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The Smallest Macbook Ever… for $185

I mean, look at this thing. It’s so cute It’s tiny. It weighs just over 1 kilogram. It is the widest screen Apple’s ever offered. It has an amazing near full size keyboard. It is also the smallest Macbook Apple has ever made.

This is a 2017-built (Early 2015 model) Macbook Air, 11 inch, Model 7,1 (aka A1465), with 8gb of ram, a 256gb SSD drive (measured with 1000mb transfer speeds), and a battery that will last about 4 hours under heavy use. It has a few easily-solvable issues, but is otherwise pristine and nearly mint. This Macbook Air 11″ cost around $1,800CAD new ($1,349 for 8gb/128gb, another $300 for 256gb, plus taxes) as 2017 for this configuration.

And it cost me $185 US dollars.

Say hello to my new Focus Device for writing. I’m typing this blog post on it, right now.

Apple’s Smallest Notebook Computer

The Macbook Air was one of the biggest game changing computers in history. Everyone remembers Steve Jobs pulling one out of a manilla envelope at its reveal. A year later, Apple updated it so that it actually had some power and features and it took off like wildfire. Sleek, beautiful, unlike any notebook computer ever seen before.

A few years after that, the smaller 11″ variant was introduced. It got three major updates over its life, with the “Early 2015” version being the final. That one maxed out with an Intel i7 chip, 8gb ram (same RAM Apple uses to this day for new MBAs, at least as their entry point), 512gb storage (128gb was the base, 256gb was the bump). The screen and keyboard never really changed on the device (the screen is probably it’s weakest point – it is not a great display, and definitely not retina).

I have owned 4 variants of the Macbook Air, but all in the 13″ variety, until this year, when I bought the new M2 Macbook Air 15″ model. I never owned the 11″ model. I’d seen it, even tried it out at an Apple store, and marvelled at the size and sleekness, but never owned one.

It truly is unique. Apple is not known for “widescreen” devices. Thy love the 4:3, 16:10 ratio for most of their devices. the MBA 11″ is their only 16:9 ratio device. When put next to a current day Macbook Air, you really see the difference that 1 point (16:10 to 16:9) makes.

The screen colour isn’t anywhere near as good as Apple’s retina displays (including liquid retina, XDR retina, etc) offer today. And of course, the resolution is also mediocre, at least by 2017 standards (for 2012 standards, 1366 x 768 was pretty good!).

The build quality is absolutely first rate. Everything fits, everything is tight. Everything is smooth and beautifully finished. The finish Apple put on the Macbook Airs from 2010 through 2018 is amazing – that matt aluminum, the opposite of a fingerprint magnet.

The weight too: My last two MBAs were the M1 13″ which has a similar wedge / curvy shape to the older MBAs, and that weighed 1.3kg. My current model is the M2 15″, and that weighs 1.5kg. The MBA 11″ weighs 1kg. You really notice the difference.

And there’s the keyboard. I would argue, based on the typing I’m doing right now, it is a better action keyboard for touch typists than the current one is in the M2 and M3 Macbook Air models. It’s awesome.

The only thing that hasn’t aged well is the battery life. Again, by 2012 standards, these things had good battery life: about 6-8 hours of web / movie watching use. By 2017, that was a bit low end. With the introduction of Apple Silicon, almost every Macbook had double the battery life. My new M2 15″ supposedly has up to 18hrs of it.

My “New” Macbook Air 11: Why

For a few years now, I’ve found myself getting increasingly distracted when I try to focus on the writing I do for CoffeeGeek, for my consulting clients, and for the occasional magazine writing gig I can score. I’m a bit OCD and a mix of ADD thrown in. Sometimes I hyper focus on a task. Other times I get distracted easily from the task, then get hyperfocused on the new task I changed over to.

A friend who knows about these things on a professional level suggested I get a “focus device” for my writing and research work. One that I cannot easily switch over to photo editing, video editing, or other time consuming tasks. One that kept me away from social media a bit, or firing up Netflix to watch something as a distraction. They were into Chromebooks as focus devices (which is a bit weird, since they are also media consumption devices), so I tried that route.

I bought a used Lenovo Duet 5 Chromebook tablet / keyboard combo. I tried it for a while, but had lots of frustrations with it because it didn’t work too well with my “apple ecosystem” (I use iCloud for storage of documents, files, pdfs, etc). Plus I didn’t like the keyboard. Or that I couldn’t use it well as a typist away from a desk.

So I sold it, and kept looking around. I knew Macbook Air 11″ models were out there aplenty, and as low as $250USD in good shape, and it was on my radar. But I owned a MBA M1, 13″ which seemed too close to the MBA 11″. I also have a Mac Mini M2 24gb / 512gb desktop setup with a big ultra wide monitor.

