Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
The MacBook Air is perhaps the most important laptop for Apple. It’s the entry point in the Mac lineup. It is the favorite PC of students and freelancers, and the best selling Mac because of its “affordable” price.
The 2020 Apple MacBook Air (Check on Amazon) comes to the market with a new keyboard and a lower price making it a much better proposition than the 2019 model. Apple’s thinnest and lightest laptop also comes with a decent performance boost over its predecessor and SSDs twice as large and thus turns out to be a much better investment than ever before.
The biggest problem with the previous MacBook Airs is that they felt underpowered compared to similarly priced Windows laptops. Many users, in fact, were dissatisfied with their performance to price ratio.
Now, and for the first time, the MacBook Air lineup offers configurations with a quad-core processor paired with up to 16GB of RAM, which makes the 2020 model much more powerful than its predecessor. The “entry-level” version, however, is equipped with a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 processor (3.2GHz boost), 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM, and 256GB of internal memory.
Even better? Apple didn’t increase the price (the 2020 base model costs less than the 2019 model) or compromise the slim and lightweight design from which the Air lineup takes its name. Sadly, it’s no longer the thinnest, lightest laptop around [the LG Gram (Check on Amazon) for example weighs less than the MacBook Air] but it’s still a device that you can easily take with you.
The other huge difference? The new MacBook Air 2020 comes equipped with a new keyboard. Apple waved goodbye to its old butterfly switches and instead equipped the 2020 MacBook Air with its new Magic Keyboard, the same one that was introduced with the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019), which is way more reliable and offers a far better typing experience.
Apple MacBook Air – Design
The 2020 MacBook Air looks exactly the same as the 2019 model. The device is incredibly thin and lightweight. It is however 0.02 inches thicker (0.63 inches) and 0.05 pounds heavier (2.8 pounds) than the 2019 model. It also retains its distinctive premium brushed aluminum finish and you can choose between three colors: Space Grey, Rose Gold, or Silver.
It’s still pretty small, but no longer “the smallest” laptop around since the Dell XPS 13 (Check on Amazon) and the 13″ Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (Check on Amazon) are both thinner and lighter. That’s because Apple stubbornly refuses to reduce the size of the screen’s bezels. The company that invented the notch in order to reduce the frame of its smartphones down to a minimum, is four years out of fashion. And that’s inexcusable after thinning the bezels of the 16-inch MacBook Pro (Check on Amazon)!
The device features only two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports and a headphone jack. Thankfully these ports are very versatile: they offer a transfer rate of up to 40Gb/s and can also be used to charge your device (which leaves you with a single port).
Sadly both ports are on the same side (left). This has always been one of our biggest complaints. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports on each side would be ideal, but we could also settle for one on each side, to make it easier to connect the power cord both on the left and right depending on where you are sitting relative to the wall outlet.
The biggest change appears as soon as you lift the screen; Apple has finally replaced the old keyboard with butterfly switches, with the new Magic Keyboard with scissor switches that eliminate all the problems that have plagued the past two generations of MacBook Airs.
The keys feel solid, have a longer travel than before (1mm), are quieter and quite on par with the best laptop keyboards; only the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3’s keyboard is clearly better than this one.
The other advantage of the new Magic Keyboard is that the arrow keys are now arranged in a much more natural inverted “T” shape. Apple also decided to keep the standard function row of old-fashioned buttons instead of implementing its famous Touch Bar. The Touch Bar doesn’t add much in the way of functionality. It oozes style and personality, this is true, but it would have also increased the price. Sometimes the classic solutions are the most sensible.
Apple also added a Touch ID fingerprint sensor at the top right of the function row, which doubles as the power button. This button enables biometric access to macOS and allows you to make online payments via Apple Pay. It’s also the fastest and most intuitive fingerprint sensor you’ll find on a laptop.
Despite being extremely useful, we believe that it’s time for Apple to implement face recognition on Macs as well, a feature that makes iOS devices stand out from their Android counterparts.
