Apple's new ultra-portable (yes, it really fits in a manila envelope) is second to none as high-tech eye candy, but it probably won't hack it as a primary computer for most people

MacBook Air review: Thin is in

Those Apple commercials weren’t lying — a MacBook Air really can fit into a regular-sized manila envelope (don’t think I didn’t try as soon as I got my hands on this review unit). And, yes, it is truly as lightweight as it looks — only three pounds! Seriously, sitting next to my almost 4-year-old iBook G4, it looks like a sheet of glistening silver paper. Of course, the MacBook Air does more than just sit around looking pretty. The 13.3-inch screen delivers crisp, bright images — though I encountered some glare on the glossy surface, making it a little hard to watch movies with the lights on. (On the other hand, the LED backlit display is more environmentally friendly and more energy efficient than conventional LCD screens.) And the internal speakers were a lot better than I expected — music sounded very clear, even with the volume turned up pretty loud.

The (full-size!) keyboard was a pleasure to type on and I loved backlit keys that glow with elegant purpose in low-light settings. The cursor is controlled via a trackpad that is a bit bigger than those found on previous MacBooks — I liked the new size, except for those times when I accidentally grazed the trackpad and was taken away from the e-mail I was composing. Still, I was more than willing to put up with occasional inconvenience, since the bigger trackpad integrates the same cool ”multi-touch” feature found on the iPhone: by moving two fingers on the pad surface, you can use a number of motions to do everything from re-sizing or rotating images to scrolling through your albums on iTunes. The multi-touch motions can take a little getting used to — do you use two or three fingers to swipe? what does a one-finger tap do again? — it helps that Apple lets you customize practically every command.

Of course, the MacBook Air’s sleek form comes with a price. To begin with, there are only three peripheral connections: a micro-DV port, a USB 2.0 port, and an analog audio out (1/8-inch minijack) — there’s no FireWire or Ethernet. Also missing is an optical drive. If you want to watch your DVDs, you’re gonna have to shell out another $100 for an external SuperDrive. Of course, the whole point of the Air — and, indeed, its ultra-portability — is that it functions as an essentially wireless device. It asks: Who needs DVDs when you can rent movies from iTunes? Why bother with a noisy and battery-eating optical drive when you can use the Remote Disc feature to ”borrow” an optical drive from a nearby computer? Remote Disc works like this: Load the Remote software (which comes packaged with the Air) onto any other computer (Mac or PC), then load a CD or DVD into that computer. Select the ”Remote Disc” drive on your MacBook Air, and voila! — you can now access the files from the other computer. Confused? You’re not alone. I didn’t get it at first, but trust me — after testing it out, it all makes sense.

After playing around with the Air for a few days, I soon realized that it might not be robust enough to function as a primary computer, but more as a secondary device for people who travel a lot — or for students who want to take notes in class. Don’t get me wrong, the MacBook Air is one of the coolest gadgets I’ve seen in a while — it just may not be the best option if you’re looking for a computer that will do it all. But if you’re someone whose computer needs don’t go beyond Web-browsing, music playback, and basic word processing — or are a supermodel looking for a cool accessory — the ”world’s thinnest notebook” might be computer for you. It might set you back a few extra bucks, but you’ll be the coolest kid on your block. (The base model MacBook Air sells for $1,799, and comes with a 1.6 GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 2GB RAM, an a 80 GB 4200-rpm hard disk drive.)