MacBook Air 2010 vs MacBook Air 2011

The new MacBook Air is here, complete with brand spanking new OSX Lion and a connectivity update in the shape of a speedy Thunderbolt port. As ultra-portables go 2010s Air wasn't exactly a slouch, long retaining the tiny crown until eventually being toppled by the Samsung Series 9. The decision to ditch disc drives and go for Solid-state only storage also brought with it rapid sleep/wake times and a seriously lengthy battery life. With the 2011 MacBook Air Apple looks to take that formula and build on it, attempting to improve on things in every way. But which MacBook Air is best? Is it really worth shelling out for a new one? Or should fans of the 2010 model hang on to their cash. 

Form factor

1st: Macbook Air 2011
330 mm × 227 mm × 17 mm to 3 mm, 1.35kg (13.3") 300 mm x 192 mm × 17 mm to 3mm, 1.08kg (11")
2nd: Macbook Air 2010
330 mm × 227 mm × 17 mm to 3 mm, 1.32kg (13.3") 300 mm x 192 mm × 17 mm to 3 mm, 1.04kg (11")

The first time you pick up a MacBook Air it is difficult to ignore just how thin the thing is. The laptop, despite being immensely strong, is so close to a piece of paper in thickness, that it feels like you could snap it with one finger. Both the 2010 and 2011 models are unbelievably lightweight and portable and feature the same form factor. There is however the added bonus of an ambient light sensing backlit keyboard with the 2011 offering, meaning easier typing in dark situations, plus it just looks cooler. 

Display

1st: Macbook Air 2011
1440 × 900 (13.3"), 1366 × 768 (11")
2nd: Macbook Air 2010
1440 × 900 (13.3"), 1366 × 768 (11")

Somewhat bizarrely, the 13.3 inch MacBook Air actually boasts a higher screen resolution than its more expensive MacBook Pro cousin. The ultra-bright LED backlit display is pretty difficult to improve on, being one of the absolute best laptop screens out there for viewing angles and colour saturation. The 2011 model brings little change in the display department, with things very much the same as last years. 

Engine Room

1st: Macbook Air 2011
1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 or 1.8GHz Intel Core i7

2nd: Macbook Air 2010
1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (13.3"), 1.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (11")

This is where the most major technical leap occurs between the 2010 and 2011 models. The introduction of Sandy Bridge processors means a major speed hike, likely making the new Apple ultra portables useable for more processor intensive tasks. The previous 2010 offering, the 13 inch in particular, wasn't exactly slow for day to day computing. The problem was that its slow processor rapidly became clear as soon as you started running games or editing software. Sandy Bridge however should have changed this. 

Storage

1st: Macbook Air 2011
Up to 256 GB SSD (13"), Up to 128 GB SSD (11")

2nd: Macbook Air 2010
Up to 256 GB SSD (13"), Up to 128 GB SSD (11")

The SSD feels like it was designed for the MacBook Air and OSX. It means ultra speedy boot up times and snappy file transfers. The problem is that they aren't cheap, with large amounts of storage adding plenty to your laptop bill. The new MacBook Airs can, like the previous generation, go all the way up to 256GB of storage but expect to pay £1349 for it. Level pegging again here between last years release and this years iteration. 

Memory

1st: Macbook Air 2011
4GB as standard except base 11" model
2nd: Macbook Air 2010   Up to 4 GB

RAM is extremely useful when running multiple programs, particularly given that OSX manages its distribution so well. MacBook Airs have their RAM sticks soldered directly onto the motherboard, meaning it is impossible to carry out an upgrades after you have made a purchase. We personally think 4GB is the figure to aim for, the 2010 however came with 2 as standard. 2011 hits the mark with the majority including that magic 4GB number. 

Software

1st: Macbook Air 2011
OSX Lion

2nd: Macbook Air 2010
OSX Snow Leopard (unless you upgrade!)

Snow Leopard saw a major speed boost arrive in the OSX camp. Things like Grand Central Dispatch and clever 64 bit technology helped bring Apple's OS up to date. It came pre-installed on every single 2010 MacBook Air. The newest generation of Apple portables however are set to ship with OSX Lion, which builds on everything Snow Leopard did so well. Expect things like mission control, full screen apps and launchpad all to feature on the new 2011 MacBook Airs. Owners of the previous generation can of course upgrade, but it will cost you £20.99 to do so. 

Battery Life

1st: Macbook Air 2011
5 hours (11"), 7 hours (13")
2nd: Macbook Air 2010   5 hours (11"), 7 hours (13")

The SSD means that MacBook Airs can sleep for an immense amount of time. It is entirely possible to close the lid of your 2010 MacBook Air and return 30 days later to find just a smidgeon of battery left. The 13 inch model's 7 hour battery life is also pretty impressive but has now been surpassed by other laptops on the market. The 2011 offering doesn't do much in terms of battery improvement, Apple's spec sheet suggesting power figures are very much the same. Not to worry, the MacBook Air's battery life is absurd anyways. 

Connectivity

1st: Macbook Air 2011
2 x USB 2.0, 1 x 3.5 mm headphone jack, Thunderbolt, 1 x SD card reader (13"), Integrated 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 + EDR
2nd: Macbook Air 2010
2 x USB 2.0, 1 x 3.5 mm headphone jack, mini DisplayPort, 1 x SD card reader (13"), Integrated 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR

If you did opt for a MacBook Air then the chances are that connectivity isn't exactly your thing. The lack of a disc drive and two USB ports mean there isn't much port-action to go on. With 2011's model, Apple decided to add in a Thunderbolt port which means a serious hike in transfer speed and the loss of a miniDisplay port. Not to worry though, Thunderbolt means you can send info 20 times faster than USB 2.0 and even connect the Air up to Apple's new Thunderbolt display

Price

1st: Macbook Air 2011
Starting at £867
2nd: Macbook Air 2010
Starting at £867

The Macbook Air sits neatly in between the entry level MacBook and expensive MacBook Pro. Apple saw massive amounts of success with its pricing rethink and 2010 update. Things are relatively the same on the 2011 front, with the base 13 inch model costing £1099. Do remember though that for the same price last years laptop featured only 2GB of RAM and no Thunderbolt port, let alone a speedy Sandy Bridge processor. For the money we can't think of a quicker ultra thin than the base 13 inch model, let alone one which looks half as good.

Conclusion

At first it might seem like the differences between the 2010 and 2011 MacBook Airs are pretty negligible. Things like the same form factor and similar battery life make the updated laptop much less enticing. But under the hood the differences are hard to ignore, the leap to Sandy Bridge means a massive speed boost over 2010s offering, which could get sluggish at times. The jump in RAM and added Thunderbolt also means that the new MacBook Air is much more of a powerhouse than its predecessor. The return of the backlit keyboard also brings it back in line with Apple's super slick MacBook Pro style design. Lion of course is an added bonus.

For those that currently own a MacBook Air but regularly feel it struggles under heavier applications, then perhaps an upgrade is for you. Similarly if you are in the market for an ultra-portable to replace a day to day laptop, then you can't do much better than the 13" MacBook Air. For those looking for something tiny but with plenty of punch, no one else makes a laptop as quick as an i7 powered 11" Air. 

New MacBook Air? Or you happy with the one you got?