Review: MacBook Air M1 2020 – In this review of the MacBook Air M1 2020, we test this new MacBook, which is equipped with the very latest M1 processor. We tell about our experiences and give advice whether you can switch now, or better wait a while.
Reviewing a new generation of MacBook is not always exciting. There is often a slightly newer Intel chip and some minor tweaks have been applied, but otherwise everything has remained the same. You did not have to expect major developments at Apple in recent years. Until Apple Silicon was announced.
A new era has dawned for the Mac. The MacBook Air is one of the first products to already be equipped with the M1 chip and we were eager to get started with it. This promises major changes. The Mac will run on Apple Silicon in the future and with this MacBook you can already get a taste of it. The first experiences are promising, also with us!
It is the second time this year that Apple has renewed the MacBook Air. The Spring 2020 example got an improved keyboard and the very latest 10th Gen Intel processor. But the real innovation comes this fall, because that is the brand new MacBook Air with M1 chip, which shines on our desk in a striking gold color.
Apple started plans to make the switch to Apple Silicon years ago and now the time has come. If you want to be part of this ‘revolution’ now, the MacBook Air is a great choice to start with.
MacBook Air M1 design: exactly the same
- Aluminum housing
- Available in space gray, silver and gold
- Full-size Magic Keyboard with backlight
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- 2 Thunderbolt ports for USB 4
- Touch ID , no Touch Bar
- Great trackpad
You don’t have to buy this MacBook Air with M1 for the design. That is exactly the same as in previous years. Apple has renewed the inside, but has not changed anything on the outside, even the ports are still in the same place. You will therefore have a hard time telling the difference between a MacBook Air with M1 chip and this spring’s model, which still ran on Intel.
As far as we are concerned, the design can last for a while. Compared to laptops from other brands, the MacBooks are still iconically beautiful. But of course it would have been nice if Apple had made the bezels a bit narrower and made some other small improvements. Maybe that will come next year, when Apple also switches to a different screen technology.
You get the same 13-inch screen in a full aluminum housing with this Air. The keyboard is a Magic Keyboard, as introduced in the spring. It is less prone to failure than the offending keyboard on previous models. Trackpad, Touch ID and 720p webcam (boohoo!), It’s all the same.
Apple has even taken a step back on one point: you can no longer order a model with 4 USB-C ports, not even with the MacBook Pro with M1. In both the entry-level model and the upgrade, you get two USB-C ports and a headphone jack on the other side. The ports are suitable for charging, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 (up to 40 Gb / s) and USB 3.1, 2nd gen. (up to 10 Gb / s). I would have preferred that the ports were not both on the same side, so that you are a bit more flexible with placing peripherals, docks and USB hubs. The fact that it only has two ports may be a limitation of the current M1 chip. If you need more, you better wait a while for the M1 successor.
The choice for a 720p webcam is a shame, especially when you consider that many people have started video calling. Apple has used iPhone image editing tricks to improve the image quality a bit. But my separate webcam (a 1080p Full HD Logitech Streamcam) really delivers better images and lights up your face, so that you are still in the picture well in twilight without needing a bright lamp.
For people who struggle to distinguish the M1 MacBook Air from its predecessor, we still have a trick up its sleeve: on the keyboard you will now find special buttons for Spotlight , Do Not Disturb and Voice Memos. Not that we used those new keys much during the test. But all other changes are found within.
Screen of the MacBook Air M1
- 13.3-inch LED screen with backlight
- Maximum brightness 400 nits
- Resolution 2560 x 1600 pixels
- Now with P3 support
In terms of screen everything seems to have stayed the same. Yet something has been renewed: Apple now has support for P3 color gamut, which produces more vivid colors. At 400 nits, the screen is perhaps slightly less bright than that of the MacBook Pro (500 nits), but it shows just as much detail and is a feast for the eyes. The screen is also easy to read outdoors. However, this is comparable to the previous model.
Due to the arrival of Apple Silicon and the greater overlap with iOS and iPadOS , the question arises again when Apple will build in a touchscreen. Especially now that you can install iOS apps on the Mac , which are built with touchscreen interaction in mind, it would be helpful for Apple to take the plunge. You can of course also operate with a trackpad, but swiping is often just a bit easier, especially with games. Maybe it will come next year, although Apple does not want to release anything about it yet.
- 8-core CPU (M1)
- 7-core GPU (also available with 8-core GPU)
- 16-core Neural Engine
- 8GB RAM standard, upgradeable to 16GB (approx. 200 euros)
- Improved image signal processing, including better webcam images
- 11ax Wi-Fi 6 wireless networks, 802.11a / b / g / n / ac compatible
- Fanless and therefore whisper quiet
No one will have missed that this MacBook Air is equipped with a completely new processor. After all, that is also the most important innovation of this model and the reason why you would want to switch now. Instead of processor, we should actually speak of a System on a Chip (Soc) where the CPU, GPU, Neural Engine, system memory and other crucial parts are combined in one package. But for the sake of convenience you will often also hear processor and chip, because people are used to that.
