MacBook Air: 11' or 13'? (aka begging for advise)

Hi there —

I need serious advise from this L&L forum’s MacBook Air users.

Currently I’ve two macs: a iMac 24’ (2.4GHz processor) from 2008 and a MacBook Pro 15’ (1.86GHz) from early 2006. I’ve been ogling the new MacBook Air as the substitute for my MBP: I love how they look, their better battery, their light weight. It will be my on-the-run machine, with the iMac being the main machine.

Now, my choices are:

  1. MBA11, 1.6, 4GB ram, 128GB disk
  2. MBA13, 1.86, 4GB ram, 128GB disk.

I have a huge crush (really, for a machine?!) on the MBA11, but I also know that, although the 11’ is lighter and cuter, the MBA13 might me a better choice on the long run (3 years): better autonomy, more power. Basically, I’m afraid that the 11’ performance won’t be enough for what I need.

And what do I need the MBA to do?
• Mostly write (Bean, Scrivener, Nisus; sporadically Word), email, online research and read (ebooks, pdfs, feeds)
• Some spreadsheet work (Excel) and presentations (mostly Keynote, rarely Powerpoint).
• Other apps that I’ll be using a lot: DEVONthink Pro and Sente.
• Some games (Bejeweled, Catan, nothing very fancy or huge CPU muncher).
• Occasional video watching (using VLC or Quicktime) or image/graphic composing (Pixelmator, DrawIt, OmniGraffle).

Maybe most people are using MBA the same way I will. So I’m asking your comments and advise: how does your MBA performs? Have you experienced regrets after buying your model? Not enough power or screen size? Are you happy it the MBA11 battery and general behaviour?

I’ll be very grateful if you could share your experiences with me.

– MJ

Definitely check out this thread. It gets a little long winded and devolved into a discussion on linguistics, but this you can expect from this forum.

In short, I’m extremely pleased I went with the 11" because the main thing I was looking for is ultra-portability. It is literally in the netbook class, whether or not you want to call it one is a matter of not calling a 4-door BMW a family car, I suppose. At only a little over one inch longer than an iPad, and roughly identical in dimensions and weight otherwise, it’s the type of thing you will swear you forgot to bring based on the weight of your bag, and then realise you did bring when you check.

I think performance is a bit of a moot point with either of these. Both are definitely not high performance machines, and they are between each other only shades apart. Really, the differences are minimal. What you are getting with the 13" is a bigger screen. The only way you’d really detect any performance difference between the two is if you are really pushing them with Photoshop or some other intensive tool—and then if you really need that, it’s probably not the best machine for the job—either of them. From the checklist you provided, I don’t see anything that will be a negative on this computer. I’ve only played one game on it, A.I. Wars, which is fairly CPU intensive and not terribly GPU intensive. It had no problem with it. I think I recall Keith reporting that Adobe CS4 (or 5?) stuff runs way better than expected. Another point on performance is that this isn’t really going to scale as much as other purposes might. If you are in video, graphic design, or just even a gamer, then shooting for the best gear of the year so you can get three years out of it is a necessity. For a writing machine though? The software out there for writers is all low-impact. You can save entire libraries on a modern drive. For a writer, even a standard spec computer can last as long as the parts keep ticking. We still have people using Scrivener on old G3 and G4 computers, believe it or not. Even though these machines are not high end, they are very fast for their class, fast enough to be compared with a class or two higher in the “overkill for writers” area. So my estimation: easy three years… no problem. I’d say six to eight so long as the parts last. This is why I don’t think there is much of a difference between the two models in this realm. They are both about the same for a low-impact trade like writing and both will probably remain computationally effective for longer than the sum of their parts. Form factor will be the big decider. You get more screen with the bigger one, but its going to be more like having a laptop; you’ll need a more standard sized laptop bag. You get less screen with the 11", but its barely any larger than a trade paperback and no heavier; you can fit it into many purse or small hip bags that aren’t even meant for computers.

