Should You Buy the MacBook Air?
The MacBook Air is part of Apple’s latest generation of Macs with Apple silicon and offers significantly improved performance and battery life in a thin, fanless design. Announced in November 2020, the MacBook Air is among the newest Macs in Apple’s lineup and is believed to be still quite early in its product cycle.
Apple has updated the MacBook Air sporadically in recent years, releasing two new models in 2020 and before that there was no clear model, but the device has been updated every year since 2017. Now that Apple controls its own proprietary silicon for the MacBook Air, rather than using Intel processors, the MacBook Air is likely to see more regular updates in the coming years.
While there are clear signs that an updated MacBook Air with a host of upgrades and improvements is on the way, rumors suggest the model won’t arrive until late 2021 at the earliest and is more likely to arrive in 2022.
Since updated MacBook Air models are believed to be at least half a year away, right now is a good time to buy a MacBook Air, and for most people there’s no pressing reason to wait until new models arrive.
While the MacBook Air may seem like the best Apple laptop for portability and price, users who need a little better performance and battery life besides the Touch Bar should consider the M1 MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299.
If your main concern is software support and you need to use certain software that doesn’t work on an Arm-based chip, an older Intel-based MacBook Pro may be a better fit. These models start at $1,799 and are available in 13.3-inch and 16-inch sizes and offer more ports, RAM and storage; however it should be noted that these models are now much older than the M1 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro and are expected to see a major overhaul later this year. Overall, we don’t currently recommend buying an Intel-based Mac for most people.
M1 MacBook Air
In November 2020, Apple refreshed the MacBook Air lineup with the new M1 chip, the first Arm-based chip designed by Apple. M1 chips replace previous Intel chips and provide massive speed and efficiency improvements.
As Apple’s first System-on-Chip, the M1 chip features an 8-core CPU with four high-efficiency cores and four high-performance cores, as well as an integrated GPU with up to 8 cores. The MacBook Air’s CPU is up to 3.5 times faster than the previous generation model, and the GPU is up to 5 times faster.
Machine learning workloads are up to 9x faster, so MacBook Air is faster on machine learning-based features like face detection and object detection. With the M1 chip, SSD performance is up to 2x faster thanks to a new storage controller, and the MacBook Air can be configured with up to 2TB of storage.
RAM maxes out at 16GB and is integrated directly into the M1 chip for a unified memory architecture that delivers performance and efficiency improvements. Battery life on the MacBook Air has been significantly improved, offering up to 15 hours of web browsing and up to 18 hours of video playback.
Most of the changes to the MacBook Air are internal, not external. The MacBook Air hasn’t had any major design updates and continues to feature a tapered, wedge-shaped aluminum body with a thin-bezel 13-inch Retina display and a large Force Touch Trackpad. The MacBook Air comes in Space Grey, Silver, and Gold.
The 13-inch display has the same 2560×1600 resolution as the previous generation model, but support for P3 Wide Color is new this year for more vibrant, true-to-life colors. It offers True Tone to match the display’s white balance to ambient lighting for a more natural viewing experience and supports up to 400 nits of brightness.
Apple’s M1 MacBook Air has the same 720p FaceTime HD camera as its predecessor, but Apple says the M1 has improved picture quality with better noise reduction, better dynamic range, and other features.
Like its predecessor, the M1 MacBook Air features a Magic Keyboard with an improved scissor mechanism, which is more reliable than the previous butterfly mechanism and offers up to 1mm of key travel for a stable key feel.
The keyboard has been tweaked a bit and the function keys now include Do Not Disturb, Spotlight search and dictation options, plus there’s a new emoji Fn key. With Touch ID protected by the Secure Enclave, a Touch ID fingerprint sensor can be used instead of a password to unlock the Mac, make purchases, and more.
MacBook Air has two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports supporting up to 6K external display and works with WiFi 6 or 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.0. There are stereo speakers with wide stereo support, a three-microphone array and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
How to take
The MacBook Air starts at $999 for the M1 chip, 256GB storage, 7-core GPU and 8GB RAM, and a higher $1,249 model is available with 512GB storage, 8GB RAM and 8-core GPU. MacBook Air can be purchased from the online Apple Store and Apple retail stores. Apple began selling discounted refurbished versions of the M1 MacBook Air in February 2021, starting at $849.
M1 MacBook Air vsMacBook Pro
If you’re trying to decide between buying an M1 MacBook Air or M1 MacBook Pro, our Buying Guide reviews the similarities and differences to help you find which machine will best meet your needs.
Some M1 Mac owners have reported issues with Bluetooth connectivity, ranging from intermittent disconnection of wireless peripherals to non-functional Bluetooth connections. There is currently no fix, but Mac mini models seem to be most affected. It’s not clear if it’s a hardware or software issue, but it could be something we’ll see fixed in a future macOS update.
