In 2018, the Apple MacBook Air was the last Mac laptop to be updated with Apple’s controversial butterfly-style keyboard after being introduced to the now-discontinued 12-inch MacBook a few years earlier. Apparently, Apple has admitted that people don’t like the ultra-smooth keyboard of these butterfly switches, Apple has updated the MacBook Air (starting from $999; $1,299 reviewed) with a new, more comfortable keyboard. The redesign also brings more storage capacity and the latest tenth-generation Intel Core processors for the MacBook Air, though computing power is not the strength of the new Air. If you are a macOS fanatic who mainly uses a laptop, for example, to write emails and surf the Internet, the MacBook Air 2020 is easily recommended for general use.
Sleek, lightweight design.
Various Color Options.
A reasonable price
No touch as usual
Lacks raw computing power
No Wi-fi 6.
Peripherals: Does Keyboards Matter
All novelists to secretaries once wrote on typewriters. This is a tedious process in which the metal levers are struck with great force. Today, many of the same people who have written novels on the desktop or made notes to their secretary sit in coffee shops and writing on an Apple laptop keyboard. But some are no happier than when they were in the typewriter era.
The aversion to the latest Apple handheld keyboards was intense and persistent. Lawsuits and challenging pillars of opinion were brought against them. A Hollywood Cognoscent member even made the headlines by denouncing them at this year’s Academy Awards.
Until recently, Apple had solved its MacBook keyboard problem in a variety of ways. The company promised to provide free keyboard fixes that failed when the debris got caught in them. It expressed the advantages of the low pressure on downpressing and space-saving design of the butterfly switch. But the unstable rumble never stopped.
Last year Apple finally changed course and released a 16-inch version of the MacBook Pro with the “new” Magic keyboard, which is practically a step backward to the Mac keyboards. It was great, but the expensive and powerful 16-inch MacBook Pro is aimed at users like record makers and video editors, not at many students and freelancers who just need a working Mac with a nicer keyboard.
The prayers of these macOS-loyal freelancers and students who clung to the old MacBook Airs in hopes of a keyboard fiasco were answered. The same magical keyboard introduced on the 16-inch MacBook Pro is now the MacBook Air, which is less than half the price of the MacBook Pro and is even cheaper than $899 for students and educators.
Under each key on the new MacBook Air is a rubber dome and a switch that resembles scissors. This installation is similar to the way most keyboards were made in the past 30 years, and the keys now move a respectable size of 1 mm when pressed. I wrote part of this review on the new keyboard and found that the keys were a little less comfortable than I consider the gold standard for portable keyboards- the Lenovo ThinkPad T series.
The typing experience is very different from the previous MacBook Air keyboard, which used a lot of malicious butterfly switches. Although the atmosphere is fairly stable, the keys hardly move when pressed. It’s more like tapping a smartphone screen than tapping a laptop. I don’t hate the butterfly switch feel as much as some professional writers, but I admit that it’s not ideal for someone who has to write all day. And given the choice, I would gladly take the new design.
Another advantage of the new Magic keyboard is the redirected directional keys. They are now arranged in an inverted “T” shape, making it easier to locate them by touching them. Both keyboards are backlit and have physical escape keys compared to the virtual Escape button on the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s touchpad.
The only possible disadvantage of the new keyboard is that it takes up a bit more vertical space, which means that the new MacBook Air is slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor. Still, it’s almost nothing: The MacBook Air 2020 measures 0.63 – 11.97, 8.46 inches (HWD) and 2.8 pounds, from the previous model’s 0.61 to 12 8.4 inches and 2.75 pounds. It is only worth mentioning as evidence that the old butterfly keyboard cannot claim any significant space-saving as an advantage.
Design: Excellent Design
In addition to the new keyboard layout, the other physical functions of the MacBook Air are virtually identical to those of its predecessors’. If you just bought a 2019 MacBook Air and are comfortable with your computer’s keyboard and major components, you can stop reading here and save on the upgrading costs.
However, if you want to replace your old laptop with a new MacBook Air and don’t know about the modern features you’ve forgotten until now, you’re happy. This laptop has been designed with excellence. The slim aluminum body is available in gray, rose gold, or silver. Oversized Force Touch trackpads feature virtual haptic feedback instead of a physical switch, making clicks just as happy no matter where your finger is on the pad. The Touch ID sensor at the top right of the keyboard allows you to log in to your MacOS account without having to enter a password. The sensor also acts as a power switch, though it generally doesn’t need this feature because the MacBook Air starts automatically when you open the lid.
The webcam offers fairly good 720p video quality, but it doesn’t support the best quality of some laptops and all-in-one computers, including the Apple iMac, with 1080p cameras. Stereo speakers produce surprisingly loud sound or such a small laptop, although when I was watching a movie trailer, I noticed that the high notes were quite thin.