Then I accidentally spilled liquid on my MBA M1 13″ device, messing its screen up. The screen was still usable, but had a brighter white patch in the lower left corner. At the same time, Apple announced the M3 series Macbook Airs, and the M2s all went on sale ($150 less in Canada, with even heavier discounts in the refurb channel).

So another decision. I decided to sell the MBA 13″ M1 model for whatever I could (sold it for $500CAD in fact), to also plan on selling the Mac Mini M2 I have, and I would buy a spec’ed out 15 inch Macbook Air M2 model with 16gb / 512gb or better, and use that new bigger computer both as my main notebook, but also, when docked, as my desktop computer.

Which opened the door to buying a cheap used Macbook Air 11″ as a focus device and my “sit on the couch” notebook. And that’s what I did.

Lucked Out on this Macbook Air 11″

Thanks to my OCD, I did research the crap out of the used MBA 11″ market. Saw a lot of these devices were in refurbished / renewed / used channels because they were used heavily in schools from 2015 through 2021. That usually means a) dented and dinged, b) battery all but dead c) screen display issues d) gummy keyboards. So I decided instead to buy from a direct owner instead of one of the many bucket sellers you see on eBay.

I found one: a 2017-purchased, “Early 2015″ i5 chip Macbook Air 11” with 8gb, and an upgraded (by the owner) 256gb SSD drive (sidenote, i7 models are better, but usually a $100-$150 premium today). The photos in the eBay ad looked pristine. Fellow mentioned the keyboard sticks a bit, needed cleaning. Trackpad too was a bit tight to click. He listed it for $220 Buy it Now, but took offers. I offered $175. He came back with $185USD, and I accepted.

There’s a lot of MBA 11″ models like that on eBay right now.

It arrived, and was every bit as good as the eBay listing said. Battery isn’t great (70% max charge, 400 cycles), but new batteries for the MBA 11″ are around $50CAD and easy to install. The keyboard was indeed sticky around the spacebar row. I very carefully removed the keys, and found evidence of cola / coffee spill. Cleaned them all with some 99% alcohol, soapy clean of the removed keys, reinstalled and it’s like new. The trackpad is a bit “tight” on the clicks, but I can fix that too if I’m inclined. The hinge for the display is a bit loose, but that too can be fixed easily.

All in all, not bad for $185USD (plus $35 shipping).

It runs Monterey, but can easily be upgraded to Ventura or Sonoma with some hacks. Monterey works fine for me. I have it set up as pure focus device: I even disabled various media consumption apps on it, only keeping Apple Music installed because I like to listen while typing. Most important, it stays in the Apple ecosystem I use via iCloud. When I update photos on my Mac Mini or MBA 15″, the MBA 11″ has access to them. Ditto for works in progress.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my new focus device. I will have to get the battery replaced (the current one only lasts about 4hr with any intensive use), but the keyboard is excellent, and the size cannot be beat. I have a small daypack / man purse (can we still say that?) that the 11″ computer slots into perfectly for my walks to the cafe or out and about. I have to get used to the low resolution screen (especially the 768px height) but that will come.

And it is so darned cute.

Advice For Buying a Used Macbook Air 11″

If you made it this far, you might be considering a similar purchase. Here’s my bullet point advice on that:

  • Buy from original owners instead of the bucket sellers if you can. This way you see pictures of the actual device you’re buying (bucket sellers use a general photo of one of the dozens or hundreds of computers in their inventory).
  • If buying from a bucket reseller, read their feedback; specifically look for negative reviews to see the condition of the units they are selling
  • Do not buy an earlier model than the “Early 2015″ Macbook Air in the 11” model. They aren’t as fast, have some issues if you want to hack in an unsupported Mac OS, and are just older (hence more wear and tear).
  • Only consider models with 8gb memory. 4gb isn’t enough these days for Monterey (the last OS officially supported by the MBA 11″). The memory is soldered on, so cannot be changed or upgraded.
  • Don’t fret the SSD. If there’s a deal on 8gb / 128gb SSD MBA 11″s, go for it. Upgrading the SSD in a MBA 11″ is very easy to do, and you can buy a lightning fast 512gb for it for $60 or less these days.
  • Don’t fret the battery too much either. They are also very easy to replace in an MBA 11″, and a new 5200mah battery costs around $60 or less. It will make the MBA 11″ “like new” again, with up to 8hr of use per charge.
  • i7 Intel is better for long term use than i5, so if the price is within $50-$75 bump for an i7, buy the i7 variant.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask about the trackpad, and keyboard. Make sure the keyboard still lights up. Ask about the screen if the photos aren’t clear. Ask about the screen hinge.

$185 for what I got is actually still quite low. I think $225 for an i5 in the condition I got, or $275 for an i7 model would still be a crazy good bargain. The best news is, the prices are still trending down!



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