M1 MacBook Air Reviews
Reviews were surprisingly positive, given the massive speed improvements provided by the M1 chip. The Verge called the MacBook Air “the most impressive laptop” to come out in years, while Forbes said it was similar to an upgrade to a new iPhone processor – “everything looks mind-blowingly fast and responsive.”
Reviewers said the MacBook Air performs like a “professional-grade laptop,” handling multiple apps with ease, along with system-intensive apps like Photoshop.
The MacBook Air has an “instant-on” feature similar to an iPhone or iPad, which reviewers were impressed with, and despite the lack of a fan, the MacBook Air stays cool and never gets a little hot in review tests.
Battery life didn’t quite match Apple’s maximums, but it did reach 8 to 10 hours of continuous operation, far superior to the previous model. One of the negative reviews was the FaceTime camera, which is still 720p and of poor quality.
For more ideas on the MacBook Air and other M1 Macs, be sure to check out our full M1 Apple Silicon review guide.
The M1 MacBook Air does not have any exterior design changes compared to previous models. Using 100 percent recycled aluminum, the Apple design continues to be made from aluminum alloy and is available in Silver, Space Gray and Gold.
MacBook Air features have a wedge shape that tapers from thick to thin towards the front of the device. MacBook Air measures 0.63 inches at its thickest point and 0.16 inches at its thinnest point. It’s slightly thicker than the 2019 MacBook Pro, at 0.61 inches at its thickest point.
As for dimensions, the MacBook Air is 11.97 inches long and 8.36 inches wide, and is 2.8 pounds, 0.2 pounds lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
The M1 MacBook Air features a 13-inch display with a thin black bezel, a design similar to the MacBook Pro design.
Since 2018, the MacBook Air uses a Retina display that is more sculpting, sharper and clearer than the previous non-Retina display. MacBook Air has a resolution of 2560 x 1600 with 227 pixels per inch and a maximum brightness of 400 nits, with a total of over 4 million pixels.
The display on MacBook Air supports True Tone, which is designed to adjust the screen color to match the lighting in the room. True Tone works via a multi-channel ambient light sensor on MacBook Air models that can determine both the brightness and color temperature of the room.
After detecting the white balance, MacBook Air can adjust both the color and intensity of the display to match the room’s lighting for a more natural, paper-like viewing experience that also reduces eye strain.
New this year is P3 Wide color support, which brings more vibrant, lifelike colors and is an improvement over the sRGB color on the previous model. Wide color offers 25 percent more color than sRGB.
The M1 MacBook Air uses the redesigned Magic Keyboard first introduced on the 16-inch MacBook Pro and previous generation MacBook Air. The Magic Keyboard eliminates the butterfly mechanism that Apple has been using since 2015, which is fraught with major malfunctions due to dust and other small particles.
The scissor mechanism on the MacBook Air keyboard offers 1mm of key travel and stable key feel, plus uses an Apple-designed rubber dome that stores more potential energy for faster keypresses.
Apple modified the M1 MacBook Pro’s keyboard to replace the existing function keys. The launchpad and keyboard brightness controls have been replaced with Spotlight search, dictation, and Do Not Disturb, plus there’s an emoji Fn key.
The keyboard also features backlit keys controlled by an ambient light sensor to illuminate the keys in dark rooms.
The M1 MacBook Air has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor located next to the function keys at the top of the keyboard. Touch ID is powered by a Secure Enclave that keeps your fingerprint data and personal information safe.
Touch ID on MacBook can be used in place of a password, and placing a finger on the sensor unlocks the Mac. It also replaces a password for password-protected apps and can be used to make Apple Pay purchases in Safari.
MacBook Air is equipped with a large Force Touch trackpad, which lacks the traditional buttons and is instead powered by an array of Force Sensors, allowing users to press anywhere on the trackpad to get the same response.
A magnet-powered Taptic Engine provides users with haptic feedback when using the trackpad, replacing the feeling of pressing a physical button. The Force Touch trackpad supports a light press used as a regular click, and is used in conjunction with a deeper press or a “force click” as a separate gesture that does things like presenting definitions for a highlighted word.
MacBook Air has two USB-C Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 ports. With Thunderbolt 3, the MacBook Air can support 4K, 5K, and 6K displays and connect to eGPUs for faster graphics capabilities as needed.
The 6K display allows the M1 MacBook Air to work with Pro Display XDR and other 6K displays. MacBook Air supports a single 6K monitor, a single 5K monitor, or two 4K monitors.
