Sunday, 11 September 2011

2011 MacBook Air - 1 Month On

I can't believe It's been over a month since my new MacBook Air was delivered. In some ways it seems like it only arrived last week, and in other's I feel like I've being using it for years. I think both perspectives are easy to explain. The latter is a testament to Apple's design and engineering consistency. Despite a new laptop (and a new OS) all the peripherals like input devices and airport devices and the great majority of software packages work just like they did on the MacBook Pro. When I'm writing something like this, it's actually quite hard to tell that I'm using a different machine other than the fact that the screen is a bit smaller.

As for the other perspective, that of still feeling like a kid at Christmas, well that's down to the fact that the upside (or downside) of a new laptop is that it's a great excuse to try new things like new accessories and new software. So a chuck of this post is going to be about those things.

But first, a few thoughts on the MacBookAir itself.

The good stuff

  • The size and weight or rather the lack of them. This baby was designed to go everywhere, and it does. And when I'm carrying it around I hardly notice it's there alongside the iPad, two iPhones, the stack of papers that usually accompany me everywhere and my lunch. I even find that the MBA is light enough to use in bed on occasions; something I never did with the MBP.
  • Battery life is awesome. I've never owned a fully functional laptop that could last more than a couple of hours without a recharge. I've not had a chance to really put the MBA to the test, but it has happily gone three or four hours without any problems. I don't take the MagSafe charger with me when I go into the office (which also helps keep the weight down) because I'm confident enough that the battery will last the day - admittedly it's on stand-by most of the time - but it's still an important issue for me.
  • Heat and therefore fan noise haven't been an issue. The fans do kick in sometimes when I'm watching video and Time Machine kicks in, but the noise is not obtrusive, certainly not in my current environment where the temperature in the PentFlat is quite often 25-30C and the floor fan is on most of the time
  • Video and screen resolution are fantastic and I've finally managed to get the laptop linked directly to the HD TV in the flat via the Thunderbolt port using a Mini Display Port to HDMI cable. Watching EyeTv and BBC iPlayer is now a great experience - sound and video sync are perfect and it means the MBA screen is available for other things like internet and mail browsing. Last week I had three screens running - BBC iPlayer on the TV, Twitter on the iPad (via AirDisplay) and Facebook on the main MBA screen. Sadly, being a bloke, I'm unable to multitask, but it still looked really cool!

The Not So Good Stuff

  • There is a problem with the microphone, at least on my 13" MBA. My girlfriend has problems hearing me when we are on FaceTime, iChat or Skype, and I know there are other folk out there having similar problems. Using my Sony earbuds with their built in microphone fixes the problem but it's not a satisfactory solution. I bought a Blue Eyeball 2.0 USB microphone/webcam and this also provides a bit of a work around, but even with this I have to be quite close to the mic to get the right input levels. It's really not clear whether this is a software or hardware issue, or even whether it's a Lion issue, but I hope the Apple guys are taking notice of the increasing number of entries and complaints on the Apple support forums
  • That's it - that's the only real problem I've got to date

Cool New Stuff

I did say that some of this blog would be about some of the new bits and pieces I've acquired for the MBA.

First up is the new InCase Perforated Snap-on cover for the MBA. This is a slinky blue plastic fishnet 2 piece cover which snaps onto the lid and base of the MBA providing some protection from scratches and dirt. It's not going to protect it from a fall from any great height, but it's a sexy, lightweight and does what it is supposed to do. Even with the case on, the laptop still fits nicely into the LaRobe sleeve to provide even more protection whilst travelling.

I've already mentioned the Blue Eyeball 2.0, but the webcam, which pops out of the microphone ball, is an HD alternative to the standard resolution iSight camera on the MBA. Shame that the MBA didn't come with the HD iSight as standard but I'm guessing that there wasn't enough room in the lid for it. Actually, I'm still not sure whether it's an iSight or FaceTime camera, or whether there is any difference. What's in a name?

I love retro Flip Clocks, and after 5 years of using Macs finally found a Flip Clock screen saver only to discover it doesn't work under Lion. This morning however, I found an alternative that does work, so I'm now using a screen saver because I want to rather than because I think I ought to!

One of the downsides of reducing the screen real estate on the MBA compared to the MBP is that my top menu bar is now even more cluttered than ever. I've used NoMenuBar up until now which helps to a certain extent, but AccessMenuBarApps goes even further and is now my preferred solution.

Having spent 11 of the past 14 months in Switzerland, and with another 11 weeks still to go, I've found I have pretty much seen everything (in English) on Swiss Freeview TV at least once, and new stuff is increasingly rare. So I'm always on the look out for alternatives. iTunes is great and when I'm at home I do download a couple of TV series to bring back with me. But these take up lots of disk space, and even with external drives I find myself juggling shows around and configuration management becomes a nightmare (especially when disaster strikes). I've started to rent films rather than buy them which saves the storage problem, but it access to BBC iPlayer would solve a whole bunch of problems by streaming from that source. And I finally found a way to do get around the overseas access problem by subscribing to a VPN service called Expat Telly For 19.99 Euros for 3 months I can now watch anything on iPlayer from the UK (including ITV, Channel 4, 5 , etc.) as well as a number of other shows from NBC in the US. This works by making the UK servers think that you're logging in from a UK address and thus allows you to watch. Sadly Catchup TV has got wise to these shenanigans and blocks them, but Expat Telly works with BBC iPlayer for the time being. And since I pay for a UK and Swiss TV license I feel I should be allowed to watch what I've already paid for!

Well, that's it for this post. Hope you find something of interest or something useful. But even if you don't, come back another time. I'm sure I'll have something that will get you excited!




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