Review: MacBook Air with M1 (2020)
MacBook Air with M1 (2020): is it worth your purchase?
- The M1 chip is revolutionary
- Brilliant battery life
- Same excellent design
- Supports only one additional screen
- Does not work with eGPUs
- The FaceTime camera still leaves something to be desired
Our Verdict: The MacBook Air M1 offers significant improvements, with longer battery life and much faster performance. However, there are aspects that need to be improved and the MacBook Pro with M1 competes.
Retail price (RRP)
- From $ 999
MacBook Air with M1 (2020) Review
Sometimes it takes Apple more than a year to update a Mac; others, the same Mac is updated twice in the same year. In 2020, the MacBook was twice updated. Both times, it was a decent update, but the second one was revolutionary and the only thing that changed was the processor.
Along with the Mac mini and the 13 ”MacBook Pro , the MacBook Air incorporated Apple’s M1 chip . Apple had already promised that it would trade Intel for its own processors, the so-called Apple Silicon, and in announcing the new M1 chips, the first of these SoCs for Mac, Apple was not at all humble.
Apple assured that the new MacBook Air is faster than 98% of the PC notebooks that were sold last year, and that its graphic capabilities are five times better, a statement that is difficult to believe and that the Internet was not believed at first. But it’s true. Apple’s chips are not only good, but they are going to change everything. Intel chips are in serious danger.
I’m sure you want to know everything about the processor, but first I’m going to go over other features of the MacBook Air for those who have never owned a recent MacBook Air.
The late 2020 MacBook Air’s design is nearly identical to its predecessor. It’s about the same size and weight as the 13 ”MacBook Pro, but having Apple’s sharp design means it can reduce that weight a bit.
I say it is practically the same because there is a little difference in the keyboard. The function keys at the top now offer shortcuts to Spotlight search, Siri dictation and Do not disturb mode, instead of Launchpad, less brightness and more brightness.
It’s a sensible change on Apple’s part. I usually use Spotlight to search for apps instead of accessing Launchpad, although some people may miss it. The ‘Command’ and space bar key combination will continue to open Spotlight.
The other big keyboard change is the arrival of a new icon on the function key. It may sound like iOS and here it fulfills the same function: open the emoticon keyboard (and other keyboards).
These keyboard changes, at a minimum, will help you identify that the MacBook Air you’re buying is indeed the M1 model and not the Spring 2020 update or even another older model.
Another thing that I should mention regarding the keyboard is a problem related to the butterfly mechanism of the keyboards of the MacBooks Air sold in 2018 and 2019. In those cases, dust was stuck under the keys and that caused you to have to pay a fee. expensive repair. The problem was fixed in early 2020 when Apple brought the Magic Keyboard to the Air.
The keyboard is a pleasure to use. I prefer it to the keyboard with a butterfly mechanism, which seems to me to have no movement. It’s more like a pre-2016 Apple keyboard, so if you have a pre-2016 Mac and you like its keyboard, then you should like the new one too.
Below the keyboard we find the trackpad . On previous Mac notebooks, I had the feeling that you inadvertently activated the trackpad when typing, causing the cursor to move from side to side and suddenly start typing elsewhere in the document. That no longer happens.
However, there is another thing that does bother me, and it has to do with the selection of text in Pages. Until now, if you wanted to select a paragraph or a section of the text, you had to click at the beginning, press ‘Shift’ and click on the last part. Now, that selects the entire document up to that point. I have to get used to selecting a paragraph by clicking on it three times before deleting everything.
The display is also slightly improved over the early 2020 MacBook Air : it now supports a wide color gamut (P3). Like previous MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models, it also offers True Tone and 2560 x 1600 pixels.
Of course, the MacBook Pro narrowly wins the screen of the MacBook Air, although its 500 nits compared to the 400 nits of the Air is not much. It’s certainly not a huge difference on the screen of both models that justifies the purchase of the MacBook Pro.
Yes, there is a big difference between the MacBook Air with M1 and the MacBook Air with Intel. You cannot connect more than one sub panel. The MacBook Air with M1 only supports a single external monitor in addition to the included one (up to 6K @ 60Hz with HDR).
