All right, a MacBook Air review video shot by me, by myself, at home. But Becca is still directing this thing over Zoom, so I can’t screw it up too bad, right? From what I can see, it looks like there’sstill a little headroom. We could tilt up like aliteral centimeter, like, yeah. Let’s tilt up a little.Just a little bit more. Let’s… okay. Come back to the camera, andthen zoom in like a click. Oh, wait. Wait, one click less. Okay. That looks really good. So there’s a new MacBook Air, which is Apple’s most popular Mac.
The big update happened two years ago with a full redesignaround a Retina Display. This new 2020 model has faster 10th Gen Intel chips and a totally new keyboard. Apple’s also lowered the price. The base model starts at$999 with a 1.1GHz dual-core Core i3 processor,8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. I’ve been reviewingthe step-up $1,299 model that has a quad-core Core i5and 512GB of storage, which is the version I thinkmost people should get. It’s got two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which now support running 6K displays, and headphone jack, which, well… you know how I feel.
Let’s start with the mostimportant thing: the new keyboard. It has been a very bad few years for Apple’s laptop keyboards. So the switch back to a traditional scissor keydesign is very welcome. Apple is calling thisthe Magic Keyboard, and it first arrived on the 16-inchMacBook Pro last year. As it happens, I’ve been using a 16-inchMacBook Pro for a few months now, and I’m happy to say thatthe Air’s keyboard feels almost exactly the same, which is to say: very good. The keys have a millimeter of travel, they’re just clicky enoughwithout being too loud, and overall, the whole thing isvery solid and very satisfying. There’s also zero chassis flex, so you can pound away onthis keyboard on your lap or at a weird angle on the couch. I don’t really want to give Apple too much credit forupdating this keyboard. It took the company way too long to get away from that butterfly design after people startedcalling out the problems.
It’s going to take some timeto earn back that trust. But history aside, the keyboard is the single most important part of a laptop, and the new MacBook Air’skeyboard is extremely good. I also have to say, I greatly prefer this keyboard with a standard toprow and function buttons to the Touch Bar versionon the 16-inch MacBook Pro that I’ve been using. I just don’t understand the Touch Bar. It seems to make basic thingslike adjusting volume and brightness more complicatedwithout making anything else so much easier that it’sworth the trade-off. I know other people feel differently, and I legitimately know people wholove the Touch Bar, like Becca. Come on! But I don’t, and I think it’s really telling that the Air is Apple’s most popular laptop, and it doesn’t have the Touch Bar. That’s the right choice. The other thing it doesn’thave is a touchscreen, and one, touchscreens on laptopsare pretty common now, and people seem to like them, and two, if Apple can figure out howto add trackpad support to iPadOS, it can probably figure out how to add touch support to macOS. But for right now, and honestly,for the near future, the Mac is mouse and keyboard only.
The other new thing from last year are the processors, which areIntel’s new 10th Gen chips with Intel Iris Plus Graphics. Our review unit has a 1.1GHz quad-core Core i5 chip and 8GB of RAM in it, andit’s been fairly capable. I’ve been working inChrome, Slack, and Zoom, and a little Lightroom on the side like I normally do, andit’s felt totally solid. That feeling is backed up by the single-threaded Geekbench score, which is basically in line with a 16-inch Core i9 MacBook Prothat I’ve been using. But this thing still isn’t a rocket, and I can definitely pushthe limits pretty easily. Just opening Lightroom is enough to make the fan speed up, andafter a couple of edits, it’s going full blast. And heavy sustained workloads cause the processor to dosome thermal throttling. You can definitely see itwith heavy benchmark tests like Cinebench.
I asked Apple about thermalthrottling, and they told me it’s by design. Theydon’t think most people need hardcore sustained performance, so the Air is designedto boost the processor up to 3.2GHz as needed and then bring it right back down. But once things heat up, theprocessor’s clock speed is capped at a lower number with the fan going so thesystem can manage heat. Again, in pretty average day-to-day use, I never felt any of this thermalmanagement slow things down, which is the entire point. But it’s also clear thereisn’t a ton of headroom if you need a lot ofperformance all the time. You’ll definitely atleast hear the fan, and you might experience some slowdowns.
I asked for questions on Twitter, and almost all of you wanted toknow about the performance gap between the new Air andthe 13-inch Pro, and that thermal design isbasically the big difference. Apple told me that the MacBook Pro is the better laptop for people who need to push their machineto the limit all the time. It has a more forgiving thermal design and faster turbo boost clock speeds. It can basically run hotter and faster for a longer period of time. The bad news is that the 13-inch MacBook Pro stillhas that butterfly keyboard. There are a lot of rumors ofan update coming, and yeah… we’re just going to haveto keep an eye on that. All of that is to saythat the Air’s performance is totally fine for mostday-to-day tasks. But if you regularly use a bunchof demanding applications, you’re going to be hearing that fan a lot.
Apple says you can get11 hours of battery life on the new Air if you’re just runningSafari to browse the web. But in real life, runningChrome, Slack, and Zoom, I got more like five hours of battery life with the screen turned all the way up. I probably could’veextended that a little if I turned down the brightness, but this is not the world’sbrightest screen to begin with. It averages about 400 nits of brightness compared to,say, 625 for the iPhone 11. Those three apps are batteryhogs. But at this point, I live in Zoom and Slackall day, every day, and I wouldn’t say I’m blownaway by the battery life I’m experiencing. And while Safari is way moreefficient than Chrome, Chrome is still just a factof life for a lot of people. As with every Apple product, there is a gap between the results you get if you live entirely withinApple’s ecosystem and reality.
Speaking of Zoom, the webcam in the Air is the same old 720p webcam Apple’s been using forever. It’s fine, but it’s disappointing that Apple puts some of the bestcameras in the industry in the iPhone and stickswith one of the most medium cameras in the Mac. I just got a lot of questionsabout the MacBook Air versus the iPad Pro with the new Magic Keyboard since the 11-inch Pro and that keyboard cost about the same asthe base-model Air. And well… only you can knowthe answer in your heart. For me, I’d pick the Air for now. You get a bigger screen, and macOS has fewer limitationson what it can do. Dieter has a whole review of that new iPad Pro up on thechannel if you want more, but we’re going to have to revisit this debate when that Magic Keyboardcase ships in May. So those are the major newchanges in the MacBook Air.
I haven’t tested the$1,000 base model that a lot of people asked me about. But I feel pretty confident that you should spend theextra $100 to get the quad-core i5 upgrade and that most people should spring for the $1,299 model with thei5 and extra storage if you can afford it since these laptops tend tostick around for a while. And that’s really the thing: for thefirst time in several years, I feel confident in saying that most people in the market for a Mac laptop can just buy a MacBook Air and expect it to competentlyand reliably do most things for a long time to come.
That’s a big win. Just make sure you use Safari if you want the battery to last. Making this video, for me, was a nice distraction fromthe virus news cycle, and I hope it helped you out a little bit, too. That said, I want to call out the entire Verge team, particularly the Verge Science team. They’re doing an absolutely great job covering the coronavirus. Check it out. It’s VergeScience on YouTube. That’s their channel. I hope you’re staying safe, andI hope you’re staying home.