Should You Buy the New Macbook M1 in 2021?
The new MacBook Air with Apple’s M1 chip is a triumph.
In a week of testing, I have pushed this computer and its new Apple-made processor to its limits and found that those limits exceeded my expectations on nearly every level.
I’ve also used it in the way a MacBook Air is really meant to be used: as an everyday computer for workaday tasks. When doing so, I clocked eight and sometimes 10 hours of continuous use on the battery.
MacBook Air (M1, 2020) pricing and variants
Apple has removed the Intel-based MacBook Air models from its India website, and the M1-powered MacBook Air starts at the same price of Rs. 92,900. This model gets you 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and the 7-core GPU version of the Apple M1 SoC. You can configure it to have 16GB of RAM and up to 2TB of SSD storage before you check out.
The second, pre-configured MacBook Air variant gets you the M1 SoC with an 8-core GPU, 512GB of storage, and 8GB of RAM for Rs. 1,17,900, which is the one I’m testing. The RAM and storage are once again configurable but you can’t upgrade anything later.
The MacBook Air is available in three colors: Space Grey, Gold, and Silver. Versions of the MacBook Pro 13-inch and Mac mini with Intel CPUs are still available for now, but those are the top-end configurations and are priced a lot higher than the M1 versions.
MACBOOK AIR PERFORMANCE
The MacBook Air performs like a pro-level laptop. It never groans under multiple apps. (I’ve run well over a dozen at a time.) It handles intensive apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Adobe Premiere without complaint. It has never made me think twice about loading up another browser tab or 10 — even in Chrome.
Windows laptops with Arm processors from Qualcomm are slower, buggier, and more complicated than Intel machines. Even though I figured Apple would handle this Intel-to-Arm transition better, I didn’t expect everything to work as well as it does.
I knew that macOS and Apple’s own apps would be fast, many of which have been coded specifically to work with this processor. What has shocked me is how well every app runs.
Some background: apps are usually built to work with a specific kind of processor, so when they are run on a machine with a different processor, some kind of extra work has to happen under the hood. On the Mac, that work is done by a piece of software called Rosetta 2, which you install the first time you run an Intel-based app.
Unlike on Windows, Rosetta 2 isn’t really emulation but translation. It means those apps take a beat longer to launch, but once they’re running, they just… run. I have yet to run into any app compatibility problems (though there may be some I haven’t been able to track down).
Apple MacBook Air M1 — Specs
Here are the specifications of the Apple MacBook Air I’ve been testing:
- Model: Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020) (A2337)
- Display: 13.3-inch LED (2560 x 1600)
- Processor: Apple Silicon M1 8-core CPU
- Graphics: Apple Silicon M1 8-core GPU
- Memory: 16GB unified memory
- OS: macOS 11 Big Sur
- Storage: 1TB SSD
- Webcam: 720p FaceTime HD camera
- Ports: 2 x Thunderbolt 4 USB-C 1 x 3.5mm headphone jack
- Connectivity: WiFi 6 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0
- Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63-inches (WxDxH)
- Weight: 2.8-pounds
- Price: Rs 1,20,394
The MacBook Air starts at Rs 92,000 for an M1-equipped model, but instead of an 8-core GPU, you’ll get 7-cores. The entry-level model also comes with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage. At the top end, a fully-kitted model features 2TB of storage and 16GB of memory for 1,50,000.
MACBOOK AIR BATTERY LIFE
Apple is claiming that this machine can get 18 hours of video playback and “15 hours of wireless web,” both of which are very large claims. The company tells me I should expect battery life to be as much as 50 percent better than the last Air, and the battery inside this computer isn’t any bigger than the previous models. All of those improvements come down to increased efficiency.
My actual results? I’m getting between eight and 10 hours of real, sustained work depending on how hard I am pushing it. That’s not quite 50 percent better than the last MacBook Air, but it’s very close.
THE AIR LASTS LONGER THAN MOST OTHER LAPTOPS IN ITS CLASS
To be very clear, I’m getting those numbers using the apps I actually use, which, of course, includes Chrome and various apps that are also based on the Chrome engine, like Slack. What’s remarkable about that is, for some applications, Rosetta 2 needs to do a bunch of real-time code translation, which further eats into battery life.
If and when these apps are rewritten to be “universal” apps that work natively on the M1, I expect to see even better battery life.
It might seem odd to mention this in the context of battery life, but the MacBook Air now wakes instantly from sleep, and apps that were running before you shut the laptop are much quicker to catch themselves up with the world. It’s subtle, but I have found myself willing to shut the Air closed more often than I usually do with other laptops because waking it from sleep is so seamless.
If you’re trying to choose between the new 13-inch MacBook Pro and this MacBook Air, I think that battery life is going to be the deciding factor for most people. In Nilay’s testing, the Pro is consistently getting a couple more hours on a charge. The Pro also has a Touch Bar and a slightly brighter screen, but the other major difference is that it has a fan. That allows it to run heavy workloads for extended periods of time. Same deal as the new Mac mini.
Apple MacBook Air M1 — Software
As is the case with Apple’s Mac lineup, there isn’t any pre-installed bloatware or unnecessary apps. You get MacOS that includes apps like Messages, Safari, Photos, and the rest of Apple’s software suite.
There aren’t any apps dedicated to gaming or fine-tuning your system as is commonplace on gaming laptops, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Potentially the biggest issue you’ll run into with an M1-powered Air is software compatibility. I didn’t run through each gaming accessory program, but I did take a few minutes to install Logitech’s G Hub and Corsair’s iCue software and was able to use it, with connected accessories, without any deal-breaking issues. Both apps can be a little sluggish at times, and it’s obvious they’re not optimized for Apple Silicon, but they work.
So, Should you buy it?
The MacBook Air, whether it’s powered by Intel, or using the M1 Apple Silicon processor, isn’t a gaming laptop. That said, it’s a great laptop nonetheless, and there are still several options for those who want to game on their Mac. If you want a dedicated gaming laptop, the MacBook Air just isn’t for you. But for those who want a great thin and light productivity machine with great battery life but with some limited gaming ability, the MacBook Air is definitely for YOU.