In some areas, they have fantastic performance. In fact for disk heavy tasks, it handily outperforms my 2008 MBP 15". There is much behind the numbers on either of these computers. They are highly optimised, and that solid state storage does a number on some tasks. I bet DTP works good on it too, since that’s a file heavy program.

Screen size is a mixed bag: depends on your eyes I would say. Fonts will be much smaller than you are used to. 12pt fonts will look more like 9pt fonts—but this is because of pixel density, which means even though they are smaller they are just as crisp and legible as 12pt fonts on a regular screen. To my eyes, the screen looks very close to your typical budget laser printer, text is amazingly crisp—but if your eyes aren’t so good at near stuff, you might find you need to use text zooming features a bit more often than you otherwise might. With both computers, because of this high density, you get more space than you’d think. Scrivener feels very comfortable to me on it, despite being so small. It really feels more like a normal 13" screen to me. The ultra-widescreen though—that’s going to be its biggest area of frustration, especially for writers which would prefer to see more text on a “page”. Someone posted a shot of the MBA set up sidewise like a book on the desk with a BlueTooth keyboard and screen rotation enabled. :slight_smile:

Battery is good. With all antennas off and the screen dimmed, I can get about six to seven hours of usage. That’s writing and editing, nothing more fancy than that. With the WiFi on and browsing around, that’ll drop down to 4–5 hours; far less if you visit a site with Flash (I recommend disabling it in the browser). Six or so hours of practical usage is more than I need. I usually just take this thing to coffee shops and the library, and I’m rarely in one or both of those places for longer than that.

Regrets? None. I’ve said it before, but it’s the best laptop I’ve ever bought—with the '08 MBP a close second. It’s perfect for what I wanted, a super portable writing machine that lets me write instantly whenever I have an idea and close it up just as fast. Because it is solid state, I can just snap the lid and instantly stow it. You can’t (or rather you really shouldn’t) do that to a regular laptop because it needs to park the drive head first and that can take around 10 to 15 seconds. In terms of immediacy, it is right up there with the iPad; just pull it out, use it, stow it.

I’ve got the 13"; I went for the 256GB SSD, though, and since I had to buy over the counter, I only have 2GB RAM when I would have gone for 4GB for preference. I love this machine, and my 17" MBP sits virtually unused now. I basically agree with Ioa on all points, but I would say:

Pro the 11": size and weight … even I look at them with slight envy, but it wasn’t the major determiner for me, as the 13" is not so much heavier.

Pro the 13": 1) screen size … at 1440 x 900 its virtually the same as your 15" MBP, though at 13" the pixels are smaller so it is very sharp indeed — I have no trouble with 12 point type on it, even 10 point is legible, though a bit small; 2) battery life … with the screen turned down to just under 50%, bluetooth off but Airport running a local network for keynote control from my iPhone, 4 hours lectures with presentation then 5 hours editing in Scrivener with intermittent web-access + battery indicator showing up to 2 hours more … I don’t think I’ve ever got less than 7 hours out of the battery, and then when running external disks; SD-card slot … a minor matter, but for me, preferable to hunting for a card reader in the clutter of my desk drawers … I also bear in mind that I could use an SD card as a form of extra storage space if necessary …

I wanted the extra screen space even for Scrivener and NWP … I felt the more abbreviated vertical space of the 11" would feel cramped to me. I also think, if you are going to do a certain amount of work in Pixelmator (I have just bought it) or other photo editor, the extra screen space would be more than welcome, though Keith seems happy with Photoshop on his 11" … I also OmniGraffle on this and it’s great. And if you were going to go towards DTP, I think the 13" would be better.

But fundamentally it comes down to preference for weight and size, if having something that is more or less handbaggable is important, then the 11" would fit that better, versus screen real-estate and battery life, in which case the 13" has it.

Go and play with them in an Apple dealers and see which fits you best.


Like Ioa, I think my MacBook Air is the best machine I’ve ever bought. I have the 11" model (I haven’t seen the 13" models as I ordered online), and I have no problem with screen size at all. It seems at little small at first (by which I just mean the very first time you use it), but when you adjust to it you realise that you still have a lot on screen (because of the pixel density, as Ioa says). I use a 24" monitor plugged into my main 13" MacBook all day for development, and then in the evenings I switch to my 11" MBA for writing, web browsing and other odds and ends (similar use to what you are intending) in the evenings, and I don’t find the switch any different than switching between the 24" monitor and the 13" monitor, as I used to do.

