FutureFive New Zealand logo
Story image

Hands-on review: MacBook Air with M1 chip (how did we ever live without it?)

22 Jan 2021

All Apple fans have waited for the day Apple released laptops powered by their own chip. My favourite Apple devices for the past two years have been the iPad Pro and the new iPad Air, so I was especially looking forward to this. 

Apple dropped the M1 chip powered laptop at the end of 2020 and they completely changed the game. How did we even use Intel-powered laptops before this?

Design

The MacBook Air is basically the go-to device for people who need it for everyday life, school or office. 

The MacBook Air with M1 chip looks almost identical to the other Macbook Airs. And that is not a bad thing - Apple has already nailed the design with the wedge-shaped design and the 13-inch Retina display so there is no point in messing with it just for the sake of change. 

The two main changes with the design would be the keyboard and the fanless design. 

The M1 powered MacBook air is rocking the Magic Keyboard that we all know and love. Apple introduced new function keys for Spotlight, Dictation and Siri, Do Not Disturb, and the emoji picker. While this may seem like a very small change, it actually makes the experience smoother and more streamlined. 

The other change that is technically a design change would be the fact that the M1-powered MacBook Air is fanless. The M1 Chip is so powerful that the MacBook Air can run at the highest performance without needing a fan. This was a great improvement for me as I have had days where the fans of my MacBook Air were so loud I thought it was going to explode. 

Performance 

This is where Apple blew me away. I expected the M1-powered MacBook Air to be better than the Intel one, but I did not expect to notice it this much. 

According to Apple, the new MacBook Air with its 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU outperforms the previous generation MacBook Air in every single way. It can render 3D titles 5.3 times faster, it can export images 2.3 times faster and it can transcode up to 3.9 times faster. 

One of the first things I wanted to try was to run SkyFactory 4 Minecraft mod. On my 2019 MacBook Air, the game takes over 20 minutes to load all the mods. I was shocked at how much faster the M1 MacBook Air opens this! The loading time was cut down by more than half. The game renders so much better and the laptop fans do not go crazy! I never thought I would be able to confidently use a MacBook Air to run a game.

The MacBook Air also runs games like Mad Max perfectly while the older generation of MacBook Air would not have been able to handle that. 

Another great advantage for the M1 MacBook Air is the fact that it comes with macOS Big Sur pre-installed. Big Sur was designed with the M1 in mind and looks and feels the closest to iPad OS and iOS. 

The M1 MacBook Air also runs a lot of iPad and iPhone applications. Having Big Sur just makes everything look so cohesive. It is also very convenient that these apps can automatically run on the MacBook. This has opened up a world of possibilities for productivity apps and even games.

Another great performance improvement would be the battery. Depending on the activity, the M1 powered MacBook Air can run for up to 18 hours! While I do not think I could get it to last that long the way I use it, I certainly was not reaching for the charger every few hours.

The one bad thing

There is one downside to the M1 MacBook Air, which may not be a big deal to most people but it certainly was to me. I have used the MacBook Air to power up my two external screens set up for the past year. I was very disappointed when I plugged them both in and only one worked. Sadly the M1 MacBook Air can only support one external display at a time. 

Verdict

Apple has just changed the game. After a month with the MacBook Air, I can’t remember how I ever worked on an Intel-powered Mac. How did I ever wait for loading screens? How did I not have my phone apps open on the laptop as well? I would definitely recommend the M1 MacBook Air to anyone who is looking to get a new laptop, as it is a beast.