MacBook Air: the ultimate consumer laptop

We take a look at one of the key products behind the world’s biggest tech firm.

APPLE this week announced its first quarterly drop in profits in a decade, despite shifting 37.4m iPhones and 19.5m iPads in the last three months.

Few, though, argue about the quality of its products. The MacBook Air is the laptop that redefined the concept of portable. More comparable in weight to an iPad than most traditional laptops, the MacBook Air is also blisteringly quick and comes loaded with ingenious features thanks to its Mountain Lion software. Here is an overview of what the world’s coolest laptop is capable of, and a run-down of some of the best apps to download to make sure you take full advantage of the hardware. Now all you need is a trendy coffee bar to be seen using it in.

■ iCLOUD
Before you even log in, a new MacBook Air can transfer the details of current Mac users using the information thay have stored on their Apple account. You can also link your iCloud with your iPad and iPhone to instantly share pictures, messages and contacts between your devices.

■ AIRPLAY
One of the coolest features of OS X Mountain Lion is the AirPlay feature. This allows you to mirror the screen on your Mac (or iPad or iPhone) on any TV or monitor hooked up to Apple TV. This means you can do away with your DVD player, Freeview box etc, stream content from iTunes, Netflix et al and beam the results directly onto your 50 inch flat-screen TV. You can also use AirPlay to display content from multi-player games from other devices, including iPhones and iPads.

■ iMOVIE
The latest version of iMovie allows you to upload and edit video incredibly easily with virtually no time wasted rendering. The software even has templates to create very slick movie “trailers” showing off what you and your friends have been up to. The only problem will be finding anyone who wants to sit through a trailer of your holiday.

■ iPHOTO
One of the biggest draws for consumers is the seamless integration between the iPhone and Mac. Setting up Photostream means your pictures taken on the go will automatically appear in your iPhoto library. From there you can use powerful built-in editing software to transform them into professional-looking snaps. iPhoto is also a great way to organise all of your pictures: drop them into a folder, name it and even tell your Mac to chart where they were taken on a map of the world. this allows you to click, for example, on Brixton to bring up all of the pictures you have taken there.

■ Mac App Store
The later versions of Apple’s operating systems have included a link to the Apple App Store, further converging your devices. It is also a quick, easy, cheap and, most importantly, safe way of downloading those small programs that make your life a whole lot easier. See the panel below for some top picks.

■ Build/specs
The MacBook Air may no longer be the world’s thinnest laptop (several others are now vying for that title). It is, though, definitely the world’s slickest laptop. You could easily put it in an envelope and post it through someone’s letterbox. The chassis is moulded from a single block of brushed aluminium. It comes in either 11 inch or 13 inch versions, which weigh just 2.38 pounds or 2.96 pounds, respectively.

It has two USB 3 ports, which offer speeds of up to 10 times that of USB 2, and a Thunderbolt port. An SD card slot is available on the 13 inch model only.

It comes with a dual Intel i5 processor and, while it is out-gunned in pure hardware terms by some Windows laptops, it is incredibly pacey in practice. A reboot, for example, will only take you about five seconds.

Some very cool features include an ambient light sensor, which automatically adjusts the brightness of the display and keyboard depending on your environment; the multi-touch keyboard, which allows you to make smart gestures to switch between screens and applications and the MagSafe power socket, which clips on to the chassis using a magnet, meaning it will come free if you accidentally trip over it.

A SELECTION OF TOP MAC APPS TO SINK YOUR TEETH INTO

WORK
• Ulysses III (£13.99)­ – A writing app that transforms the bog-standard text editor into an all-in-one document manager. It allows you to sync your documents between Mac, iPhone, and iPad, using its iOS companion Daedalus Touch.

• iBank (£39.99) – The daddy of personal finance apps. This allows you to keep check of your cash across your current, credit card, savings, mortgage and more, showing your real-time payments. It is also a handy investment tool, keeping tabs on your stocks, bonds and other investments.

• Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 (£54.99) – It may not sound cheap, but for access to Adobe’s renowned photo-editing suite, this is a snip. It allows you to easily improve your snap, including fixing colour, contrast, and lighting.

PLAY
• Borderlands 2 (£39.99)­ – Forget your Angry Birds, this is a fully fledged title, and one of the most playable games of the last few years.

• Bastion (£10.49) – You can get this game cheaper on the iPhone and iPad, but it’s not quite the same as experiencing its cartoony graphics and engaging story on a full 13 inch screen. The trickier of the side-missions on this original action RPG are also helped by the use of a keyboard instead of touchscreen. If you’re new to Bastion, buy it. Now.

• Angry Birds: Star Wars (£2.99) – If you really must have a new Angry Birds title, this Star Wars cash-in is the latest. Fire birds, use the force and utilise the powers that are handily topped up through in-game purchases.

HELP
• Cobook (£10.49)­ – An ingenious app that supercharges your contacts book, dragging in information from sources including Facebook and Twitter. It allows you to quickly organise your contacts using tags and automatically updates if one of your contacts changes their number or contact information.

• Fantastical (£13.99) – Fantastical is the smart calendar. Type in real English (eg: “remember to buy milk by Tuesday”) and it will schedule a reminder with a due date. It syncs with your existing calendars to make sure you don’t miss anything.

• Things (£34.99) – OK, this is expensive for what is essentially a to-do manager with a few bells and whistles, but it is beautifully made.