Simple yet so powerful: My review of the new 2020 M1 MacBook Air.

Paul Alvarez

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3okuAb_0YNpvIUg002020 M1 MacBook Air (Photo by Author)

Since I decided on Starting from Scratch I have been thinking a lot about my setup and if I wanted something stationary or mobile. After reviewing the iMac a few months ago I was convinced that, when I had the opportunity, I would get one. When that opportunity finally came; I didn’t pull the trigger.

I have always had a stronger appeal for laptops. The fact that you can take and use your computer anywhere is pure convenience. There are downsides sometime like less performance, higher costs, and battery life but the convenience, for me, outweighs the downsides.

The main reason why I didn’t go with a iMac and instead leaned more towards a laptop was my new desk setup at my new house. I plan to do a full overview of my new workspace but I ended up getting a really nice standing desk that wasn’t setup for an all-in-one.

I like to keep things minimal and clean and a iMac would make my new desk setup feel cramped, especially since I have my desk facing a window into my backyard. So, a laptop was going to be the direction I decided on. Now, the only question was: what laptop?

Before the M1 announcement by Apple, I was already thinking of getting a MacBook Air. I knew I could get one cheaper than the MacBook Pros, and felt that the Air was enough for what I needed. My tasks mostly consist of writing and some personal admin tasks like budgeting, light photo editing, email and web browsing.

The MacBook Air overall is fantastic and feel it is the perfect machine for most people, especially with the newly improved version just released with the M1 chip and no fan. The keyboard is excellent, screen is amazing and an overall perfect package for most.

Quick update on My Problem with the M1

I need to start off talking about what I ultimately landed on between the Intel and M1 version of the MacBook Air. I recently wrote a post talking about my problems with the M1. My problem pretty much stemmed down to my need for Windows and the lack of support the M1, currently, has.

Since writing My Problem with the M1 I discovered that my work has changed some things internally and now only requires me to have the Remote Desktop application to remote into my work machine. Since Microsoft has a Remote Desktop application in the App Store, for both macOS and iOS, I can remote into work without the need for Windows at all.

This means I can now login to my Windows machine at my office from my iPad, MacBook Air, or even my iPhone as long as I can plug in my Yubikey for two-step authentication. So, not having Intel is no longer a burden for me, funny how one small change can have such an impact on your decision.

All of this ultimately led me to stick with the M1 MacBook Air with an 8-core GPU, 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB storage. I am more than ecstatic of being able to have this, more than capable machine, for what I need and still be able to use it for work when those occasions occur.

Design

Coming from the original design of the 2011 MacBook Air, the wedge shape on this 2020 MacBook Air is classic. It is thicker than the MacBook Pro 13-inch, at its thickest end, and only weighs 0.2 pounds lighter, but overall feels like a smaller machine.

The MacBook Air has grown a great reputation from its previous models and feels like it continues in this new design. With a retina display, two USB-C ports, and Magic Keyboard it has also been modernized to compete with laptops in the same category.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0Qbbu8_0YNpvIUg00

The design of the MacBook Air is familiar and still excellent as always. I don’t have much more to add except that if you are trying to decide between the Air and the Pro I would go elsewhere than the design. Yes, the MacBook Air’s design is distinct but there are other differences to help steer you in the direction you want to go — like the TouchBar, performance, battery life, etc.

The display is gorgeous, I am so happy that Apple chose to upgrade the new M1 MacBook Air to support the P3 color gamut. The MacBook Pro not only has more brightness but has always had better color. Now the MacBook Air is just lacking the extra 100 nits of brightness — come on Apple!

Fortunately, the brightness difference has not been a huge concern for me. I realized over the last few weeks that I have been using my Air more at nights which actually requires me to reduce the brightness, so having the brightness on the MacBook Pro, so far, isn’t needed.

The colors on this laptop are gorgeous, though. When comparing the M1 to the Intel its subtle but when you see it, you see it. The colors just pop more and you can tell that certain icons and images have more variety of color in them on the M1.

I was always a fan of the butterfly keyboard on the 2015 MacBook and all MacBooks that were equipped with it after. I never had the unreliability issues and know if I did I would have a different opinion, but the feeling when typing on those keyboard, to me, was very satisfying.

Recently, I used a 2014 MacBook Pro 13-inch and could reminisce on the keyboard before the butterfly design and though it had more travel I didn’t like how it felt less stable. Each key was a little more wobbly and didn’t have the same tactile feeling that I got from the butterfly version.

Apple has since gone back to a scissor switch design on all of its MacBooks and I will admit I was a little hesitant on how they would be. I really did like the stability of the butterfly but knew I was lucky that I did not run into any issues with sticky keys or keys not working at all.

After getting the opportunity to review the 16-inch MacBook Pro, when it came out, with the new Magic Keyboard I was thrilled. Apple could bring back the travel but simultaneously make the keyboard feel more solid and tactile. The new scissor switches feel perfect with the better travel but Apple also took some new things it learned from the butterfly design to make them feel more stable as you type.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2gnG8v_0YNpvIUg00Close up of M1 Air’s new function keys. (Photo by Author)

With the new MacBook Air, you also get new function keys at the top with a one for Spotlight search, Dictation and Do not Disturb replacing the keyboard brightness and Launchpad keys. I will say that I use Command + Space to trigger Spotlight so having a dedicated function key for me is a waste.

I also don’t have any plans on using Do Not Disturb or Dictation so losing those keys for Keyboard Brightness is also a loss. This isn’t a huge problem since I hardly use the function row anyway and I really do like that Apple added the ability to quickly get to Emoji’s from the Function key now.

One last thing on the keyboard, even though this isn’t really a key on the keyboard, Touch ID is fantastic. It has been awhile since I have used a MacBook again and love that so many more apps are starting to use Touch ID. 1Password, for instance, has been huge, not having to type in my long password in Safari anymore to use the extension is really awesome.

