MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro

I love my 17″ 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, 8 GB of RAM, an Apple OEM 512 GB 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″ 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 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?

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, 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!

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.



Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is Managing Director, Digital Media Group at Landmark Ventures/ShellyPalmer a technology focused Investment Banking & Advisory practice specializing in M&A, Financings, Strategic Partnerships and Innovation Access. He is Fox 5 New York's On-air Tech Expert and well known for his work on Fox Television's Shelly Palmer Digital Living as well as his daily radio report on United Stations Radio Networks. For more information, visit


  1. Stefan says:

    I love computers and new stuff as much as any, but I gotta say – you’ve really taken it to a disgusting level. I’m a bit embarrassed to have read this article.

    “Is there a downside? Of course there is. Because the MacBook Air is a solid-state computer, there is nothing else to buy ”

    • Shelly says:

      Stefan – take this sentence at absolute face value.  It means – even if you want to improve the MacBook Air there are no additional options.  None from Apple and none from third-parties.  The features are fixed.  It is, what it is. Not expandable.

      Perhaps I chose poor words to express myself, but the MacBook Air’s lack of expandability is not disgusting, it’s just a fact.

      • davyboy says:

        Thanks – you’ve helped me to decide.  I have an opportunity to trade my macbook pro – 15″ with a 1.7 air with a 256 SSD.  It sounds  like the better deal is on my side.  As far as USB ports, if you’re using it as a “docked” home computer as well, you only need to plug in a hub and you have all the USB you’ll ever need.

  2. Jon Dale says:

    I completely agree. I tried to go from my air to the new 17 inch pro and ended up taking it back after just a week. I love my air.

  3. jt says:

    interesting. I’ve always been put off the Air for lack of expandability, too few USBs and the lack of optical (yes I do still use optical!)
    It does sound that the battery life is impressive, but even as a Mac fanboy that just makes me think they should be offering battery life at least nearly as good (if not better really) in the full Macbook range. 90 minutes vs what looks like 8-9 hours is taking the p*ss out of their loyal customers!

    • Shelly says:

      I think expand-ability is less of an issue.  The Air does what it does and it will only last 18-20 months.  So it’s like $100/month to cost of ownership.  Considering what everything else costs, and how much I use my computer, I’m OK with it. 

  4. Wolfwoman says:

    you, obviously, appear to have lots of cash to buy new mac book pro’s every year and r now complaining that there is too little to buy.  hmmmmm….
    i’ve been SO disappointed in mac this year. however, that’s what i stick to. after 3 weeks of my 2010 laptop being in the mac repair loop, i finally bought an ipad instead of the mac air. with the laptop doing the heavy lifting (i edit a lot of videos) … the ipad is now the road warrior. easy peezy. but mac, you’ve got to get your shazizzle together … these computers MUST last longer.

  5. Anonymous says:

    No wonder you were lured by the Air when your Pro’s battery life is in the dirt. (How did you manage to get it down to only 90 minutes? My MB Pro’s battery life is at least four hours, and it’s had plenty of daily use for almost a year.) Would you have been as enamored with the Air if your Pro’s battery had fared better?

  6. guest says:

    i have the same story except that it was a 15″ MBP.   Love the MBA and can’t imagine carrying around anything else.   Sold the MBP on ebay, still with more than two years of Apple Care left and almost covered the cost of the MBA.   I  trade up apple electronics as soon as the new version comes out and sell the prior one – the cost of upgrade is very low that way. 

  7. Bob says:

    Question for the man who has everything, Shelly, and anyone else.  I am the opposite of a power user, primarily using my computers for emailing and web surfing, with a sprinkling of everything else.  At home I use an iMac.  Have a laptop for travel usage, but usually leave it home as too bulky.  Thought it would be terrific to get a small device to check emails, etc., and keep up with info such as theater news in London without having to visit an internet cafe.   Excited when the Air came out; thought it would be just the thing.  But now I wonder if I’d be “better off” with an iPad2.  You don’t know me, so it would be tough to recommend either, but I’m asking anyway.  (BTW, though I’ve been using Macs for 20 years, I still consider myself a novice.  And I don’t have a smartphone — or I probably would not be asking this question at all.)  Thanks for listening.

    • Shelly says:

      The MacBook Air is a very powerful laptop in a very compact size.  An iPad2 is a fantastic device for people who consume media, do very, very light email and don’t care about processing power and don’t do much computing (Excel, PowerPoint, QuickBooks, etc.)  I have no use for the tablet format except when reading or watching video.  I use my MacBook Air for absolutely everything. Hope this helps.

      • Bob says:

        Thanks, Shelly, for your rapid response, which I think will help me.  Seems as if the iPad would do fine at the moment.  But, please, a followup question.  If I decide to get the Wi-Fi & G-3 model, I must further decide between the AT&T model and the Verizon model.  Since my usage would include a couple of weeks in London, should I get the AT&T version for better compatability, or doesn’t that matter?  (Apologies for prolonging this.)

    • Loco deSane says:

      if all you are doing is email and viewing web content….go for the iPad. Less cost and is excellent for consuming media like that.

  8. John Romeo says:

     Thanks, Shelly. I’ve been looking for an article like this.

  9. John Romeo says:

     Thanks, Shelly. I’ve been looking for an article like this.

  10. Becky says:

    This is just what I needed to know….THX!….and when u are ready to upgrade again, feel free to send your ‘old’ one this way! lol

  11. Alex says:

    I read in one of the comments below Shelly that you say the air will only last 18-20 months. Why do you believe that? I’m about to graduate high school next semester and I’m decing whether to get the air or the pro. I don’t do heavy gaming or heavy video editing, and a top-of-the-line air seems like it would fit my needs (and wants!). But I’m concerned about durability, I would need whatever I buy to last at least the typical 4 years of undergrad time.

    • Shelly Palmer says:

      It’s not about durability.  MacBooks (all of them) are very, very well built.  It’s about the processor, RAM, and storage of the MacBook Air.  It’s an i7, with 4GB RAM and 250 GB flash storage – it cannot be upgraded.  In 24 months, computers will be twice to four times as fast and have two to four times the memory/storage for the same price.  Moore’s Law or Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns – choose your math, the future is the future.

      • Loco deSane says:

        well, yes… but to use your words”The Macbook Air will always be what it is”….who says that just because there is newer or faster out there that you need it? If what you need to do is the same over 4 years, the MBA will not do it any less better (sorry about that) than it did from day 1.

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