Older Intel models are compatible with multiple external monitors. The same goes for the MacBook Pro. If you want to connect two external displays, at least for now, you will have to opt for an Intel model.
It is true, however, that there is a trick to adding a second external display to a Mac with M1 if you don’t mind dipping into an external controller and buying at least an additional adapter.
As I said before, Apple made some rather bold claims about the M1 chip and its capabilities. But it turns out they are pretty accurate. Apple said the MacBook Air had a 3.5x faster CPU and 5x faster GPU, and it does.
Although it is true that the previous MacBook Air did not have the fastest Intel processors, that does not mean that the current MacBook Air is in another league compared to its predecessor.
However, this does not mean that the MacBook Air is now on the same level as the MacBook Pro (with M1 or Intel). There are two ways that Apple limits the MacBook Air. The cheapest MacBook Air offers an 8-core CPU and a 7-core GPU, while the other Air and the two Pros with M1 have an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU. We will see what their differences are later.
The other big difference is that the MacBook Air is fanless. Removing the fan from the MacBook Air gives it better battery life, as the battery won’t need to power the fan, but it also means that the Mac will choose to slow down to avoid overheating. So the MacBook Pro should perform better when running demanding apps.
An 8-core CPU and a 7-core GPU, while I have tested the model with an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU. It is ideal because I can confirm that there is a reasonable difference that justifies the 270 € / MXN $ 6,700 difference ( spoiler : there is a difference, but a small one).
In the following sections, I will analyze the benchmarks for the two MacBook Air models with M1, and compare them with those of the new MacBook Pro with M1, as well as with the previous generation of MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.
I must say that I have had some problems when using the benchmarking tools . The tool I usually use to measure graphics performance (Unigene Valley) is not yet supported by Apple Silicon.
Luckily, Geekbench 5 can run natively on the M1 and it also measures the performance of the GPU when using it to do general computing tasks. You can also try OpenCL and Metal APIs.
The other complication was that Cinebench 23 arrived in early November, which means that I can’t compare its results to previous Macs. At least it did arrive being compatible with M1.
In any case, as you can see from the graphics below, the M1 chip is everything Apple claimed it would be.
I was impressed that Apple released the MacBook Air with 10th Gen Intel processors in March 2020, but what I didn’t know is what was to come. As you can see from the Geekbench results, when it comes to multi-core processing, the M1 is way ahead of the 1.1 GHz quad-core i5, which included the € 1,499 / MXN $ 32,999 model in 2020.
But the M1 doesn’t just make a fool of the Intel-based MacBook Air processor: the still-on-sale 2.0 GHz MacBook Pro, which comes standard with 16GB of RAM, lags behind the M1.
Even more surprising: the M1 CPU also outperforms the custom MacBook Pro with a 9th Gen Intel i9 processor with 2.4GHz 8 cores.
You may have noticed that the MacBook Pro with M1 is somewhat less powerful than the Air with 16-core M1. It probably doesn’t mean anything, though.
Cinebench also measures CPU performance, but the tool takes a bit more of a bill, as it also uses the Cinema 4D rendering engine for about 10 minutes to test how the system works under pressure and at high temperature.
Here, both M1 MacBook Air models outperformed the MacBook Air and the 13 ”MacBook Pro with Intel, but failed to beat the M1 MacBook Pro. This is surely where the lack of the fan is noticeable.
The 16 ”MacBook Pro did cope with a decent score of 9,024, compared to 7,047 for the MacBook Air.
Surely the biggest surprise of all was the excellent GPU results in Geekbench benchmarks. However, what should come as no surprise is that the 16 ”MacBook Pro, with its dedicated Radion Pro 5500M graphics card, is ahead.
Below you can see how the absence of an 8-core GPU takes its toll on the 7-core model. But there is not much difference if we compare it with the one that does exist with respect to the models with Intel.
As with the Cinebench result, the MacBook Pro with M1 performed better in the Geekbench graphics test. Again, this is probably due to the absence of the fan on the MacBook Air.
It should come as no surprise that Apple graphics can’t compete with the discrete AMD graphics card found in the 16 ”MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, the MacBook Air with M1 (and MacBook Pro with M1) doesn’t support eGPUs, so you won’t be able to connect external graphics cards.
