The original MacBook Air was more of a status symbol than a computer. Sure, it was a functional laptop that could glide into a manila envelope, but the $1,799 laptop was, by and large, a secondary machine — it trailed behind other ultraportables in performance, lacked some essential ports (it only had one USB port and there was no SD card slot), and packed a small and slow hard drive. For most, the sacrifices were just too many to justify for the high price. If I think back, they were actually pretty rare to see out and about, and when I would spot one, I can remember thinking “that guy must have a nice car, too.”

But then came the major revision (the original Air got a slight spec bump in 2008, but it didn’t change much). The second Air (or heir!) was priced significantly less at $1,299 ($999 for the 11-inch version), included some speedy solid state drives, and mended some of those port issues. If you didn’t need an optical drive, it had almost about everything it needed to be both a no-compromise ultraportable and a primary computer, but the older processors still didn’t offer quite enough performance to do the job. And in a tragic oversight, the keyboard wasn’t backlit.

Which brings us to Apple’s 2011 version of the 13-inch MacBook Air and this review. The Air is now stuffed with a fresh dual-core Core i5 processor (there’s an i7 option too), a glowing keyboard, and a new Thunderbolt port. And it boots Apple’s brand new Mac OS X Lion (10.7), which we’ve already deemed pretty great. Yes, it physically looks the same and those may seem like just minor spec updates, but the additions change a heck of a lot more than you’d think. Read on after the break for my full review.