Apple says the M1 MacBook Pro is limited to one display with up to 6K resolution or two with 4K resolution, but using DisplayPort adapters, the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models can drive up to five external displays. This is only possible when using a mix of 4K and 1080p displays, as the Thunderbolt ports do not have the bandwidth to run five 4K displays.
Alongside the two Thunderbolt 3 ports is the 3.5mm headphone jack on the other side of the device. Other than that, the MacBook Air has no additional ports, and Apple has removed the USB-A ports and SD card slot seen on MacBook Air models prior to 2018.
M1 Apple Silicon Chip
The MacBook Air is one of the first Macs to be updated with an Apple-designed Arm-based chip, rather than an Intel chip like previous MacBook Air models. These chips are called “Apple Silicon” and the chip used in the MacBook Air is M1.
The M1 is Apple’s first System on a Chip designed for the Mac; This means that the Mac has the processor, GPU, I/O, security features, and RAM inside. Apple says this provides better performance and power efficiency for longer battery life.
Like Apple’s latest A14 chips, the M1 is built on a 5-nanometer process that makes it smaller and more efficient than Apple’s previous chips. It has 16 billion transistors, which he says is the most transistors Apple has put into a single chip.
Unified Memory Architecture
One of the features of the M1 is the unified memory architecture, or UMA. Combines high-bandwidth, low-latency memory into a single pool. This means the technologies in the M1 chip can access the same data without copying across multiple memory pools for dramatic performance boosts across the entire system.
Thanks to UMA, video processing is up to 3.9 times faster and image processing is up to 7.1 times faster.
The M1 has an 8-core CPU and an integrated 8-core GPU (there’s also a 7-core GPU option as described below). The CPU has four high-efficiency cores and four high-performance cores. When doing simple tasks like browsing the web or reading email, MacBook Air uses high-efficiency cores to conserve battery life, but high-performance cores are used for more system-intensive tasks like photo and video editing.
Compared to high-performance cores, high-efficiency cores use one-tenth of the power while still delivering the performance Mac users need for everyday tasks.
According to Apple, the M1 chip’s CPU is up to 3.5 times faster than the Intel chip in the previous MacBook Air, and GPU speeds are up to 5 times faster. The base MacBook Air models come with an M1 chip with a 7-core GPU, but the high-end model with 512GB of storage comes with an 8-core GPU like the M1 MacBook Pro and Mac mini.
The M1 is designed to deliver higher performance at any power level compared to competing laptop chips. Delivers 2X faster CPU performance than the latest PC laptop chip while using 25 percent of power. In the GFX Bench 5.0 tests, the M1 outperformed the GTX 1050 Ti and Radeon RX 560 with a throughput of 2.6 TFLOPs.
In a Geekbench test, the 3.2GHz base frequency MacBook Air scored 1687 in single-core and 7433 in multi-core, making it faster than the top 16-inch MacBook Pro models that were released. These 16-inch MacBook Pro models are equipped with Intel’s latest 10th generation chips.
Plus, the M1 chip offers single-core performance that’s better than any other current Mac.
Even when emulating x86 under Rosetta 2, M1 Macs are faster than any previously released Mac. With Geekbench running through Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation layer, Macs get 78 to 79 percent of the performance of native Apple Silicon code.
The R23 Cinebench tests of the M1 chip come in at 7508 for multi-core and 1498 for single-core. The benchmark is for the MacBook Pro, but the MacBook Air has the same chip inside.
Comparatively, the high-end 2020 16-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.3GHz Core i9 chip scored 8818 for multi-core. The 2.6 GHz low-end 16-inch MacBook Pro scored 1113 single-core and multi-core. In the same test, the core score was 6912, and the high-end previous-generation MacBook Air scored 1119 in single-core and 4329 in multi-core.
The 8-core GPU in the M1 chip is integrated (which means it’s not a separate chip), and Apple calls it the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer. It can execute 25,000 threads at a time and combines improved graphics performance with lower power consumption.
MacBook Air has a new, more advanced Neural Engine that is up to 9x faster for machine learning tasks. The Neural Engine has a 16-core design capable of 11 trillion operations per second, and together with machine learning accelerators, it makes ML-based tasks much faster.
Applications like Final Cut Pro, Pixelmator, and others that use machine learning for video, photo, and audio editing take advantage of the Neural Engine.
MacBook Air does not have a cooling fan. Instead, an aluminum heat spreader dissipates heat, allowing quiet operation. This is one of the only internal changes in the new MacBook Air compared to the older models.
The M1 chip is built on an Arm architecture rather than an x86 architecture like Intel chips, but will continue to run applications designed for Intel machines thanks to Rosetta 2, a translation process running in the background and invisible to the user.
Apple also encourages developers to create Universal apps that use a single binary file and run on both Apple Silicon Macs and Intel Macs. Also, Apple Silicon Macs can run apps designed for iPhone and iPad.
