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Travel Tech: Into Thin Air: Apple’s New Notebooks Are Ideal For Adventure Travelers

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By Keene Haywood

There is only one person on the planet who can wrap up aluminum and glass and sell it to the masses in the form of a computer called the Air. That person is Apple's Steve Jobs, and he recently unveiled the new MacBook Air laptops.

Incredibly thin and light as the name suggests, these portables offer some great options for backcountry and adventure travelers who need the power of a full computer with mature operating system wrapped into a solid aluminum enclosure weighing less than your four-season sleeping bag. Two new models were released in 11-inch (2.3 pounds) and 13-inch (2.9 pounds) screen sizes. The 13-inch Air is more or less the same form factor as the original Air introduced in 2008, only slightly thinner and lighter. But this is where the similarities end. There are a number of improved features for the Air line, including the introduction of the second smaller 11-inch model. This smaller model may be the most compelling for those who travel with a backpack instead of briefcase.

New in both models is the addition of a second USB port, an audio jack that can use the microphone on integrated iPhone headsets, and higher resolution screens along with full size keyboards—even on the 11-inch model. The 11-inch model offers less storage capacity and slower processor options than the 13-inch and also does not include the handy SD card slot for reading images from cameras. It also has about two hours less battery capacity, rated at about five hours versus seven hours for the 13-inch model. But, in the world of backcountry travel where ounces matter, the 11-inch model may be a good choice for those who need to do basic computing work such as writing, some lightweight imaging work and web browsing (if you have an Internet connection). The slim, light form factor along the long battery life makes it ideal as group computer on a trip or expedition. In addition, the slim and sturdy aluminum frame of the Airs make them easy to slide into a backpack and the solid state flash drive make these computers boot up extremely fast and maintain their standby modes for a month. Pretty nice for using the field. A final plus is that the use of flash memory for file storage, aside from small fan, the Airs have no moving parts further adding to their durability while on the go despite their thin design.

And if your travels don’t necessarily include a trail and an overnight in a tent, the Airs still are great computers for frequent travelers. Both models will serve you well for those on the go without weighing you down. These laptops are the real deal and not scaled back netbooks. The 13-inch can do a surprising amount of computer processing, including some video, audio, and photo editing. The speed is deceptive because both Air models use the older Intel Core 2 Duo processors including the same one that was in the original Air (supposedly the newer processors run too hot for such a compact form factor). The speed comes from using flash memory instead of a spinning hard drive or standard solid state drive. The difference is both speed and power consumption is dramatic. In addition, a better graphics chip and the ability to bump up to 4 GB of RAM all make the built to order Airs attractive as well as speedy. You have to add the extra memory memory when you order your Air as it is soldered to the motherboard at the factory.

So give the new MacBook Air some serious consideration if you travel often and need a well built, fairly powerful system to get your work done. I think you will find them a pleasure to use. They make nearly perfect second complementary computers to desktop systems and the 13-inch can serve as a primary system for many users, especially if most of your days are spent far from your desk.