Is the MacBook Air with M1 Chip Better Than Intel?

Apple recently released the MacBook Air with M1 chip, promising a better product in every way possible. If you’re on the market for an entry-level Mac device, we’ll take a look at the new Air and find out if this is the one for you.

Apple MacBook Air M1 Chip

MacBook Air with M1 Chip At a Glance:

  • CPU: Apple M1
  • Display: 13.3‑inch, 2560 x 1600-pixel
  • Battery: 15 hours
  • Memory: 8GB to 16GB
  • Storage: 256GB to 2TB
  • Dimensions: 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Price: $999 (base), $899 (education)     

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Design

The MacBook Air with M1 follows the same classic design. Using the same machined aluminum construction, you get the same durability and smooth feel as previous models. However, upon closer look, you’ll notice it has gained a little bit of thickness to accommodate the scissor mechanism of Apple’s Keyboard. Looking at the Air on the side, you’ll notice the familiar wedge shape typical of “slim” laptops. Since Apple has been cutting down on wired connections, we only get the bare minimum here.

On the right, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack and on the left, there are two USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports. There are no ports on the back of the device and the Apple logo still does not light up. Weighing in at 2.8 lbs., it is on the heavier side coming close to a MacBook Pro. 

Keyboard and Trackpad

Opening the laptop feels reassuring. You’ll definitely notice the high-quality hinges, unlike the cheaper Windows machines. The keyboard’s scissor mechanism is a much-needed upgrade. If you skipped on the previous model because of the Butterfly keyboard, you will probably love this one. The keys have great travel giving a satisfying tactile feel. The wide spaces between keys deliver optimum comfort and the backlight does a great job each time. It’s discreet compared to the Butterfly keyboards and much nicer to touch on overall. On top, physical keys for volume, backlight, and playback control offer great access to various settings. The Touch ID is located in the upper right corner for easy access. 

Many users consider Apple’s Force Touch trackpad to be the best in its class. This still holds true with the new MacBook Air. Not much has changed and that’s a good thing. It still offers smooth scrolling and accurate input recognition. You’ll get a satisfying click each time you press down. 

Performance

Using the brand new Apple-designed M1 Processor, the MacBook Air is a well-optimized machine for the Apple ecosystem. You’ll notice the performance upgrade as soon as you turn on the device. This is confirmed by looking at the Geekbench scores. The M1 chip leaves the old intel processors behind, including the Core i9 devices. 

When Apple claimed a 3.5x performance bump over their previous model, I must admit that I had my doubts. After a week of heavy usage, I can say that this MacBook Air handles like a MacBook Pro. Multitasking is handled incredibly well. I did not experience any hiccups while running 15 Chrome tabs, transferring a huge file, streaming a 4K video, and working on WordPress. Storage speed is greatly improved this time around, offering as much as 2x performance. 

Display

Although the display goes fairly bright at 400 nits, it’s still not on the same level as the MacBook Pro at 500 nits. You may have some problems using the Air outdoors on a sunny day. The MacBook Air’s 2,560 x 1600 pixel Retina display is sharp and detailed as expected. However, it doesn’t offer the same color gamuts as the Pro version.

Graphics

Our MacBook Air came with an 8-core GPU configuration. You can tell that Apple wants to be a contender in the gaming department. Although the Mac has a pretty limited games library, the ones we tested showcased the MacBook Air M1’s GPU in a positive light. Rise of The Tomb Raider and Shadow of Mordor looked smooth and silky at medium settings right now. We can expect further improvements as games get optimized. 

Audio

The speakers sound great for what they are. You’ll get surprisingly loud and clear audio considering how slim the MacBook Air is. The device supports Dolby Atmos, giving movies a somewhat cinematic feel.

Microphone and Camera

The microphone will get the job done when you’re used for Zoom meetings and simple recording but the sound can be muffled and drowned especially when used outdoors. The camera is 720p, which might be considered low-res by today’s standards. However, images are vastly improved thanks to the newly designed chips. Real-time enhancements are done on the fly offering noise reduction, greater dynamic range, improved auto white balance, and machine learning enhanced face detection. 

Battery Life

The new MacBook Air has left the older models in the dust in terms of battery life. Under normal loads – browsing at less than half of screen brightness, our unit lasted a little under 15 hours. That’s nearly a 50 percent improvement over the previous models.   

Heat

For a device that doesn’t have any fan, the MacBook Air manages heat dissipation really well. While I noticed that it can get a little warm, especially when placed on my lap, it does reach unpleasant levels. 

Conclusion

Apple is ushering in a new era with its M1 processors. Thanks to the newly designed chip, the MacBook Air delivers huge improvements across the board over the previous model. You’ll get better performance, battery life, and overall efficiency. The Air can still improve by adding more ports, making the screen brighter, and the display bezels thinner. At $999 for the base model, this is highly recommended especially if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem.

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