Best of all is the excellent Retina display on the MacBook Air, the 13.3-inch 16:10 widescreen display, and the native resolution of 2,560×1,600 pixels. The resolution is much better than Full HD but not as good as 4K (generally 3,840×2,160 pixels). For me, all Full HD resolutions on the screen provide a decadent portable viewing experience.
The MacBook Air lacks OLED technology or HDR support but partially makes up for missing features with True Tone, which automatically adjusts the screen’s white balance to the surrounding light. True Tone, which is also available on many other Apple devices, has a great but remarkable effect. It just feels more valuable than the incomparable screen when I move from room to room like I’m watching an art movie, even though I only write in Microsoft Word. If you don’t like the modest changes made by the true tone, you can disable them in System Preferences.
No Touch Screen Option, Fewer Ports
The main disadvantage of the Retina screen is the lack of touch support. Apple refused to mimic the excellent iOS touch support on the Mac, with the exception of the MacBook Pro’s original touch bar, which is especially useful for certain highly specialized tasks like scrolling video timelines. The touch bar is not available on the MacBook Air and is not a major loss for most users.
Some users may have a bigger problem with the lack of ports on their MacBook Air. There are only three of them: two types of C-USB ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Both USB ports are Thunderbolt 3 compatible, which offers very fast data transfer rates and is often missing in Windows 10 notebooks with relatively high prices. However, a USB port must be used to charge the laptop, so that you have a free port through which you can connect all peripheral devices from external monitors to the charging cable of your phone. You also need a special adapter or a special cable, for many of these peripheral devices, from HDMI monitors to external USB type-A hard drives and simple flash drives.
Although the MacBook Air may have a limited choice of ports, it has the same workload as the entry-level MacBook Pro, and some ultra-thin Windows laptops also bypass all ports except audio and USB-C. For this reason, the MacBook Air isn’t unique in its range of bantamweight I/O section.
If you rely solely on wireless connections, you never need to connect peripherals. MacBook Air Wi-Fi supports the 802.11ac standard, which quickly paves the way for the new 802.11ax standard (Wi-Fi 6) on many other newer laptops. Apple declined to explain the lack of Wi-Fi 6, but it’s clear that the company believes 802.11ac is enough for the MacBook Air, and probably right in the short term. We haven’t found that Wi-Fi 6 offers tremendous speed increases or an increase in signal stability. However, it is strange to see that a new laptop without this will be released in 2020.
Apple offers a one-year, 90-day warranty for mobile technical support with the MacBook Air. However, Apple Store staff are often willing to fix common problems, especially software and keyboard problems, even if your MacBook Air is not within the warranty period is. Unfortunately, you are currently unable to take advantage of in-store support as Apple Stores were currently closed due to the Corona Virus 2020 outbreak.
Configuration: What’s Inside Under The Hood
Earlier versions of the MacBook Air tended to have less powerful Intel processors than the MacBook Pro. With this update, the MacBook Air can offer the most advanced (if not the most powerful) Intel processors on any Apple notebook. You can choose between the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors, all from the latest tenth generation family of Intel.
Apple is not subject to Intel’s careful marketing agreement, so you won’t see the Intel label on the MacBook Air like almost any other Intel-based laptop. Apple also doesn’t announce the exact CPU models it uses. However, our tests identify the processor in the MacBook Air review unit as a Core i5-1030NG7 from Intel’s “Ice Lake” family. It is a quad-core chip with hyper-threading. This means that each core can process two software cycles simultaneously, for a total of eight. It has an exceptionally low base clock rate of 1.1 GHz and a maximum value clock of 3.5 GHz.
The Core i5-1030NG7 is designed for power consumption of only 10 watts, compared to 15 watts for most current members of the Ice Lake family. This lower power consumption and the low base clock rates mean that the chip does not heat up or use more battery power, but also limit the theoretical performance, as shown in the following performance results. The slightly larger platform for the new keyboard raises an interesting question as to whether engineers have also developed cooling devices to enable better calculation. Unfortunately, Apple said that this was not the case. Therefore, all performance improvements between old and new models come from the CPU itself and not from the supported brand.
In addition to the Core i5 processor, our test device has 8 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. Other storage options are 256 GB to 2 TB of storage (all SSD storage), and you can also add up to 16 GB RAM. All in all, our test device is well equipped with a list price of $1299. That’s not a good value, but the most competitive thing is that the MacBook Air has been profitable compared to Windows options for at least three years.
