Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review: Big steps to a bright future

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Yes, it really is only a few months since the last MacBook Air hit the streets. But while this new end-of-2020 model looks and feels the same as the one from earlier in the year, what’s inside is quite different.

That’s because the MacBook Air now runs exclusively on Apple’s own processors, dubbed Apple Silicon. The Apple M1 chip inside shares more in common – actually a lot in common – with Apple’s A-Series iPhone and iPad chips than any Intel processor. It’s the same M1 that’s now available in the Mac mini range as well as the 13-inch MacBook Pro (although there’s still an Intel model available of the latter for now).

Apple Silicon is here: What does the Apple M1 mean for your next Mac?

The transition to Apple Silicon follows on from 15 years of Macs using Intel processors and, while we’re not sure what’s happening at the top-end of the range, it’s safe to say that all low-to-mid-level Macs will be running Apple Silicon by the end of 2021. So what difference does it make and is now the right time to jump in?

Design

  • Dimensions: 304 x 212mm / 41-161mm thick / Weight: 1.29kg
  • Ports: 2x USB-C (USB 4) / Thunderbolt 3, 1x 3.5mm jack
  • Finish options: Gold, Space Grey, Silver

As with the 2019 and early 2020 models, the external design of the first M1 Macbook Air is the same. We’ve remarked elsewhere how surprised we are that Apple didn’t take the opportunity to create a radical new Mac with the change to its own processor design. After all, we could have had a replacement for the old MacBook, which was sort of like a sub-MacBook Air.

But we didn’t get that and so we move on. Apple is perfectly capable of pushing the envelope on design – just look at the AirPods Max – but clearly with the portable Mac it feels that its distinguished and hardy aluminium unibody is something to stick with. And why not? This is a hugely successful design that remains modern-looking, even though we’re now nearly 13 years on from Steve Jobs pulling the original from an envelope.

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Once again there are two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports – which can sometimes limit you a little, but in reality it’s increasingly a rarity. The notable thing here is that they support the new USB 4 standard. The 3.5mm headphone jack remains but it’s surely now on borrowed time on the Mac.

The keyboard is the same again as the early 2020 MacBook Air, but that keyboard brought serious improvement over earlier generations, with the introduction of the Magic Keyboard with an older-style scissor mechanism. It’s very comfortable to type on for long periods and has much better travel than older ‘butterfly’ MacBook Pro keyboards. While many lauded the Magic Keyboard as a revelation, the fact is you should expect a fantastic keyboard to be part of a laptop like this. It’s a minimum requirement.

Touch ID is in the top right corner of the keyboard, meaning quick and easy login with a fingerprint, but we really hope that Face ID will come to the Mac in 2021. You’ve been able to use your face to log into Windows 10 since 2016, so Apple is trailing behind here – in particular as the technology already exists in its phones.

Display

  • 13.3-inch Retina Display, 2650 x 1600 resolution
  • Can drive up to one 6K external display

Again you get the well-known 13.3-inch Retina display, giving you the same resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels as the 2019 and early 2020 versions. True Tone ensures the display adapts to your environment, while there’s also support for the P3 wide colour gamut – which is new for the Air this time around.

The Air’s display no longer has a huge bezel, but it does feel like Apple needs to match some of the PC designs coming out with near-borderless displays, which aren’t even that new – the Dell XPS 13 has had a super-thin bezel for half a decade now. We’ve said that bezel design needs to be refined for other Macs, too, particularly the iMac, and perhaps we will see some movement here over the next year or so.

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