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Apple MacBook Air 13″ vs. Pro 17″ (2011 models)

I love my 17-inch MacBook Pro. It’s practically new. I bought it about six months ago to replace my slightly older MacBook Pro, which I bought about a year ago to replace my slightly older MacBook Pro. My current model is the latest and greatest. It has a 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, an Apple OEM 512GB SSD and I replaced the optical drive with a third-party 7200 rpm, 1TB Hard Drive. It weights just under 7 lbs. It is the very top of the line Apple Laptop, there’s nothing else to buy. Well … almost nothing.

This past weekend I was window-shopping at Tekserve, one of my favorite stores in NYC, and I started to play with the new MacBook Air. It has some impressive features: a 1.8 GHz Intel Core i7, 4 GB of RAM and an Apple OEM 256 GB Flash Storage. It has a 13.3-inch screen and weighs less than 3 lbs.

The big question: “Could I ever replace my top of the line $5,000 MacBook Pro with a top of the line $2,000 MacBook Air?”

I took the plunge and walked out of the store with a new all-singing, all-dancing MacBook Air 13-inch and padded slipcase, $29 USB to Ethernet adaptor and an Apple Care service contract. (You must buy the Apple Care contract because when this computer malfunctions, the cost of repair will far exceed the cost of the Apple Care contract. Just make sure you don’t visibly damage the case or crack the screen — that’s not covered and voids the warranty.)

I am happy to report that after a week of hard-core road warrior computing, I’m never going to open my MacBook Pro again.

What changed?

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First, life in the cloud reduces the amount of local hard drive space I actually need. It does so in two ways. 1) I use several cloud-based programs such as salesforce.com, Microsoft Exchange, etc. 2) I use several cloud storage services as well as my own server farm (which today people would call a cloud).

Second, I really don’t use as many programs as I used to. I’ve got Microsoft Office running all of the time, Adobe CS5.5, QuickBooks, Omnifocus, TextExpander, Wallet, Final Cut Studio and Logic Pro. A few utilities such as Skype, Transmit and Telestream’s Episode and that’s about it. All in, I have about 190 GB of flash drive space available for file storage. It’s more than enough.

Battery life on my MacBook Pro is measured in minutes … as in 90. No matter how I dim the screen, manage the power consumption, put the drives to sleep, shut off features, I’ve never been able to get more than 90 minutes of battery power.

Conversely, I’m typing this article on my MacBook Air. I have 34% battery life left and the computer has been in use for over six hours. Did I mention that I love my MacBook Air?

I was afraid that the 13.3-inch screen would actually be too small and that I would yearn for the much bigger 17-inch screen on my MacBook Pro. Nope. The small size is a plus. Lion OS X 10.7’s window management tools, more than make up for what the MacBook Air lacks in screen real estate. It took me an hour or so to master the new Lion touchpad gestures, but now it’s like I’ve been doing it my whole life, and I’m never going back.

The graphics card in the MacBook Air is not as good as the one in the MacBook Pro, so serious video editing is not as easy on the eyes. But the Air weighs 3 lbs and it’s not built to be a desktop video-editing computer. On the road, for a fast edit, it rocks!

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I have not needed the $29 USB to Ethernet dongle I bought. WiFi has worked just fine. I have a Verizon 4G Hotspot, so being on the road is like being in an 802.11n WiFi environment with a fast broadband connection.

Is there a downside? Of course there is. Because the MacBook Air is a solid-state computer, there is nothing else to buy and no way to upgrade or expand the it. The MacBook Air will always be what it is. For me that puts the cost of ownership at about half the price of the MacBook Pro. And, when the new MacBook Air comes out, I’ll just pass this one down to someone in my organization who doesn’t abuse computers the way I do.

All in, if you have been waiting for the right time to make the transition from a luggable road warrior laptop to the sexiest, lightest, thinnest, killinest, most awesome laptop ever built — now is the time.

About the Author: Shelly Palmer is the host of “Digital Life with Shelly Palmer,” a weekly half-hour television show about living and working in a digital world which can be seen on WNBC-TV’s NY Nonstop Tuesdays at 10p Eastern and online, and the host of “MediaBytes,” a daily news show that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment. He is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group, LLC an industry-leading advisory and business development firm and the President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY (the organization that bestows the coveted Emmy® Awards). Mr. Palmer is the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV (2008, York House Press) and the upcoming, Get Digital: Reinventing Yourself and Your Career for the 21st Century Economy (2009, Lake House Press). You can join the MediaBytes mailing list here. Shelly can be reached at shelly@palmer.net For information visit www.shellypalmer.com

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