The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is easily one of recent years’ most exciting Apple laptops. The M1 chip is a real game-changer, and it’s fantastic to run all legacy apps, new M1-optimized apps, and iOS apps. The battery life is also excellent, and efficiency is also excellent.
Apple is billing the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) as a radical reinvention of its thin and light laptop. This is because the latest MacBook Air ditches the Intel processor for Apple’s ARM-based chip, the new Apple M1, unlike earlier versions. It also comes with preinstalled macOS 11 Big Sur.
- macOS Big Sur is fast and responsive
- Battery life is great.
- Silent in use
- The keyboard remains very good.
- Old design
- The fanless design could impact performance.
- CPU: Apple M1 (8-core)
- Graphics: Integrated 7-core GPU
- RAM: 8GB Unified PDDR4X-4266 MHz SDRAM
- Screen: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 Retina True Tone display (backlit LED, IPS)
- Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD
- Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 3.5mm headphone jack
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5
- Camera: 720p FaceTime HD webcam
- Weight: 2.8 pounds (1.29kg)
- Size: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61cm; W x D x H)
Apple MacBook Air M1: 2 Min Review
According to Apple, this custom chip will allow the new MacBook Air to perform better and run longer while on the battery while bringing other significant performance benefits. We have put those statements to the test now that we have the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) in our possession.
Apple has made a compelling 13-inch laptop, launching the same price as the previous edition ($999 / £999 / AU$1,599). You get the refreshed model with Apple’s latest hardware for the same asking price, and while that doesn’t mean that the earlier MacBook Air (2020) model is now outdated if that release didn’t fully persuade you, this new version could change your mind.
Compared to premium Windows 10 laptops such as the HP Spectre x360 (2020) and Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020), which are both more expensive, the price point is still extremely competitive.
For $1,249 / £1,249 / AU$1,949, you can also go for a more powerful MacBook Air with extra storage, and both can be upgraded with more memory and even more storage.
Price-wise, then, we believe Apple has nailed it. This is not a cheap laptop, of course, but it does not feel overpriced, especially compared to its similarly rumoured rivals – something that has been accused of in the past by Apple.
Apple has also been accused of thinking more about its goods’ aesthetics than the essential features and functions, but we believe the reverse is right with the MacBook Air (M1, 2020). This is because while the inside of the new MacBook Air – most notably the new M1 chip – has some major improvements on the outside, little has changed.
So, this model looks (and feels) exactly like the last model. This might be good news for people who like the MacBook Air look, but we feel it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. The M1-based MacBook Air is such a groundbreaking and exciting computer that we would have liked to see Apple also take a few chances with the layout, even if it just made the bezels around the screen lighter or slimmer.
The fact is, when it comes to designing thin, light and lovely laptops, HP and Dell have now overtaken Apple – a fact that a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable.
We have no qualms when it comes to performance, however. The M1 has proved to be a complete beast that puts Intel to shame in many respects. We were incredibly impressed with how it performed during our time with the MacBook Air (M1, 2020).
Big Sur works well, and the operating system’s visual overhaul offers a nice change, while still feeling familiar. It is very commendable that both new and legacy apps run well on the M1 chip, and there do not seem to be any problems so far with running apps built for Intel Macs using Rosetta 2, the tool used by Apple to allow older Mac apps to run on the M1. Besides, you can now run thousands of iOS apps and games almost flawlessly is also a huge win.
Battery life also seems fantastic, and the fanless design is excellent, as it means that the laptop runs silently; however, we have concerns about how it handles heat.
In the end, with the design of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), we would have liked Apple to be a bit more ambitious—a bold reinvention of the laptop to match the internal hardware and software overhauls would have made this an even more exciting device.
Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020): Price & Availability
As soon as it was announced, Apple made preorders for the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) available, with units shipping worldwide from November 17. Owing to the global pandemic, several Apple stores are closed, so shopping online is your best bet for having one right now.
Prices begin at $999 / £999 / AU$1,599 for the latest MacBook Air (2020). As usual, at launch, there is a range of requirements available, and you can customize these further to get the MacBook Air (2020) that suits your needs and budget best.
An M1 chip with an 8-core Processor and a 7-core GPU, 8 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD is included in the base model.
There is also a higher-spec model with an M1 processor with an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of ram, priced at $1,249. So, you’re getting an extra GPU core for that extra money, and double the storage.
These models can also be configured to have 16 GB of RAM (for an additional $200 / £200 / AU$300) and up to 2 TB of SSD capacity (for $800 / £800 / AU$1,200).
The MacBook Air (2020) was released earlier this year for $999, which was cheaper than the MacBook Air launch price, for contrast (2019).
So you get the new MacBook Air (M1, 2020) for the same price as the previous model for which we praise Apple. However, if you purchased a MacBook Air a few months ago, you might feel a little disappointed that it’s already outdated.
