that back, we threw them out); and I have a vast stack of blank CDs that is ever more slowly diminishing. The DVD stack ain't moving much either but DVDs are still very useful.

On the other hand, our T1 is sometimes maxed-out.


I'm using a PowerBook G4 with 12" screen as my travel machine. I'd like an update for it but it seems a long time coming.

I think the MacBook Air has more potential than people realize. I'm already thinking up some ways I could use the MacBook Air. I like using apps like Canon RemoteCapture, I could clamp a MBA to the camera tripod, use it like a live view.
I wonder if I could use the Canon WFT-E3A Wireless File Transmitter to remotely operate the camera and download the results.

THe Air does nothing for me either, i bought a standard 13" Macbook and i love it, it has everything i need and its small and light enough for me to carry in my tamrac adventure 9 with my EOS 300D when im travelling, without firewire, the optical drive and removeable battery the air is useless to me, heck even the fact my Mac Book has a phone jack if where i am is out of wireless or broadband range makes it ideal for me.

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