More than the glass-covered HP Envy 14 Spectre, Dell XPS 13, or even Acer Aspire S5, a 15-inch version of Apple's MacBook Air was the clear winner among CNET readers, pulling in 40 percent of the total vote.
And this is for a product that, while churning in the rumor mill for the last several months, lacks even the sparse documented evidence that Apple's expected HDTV has (such as this recent spec-heavy Best Buy survey of purported features).
There is this DigiTimes report that Apple has "already engaged manufacturing partners to start producing a 15-inch MacBook Air for a first-quarter 2012 launch," but that's not quite enough to take to the bank.
Nevertheless, by getting 40 percent of the vote in our most-anticipated 2012 laptops poll (the HP Spectre came in second, with 17 percent), the 15-inch Air is clearly a product with a potentially large built-in audience. The reasons for this may include:
Current MacBook Airs cut too many corners for professional work
With relatively small hard drives and limited connectivity, the current MacBook Air models are simply not full-featured enough for some power users. The 13-inch Air's native display resolution is 1,440x900 pixels, whereas the 15-inch Pro starts the same, but also offers a 1,680x1,050-pixel upgrade. It's hard to imagine a 15-inch Air that wouldn't match that, plus have more room for ports and connections (such as an Ethernet jack).
MacBook Pro is too heavy to commute with frequently
Many a creative professional has a 15-inch MacBook Pro sitting on a desk. And, even if it doesn't happen every single day, there are times when you simply have to take your work laptop home with you, or on the road to a meeting. As great as the 15-inch MacBook Pro is, anyone who has ever tried to lug one around in a shoulder bag all day can tell you: at 5.6 pounds, it's not exactly light. Especially with a new generation of ultrabooks redefining the expectations of how portable a laptop can be, being thinner and lighter than the competition is more important than ever.
Other lightweight, thin 15-inch laptops are showing up
Last year, we saw the Dell XPS 15z, which, though far from perfect, showed that midsize laptops were starting to slim down. Its dimensions were about the same as the 15-inch MacBook Pro's, but at CES 2012, we got a chance to check out the upcoming 15-inch version of Samsung's Series 9 laptop. That system, which certainly owes much of its DNA to the Air, packed a 15-inch display into a body 0.58 inch thick and weighing just 3.5 pounds.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is already an anachronism, other Pros may follow
As my colleague Scott Stein pointed out recently, the 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro has largely outlived its usefulness. He says: "At the beginning of 2011, the Pro had a clear advantage in terms of battery life and even performance. However, by midyear, the new Air had caught up. Its battery life and general performance, according to our CNET benchmarks, met what the Pro had to offer." With the line between the two brands fading, there may be no reason, other than market positioning, to even offer a "Pro" line, if the mainstream consumer line, which the Air has become, is just as good.
What do you think? Is a 15-inch MacBook Air the ultimate unreleased laptop? Would you run out and buy one, or stick with the thicker Pro model (or something else entirely)? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.