As the others mentioned, I have used CS4 on here (I haven’t got CS5 yet). I was curious as to how it would perform, and was very, very pleasantly surprised. Photoshop launched almost instantly and was really snappy - my MBA out-performed my MacBook 13" by far when it came to Photoshop (Illustrator was fast, too, but I only used that very briefly to create a pattern I was pulling into Photoshop). I was putting together an image with many layers and some large scanned in images, using the lasso and pen tools, gradient fills, drop shadow effects, layer masks and some layer effects, and it flew. That said, I don’t do vast amounts of Photoshop work. I didn’t have too many issues with the small screen, but if you were going to do a lot of image work then a larger screen may be better. On the other hand, if you are going to do a lot of image work, an MBA wouldn’t be the best machine anyway. But for occasional Photoshop or image use, it’s fine.

I should mention I have the same model you mention - the 1.6GhZ with the 4GB RAM.

So, I think Mark’s advice is best - go and check them both out in a store to help you make up your mind. From your description, the 11" should work just as well as the 13" (and did I mention how much I love mine? It seriously isn’t much bigger or heavier than an iPad…), so I don’t think you need to worry too much about whether they can handle what you want them for - the only decision to make is which one you like best when you’ve tried them. :slight_smile:

All the best,

Thank you so much to the three of you. I was just saying to my other half that I would not be able to make up my mind before a final advise/comment from the L&L forum people (and, yes, Mark, you are one of them).

After two weeks of inner conversation (and lots of read reviews) on which model to choose, yesterday (before posting here) I went to a mac store in Lisbon. I went in convinced that after playing with both models I would finally decide… on the 13’. (My other half, who knows me better than I know myself, was skeptical.) Well, I basically gravitated around the 11’. I was even told “it seems you are trying to convince yourself to buy the 13’, when you really want the 11’”.

I do think that the MBA13 has two great points: bigger screen and better battery. But when I look at the MBA11 I know that is the machine that I will carry everywhere: for a 20m caffee, 3h class presentation, 5d trip to Paris or 3 months sabbatical somewhere.

So, I guess you have put my mind at ease. I trust your experience and I think I can replicate it myself. I’m going for the MBA11. :slight_smile:


– MJ

As a man of the world, I was going to give you the benefit of my wealth of experience in matters of indecision. There is a scientifically proven method for making choices.

With your gaze oscillating, back and forth, twixt the 11in and the 13in, chant:
Eeney meeney, miney moe,
Sit the baby on the poe.(potty)
When it’s finished, wipe its bum,
Eeney meeney miney moe!

Where e’re your gaze rests, on completion of the chant, be it the 11 or 13, that is your choice. Scientifically proven to be at least 50% accurate.[size=85](In this case[/size])
Happy MBA :smiley:

Hi Vic, :smiley:

I also know that lengalenga, but in Portuguese (shorter) version:

Anani, ananão
Ficas tu
E eu não.

And, damn, I totally forgot to use it! Oh, well…

Best to you and Fluff,

– MJ & Graymalkin

Fluff is wondering if you can…cast spells! :open_mouth:

I can’t, but Graymalkin can. (In this home we are all under her spells.)

– MJ

Graymalkin, Happy New Year,
That’s a lovely coat you’re wearing. Did you get it from a Portuguese branch of Harvey Nichols? 8)
Take care.

Mon cher Monsieur Fluff,

Merci bién. Vous êtes très simpa. My coat is French, and it’s called Chartreux. My humans love it and think it’s absolutely wonderful to touch. I sometimes let them. (Other times I find them un peu ennuyeux.)

It is a pleasure to meet you and this wonderful forum that pleases one of my humans so much.

À bientôt,

– G.

