MacBook Air spawns digital anagrams

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 9th August 2008 in The Guardian “MacBook Air spawns digital anagrams” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry ponders the preposterous twist of circumstance that made ‘laptop machines’ an anagram of ‘Apple Macintosh’

‘Laptop machines”, by one of those preposterous twists of circumstance that make you wonder who is running things and why they haven’t got anything better to do, just happens to be an anagram of “Apple Macintosh”. If an anagram is a derivative rearrangement of essential elements, then one might be disposed to argue that such has been their rise in influence and prestige that almost every new digital product seems to be an anagram of Apple.

The MacBook Air, a superlight machine with solid-state hard disk, no CD/DVD drive and only one USB port, caused something of a splash when it landed in the laptop lake a few months ago. Designed as a travelling wireless subnotebook, Apple seems to have timed its emergence better than poor Palm, whose ill-fated Foleo now looks to have been a great idea just six months (which is one and a half digital years) ahead of its time. In February, I wrote enthusiastically about the Asus Eee, like the Foleo an Open Source, solid-state machine weighing less than a kilo. As the misguided fad for PC Tablets fades into memory, subnotebooks seem to have become the Next Big Thing.

Toshiba joins the fray with the Portégé R500 (£1,599, toshiba.co.uk/computers). The version I was sent for review weighed 1.7lb, being the most cut-down model, lacking the optical single-layer CD/DVD drive included in other lines. All variants come bundled with Windows Vista Business edition and the usual slew of proprietary wizards, assistants and guides. Somehow, the geniuses at Toshiba have found room for a fingerprint scanner, three USB ports, an SD card reader, an iLink (FireWire) connection, microphone and headphone sockets, and what I took be an ethernet port but turns out to be for an RJ-45 phone jack. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless come as standard, and there is in option for 3G WWAN wireless, too. The killer blow is the availability of a massive 128GB of solid-state storage. Toshiba’s doubling of capacity (Apple’s very expensive SSD is only 64GB), quintupling of connection sockets and inclusion of a CD drive make the Portégé a very attractive alternative to the Air. The keyboard feels rattly and cheap, the 12-inch display, despite also being a 1280 by 800 backlit LCD, seems less crisp than the Air’s, and the whole package lacks Apple’s trademark beauty and feel, but this is certainly not an ugly object, and the business community has every reason to welcome such a relatively cheap, truly light and powerful machine.

I am also impressed by Lenovo’s entry into the ultraportable market, the ThinkPad X300 (about £1,800, lenovo.com/uk). You may be aware that IBM, once the colossus of computing (unfortunate epithet, I apologise to the ghosts of Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers), was humbled into selling its PC division to the Chinese company Lenovo in 2005, along with brand names ThinkPad, ThinkVision and Aptiva. The IBM ThinkPad had been one of the most popular business notebooks in history, especially prized for its security features and black solidity. The Lenovo X300 is so closely allied in look and feel to a “proper” ThinkPad that one soon forgets that we are in the ultra-lightweight arena. The display, keyboard and chassis are all as solid as a rock, the bright, clear LED screen is 13.3 inches, like the Air, but at a functionally higher resolution than the Apple or Toshiba. There are three USBs, a fingerprint reader and a Gigabit Ethernet, but no SD card or FireWire capabilities. The 64GB SSD can be doubled, I believe, but at a price.

Toshiba has produced the lighter, cheaper, higher memory machine, but for those who value build quality and durability, the Lenovo will probably be preferred.

Acronym of the week

SSD Solid-State Drive. A hard ‘disk drive’ that isn’t a drive at all. Without platters, styli, heads and other moving parts, SSDs use less power, read and write data more quickly, and generate less heat than conventional hard drives. At the moment they’re dearer, but look out for future generations of ‘Nand’ and ‘Dram’ flash memory that will supersede the HD as surely as it superseded Winchester drives and floppies.

This blog was posted in Guardian column

18 comments on “MacBook Air spawns digital anagrams”

  1. KateM says:

    Stephen Fry is an anagram of Thy Pen Serf.

  2. biologynerd89 says:

    Great article, Stephen! I always enjoy reading your new material.

    And I have to agree, Lenovo does a great job with the ThinkPad. I’m using one right now, and it has always served me very well.

  3. jonecc says:

    I like anagrams that reverse the meaning. I’m particularly fond of the fact that MEDIATION is an anagram of I DOMINATE.

  4. mattdriver200 says:

    Saturday the 10th August doesn’t exist…it’s either Saturday the 9th or Sunday the 10th.

  5. RosieGoodburn says:

    Saturday was the 9th of August, not the 10th.

    An anagram of my name, (Rosie Goodburn) is “sobering odour”
    I am very proud of that fact.

  6. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the post about the date guys. It’s corrected now.