We have details on apps updated with native or universal support, playing games on M1 Macs, running homebrew apps, and more. Check out our M1 cookie guide for details.
With the efficiency improvements introduced with the M1, the MacBook Air has an impressive battery life that far exceeds the battery life of the previous generation model.
The 49.9 WHr battery found in the previous generation model now lasts for up to 15 hours while browsing the web and 18 hours while watching movies via the Apple TV app.
In a test compiling the open source code for WebKit, Apple’s M1 chip excelled. The M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air compiled code faster than equivalent Intel-based models, but more importantly, it still had 91 percent battery life at the end of the test, while the Intel 13-inch MacBook Pro had only 24 percent battery life. left.
MacBook Air supports 802.11ax WiFi, known as Wi-Fi 6, which is the latest WiFi protocol that is faster and more efficient than the previous generation 802.11ac WiFi. It also supports Bluetooth 5.0.
Speakers and Microphone
MacBook Air features stereo speakers with wide stereo support for watching Apple TV+ content or playing iOS games, and a three-array microphone with directional beamforming for FaceTime calls.
For FaceTime calls, the MacBook Air has a built-in 720p HD camera on the front. Apple has been using a 720p front camera for several years and hasn’t upgraded the quality, but this year it says the M1 chip allows for clearer and sharper images.
The M1 chip offers better noise reduction to capture more detail from shadows and highlights, and the Neural Engine uses face detection to adjust white balance and exposure for more natural-looking skin tones.
MacBook Air uses solid stage storage with a capacity of up to 2TB. MacBook Air’s base-level storage starts at 256GB, and the MacBook Air’s SSD is up to 2x faster than the SSD in the previous generation model.
SSD tests have confirmed that the MacBook Air’s SSD is indeed faster, achieving write speeds of 2190MB/s and read speeds of 2676MB/s. This is about twice as fast as the SSD in the previous generation MacBook Air.
Techs in China have discovered that the RAM and SSD in the M1 Mac can be upgraded after purchase, but this is something that was only done in a test environment and these upgrades are not something the average person can undertake.
M1 MacBook Air
Two 13-inch MacBook Air configurations are available from Apple in Silver, Space Gray, and Gold.
- $999 – M1 chip with 7-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD.
- $1249 – M1 chip with 8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD.
Entry-level MacBook Air Upgrade Options:
- 16GB RAM – +200$
- 512GB SSD – +200$
- 1TB SSD – +400$
- 2TB SSD – +800$
Ultimate MacBook Air Upgrade Options:
- 16GB RAM – +200$
- 1TB SSD – +200$
- 2TB SSD – $600
M1 Mac How-To
Since M1 Macs use a new type of chip designed by Apple, there are some tips and tricks for doing things like transferring files, entering recovery mode, and finding apps optimized for new machines. We’ve got a few M1-specific how-tos worth checking out.
What’s Next for MacBook Air?
Apple is developing a thinner and lighter version of the MacBook Air that will have thinner bezels than the current model. Rumors suggest that it will feature a 13-inch mini LED display, which will be an upgrade over the current MacBook Air’s display.
The machine will have MagSafe charging technology and a pair of USB 4 ports for connecting external devices. The upcoming MacBook Air will be a high-end version of the 2020 MacBook Air, with the current model perhaps an entry-level option. The upcoming MacBook Air is expected to feature a similar design to the 2021 MacBook Pro models.
According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the 2022 MacBook Air models will likely be offered in “several color options” similar to the colors of the 24-inch iMac.
Leaker Jon Prosser, who has a mixed track record, says one of his sources has seen a prototype blue MacBook in a new color set that could be a MacBook Air.
The next-generation MacBook Air is expected to include an updated version of the M1 chip. It will contain the same number of computing cores as the M1 (eight), but is expected to run faster. The new Apple silicon chip will support better graphics, with nine or 10 GPU cores instead of the seven or eight cores in the current M1 MacBook Air.
According to Dylandkt, who correctly predicted some of Apple’s plans in the past, the 2022 MacBook Air will include an “M2” Apple silicon chip. It is claimed that the M2 will be different from the M1X, which will allegedly appear on the “Pro Mac devices” of the MacBook Pro, which will be released in 2021.
Bloomberg believes the new MacBook Air could arrive in late 2021, but Kuo suggests that Apple will unveil the new machine in mid-2022 and there won’t be a refresh in 2021.
Apple is said to be working on a number of MacBooks with 5G cellular connectivity, which are rumored for 2020. The rumor comes from DigiTimes, a site with a mixed history of Apple information, and Apple has not released 5G. MacBook Air in 2020. According to Bloomberg, 5G technology may come to Macs at some point in the future.