TL;DR: this is the nicest computer I've used. It can handle Emacs,
Eclipse, XCode & Virtual Box all at the same time, has enough power to
transform 400+Megapixels images into displayables, and it can play
Diablo 3 @ 30+fps. It is light enough to carry all day in a backpack.
My previous computer was a late 2008 MacBook Air, 13", Core 2 Duo 1.86
GHz, 2GB RAM, 128GB SSD and an nVidia m9400 GPU. I bought it following
Will Shipley endorsment, and it was the nicest machine I had the
chance of using1. Actually, most of Will Shipley's review
still holds. The exceptions are the port trap door, which is gone, and
the fan exhaust/intake, which is now more toward the back than the
bottom, so you can use the laptop on soft surfaces2.
I had been needing a new machine since the summer 2011, as mine had
become too slow for my use. It was also prone to excessive heating (it
would disable one of the core and throttle the other one way down), an
issue in the tropics3 where it gets hot even with the aircon on.
After the meh MacBook Air updates when Apple switched to the Intel integrated
GPU, this is the first generation which would have similar / slightly
faster 3D frame rates than the 2008 models. I couldn't wait until the
next CPU revision to get faster frame-rates as my 2008 model was
painfully slow, and when I purchased it in September 2012, Haswell was
most of a year away.
As my laptop is my only 'PC' and I became addicted to coding on the
go, I needed something light yet powerful. My previous machine being a
MacBook Air 13", that was the upper bound on weight and size. So the
MacBook Pro, even 13" Retina, were out. For power, I mostly maxed out
on spec (Core i7 2.0 / 8GB / 256 GB ), for portability I took the 11"
model. As fast as a same gen 13" MacBook Air, but smaller and lighter
(and, yes, less pixels and battery life than the 13").
Using it for work
These days I am mostly a Django web developer for
Catalpa International and I do a little bit of
Java & Objective-C on the side.
Some tasks involve a little bit of number crunching when
importing/exporting data as json/csv/pdf, some module compilations for
each virtual environment, a tiny postgres db instance, and sometimes a
Windows 7 VM running in VirtualBox.
With the previous laptop, the fans were running audibly all the time,
and became noisy as soon as the CPU was pegged for a minute. Sometime
the fans wouldn't come down even after a while of low CPU usage. When
doing number crunching, compilation or running VirtualBox, the system
would become sluggish.
With this 2012 vintage, the fans come on when the compilations runs
for more than a few minutes, and they are barelly audible. Emacs and
Eclipse feel snappy4, and even module compilation and the odd
Homebrew packages compilations feel fast. And the system stays
responsive at all times.
256GB of SSD is fast and big enough for the iOS, Java and Python
dcosets, alongside multiple iOS simulator versions. And there is still
enough space for my personal stuff5.
Display and real estate
The internal screen is very nice. The pixel density feels high, and
the old 1280x800 13" display became hard to look at6. I have
no problem of ghosting or any color issue (eyeballing it).
The native resolution of 1366x768 feels good enough most of the
times. On the move, it is big enough for coding with Eclipse and
Emacs, photo fiddling in Pixelmator, and photo viewing in
iPhoto. The only app I have some trouble with when not connected to
the external display is Espresso, which is multi-window based, where
it helps a lot to have the CSS and the live preview of the page that
use it open and visible at the same time.
As, thanks to my former CERN colleagues I also have an iPad, I can
have an external screen with the neat Air Display. It is mostly
fast enough to leave a Colloquy window on it7.
To arrange windows, I use Divvy which allows to re-size and
re-position a window by a simple shortcut or dragging over a grid
8. I also use Zooom/2 for moving and resizing windows
outside the grid.
At the desk
Using it on tables and desks by itself is fine. The angle of the base
make it nice to use, and you are not at risk of cutting your wrist on
the edge. Of course the screen is small, so you'll have to crank your
neck a bit if you're tall.
At the "office", I like to use an external keyboard and mouse (so I
can improve the angle at which I see the screen). With the old 13" the
pixel density was low enough that I could prop an Apple Bluetooth
keyboard above the trackpad and still easily read the Terminal with
the Homebrew theme (
monaco 10pt green-on-black). Not so on the
11". The pixel density is high enough that this font is too small at
arm length. So, until I had an external screen, I had to switch to the
default terminal theme (12pt, black on cream).
With an external screen (Dell 24" @ 1920x1200), it is a very nice
workstation, with plenty of real estate. Enough space and power to run
Eclipse, Emacs, Firefox with way too many tabs, XCode with the
Simulator open and a few python process in the Terminal without
breaking a sweat. Using Espresso becomes much less challenging, almost
Again, Divvy is a great help to re-size and reposition all the
windows when switching from the internal-only to the internal +
It is a very small and light laptop. I regularly use it on the bus
when I have to go somewhere that is more than 20 minute away. I
usually find a seat and slide it out of my backpack; open it all the
way (otherwise the vibrations and bumps do it for me); fiddle with the
iPhone to enable Wifi tethering and I'm online9. I can
even chat with my colleagues 8 time zones away.
In the planes, it comfortably fits on the food tray, better than the
13" did. As it fits in a smaller bag, it is easy and practical to put
it "under the seat in front of you", which make it easier to pick it
up once "the seat-belt sign is off".
It is delightful to write code and do some commits on the go and even
more so to push some commits from the bus.
When abroad for the week-end, I usually bring the laptop with
me while walking around, and barely notice the weight in my backpack.
I did not test the battery scientifically, but it seems to last around
~4 hours of coding in python/espresso/firefox + surfing the web with
Wifi on and Bluetooth on (but not used) and almost 2/3
brightness. Slightly longer with lower brightness and more
conservative radio use.
Using it for fun
While my previous MacBook Air could not play 720p MKV movies for more
than a minute before starting to drop frames, the new one handle 1080p
MKV with no trouble on the external 24", and I don't notice the fans.
I don't play much video games, as my hobbies since I got the new
laptop involves mostly
taking pictures or Ikea furnitures (sometimes at the same
time), but the new one can mostly handle Diablo III. I can get up to
60fps in windowed mode @ 1024x768 (texture high, everything else
low/off). The framerate oscillate between 30 and 60 fps depending on
the environment, but stays nicely playable when killing demons and
running around. The fans will come on though.
This 30+ frame-rate is on the external screen with the internal
display activated. The game is alone on the virtual desktop, and Mail,
Colloquy, Eclipse, Emacs, Firefox and python and sometimes XCode are
idling in other desktops. Closing these apps doesn't yeld any
noticeable framerate improvement so I don't bother.
There briefly was a time when you could set the internal display to
1024x768 and D3 would recognize that as a fullscreen resolution, and
you could play in full screen mode with the above settings +
anti-aliasing at upper 30 fps, but the game doesn't offer/recognize
that resolution anymore.
Recommendation: buy. This model is plenty fast and very light and
compact. It is a joy to use, painless to carry around and a delight to
use on the go.
What about the next generation model? As always with electronics, a
new faster/lighter/longer-lasting model is around the corner. Also,
11" is the last size that does not have a retina
For me this model was a sufficiently impressive improvement over my
previous laptop that I will not regret not having waited for the next
generation: faster CPU, faster GPU , faster storage11, better
screen, much improved thermal management, better battery, smaller and
lighter. All of which result into a laptop that is a joy to use.