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New MacBook Air vs. Psion Review

Could The New Apple Sub-Compact Notebook Be The Psion That Never Was?

Macbook AirThe MacBook Air - The Psion that never was? Whenever I read about or see a fantastic new ultra mobile pc I grab my trusty Psion 5 and reminisce about what could have been if Psion had stuck with the sub-notebook market instead of selling out to make mobile phone operating systems.

As I sit here typing on the excellent keyboard of my 5, reading the text on the full width screen, which I admit could do with a little more contrast (ok with backlight on though), this little Pocket PC ticks almost all the boxes that you need in an ultra mobile device, and it looks like Apple have completed the circle with their new sub-compact notebook - with one or two exceptions.

After all, what do we need from a PC that we can take and use anywhere - on the bus, train, plane, in meetings and at home? It will vary from user to user, but for myself I want sync ability with my desktop PC, a good screen, great keyboard, powerful applications, long battery life (woops Apple) and mobile Internet / email access.

The range of Psion PDA's come Palmtops only really slip up on that last request. My Psion 5 was made in 1997, long before we had things like wi-fi and Bluetooth for connecting to the internet. Sure I could buy a Travel Modem and try to connect via a phone socket, or get a Netbook and join a wireless Network, but we're really using old technology that is too far behind to compete in the Wireless usability market - it's not what Psion's are good at.

Where the 3c, 5, 5mx, 7 and Netbook excel, and where they still can compete today is on terms of their superb Data, Agenda, Word Processing, Spreadsheet and Diary applications, never bettered on modern devices. Fully compatible with Windows Outlook, Word and Excl via PsiWin, I can write a document on my 5, plug it into my PC and have it running on my desktop in minutes. You never have to worry about battery life on the 3's or 5's either, they run off AA batteries with a button cell memory back-up, just pop a new set in without lugging around chargers, leads and spare laptop batteries.

The problem is that the remaining Psion's aren't going to last forever. Despite being 10 yeas old my Five is still going strong, but I know that someday it will fail, maybe the screen will break, I'll drop it, or Windows will become incompatible, so we need to be looking at what new device could possibly replace it.

That brings us to the new MacBook Air, the thinnest compact laptop in the world. Take a look at the video:

It looks amazing. Great screen, full-size laptop keyboard, wireless, 80 GB hard drive, superb Mac Software. It's lightweight and small enough to fit in an envelope.

The MacBook Air is no desktop replacement. It doesn't have a CD or DVD drive. It has limited connection ports; the processor isn't aimed at those who want to do video editing or gaming. You could argue that this is the first notebook that makes the most of Wireless technology, heck it can even "borrow" another PC's cd drive to install Software.

This device is for those users who need an ultra mobile pc that offers almost everything a larger laptop can do, but in a tiny form factor. It is also incredibly cool. Think Ipod Nano Video cool. You can even manipulate images and web pages with the pinch features just like an Ipod Touch.

So does the Apple MacBook Air tick all those original boxes that we applied to our Psion's? Good screen, check. Great keyboard, absolutely. Powerful applications - of course - you could have MS Office running on it. Mobile Internet / email access? Yes, well sort of. Obviously it can connect to wi-fi networks, but there is no expansion slot for a mobile phone type modem to get on the web where you're away from a hotspot or don't wan to pay for it. Battery life? Ah, another disappointment. Apple claim 4 to 5 hours depending on what you're doing, but here's the rub: You can't swap the battery, it's inaccessible. If you run low on charge you have to find a plug. Oh dear.

So our old Psion's still have the edge when it comes to battery usage. Alright, I know that the Air can do so much more, but if Apple had improved the battery and had built in a 3g cell phone modem it would have been a killer.

I know none of this will stop fans buying the Airbook, but I'm going to be sticking with my Psion 5, and to be honest the $1800 price tag is a bit more than the £35 I spent on the Five....

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Comments / Questions:


I think you're absolutely right. The macbook air doesn't even deserve being classified as a laptop, I think it's more of a PDA than of a real computer.

- Limited expansion ports (One USB, one Audio in, One MicroDVI)

- No harddrive

- Touch control

I use a macbook, and I'm happy with it, but I'd never buy a laptop like that, I consider 1700$ for a big "Mac-PDA" as waay too much.
Even if it has got Safari.

Even if it has got a glossy display

Even if it has got build-in camera

Even if it has got a backlit keyboard.

Now it kinda sounds like a laptop again...

Can't decide what it really is, I'd call it a hybride. Alex.

Good points, thanks.

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