The Intel Iris Plus’ silicon in the processor handles the graphics processing for all MacBook Air configurations. Apple laptops have long had multiple repetitions of Iris Plus graphics that outperform Intel’s basic integrated HD or UHD graphics, also because they have their own dedicated memory access. Graphics calculations are still done on the same chipset as the CPU, so performance isn’t as good as on a standalone GPU like the AMD Radeon on a 16-inch MacBook Pro, but the MacBook Air can play more. Basic games like Minecraft or Fortnite.
In addition, the MacBook Air’s new Iris Plus graphics support external monitors up to 6K resolution. So if you’re wondering, you can now connect an Apple Pro Display XDR for $5,000 to a MacBook Air for $1,000.
Performance: How Fast Can It Perform
For basic tasks like web browsing and video streaming, the MacBook Air works great. I have never experienced lag or stutter, even while browsing Safari webpage while the YouTube page in other tab was playing a video. I did notice some drawbacks when opening complex applications like Adobe Photoshop or Garage Band, but in most cases they were trivial. Of course, in an unscientific test, it took five bops for the Garage Band dock icon to open on the MacBook Air and six bops for the app to open on the 2019 13-inch MacBook Pro.
However, in standardized benchmarking tests that measure more intense multimedia tasks, the MacBook Air test is definitely incomplete. I compared the performance of a new laptop to its predecessor, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and two Windows competitors: the Dell Inspiron 14 7000 and the HP Specter x360. All of these machines cost around $1,200 in the configurations we reviewed (not all), and they all weigh around 3 pounds or less. See the table below for basic information.
Overall, the MacBook Air performed significantly better than its predecessor (including the Core i5) in our performance test but significantly worse than the MacBook Pro and two Windows machines.
Consider the Cinebench R15 test, in which a CPU is fully threaded to take advantage of all available CPU cores and threads. Cinebench emphasizes the CPU instead of the GPU to create a complex image. The result is a proprietary score that demonstrates a computer’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads and it doesn’t reflect the raw CPU flesh of the MacBook Air well.
The same goes for our Handbrake video-editing test, another hard threaded workload that is heavily CPU dependent and can scale well with cores and threads. Put a stopwatch on test systems that encode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video. The MacBook Pro is clearly the best option for this task.
The MacBook Air also took almost four minutes to complete our image editing benchmark in which we apply 10 sets of complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We typically use the early version of the Creative Cloud version of Adobe Photoshop for this task in 2018. For MacBook Air 2020, however, we use the latest version of Photoshop, as older versions are 32-bit and therefore not only compatible with macOS Catalina, a 64-Bit only OS. The difference should not significantly affect the results.
However, be aware of these shortcomings. Many people in the ultraportable laptop market never run Photoshop or convert 4K video to 1080p. If you have to do such tasks frequently, you should invest in a more efficient machine. For example, a 16-inch MacBook Pro ran a handbrake test in just 7 minutes, blurring the gap between the MacBook Air (25 minutes) and the Inspiron 14 7000 (18 minutes). If you only have to do typical muscle tasks occasionally, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is clearly the best choice for about the same amount of money as the MacBook Air.
File Transfer Test
The MacBook Air offers excellent storage performance and registering a write speed of 1332 Mbit/s and a read speed of 1169 Mbit/s in the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. This means that it is theoretically suitable for editing video files at up to 2160p at 60 frames per second (fps), although the rest of the system is of course not suitable for high-resolution file processing if the Handbrake test is an indication.
Battery Rundown Test
MacBook Air also has excellent battery life. Apple estimates users can surf up to 11 hours of wireless Internet. In our own battery life test, where a locally recorded 720p video file with 50% screen brightness is looped when the WLAN is turned off, the laptop took almost 15 hours. It is approximately four hours less than the previous model, although it is still excellent.
However, no battery test can perfectly simulate each user’s actual daily workflow, so the results will surely be different from ours or Apple’s.
With an almost completely redesigned keyboard, the MacBook Air 2020 is undoubtedly better than the model it replaces. The comfort of the keyboard is an extremely important feature of a laptop for many people, and Apple has clearly figured out the flaws with its longstanding requirement to travel practically no distance. The new laptop also has better computer components and a lower price than its predecessors. There’s a little disliking, and at this point, you may be wondering why we didn’t award it the Editors’ Choice Award for the best Mac notebook.
It’s a closed decision and the deciding factor is the moderate performance in intensive computer workflows. Many people buy Macs to edit videos or compile software code, and many can’t afford a 16-inch MacBook Pro. For less than $1,500, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is clearly a better choice than the MacBook Air for such tasks, despite its slim keyboard. We also suspect that the revised entry-level MacBook Pro with a Magic keyboard will be available in the not too distant future if Apple’s upgrade model applies.
This is the happy medium model that we are waiting for. So far, the new MacBook Air has been a good choice if you are replacing your older MacBook model and just want a normal writing experience.
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