It is no longer possible to order the MacBook Air with an Intel processor from Apple. If you still want to stick with Intel, you can go to various other stores that still have MacBook Airs with Intel in stock and regularly offer them. But why would you? If you’re the target audience for the MacBook Air and don’t really use heavy-duty applications (otherwise you’d have chosen a Pro), this M1 performs so much better. This is not only apparent from benchmarks, but we also noticed during testing.
And the great thing is: it doesn’t get scorching hot on your lap even with heavier loads if you open Photoshop, Premiere and Chrome with multiple tabs, for example. That’s because Apple is keeping an eye on the thermal load and scaling it back in time.
The M1 is based on the same chip architecture that you have found in iPhones and iPads for years . Apple already has quite a bit of experience with that, making it not even a big gamble to jump on the Apple Silicon train now.
Thanks to the M1, a fanless MacBook Air has become possible and that means that you no longer have the blowing noise that you regularly hear with the MacBook Air of spring 2020. If there are too many tabs open, the Intel Air already starts blowing. This is ideal with this new MacBook Air: you have excellent performance while the device itself remains whisper quiet. You don’t have to run a heavy application for this; you also notice the fluidity when waking up from sleep mode.
The Air not only performs tasks faster and quieter, but also loses less battery life during the job. While our Spring 2020 Air lost 30% battery life with a tough video task, the Air M1 lost only 10%.
- Suitable for universal apps
- Many Intel apps can be used thanks to Rosetta 2
- You can also install iPhone and iPad apps
When Apple Silicon was announced, we held our hearts to whether the software would be ready. Obviously, Apple’s own software would have been largely modified, but what about third-party apps? That turned out to be unnecessary concern. It is the first generation of a completely new processor, but most apps appear to work flawlessly in Rosetta 2 and often they have even been adjusted. There are a few exceptions, but if you use common apps, you can usually just get started by opening up your new M1 Mac.
Apple has made sure that you have enough apps available with three solutions: with universal apps that have already been adapted for the M1, with Rosetta 2 for using Intel-only apps and by now making iOS apps available on the Mac. You will of course get the best performance if you install universal apps that are specially optimized for M1. They work quickly and smoothly, and the list of suitable apps grows longer over time.
Rosetta 2 translates the Intel code into instructions that the ARM processor can process and that also works great for apps like Skype, Zoom and Photoshop, for example. The fact that you have to wait about twenty seconds for the code to be translated when you start an app for the first time is a sacrifice that I am willing to make. After that it works super fast. This is a better solution than emulation, where each instruction has to be translated one by one, making the software slower to respond.
If you can’t figure it out at all, there is another way out: you install the iOS app. This works less well, because the interface is often not optimal and with iPhone apps you cannot adjust the size of the window. But for occasional tasks for which you really need that one app, it is doable. You won’t find apps in the Mac App Store that are totally unsuitable because they require certain iPhone hardware . These are for example apps that require a touchscreen, rear camera or GPS. Some developers also deliberately do not offer their iOS apps in the Mac App Store , for example ING Banking and Instagram.
While testing the MacBook Air with various apps, everything worked effortlessly. What you still have to put in some effort is looking for betas of apps that have been adapted for M1 and that you can try now while waiting for the final version.
Rosetta 2 works unnoticed in the background and catches almost all exceptions. Rosetta 2 works so well that you often don’t even notice which version you are using. By right-clicking on the app in Finder and requesting information, you can see whether you have the universal version or the Intel version.
It is often better to skip a first generation, but with the M1 chip you are in the right place as an average user. If you have very specific wishes, you should check carefully in advance whether your software has already been adjusted.
The MacBook Air runs on Big Sur , which is universal and can therefore also be installed on Intel Macs. It contains a faster Safari browser, an improved iMessage app and a new look. But on the M1, your experience isn’t radically different from an Intel Mac. It just runs a little smoother. However, you will have to give permission to specific apps more often because of the extra privacy functions. That can be a bit annoying at first, but fortunately it is a one-off.
- Up to 15 hours of wireless internet
- Watch up to 18 hours of movies in the Apple TV app
In the past, you had to buy the MacBook Air because of the long battery life. It was less powerful, but for people who wanted to work long hours on their laptop, it was the best option. With the M1 chip, it doesn’t matter anymore. Both models (Air and Pro) now have a great battery life. If you were used to using your MacBook for 10 hours, it will be a lot longer with these new models (see above).
The MacBook Pro with M1 even lasts 20 hours on a battery . In our case, the MacBook Air lasted about a day and a half on a battery charge, so if you forgot to use the charger during a weekend away: you don’t have to be stressed, even if you are going to watch some series on the way. And if you are worried: in standby, consumption is virtually zero.
You take these M1 MacBooks not only because of the much better performance of the processor, but also because they are extremely energy-efficient. Apple does not make empty promises: the Air does indeed last a very long time.
Who is the MacBook Air M1 suitable for?
There is really no reason to look at the developments just yet. If you are in urgent need of a new MacBook Air and you use common software, you can make the switch to M1 without hesitation. If you can keep it going with your current MacBook Air or if you need very specific software, we recommend waiting until next year. Perhaps Apple will also tackle the design and the screen, so that you really have a spectacularly renewed MacBook Air on your desk.