Congratulations … Yes, in the end the only real way to decide in the case of something like the MBAs is to go and try … see how they feel, how you react to the size. From what you say in your recent post, I’m sure you have made the right choice for yourself. Enjoy your MBA11 … I’m sure you’ll love it, just as all of us who have one do, whether 11" or 13".

(Who if he was wealthy would have both! :smiley: )

Edit: Psst … Greymalkin, I don’t think you’ll like sleeping on the MBA so much … it won’t get warm enough! :slight_smile: I wish I had a feline companion to introduce to you!

Mademoiselle Graymalkin,
I am a lady cat, like you! :laughing:
Unfortunately, unlike you, I don’t have a MBA. I have to share a Wintel with an oaf!

Take care

Mere d’Lucifer :open_mouth:
‘Lady’, mon cul!
Le D :imp:

OT: Fluff and Miss G, may I commend to you a well-reviewed new book by an author whose name you will recognise (and which was conceivably written in Scrivener)?


:open_mouth: Good lord! Saints preserve us! I do hope Miss Jenny, hasn’t given away all our secrets. We girls should stick together.
I could download it to His Lordship’s Kindle and let him pay for it. He won’t know. He hasn’t figured out how to get past the screen saver yet. Sad…sad. :frowning:

The 13" will have the same Screen Resolution as most of the MBP models (1400x900). The 11" has a slightly smaller resolution (1360 x768 I think).

If the slight loss of screen real estate does not bother you then the 11inch may feel a lot more “portable” due to its smaller footprint. The speed difference for everyday use is not much compared to the 13" so I would say the biggest difference would be the resolution difference.

So ask yourself. What is more important? Overall size or Screen real estate.

If you have a chance, go to the apple store and download scrivener on an 11 and a 13.

I have the maxed out 13 (thank you Santa), and I love it. The 13 is bigger to lug around than the 11. But I figured that the 11 is more like having my ipad and the wireless keyboard. So for me, the choice for portability is between my iPad and the 13. If I want to do some research, rewriting, and crunching, I take the MBA. If I want to bang out some drafting, I take the iPad. I think if I had the 11, I’d be leaving the ipad behind more.

The 13 is truly a desktop away from the desktop for me and fortunately, this little puppy does just fine by me, I can have devonthink, mail, and scrivener running no problem with room to spare.

I think your decision rests more in what you expect this mac to do. Like Ioa said, if the ultraportable is key, get the 11. If creature comforts and having a portable desk are key, get the 13.

Both of them run scrivener nicely (I know, because I played with it on both int he store) and because others who use it more than I have said so about the 11 here.

Ok, firstly, I haven’t read all the responses to your question, so ignore this if it doesn’t help. But I have the 11" MBA and my usage is very similar to yours, although I haven’t tried games. But I use the other programmes you do, and it’s the perfect machine in every way. To give context, I have a 24" iMac and a MBP 13" and had a previous gen 13" MBA, and this 11" is my favourite to use by far. The SSD drives in the Airs make them way faster to use than the iMac or MBP with the standard HDD. All the apps run really fast on the 11"- just as fast as on the previous top-end MBA which had a faster processor. The full-sized keyboard is great and the screen is lovely. The only thing I would like from the 13" is the SD slot, and that’s not enough to make me regret my choice- I love it! I don’t see you being disappointed in it, I have to say, but I can’t comment on longevity. I have no idea how much more power we’ll all need in the future, but I can’t see the apps you mention getting that demanding. The 4GB of RAM is probably a bigger deal. Hope this helps!

I wouldn’t even worry so much about the 4GB of RAM. That’s plenty for a decade of writing. On my MBP, which also has 4GB, I only ever run into that limitation when I try to run massive programs with a bunch of other stuff open. Try to open Parallels with only 1.5GB left and you’ll suffer the consequences. What happens when your computer runs out of RAM? It starts to use your hard disk to dynamically expand RAM potential. This is slow, but it works. On a MBA, your hard disk is nearly as fast as your dedicated RAM thanks to the SSD. So even if you do overrun, which I submit would be unlikely for a writing machine, the overrun will be much less noticeable.