    Andrew
    stephenfry.com Producer

  7. stever says:

    In fact (perhaps somewhat counterintuitively) SSDs draw more power than conventional drives. As a recent review says: “While conventional hard drives may operate at relatively low power when little movement is required…flash based drives do not. They will draw their maximum power level constantly when in use, and as a consequence, simply spend more total time drawing maximum power than conventional drives.” (See the article at
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-9983500-64.html
    for this quote and a link to the original paper.)

  8. Zazou says:

    Having only recently laid my hands on a Macbook Air in an airport branch of Dixons, it is an amazing piece of kit. My Dell Inspiron 1520 is massive in comparison. It was much cheaper of course than the Macbook Air, but in reality I’m finding I’m using my new iPhone more and more whereas previously I would have used the laptop. The laptop itself was something of an impulse buy and one I regret now. Silly question time, does Stephen get to keep all the kit he reviews? I’m presuming not, but it would be funny to imagine his spare room full to the brim of the latest gadgetry. Actually, knowing his love of all things electronic, it probably is full of stuff he’s actually purchased himself.

  9. cx5 says:

    I’m so happy stephen’s back on dork talk!

    I definitely look forward to the weekend.

  10. maikaahl says:

    The only thing I could come up with for a Macbook Air was a “A Karmic Boo”.

  11. John Jackson says:

    I don’t anagram well but on the other hand I’m fairly sure I know what the big investment/development will be that Apple says will affect their business this year: dumping hard drives. I may be wrong, but we’ll see. Nothing else quite seems to fit the comments. Oh – and A1 blog :-)

  12. frybearsuze says:

    I was born too soon/am too thick to understand all the technicalities in Dorktalk but will return to buying Sat Grauniad to read it…now i know Fry types his pieces and that his arm had a plate and ten screws, well he is a big chap – and got some of the grisly dets i wanted – i imagined he used this speak to type machine. If he reads this, as i live near him and cldnt get onto the blog at first, i sent him a letter to his office in Swaffham, which oh god i hope was OK – just to forewarn him that i was hoping to get him to sign Moab and saying why and now i don’t think i’ll ever get the courage to approach and he will never be sitting in the garden of his office location for K for a few moments between setups, never again….if i am an extra again it might be propitious but i don’t think i will this year and so i have to try and slink onto the locn. one day and gosh i would like a peep at the shooting schedule…
    anyway IF, Mr Fry might remember why Moab was definitely for me as per its dedication.

  13. jmmb says:

    Pardon this unrelated request: One of your biggest fans is turning 80! (My Mom).

    Dear Mr. Fry:

    Several years ago you were kind enough to grant me the favor of sending a personal Birthday e-mail greeting to my Mom, Ruth, who was turning 70 at the time. She has long followed your gifted career and is a devoted fan of Kingdom right now.

    Well, time flies and now she’s turning 80 at the end of this month, so I wanted to ask if you would be willing to grant her another favor and send her another Birthday greeting (or you could even leave one on her Blog …yes, she is a self-taught computer geek, as well as a life-long artist — amazing!)

    Her name is Ruth Kolman Brophy, and if you’re willing to write, here is information for her e-mail and blog:

    E-mail address: rubro@earthlink.net
    Website: http://web.mac.com/ruth.art/Ruths_Mac_Site/Welcome.html
    Blogsite: http://web.mac.com/ruth.art/Ruths_Mac_Site/Blog/Blog.html

    Thanks so much for your consideration, and I wish you all the best for
    your kindness.

    Kind regards,
    Julie (Ruth’s daughter)

  14. Has Stephen had a look any of the new ranges of UMPCs with Linux like the Acer Aspire One ?
    As they’re a fair bit cheaper than the Air I was planning to get one as a low cost travel companion, my MacBook being too delicate for the journey.

  15. SteveC says:

    I’m still clinging to the hope that Apple will one day produce a UMPC of it’s own. The MBA whilst being looking great is still too big for my portable needs.

    Maybe I’ll just end up buying a EEEpc 1000 (or whatever it’s called) with the Atom processor. Obviously getting the Linux version (plus I’ve got a few spare Apple stickers!)

  16. carnetnoir says:

    An RJ-45 is indeed usually used as an Ethernet jack. A phone jack is typically an RJ-11.

  17. Muon says:

    I’d like to see Apple reintroduce the 12″ Powerbook (though this time as a Macbook Pro, obviously). It’s a great little laptop – very portable, high powered, separate graphics card (unlike the 13″ Macbook). Oh, and it’s unbelievably cute.

    The eeePc does look pretty awesome. I think I read somewhere that someone, somehow managed to get OSX working on an eeePC.

  18. ScaredyCat says:

    “…selling its PC division to the Chinese company Lenovo in 2005, along with brand names ThinkPad, ThinkVision and Aptiva.”

    Just wanted to clear this up. Lenovo *always* made Thinkpads, they were just made for IBM by Lenovo. Lenovo went on to buy the names so that they could sell exactly the same thing that they had been making all along and benefit from the association of IBM and Thinkpad.

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