Review: Apple's M1 MacBook Air is an amazing new beginning

Review: Apple's M1 MacBook Air marks an amazing new beginning.
The M1 MacBook Air was released in November. Photo credit: Newshub.

Apple's latest MacBook Air laptop was recently released in New Zealand and features the company's much-hyped own M1 chip.

It's the first non-Intel chip Mac released in 15 years and is based on the ARM processors used in iPhones, iPads and the Apple Watch.

M1-powered computers have been promoted by the company as raising the bar for computing power and battery life. But in a year filled with great laptop releases, how do they actually stack up?

I've been using a MacBook Air for the last week and here are my thoughts.

The good

So it turns out those bold claims made by Apple last month all seem to be true. 

This first range of M1 devices released by Apple are absolutely crushing it in benchmark tests online, including the MacBook Air.

Of course, most users don't care about benchmark tests or any numerical way of measuring a computer's power. They care about what that all means for them. In this case, what it means is you won't be waiting for this thing to load, pretty much ever, and that swapping between programmes or apps is just as quick as it is on your smartphone.

This MacBook Air packs a lot of power.

Apple's late 2020 MacBook Air.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Using Final Cut Pro, I was comfortably able to edit 4K video and it had no trouble. I could tab out of the programme and into other demanding apps instantly, too, something that even a lot of desktop PCs crack at least a little sweat doing.

As for the battery life, it's amazing. I haven't run it watching a video for 15 hours straight to see if that claim holds up, but I've used it for several hours most days over the past week and recharged it once during that time.

Apple M1 MacBook Air battery screenshot.
Photo credit: Newshub.
Apple M1 MacBook Air battery screenshot.
Photo credit: Newshub.

It'll very comfortably go through an eight-hour work or study day without needing a charge. Heck, it'll go for a non-stop long-haul flight without needing a charge, including using it in the airport before departing.

For a lot of people, the battery will be a more attractive upgrade than the CPU performance. If you're upgrading from a five-year-old laptop that struggles to get through a couple of hours of web browsing without being plugged in, this is really going to be a game-changer.

It comes with all that power and runs for that long on the battery all while remaining absolutely silent, too, thanks to the lack of an internal fan. But somehow, it also stays cool - no uncomfortably hot thighs from having this thing sit on them while you use it.

Despite all these advantages over competitor laptops out there, in New Zealand the M1 MacBook Air costs around $1750 for the 7‑Core GPU, 256GB storage version; or $2200 for the 8‑Core GPU, 512GB storage version.

Those are not budget prices, but they're definitely lower than a lot of other premium laptops out there.

For what this thing offers, it's pretty cheap.

The keyboard and trackpad of the (late 2020) M1 MacBook Air.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Big Sur

The new operating system has upgraded how you use a Mac in loads of big and small ways, bringing with it a great new level of consistency across the Macs, iPhones and iPads that just makes a lot of sense. 

The control centre is now very similar to that of the iPhone and the notification centre is a widget party similar to the iPhone's iOS 14, released this year.

Thus far, the widgets aren't much more than what they are on the phone versions and you can't stick them to your desktop. But I imagine this space is going to explode with creativity from both Apple and third-party developers soon and that will allow all kinds of customisation to make using your Mac more personalised and convenient.

Safari has had some upgrades that make it a great web browser and it's highly optimised for the Macbook Air, so it uses hardly any battery to run. Transitioning from Chrome is taking a bit of getting used to, but it's going to be totally worth it.

I have encountered a few issues while using Big Sur. But I can't be sure if the problems are with Big Sur, or with the ARM-based chip that is the M1, or maybe something else - there's a lot of variables here.

I paid for the 2019 version of Adobe Premiere Elements and have been running that on PC for the last couple of years. I could install it on the MacBook Air, but then it just says the installation is corrupt every time I go to open it and I have to reinstall.

As Final Cut Pro is working fine, I figure I'll just wait a few months to try Premiere again. There's an M1 optimised version of Photoshop coming early next year that I plan on getting anyway - I hear that the beta of that is doing incredible things and am very keen to check it out.

There's a couple of other things that I'm having small issues with, but in general, Big Sur is a fantastic new OS that makes using a Mac easier than ever.

The ports of the M1 MacBook Air (2020).
Photo credit: Newshub.

The bad

Along with a headphone port, there are two Thunderbolt ports on this MacBook Air.

That's it.

I know this is increasingly normal, but a lack of ports is not going to stop being frustrating for me any time soon. The resulting necessity of dongles is awkward and an extra expense.

To get an Apple-branded dongle that turns one of those Thunderbolt ports into a triple output of HDMI, USB-A and USB-C - that'll set you back about $120.

The camera is only 720p, which is probably fine for most video meetings you might have but means you won't look as good as you would with a laptop sporting a 1080p camera. If that really matters to you, you can buy a better external webcam, as another extra cost.
The M1 MacBook Air has a great keyboard - but there's something about the feel of the recent Microsoft Surface laptops that I like a little better.

It's hard to say exactly why that is, but when I use one after the other, the keys of even the budget Surface Laptop Go keyboard just feel nicer to use.

It's not a big deal for me, but for others it may be annoying that there's no touchscreen functionality with the MacBook Air.

But I guess the worst thing about this MacBook Air is that its hugely exciting new chip is the M1 - the first one. As amazing as it is, it's first generation tech, using a new operating system and as a result, there may be a few niggles.

If you're the sort of person who only buys a new laptop every five years or so, there's a chance it may be a good idea to wait until next year when the M2 likely comes out.

Maybe. Only if you want to be ultra conservative and cautious.

I really can't see many issues with this laptop, the above nitpicks aside.

The 2020 Apple MacBook Air with M1 chip.
Photo credit: Newshub.

The verdict

Apple has released something truly groundbreaking with the M1 MacBook Air.

How powerful this is, how long the battery lasts and how relatively cheap it's being sold for all add up to it being clearly among the best-value laptops released in 2020.

But it's also bigger than being probably the best laptop buy of the year - the M1 chip makes this the sort of breakthrough that only happens once a decade or so, if that.

Much of the tech world is eagerly excited about what this technological breakthrough could mean in the years to come. Apple's own silicon could quickly become vastly more powerful than anything we have at the moment.

We don't have to look to the future for excitement though. For now, the latest MacBook Air is plenty exciting enough.

For almost anyone wanting a laptop for their standard day-to-day tasks, it's easily recommendable as simply a great buy.

Newshub was supplied a M1 MacBook Air for this review.