Performance and Battery

Because this a M1 I felt it was important to go a little more detail when it came to performance. I am in no way a hardcore power user. I do like to dabble in Xcode sometimes but even then I am not compiling a ton of code.

The most I do on my machines that does require some performance is photo editing. I have Affinity Photo but many times when I am trying to get some photos ready for a post I use the Photo’s app to quickly edit them.

Once thing I have noticed when using Photos on my old 2018 MacBook Pro 13-inch was the very slow performance in Photos. I had a quad-core i5 Processor with 8 GB of RAM and many times I would be sitting with the rainbow beach ball spinning after just clicking the Edit button on a photo.

On this MacBook Air I don’t think I have seen the rainbow beach ball once. Nothing has felt slow, not even browsing the web. Ulysses has always been a champ, so I never really feel like I need much to get that app running but everything else I do on this MacBook Air feels snappy.

I was concerned about getting an 8 GB variant over the 16 GB but decided to run my own test to see if this was a huge concern or not. I opened up Chrome, the new M1 supported version, and played about 10 YouTube videos all in 4K concurrently while keeping other tabs open with random websites.

I then started to do other things on the MacBook Air like; open a bunch of apps, download a bunch more apps from the App Store, listen to music, write in Ulysses, and edit a few photos.

The real test, though, was to see if any of the Chrome tabs were going to refresh when I opened them and unsurprisingly none did. Neither the ones playing the 4K videos, which they all still were, or any of the other websites that I had running as well. Everything was available for me once I clicked the tab, sitting in memory.

This is in no way scientific and in no way representative to a number of other people who use computers. But for me, this was a good test on what I use my computer for. I like to have many tabs open when I am researching something and sometimes have music or videos playing in the background while doing other things.

If I was compiling a ton of code, rendering 4K videos, or dealing with multiple gigantic files simultaneously I would probably lean more towards the 16 GB. But for me, I think saving the $200 was worth it.

I couldn’t resist the urge of comparing the Intel MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Air since I had both at the same time for a while and all I can say is:

Wow! I am glad I went with the M1!

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2L2Dlf_0YNpvIUg00Intel Air on the left and M1 Air on the right. (Photo by Author)

Just like my own test on RAM, benchmarks also don’t tell you the full story but it can provide a baseline on what each can do, after running benchmarks on both these machines it is incredible that the M1 MacBook Air can hit these numbers.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3rcEdg_0YNpvIUg00Intel Air on the left and M1 Air on the right both using Intel version of GeekBench. (Photo by Author)

Even when using the Intel version of GeekBench, using Rosetta 2, on the M1 it outperformed the i5 Intel MacBook Air. It is fantastic to see Apple’s hard work on creating chips for the iPhone and iPad all these years has paid off for their MacBooks.

Since I am not traveling or taking my laptop out with me, like I used to, I can’t tell you how great the battery is on the go. What I can tell you though, is that I no longer worry about having my MacBook plugged in all the time when I want to use it.

In the past, if I wanted to take my MacBook in the living room to use on the couch I would make sure a charger was handy just in case. Now even if I forget to charge the MacBook Air before taking it into the living room I don’t bother bringing a charger, I trust that it will last for me.

Even now, I have been running Time Machine and also doing a back up of my entire photo library and forgot to plug it back in. I have been using it for probably 3 hours now without the charger plugged in and am still at 83%.

Again, I have been using both ports running my initial back up to Time Machine and copying my 200 GB photo library in the background and have only used 17% of battery after 3 hours or decent use.

So, it’s safe to say that if life ever goes back to the way it used to be and I can go to coffee shop again to write, I won’t need to worry about bringing a charger with me. Even better, I won’t have to worry about where I sit in a coffee shop since an outlet won’t be necessary most times.

Conclusion

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3popBP_0YNpvIUg00MacBook Air, top view. (Photo by Author)

Overall, I am happy with going with the MacBook Air. Not only do I love the design, display, keyboard, and Touch ID, but I am also so happy I went with the M1 variant instead of Intel. Bottom line when taking cost, performance, and longevity into consideration it was a no-brainer.

I didn’t mention the ability to use iOS and iPadOS apps on the M1 but honestly don’t really care right now. Hopefully, in the future this inspires other to make apps that might be more universal for each platform, but I am not going to hold my breath. Nor am I going to wait for a touchscreen MacBook to use these apps as well. Right now I feel it is mostly a marketing play for Apple, but we will see how it pans out.

Going with the iPhone 12 and now the MacBook Air, I am starting to realize I am what some like to a call a causal consumer. Since none of these products are the “Pro” versions, I guess I am not a Pro.

What is more likely the case is that Apple is stepping up its game when it comes to its more baseline products. Three products in particular that Apple introduced this year; the iPad Air, M1 MacBook Air, and iPhone 12, are all top of the line providing Pro-like experiences without the Pro-prices — granted they are not “cheap” either but you see what I am getting at.

They are all competitive to their Pro-counterpart in performance, capabilities and costs. I think this year was a lot better for consumers more than for Apple. This MacBook Air alone is a fantastic device that does not feel like it should be the lowest end model of MacBook in their lineup.

Who knows what we will see with a rumored M1X or future M2. It’ll be exciting but can’t imagine what more I will need from a computer in a long time. If you were thinking about a MacBook Air and was on the fence with Intel, this one might be the one you were waiting for to push you over the edge.

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My passion is in technology. I write reviews about gadgets that interest me but also provide some kind of value in my toolset to achieve my goals. Most of my writing is surrounded by technology and how it plays a role as a tool, help with productivity, and also provide mindfulness for a more fulfilled life.

Turlock, CA
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