Apple’s Lion Roars, The Mac Mini and Macbook Air get Updates!

Apple today unleashed Lion, their latest update to their operating system, for a whopping $30! Along with Lion, Apple unleashed their latest iterations of the Mac Mini and Macbook Air. So, is all the hubbub worth it? Or is it more marketing hype from the Apple Marketing Machine?

Honestly, I can’t say much about Lion yet. There are lots of new features, but sometimes Apple’s inexpensive iterations of their OS boils down to the equivalent of Microsoft charging for a service pack. Snow Leopard was like that, and I always get a kick out of how Apple can get away with stuff like that. If Microsoft charged $30 for Service Pack 1 for Windows 7, there would be mobs with pitchforks and torches outside the Redmond office. So, the jury is still out for me on Lion. In fact, I just gave Apple my $30 just now while writing this blog entry, and it’s downloading as I type. One of the big deals about this update is it’s available exclusively from the Mac App Store, I believe Apple will sell a USB Flash driver version of Lion sometime in August for $70. With a touted 250+ features and improvements, I hope this is more than a service pack I just paid $30 for.

Now onto the latest iterations of the Macbook Air, this one hits home for me because I bought my wife a 13″ Macbook Air this past Christmas, so I want to see how much this will hurt…

Here’s a breakdown of the Pro’s and Con’s as I see them:

+ New i5 Faster Processor
+ Apple’s Thunderbolt IO
+ Bigger SSD Drive Option, up to 256GB
+ Backlit Keyboard
– Intel Graphics 3000

So, the changes are all under the hood, externally, it’s the same as last years. Apple swapped out their mini-display port for the Thunderbolt IO port, now I don’t have much experience with it, but they say it’s really fast for transferring files. The catch is you need Thunderbolt enabled devices, so for me this isn’t that great. It’s unclear so far if there is a Thunderbolt to VGA connector to hook up your Macbook Air to an external monitor. There’s probably little chance of you running into an office that has the latest and greatest Thunderbolt enabled projection unit for you to use (does anyone even make one?), however a VGA enabled one, is more likely what you’ll find.

The faster processor, larger storage options and backlit keyboard are very welcome changes, but the loss of a dedicated NVidia graphics card is questionable to me… It’s not like I play alot of games on my wife’s Macbook Air, but it was nice to have the option, I don’t know if the Intel Graphics processor is as powerful as an NVidia, I hear the new generation of Intel’s aren’t slackers, but my gut feeling is it won’t compare.

Last year I bought my wife a 13″ Macbook Air, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD. Last year’s model only had a dual-core processor, which is slower than the i5. The old one however had an NVidia graphics card. But the keyboard wasn’t backlit, which I’m spoiled by now… I have it on my Macbook Pro, and it’s awful nice to have, and I thought the lack of one on the Macbook Air was shameful. But now, they have one. But is all this enough to make me want to upgrade? For me… No, maybe next year. Why? Because the 2010 Air does what my wife needs just fine, she’s not outgrown it’s capabilities yet, but by next year, maybe. But for someone who wants an ultra-thin sexy looking light weight laptop, the Macbook Air is awful nice. I’ve enjoyed the extremely small form factor of the 2010 Air. The SSD drive almost makes up for the slower CPU speed, since with it, the laptop boots up in under 30 seconds, and many apps are quick and responsive. The only noticeable slowdown will be in CPU heavy applications, such as XCode or some heavy Photoshop operations. I imagine now with the i5 processor, the new Air will really fly!

Before rushing out to buy the new one, Apple will be liquidating their last years models and refurbs, so it may be worth shopping around if you don’t care too much about the extra speed, Thunderbolt, or Backlit keys. Also be aware that unlike other traditional laptops, when you buy an Air, you’re stuck at the configuration it came in. If you buy the base model with hopes of upgrading later, you won’t be able to. The memory and I believe even the SSD are soldered onto the board, which means if you want to upgrade the ram, you’re going to need to pull out your electrical engineering skills to do it.

I won’t go too much into the Mac Mini, but it also received some nice upgrades under the hood, and the mini is the least expensive way to get into a Mac.

Hopefully I’ll get some more time to play with Lion in the next few days, I’ll write back with some of my thoughts on whether or not this Lion roars or only squeaks. Thanks for reading.