Apple MacBook Air (2020) Review

Apple MacBook Air (2020) Review

MacBook Air (2020)

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Apple’s MacBook Air 2020 needs no introduction. It’s long been the go-to laptop for professionals and students, and in 2018, it got even better when Apple finally overhauled the design. However, the shallow keyboard that Apple introduced with that revision has been criticised quite heavily. Today, we’ll be reviewing the latest 2020 model of the MacBook Air, which promises an improved keyboard based on customer feedback.

Price and availability

In a pleasant surprise, the MacBook Air (2020) has launched at a new lower price for its entry level model.

The new entry-level MacBook Air comes with a dual-core 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 256GB storage (up from 128GB in the previous model) and 8GB of RAM for $999 / £999 / AU$1,599.

That’s a decent saving considering that the MacBook Air (2019)’s entry level model launched at $1,099 / £1,099 / AU$1,699. In an age of rising costs, it’s really pleasing to see Apple release newer hardware at cheaper prices. Long may it continue.

Apple also launched a higher-end MacBook Air priced at $1,299 / £1,299 / AU$1,999, and this comes with a 10th-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 processor – the first time a quad-core CPU has been included in a MacBook Air – 512GB SSD storage and 8GB of RAM.

As with previous models, you can further upgrade the MacBook Air, adding double the RAM, more storage up to 2TB and a faster 10th generation Intel Core i7 processor.

The fully maxed-out version, then, with a 1.2GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 2TB SSD costs $2,249 / £2,249 / AU$3,349.

The MacBook Air 2020 is available to order right now from the Apple Store.

Design

MacBook Air (2020)
MacBook Air 2020

The MacBook Air (2020) continues with the same design of the 2018 refresh, but is just slightly thicker and heavier. If you’re used to the older non-Retina MacBook Air, like I am, then there’s a lot that’s new. The overall size of the laptop is smaller, making it a lot more portable, and it’s a bit lighter too, starting at 1.29kg. The entire body is built using 6000-series aluminium, which makes it feel very sturdy. The Apple logo on the lid isn’t backlit anymore, but instead features a mirror finish, which complements the matte finish on the rest of the body.

The “gold” MacBook Air (2020) that I have more closely resembles rose gold, and looks a lot better than the rose gold finish of some older iPhone models. If you want to make a statement every time you visit a Starbucks, then I can see the appeal of the gold option. I’d still pick the silver or space grey colours over this, but that’s just a personal choice.

The 13.3-inch IPS Retina display looks great and is a big step up from the non-Retina model, with a much higher resolution of 2560×1600 pixels. You also get Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adapts the colour temperature of the display to ambient light. The bezels around the display are slimmer too, which makes the laptop look more modern. One thing that I found a little odd was that the upper corners of the display aren’t rounded, but the ones at the bottom are. While the aluminium lid offers plenty of protection, the display still flexes easily when you touch it with a bit of pressure.

One of the biggest changes to the new MacBook Air (2020), is the Magic Keyboard. Apple has finally retired its problematic butterfly mechanism in favour of a new scissor mechanism. We first saw it on the 16-inch MacBook Pro last year.

The new keys feel very responsive thanks to the 1mm of travel and aren’t noisy when you type. The key layout is very familiar, except for the power button, which is smaller compared to the non-Retina model. It also houses Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor. The latter works well with just a tap and is useful for logging in to the system, authorising app downloads, and when you need to autofill credentials for websites in Safari.

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The MacBook Air (2020) has stereo speakers, one on each side of the keyboard. Apple says it can deliver twice the bass and up to 20 percent higher volume compared to the non-Retina model. There are a total of three microphones placed around the laptop, and thanks to the dedicated T2 security chip, you can use the ‘Hey Siri’ voice command to summon Siri at will. The trackpad is 20 percent larger compared to the non-Retina model and feels just as responsive as before. Despite the increase in size, I didn’t face any accidental presses or cursor movements while typing.

The trackpad also supports Force Touch, which means you get haptic feedback when you press down on any part of it. There’s also a Force Click gesture that you perform by continuing to apply pressure after the click registers. You feel a stronger haptic pulse to know you’ve performed the action. I found it to be quite handy for previewing images and documents.

