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With the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), Apple has given its thinnest and slimmest a giant leap forward in performance. The 2020 Air comes with the Apple M1 processor, the manufacturer’s highly-acclaimed, impressively powerful ARM-based chip, under its hood, giving it just the right boost it’s long deserved.
Alongside the macOS 11 Big Sur it comes pre-loaded during its release – any MacBook Air M1 you purchase now should either come with the new macOS Monterey or have a free upgrade to it, it has become among the most powerful thin and light laptops. It boasts improvements in performance, as well as better power-efficiency and longer battery life, while sticking with the same pricing as its predecessor ($999 / £999 / AU$1,599), the MacBook Air (2020).
The MacBook Air (M1, 2020), therefore, offers upgraded internals without any additional cost. So, if you weren’t swayed by the Intel-based model, then maybe this one will change your mind. It also remains our pick for the best laptop in the world right now.
Considering the price points of premium Windows 10 competitors like the HP Spectre x360 and Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020), both of which are pricier, the Air’s price tag looks even more competitive.
You can also go for a more powerful MacBook Air with extra storage for $1,249 / £1,249 / AU$1,949, and both of these can be further customised with more memory and even more storage.
Price-wise, then, we think Apple has nailed it. Of course, this certainly isn’t a cheap laptop, but nor does it feel overpriced, especially compared to its similarly specced rivals – something that Apple has been accused of in the past.
Apple has also been accused of caring more about aesthetics of its products than the actual features and functions, but with the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), we actually think the opposite is true. This is because while the MacBook Air has some huge changes on the inside – most noticeably the M1 chip – on the outside, nothing has really changed.
So, this model looks (and feels) just like the last model (and the model before that). For people who love the look of the MacBook Air, this may be good news, but we feel it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. The M1-based MacBook Air is such a revolutionary and exciting device, we’d have loved to have seen Apple take a few risks with the design as well, even if it was just by making it lighter, or slimming the bezels down that surround the screen.
The fact is, HP and Dell have now overtaken Apple when it comes to designing thin, light and gorgeous laptops – a fact that would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago.
When it comes to performance, however, we have no qualms. The M1 has proved to be a complete beast that puts Intel to shame in many respects. During our time with the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), we were incredibly impressed with how it performed.
Big Sur runs well, and the visual overhaul of the operating system offers a nice change, while still feeling familiar. The fact that both new and legacy apps run well on the M1 chip is very commendable, and so far there don’t seem to be any issues 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. Also, the fact that you can now run thousands of iOS apps and games pretty much flawlessly is a huge win as well.
Battery life also seems to be fantastic, and the fanless design is nice, as it means the laptop runs silently; we do have our concerns about how it manages heat, however.
In the end, we’d have liked Apple to have been a bit more ambitious with the design of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) – 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) (13.3-inch 256GB) at Amazon for $899 (opens in new tab)
Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020): Price and availability
- Starts at $999 / £999 / AU$1,599
- Cheaper than Windows alternatives
Prices for the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) start at $999 / £999 / AU$1,599. As usual, there are a number of specifications available at launch, and you can further customize these to get the MacBook Air (2020) that best suits your needs and budget.
The base model features an M1 chip with an 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.
There’s also a higher-specced model, priced at $1,249 / £1,249 / AU$1,949, which has an M1 chip with an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. So, for that extra money you’re getting an additional core in the GPU, and double the storage.
You can also configure these models to have 16GB of RAM (for $200 / £200 / AU$300 extra), and up to 2TB of SSD storage (for $800 / £800 / AU$1,200).
For comparison, the MacBook Air (2020) launched earlier in 2020 also started at $999 / £999 / AU$1,599, which was actually cheaper than the launch price of the MacBook Air (2019).
So you’re getting the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) for the same price as the earlier model, which we commend Apple for. If you bought a MacBook Air a few months ago, however, you may feel a little annoyed that it’s already outdated.