Reading and writing
But not only the processor and graphics have been improved. Either because Apple has updated its components or made other changes, the truth is that there are improvements. For example, the read and write speeds of the internal SSD have increased.
The tool I usually use for read and write speeds, the AJA System Test, didn’t work well, so I used the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. The tests showed that the processes on the MacBook Air with M1 are twice as fast as with the Intel model.
These results suggest that there is a big difference between the previous generation models and the new ones. It is more than likely that you came from a much older Mac and in this case you will notice the improved performance a lot.
An obvious difference is how long it takes to start the computer. I compared it to my 2015 MacBook Pro, which took 60 seconds to start up. The MacBook Air with M1 took 38 seconds. Obviously, if you compare it to a long time ago you had time to make yourself a cup of tea, so you may not notice much of a difference.
Another way in which you will notice that the Mac with M1 is faster is when you launch the programs, or at least the apps that run natively with the M1 and not the ones that the Apple Rosetta 2 software converts.
Rosetta converts Intel apps so they can run on M1 and therefore may take a little longer to open. I clicked on all the apps in the Dock and couldn’t keep up with the apps as they opened.
The battery is surely what will have the most impact in your daily use. The MacBook Air with M1 has the same 44.9 Wh battery as the early 2020 model, but it will last much longer. Apple claims it has 18 hours of battery life, compared to 12 hours for the Intel model.
When I tested the battery using my standard test (playing a looping movie with a screen at 150), I found that it lasted 82% longer than the previous generation model.
One of the reasons that the battery life lasts longer is the absence of the fan in the newer model. Still, Apple says the 13 ”MacBook Pro can have 20 hours of battery life, and that model has a fan (and a bigger battery, too).
The other reason why the MacBook Air battery is better would surely be other efficiencies of the M1 chip with its energy saving cores and the Big Sur operating system.
In our tests, the MacBook Air with M1 shut down after 19 hours and 55 minutes. The MacBook Air with Intel lasted 12 hours and 28 minutes.
Improved battery life isn’t the only improvement Apple achieves with the same components. The webcam is still (inexplicably) the same poor 720p webcam that everyone has been complaining about for a long time (especially in virtual meeting times).
But the M1 brings improvements in image processing. As a result, video exposure, contrast and noise are improved, even in poor lighting conditions.
I don’t understand why Apple hasn’t updated its webcams yet … Unless it has something big planned, like the possible arrival of Face ID in 2021.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the number of ports on the MacBook Air. It still offers only two ports. These are now USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3 ports (both standards have a unified port).
Unfortunately, the MacBook Air no longer supports an external GPU and, as I said before, you can only connect an additional display.
Price and availability
The MacBook Air, despite its improvements, is still Apple’s smallest Mac laptop, with a starting price of € 1,129 / MXN $ 25,999. You can buy it through the Apple website , although you may find it cheaper on Amazon .
Compared to the MacBook Pro, you’ll get more storage for the price you pay, but the MacBook Pro also offers improvements in battery life and the fan is likely to result in improvements with more demanding apps. For the average user, the MacBook Air with M1 is a very good bet.
There is no doubt that the MacBook Air with M1 offers a significant improvement over its predecessor in all respects, especially much better battery life, improvements to the FaceTime camera software , and faster performance.
Of course, there are certain aspects that could be improved. For example, the fact that you cannot connect more than one monitor is something that is difficult to understand.
The only question is between buying the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro with M1. If the MacBook Air is that good, what will the next Mac updates look like?
- Operating system: macOS Big Sur
- Processor / Graphics Card: Apple M1 Chip
- RAM memory: 8 GB | 16 GB
- Storage: 256 GB | 512 GB | 1 TB | 2 TB
- Display: 13.3-inch Retina (up to 1680 x 1050, True Tone)
- Connectivity: Wifi 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0, Touch ID, 2 Thunderbolt 3 / USB 3.1 ports, stereo speakers, microphone, 3.5 mm jack port
- Battery: 49.9 Wh
- Dimensions: 304.1 x 212.4 x 4.1-16.1 mm
- Weight: 1.29 kg