The entry point of $999 is not just the cheapest way to get a new Apple laptop; it is a beautiful price point that undercuts many of the best Windows 10 13-inch laptops, such as the Dell XPS 13. Compared to the market, if you felt Apple’s laptops were overpriced, think again.
We have mentioned how the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) helps challenge people’s preconceptions about MacBooks thanks to its competitive price. Still, the new MacBook Air, along with the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) and Mac mini (M1, 2020), also offer strong rebuttals to the criticism, often levelled at Apple, that its products are more stylish than substance.
People sometimes dismiss Apple as making good-looking goods, but they don’t do anything incredibly innovative for the actual hardware. It’s the full reverse, however, with the MacBook Air (M1, 2020).
Apple has done some exciting stuff on the inside with this laptop, switching to its M1 chip, and designing macOS Big Sur to take advantage of it from the ground up, while keeping the device’s actual design unchanged. This is good news as well as bad news.
The MacBook Air’s classic design is pretty much okay for many people, so they don’t see the need for any dramatic change. Simultaneously, the MacBook Air was in danger of being outclassed by more ambitious competitors by merely providing small spec bumps every year. Thus, Apple is doing what many of its critics have argued that it should do by focusing on revolutionizing the MacBook Air hardware, and not tinkering with the design: focusing on the unglamorous, but essential, material.
But what about the bad news about that? Well, because, along with macOS Big Sur, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) promises to be such a big revolution, the fact that it looks and sounds the same as previous MacBook Airs is, to put it mildly, a little disappointing.
The measurements of 0.16–0.63 x 11.97 x 8.36 inches (0.41–1.61 x 30.41 x 21.24cm) and the weight of 2.8 pounds (1.29kg) of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) are precisely the same as those of both the MacBook Air (2020) and the 2019 edition, and nearly the same as those of the slightly lighter 2018 Air.
This new MacBook Air looks similar to the three previous models on the outside, then, and it suggests that the excitement of removing the new MacBook Air from its packaging is somewhat dulled, mainly if you have owned one of those previous machines.
There were reports that lighter devices would transition to Apple’s silicon, but this is not the case. However, one significant design improvement that was made possible by the M1 chip is that the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is now fanless. This implies that without fans’ need to kick in to cool them down, the internals remains cool enough under workloads. There’s a catch to this (which we’re going to get to in a little bit), but it means that the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) runs almost quietly, and it’s awe-inspiring.
Apple may have made the current MacBook Air thinner and lighter because of the lack of fans, but, oddly, it retains the same size and weight as its predecessors.
On opening the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), you are again met with a familiar and pleasant way of seeing it. The best chance to design the previous MacBook Air, the latest Magic Keyboard, is included here. Despite how flat the keys are, it is genuinely a lovely keyboard to work on, feeling tactile and sensitive.
Once again, a Touch ID button is placed above the keyboard, and the best fingerprint scanner we have used on a laptop remains. Too many of the Windows laptop fingerprint scanners fail to log us in reliably. Still, the Touch ID button here logged us in successfully almost every time, even if we hadn’t covered the scanner completely with a finger.
Except for one significant difference, the screen is also precisely the same as the MacBook Air one (2020). So, with a 400-nit LED-backlit display and a 2560 x 1600 resolution Retina display, it’s only 13.3 inches and comes with Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically changes the colour temperature on the panel depending on the ambient light.
What’s new here is that the MacBook Air screen (M1, 2020) now supports the wide colour gamut of the P3, resulting in more detailed, true-to-life pictures. P3 support used to be found only in the more costly MacBook Pros, so it’s nice to see Apple adding this feature to its more affordable MacBook Air lineup. You no longer have to immediately go for a MacBook Pro if you’re a photographer or video editor who needs correct colours.
The screen is also surrounded by those vast, thick bezels that have been a staple of the MacBook Air design for ages now, leaving this laptop looking a little dated. Devices such as the Dell XPS 13 and the Huawei MateBook X (2020) have skinny bezels around the display. Not only does it make these devices look more modern, but it also ensures that manufacturers can further reduce the laptop’s overall size while delivering the same screen size.
Yep, you read that right: we agree that when it comes to thin and light laptop design, Huawei has the edge over Apple. Odd times yes.
With the same 720p FaceTime webcam, the webcam above the screen is still unchanged from last time. When most rivals offer 1080p, the 720p resolution looks distinctly old, and with more individuals spending more time working from home these days, we would have liked Apple to have given the webcam a boost.
However, the company says that the image signal processor has been overhauled thanks to the M1 chip, which supposedly gives the webcam improved noise reduction and dynamic range and auto white balance. So far, we have only been using the webcam for a short time, and it seemed okay, if not mind-blowing.
You get the same two Thunderbolt 3 ports and an audio jack on the new MacBook Airs, port-wise. Thunderbolt 3 ports allow charging and can be used to power and transfer data up to 40Gb/s from external displays. We are pleased to see that switching Apple to its M1 chip, rather than Intel, did not mean losing Thunderbolt ports (Thunderbolt is an interface developed by Intel).
Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020): Performance
We were impressed as soon as we started using the MacBook Air (M1, 2020). It boots up quickly (an additional advantage of the M1 chip), Big Sur feels fast and responsive, and the new look impresses the operating system. With vivid, vibrant colours showing off the MacBook Air’s screen, the GUI has a more modern look. It’s less cluttered as well, so you’re not distracted by icons and options, although the Control Centre’s iOS edition has been revamped. It looks neater, and it’s more straightforward to use.
Thanks to some tech wizardry using Apple’s Rosetta 2 tool, which enables apps to run on the new architecture, all apps you usually run on macOS on Intel-based MacBooks should work fine new MacBook Air (M1, 2020).
We tried a mix of both new apps designed for the M1 chip and legacy apps built for Intel Macs and running via Rosetta, and in terms of performance, there was no significant difference. It is commendable to run older apps smoothly on the new MacBook Air-the M1 chip built on the ARM architecture. One of the main disadvantages of Windows 10 on devices operating on ARM-based chips is that you are restricted to running only Windows Store ARM-compatible apps. There is a very sparse choice of these, and this heavily determines these devices’ usability. Microsoft wants to make a Rosetta of its own, pronto.
Not only can you run almost every current Mac app on the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), but you can now even run any iOS app or game thanks to the M1 chip using a similar design to iPhones. This adds to the MacBook a vast range of new technologies and is truly exciting. iOS applications and games are more feature-rich and graphically stunning than ever before, and it might be a game-changer to have access to these. We played a couple of iOS games, and they worked well on the MacBook Air. The MacBook immediately became a successful gaming machine.
We could get quite a few apps running all at once, flipping between them quickly and keeping up brilliantly with the Apple MacBook Air (M1,2020). It felt fast and capable during our testing. For example, moving a large 14 GB file from an external SSD takes less than a minute. It feels like a smooth, sparkling machine.
Apple says that the latest MacBook Air is three times faster in its class than other laptops and quicker than 98% of last year’s PC laptops sold. It also says the neural engine is nine times faster than the one in the previous MacBook Air, and thanks to the M1 and the new flash technology, its SSD is up to twice as fast.
One thing to remember is that the MacBook Air’s fanless nature (M1, 2020) could mean that performance is reduced when it performs demanding tasks over long periods. Since there are no fans to keep it from overheating, the only thing that it can do is decrease the component output to regulate temperatures, known as throttling.
That’s why professionals will want to go for the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro. It has the same M1 chip as the MacBook Air, but it has fans, meaning it can be used for more extended periods for intensive tasks, without, Apple says, throttling.
Check out: Top five MacBook pro alternatives in 2020
We didn’t find any significant throttling incidents in our tests, however, and as you can see from the benchmark tests, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) came impressively close to the results of the more costly 13-inch MacBook Pro Pro (M1, 2020).
The MacBook Air single-core results were pretty much on par with the MacBook Pro in Geekbench 5 and Cinebench, and multi-core scores were not that different either.
This is fantastic MacBook Air news, and slightly less good news for the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020). It almost makes the MacBook Pro seem redundant since the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is such a fine laptop. In our day-to-day use, output seemed very close, and we even played around with 8K video editing in Final Cut Pro. Although Apple seems keen to emphasize that the Air is capable of 4K video editing – it also did a fantastic job at 8K, enabling us to scrub through multiple 8K sources quickly. Extremely impressive.
So, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is an excellent choice for video editors who want a more affordable laptop than the MacBook Pro with that performance boost, along with the latest P3 colour gamut support. This makes it a little harder to justify the purchase of the MacBook Pro 13-inch, although it has a few main features that the Air lacks, such as the TouchBar and improved cooling. Having both MacBooks for long periods churning through high-intensity tasks should display a tremendous output difference favouring the Pro. However, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) will deliver plenty of power and efficiency for most individuals.
We knew that the new ‘Apple silicon’ would be more power-efficient in terms of battery life, so it’s no surprise to find that the new MacBook Air has the most extended battery life of any MacBook Air yet, according to Apple, up to 15 hours of wireless web browsing, or up to 18 hours of recording.
Even after a few hours of work (and web browsing), the battery only fell a few percentage points, and even if you leave it on standby for a day and return to it, the battery level remains high. We were pleased with the battery life of the MacBook Air.
The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) lasted a very impressive 11 hours and 15 minutes in our official battery test, in which we run a looped 1080p video at 50% brightness before the battery dies.
That is much longer than the previous model (7 hours 55 minutes) lasted in the same tests, and it just beats the new Dell XPS 13 as well (11 hours 1 minute).
This implies that without charging the MacBook Air, you could comfortably be able to go a full working day (and more) without setting the MacBook Air – but if you perform more intensive tasks with it, obviously the battery would deplete faster.
It doesn’t quite achieve the enormous 13 hours and 22 minutes performed by the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020), but we can’t imagine anyone having any concerns about the battery life of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020).
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