The physical connectors on the MacBook Air (2020) have been reduced to just two Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports and a headphone jack. The 2020 refresh now supports one 6K or up to two 4K external displays through the Type-C ports. The problem with having just Type-C ports is that connecting most common accessories to the laptop is next to impossible without an adapter. Ideally, you’ll want to invest in a Type-C hub which has connectors for USB Type-A ports, Ethernet, and maybe an SD card reader. If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, transferring anything between Apple devices is at least less of a problem, thanks to AirDrop.

Performance

MacBook Air (2020) Performance

We’ve been using the base model of the MacBook Air – probably the version many people will go for – which means the dual-core Intel i3 chipset at the heart.

We’ve found early performance to be pretty impressive – even when loading up the RAM-hungry Chrome, filling it with 25 tabs and then trying to edit photos on the side. 

We noticed very little in slowdown at all in terms of switching between tasks – even when adding in a video call (which did begin to hammer the battery through Chrome, as it does on many MacBooks) things continued well, albeit with some necessary fan assistance to keep things cool.

While macOS feels nicely responsive for day-to-day tasks on the entry-level version, the MacBook Air still lags behind the more powerful (and expensive) MacBook Pro when it comes to using more intensive apps. While this is certainly not a slow laptop, you may find yourself staring at the spinning wheel icon as the MacBook Air loads up apps a bit more often than on faster Macs.

Still, we were able to mess around on GarageBand while VLC was playing and Safari had a few apps open all at once, and the MacBook Air did a great job of keeping up. If you’re going to be doing more hardcore multitasking, however, going for the MacBook Air with more RAM or the better processor will be a good idea.

The ultra-thin design of the MacBook Air does come at a bit of a price when it comes to performance, however. When under sustained load, the MacBook Air (2020) can become quite hot, causing the fans to whirr up. This can also result in reduced performance thanks to thermal throttling, which is when the power of the CPU is lowered to prevent it from overheating and getting damaged.

We ran a few CPU-intensive benchmarks to see how the MacBook Air (2020) could handle being used for heavy workloads. The temperatures of the CPU very quickly rose to 100C. Not long after, the fans seriously started to kick in, in a bid to keep the MacBook Air cool. After a while, these fans became distractingly loud, and the body of the MacBook Air was hot to touch at the bottom.

Meanwhile, the CPU frequency hovered around 2.31GHz, higher than the 1.1GHz base clock, but a far cry from the 3.2GHz boost the CPU is supposedly capable of.

What this means is that in a bid to keep the CPU cool, the MacBook Air is limiting the speed of the CPU. So, if you’re going to be doing a lot of high intensity tasks which require the CPU to work for long periods of time, then you’re better off investing in a MacBook Pro, which handles thermal throttling a lot better.

Of course, there is the argument that the MacBook Air is designed to be thin and light first and foremost, and not a raw productivity machine. So, you’re unlikely to really put this laptop (and its processor) through heavy tasks most of the time.

The extra SSD storage included in the MacBook Air is also very welcome. Again, the solid state drive keeps the macOS operating system feeling spiritedly, and data transfers are nice and quick.

Most importantly, the 256GB starting capacity is far more generous than the 128GB older MacBook Airs offered. This gives you much more space to save photos, videos and documents, and should mean you’re less reliant on iCloud or external hard drives. However, for keen photographers or musicians, you’ll probably want to go for a model with even more storage – and thankfully, Apple offers up to 2TB of SSD storage in the MacBook Air (2020).

Entertainment-wise, the speakers on the new MacBook Air deserve a good mention – when watching ‘Ford vs Ferrari’, the vocal clarity was clear even when juxtaposed with loud, crunching car sounds. While the screen tech isn’t top notch for entertainment, the sound output is (and there’s still a headphone jack on board).

Meanwhile, even on max brightness, the display seems a bit too dim for our tastes, lacking the vibrancy of rivals with OLED screens. Apple has also kept its 720p webcam that we feel has started to outstay its welcome. There are other laptops out there with much better webcams for the price.

Battery life

Apple claims the MacBook Air (2020) can run for up to 11 hours of Web browsing or up to 12 hours of video playback on a single charge. While I wasn’t able to achieve these numbers during my review, I did get a satisfactory amount of runtime with regular workloads. A typical workday of mine usually involved writing in Pages, lots of Safari usage, some Photoshop work, and Spotify streaming in the background. With this, I was averaging about eight to nine hours on one charge. If I threw in a bit of gaming or watched a lot of videos, this dipped a little. The laptop ships with a 30W USB Type-C charger which takes about an hour and half to fully charge it.



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