That $999 / £999 / AU$1,599 entry point isn’t just the cheapest way of getting an Apple laptop; it’s an incredibly competitive price point that undercuts many of the best 13-inch laptops running Windows 10, such as the Dell XPS 13. If you thought Apple’s laptops were overpriced compared to the competition, think again.
Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020): Design
- Thin and light design
- Completely silent when in use
We’ve mentioned how, thanks to its competitive price, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is helping challenge people’s preconceptions about MacBooks – but the MacBook Air, along with the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) and Mac mini (M1, 2020), also offer strong rebuttals to the criticism, often leveled at the Apple, that its products are more style than substance.
People often dismiss Apple as making products that look good, but that don’t do anything particularly revolutionary when it comes to the actual hardware. With the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), however, it’s the complete opposite.
With this laptop, Apple has actually done some really exciting things on the inside – switching to its own M1 chip, and building macOS Big Sur from the ground up to take advantage of it – while leaving the actual design of the device completely unchanged. This is both good news and bad news.
First, the good news. For many people, the iconic design of the MacBook Air is pretty much perfect, so they don’t see the need for any radical change. At the same time, by simply offering minor spec bumps every year, the MacBook Air was in danger of being outclassed by more ambitious rivals. So, by concentrating on revolutionizing the hardware of the MacBook Air, and not tinkering with the design, Apple is doing something many of its critics have argued it should do: focus on the unglamorous, yet essential, stuff.
But what about the bad news? Well, because the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) promises to be such a big revolution, the fact that it looks – and feels – exactly the same as previous MacBook Airs is a little disappointing, to put it mildly.
The MacBook Air (M1, 2020)’s dimensions of 0.16-0.63 x 11.97 x 8.36 inches (0.41-1.61 x 30.41 x 21.24cm) and weight of 2.8 pounds (1.29kg) are exactly the same as those of both the MacBook Air (2020) and the 2019 model, and virtually the same as those of the 2018 Air, which is a bit lighter.
On the outside, then, this MacBook Air looks identical to the three previous models – and it means that the excitement that comes with pulling the MacBook Air from its packaging is somewhat dulled, particular if you’ve owned one of those earlier machines.
There had been rumors that the move to Apple’s own silicon would result in lighter devices, but this isn’t the case. One big design change that has been enabled by the M1 chip, though, is that the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is now fanless. This means the internals keep cool enough under workloads without the need for fans to kick in and cool them down. There’s a catch to this (which we’ll get to in a bit), but it means the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) runs virtually silently, and it’s very impressive.
The lack of fans could have allowed Apple to make the MacBook Air thinner and lighter, so it’s interesting that it remains the same size and weight as its predecessors.
On opening up the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) you’re again presented with a sight that’s familiar, and in a good way. The best addition to the previous MacBook Air’s design, the Magic Keyboard, is again included here. It really is a lovely keyboard to work on, feeling tactile and responsive despite how flat the keys are.
A Touch ID button is again situated above the keyboard, and it remains the best fingerprint scanner we’ve used on a laptop. Too many of the fingerprint scanners on Windows laptops struggle to log us in reliably, but the Touch ID button here logged us in successfully pretty much every time, even when we’d not completely covered the scanner with a finger.
The screen is also virtually the same as the one on the MacBook Air (2020), except for one big difference. So, it’s still 13.3 inches with a 400-nit LED backlit display, and a Retina display of 2560 x 1600 resolution, and comes with Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the color temperature on the screen based on the ambient light.
What’s new here is that the MacBook Air (M1, 2020)’s screen now supports the P3 wide color gamut, which results in more accurate, true-to-life images. P3 support used to be only found in the more expensive MacBook Pros, so it’s great to see Apple bring this feature to its more affordable MacBook Air lineup. If you’re a photographer or video editor who requires accurate colors, you no longer have to automatically go for a MacBook Pro.
The screen is also surrounded by those big thick bezels that have been a staple of the MacBook Air’s design for ages now, and which leave this laptop feeling a little dated. Devic