The MacBook Air M1 2020 is ideal for people who do common tasks such as e-mailing, studying, using the Internet, watching a movie, word processing and filling spreadsheets. If you have advanced requirements because you are a professional filmmaker, for example, then you already know that you should take the MacBook Pro.
Are you unsure between the new Air and the Pro with M1 chip? The differences are not so clear this year. Both have the same M1 processor, with the biggest difference in performance due to the cooling. The Pro has active cooling and can therefore continue a little longer at top performance, while the Air has to go back a bit earlier, to keep the temperature within acceptable limits.
Here you will find the main differences between Air (with the Pro in brackets).
- No Touch Bar (Pro: yes)
- No fan (Pro: yes)
- Battery life 18 hours (Pro: 20 hours)
- Maximum brightness 400 nits (Pro: 500 nits)
- Microphone: 3 microphones (Pro: ditto, but studio quality)
- Stereo speakers (Pro: same, but with high dynamic range)
MacBook Air with M1 vs 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1: What’s the Difference?
What are the differences between the new 13-inch MacBook Air M1 2020 and the MacBook Pro with M1? We compare the two latest 13-inch MacBooks with Apple Silicon.
Buy the M1 MacBook Air if you:
- Now you need a new MacBook.
- Have enough of two gates.
- A 13-inch screen is enough.
- Want a whisper-quiet MacBook .
- Want the best possible performance.
- Want a long battery life.
- Looking for a cheap MacBook Air – the M1 performs so well that the entry-level model will probably suffice.
- In a hurry – the experiences with these MacBooks are so good that you can’t really make a bad buy.
The MacBook Air M1 is less suitable if:
- Only ‘Pro’ is good enough for you.
- You often want to run heavy applications.
- Need a separate GPU – the M1 doesn’t support external eGPUs yet.
- I’m waiting for a new design with narrower screen edges.
- Prefer a larger 14- or 16-inch screen.
- Want a touchscreen – maybe that will come.
- Want to upgrade later – this is not possible with the M1
- Afraid that even more great things will be released in 2021, such as 5G connectivity, a touchscreen, Face ID and more functions that will be made possible thanks to Apple Silicon
Alternatives to the MacBook Air M1
Alternatives? There are actually none. Apple is in such a separate class with this processor that you will actually find no equal with Windows laptops. You could consider a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but for the same money you buy a MacBook and if you have to buy accessories such as a Magic Keyboard you end up more expensive. The MacBook already has a built-in keyboard.
You could also opt for the Surface Pro X, which also runs on an ARM processor and is fanless. The Qualcomm processor (8cx) is not as powerful as the M1 and the battery life is less good.
The main competitor of the MacBook Air is perhaps the MacBook Pro, also equipped with the M1 chip. The base model costs € 1,129 and the upgrade is € 1,399. If you are thinking about the upgrade, you might be tempted to buy the MacBook Pro with M1 for € 50 because then you have better microphones and speakers, a heavier battery and a Touch Bar. But beware: you only get 256GB of storage, which is a bit on the tight side for professional use.
The dream configuration for if you still want to upgrade is the MacBook Air M1 with 16GB RAM and 512GB storage. That will cost you € 1,629. A MacBook Pro with the same specs is available in the shops for € 1,909. If you want to save money, it is better to choose the Air than a Pro with lesser specs.
MacBook Air M1 2020: BENEFITS+
- Excellent performance
- Intel-based apps almost always work
- Extremely improved battery life
- MacBook Air M1 2020
- You can use all common software, possibly with Rosetta 2
MacBook Air M1 2020: CONS-
- Only 2 ports
- The same design with wide screen edges
- No hardware upgrades possible afterwards
- Still a 720p webcam
- Few further improvements, except for the new processor
Conclusion MacBook Air M1 2020
Maybe you were concerned that the first MacBooks with M1 chip would still have compatibility issues and teething problems. That fear is unfounded. Apple has ensured that you have exactly the same experience as on an Intel Mac, only slightly smoother and with a longer battery life. That promises a lot for the second generation M processor.
We hardly encountered any problems during testing, which is great for a first generation product. It is noticeable that Apple has been working on the switch from Intel to ARM for a long time. We are particularly enthusiastic about the fact that this excellent performance comes together with a fanless design, while the battery life has almost doubled. It shows how Intel has stood still (or how clever Apple’s chip team is, although we already knew that about the A-series processors).
We think the entry-level model in itself is recommended. If you still want certainty, you can purchase the upgrade for € 250, especially when you consider that you can no longer upgrade the memory and other components. For the average Mac user who wants to perform standard office tasks, the MacBook Air M1 is a purchase that you don’t have to think twice about. To do! You will not regret it. This MacBook has never let us down in daily use and even exceeded our expectations considerably.
For people who have set their sights on a MacBook Pro , it is better to wait a little longer: the real power will only come next year.
Buy MacBook Air M1
You can choose from the two versions below.
- Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU
- 256 GB storage
- Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine
- 8 GB central memory
- 256 GB SSD storage
- Retina display with True Tone
- Magic Keyboard
- Touch ID
- Force Touch trackpad
- Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports
- Price: € 1,129