Last but not least, let’s not forget about the trackpad. It’s big, accurate and smooth, it has the best tracking of any trackpad we’ve ever tried and its Force Touch click is pretty much silent.
Apple MacBook Air – Display
Nothing changed here from last year’s model. The MacBook Air 2020 comes with an LED-backlit, 13.3-inch IPS display, with a resolution of 2,560×1,600 pixels – it’s 1,440×900 pixels by default, that you could and should set at 1,680×1,050 pixels.
This is easily the best display among similarly priced laptops. You would have to pay at least $1,500 in order to get something better from Dell or HP.
This screen also features Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the color temperature according to ambient light. This technology makes all the difference between Apple screens and those on competing devices. It makes colors a tad warm but in our opinion much more comfortable to look at; on the other hand, if color accuracy is vital for your work (photo editing), then it is better to keep TrueTone off.
It would have been nice to find HDR support, but given the price, we can understand why there is none. The other thing the Air doesn’t have is a touchscreen. Apple could easily implement it, but it isn’t interested in doing so.
Apple MacBook Air — Performance
The MacBook Air was never meant and never claimed to be a portable workstation. It’s meant for users with basic needs, such as office apps and internet browsing. Think of it as Apple’s equivalent to the Chromebook.
However, the 2020 model is the first MacBook Air to sport a quad-core processor that is now standard on most laptops. The MacBook Air’s performance, even the base model equipped with a dual-core Intel i3 chipset and 8Gb of RAM, is quite impressive. We noticed almost no slowdowns, even during some heavy multitasking, and jumping back and forth between two or more apps was almost instantaneous. That said, the MacBook Air is still lagging behind the competition, but if you make light use of it, the Core i3 version will be perfectly adequate. However, we recommend the quad-core Core i5 version, which is much more capable and has the performance you would expect from a computer that costs more than $1,000.
While the processors that Apple uses are part of Intel’s 10th-generation (Ice Lake) family, they’re not the same chips you’ll find in most Windows laptops. They are, in fact, a variant of Y-series chips that Intel builds exclusively for Apple laptops.
The Core i5-1030NG7, for example, is a 10-watt quad-core chip that handles everyday tasks with ease. Apps open quickly, and having a couple dozen Chrome tabs open at once doesn’t slow it down at all. The problem though is not everyday use, but how the MacBook Air compares to similarly priced Windows laptops. The HP Spectre x360 (Check on Amazon), for example, is also equipped with a 10th generation Core i5 processor, but its multi-core performance is 30% higher. The difference is in raw power. The 10-watt processor in the MacBook Air does not have a clock speed that can compete with a chip capable of using up to 30 watts.
Apple says that this limitation is done on purpose. The company doesn’t think most people use applications that require a heavy CPU load sustained for long, so the Air relies on Intel’s Turbo Boost feature, which can increase the CPU’s clock speed up to 3.5GHz in an instant, do some heavy lifting when required, and then lower it back down to 1.1GHz, thus decreasing the amount of heat being produced and preserving battery life.
If you stick with Apple applications (optimized for this type of hardware) macOS feels very responsive for everyday use and even for some light content creation (iMovie, GarageBand) but the Air cannot handle something heavy like Adobe Premiere. You’ll have to opt for the much better-performing (and expensive) MacBook Pro for that.
The MacBook Air also suffers from its ultra-thin design, especially in sustained workloads (such as video editing). In these conditions, the laptop gets quite hot and the fans quite noisy. And that also leads to a reduction in performance.
During certain benchmarks, the CPU temperature rose quickly to 200°F and the CPU frequency was stabilized around 2.3GHz – which is far from the theoretical 3.5GHz boost – in an attempt to maintain “lower” temperatures and avoid damaging the CPU.
Obviously this is an extreme test that doesn’t suit a thin and lightweight device designed for productivity on the go.
The presence of a 256GB solid-state drive, in the basic version of the MacBook Air, is also very welcome and much more generous than the old MacBook Air (with only 128Gb). It gives you enough space for almost all your photos, videos, and documents, without forcing you to carry with you external hard drives or rely on the Cloud. The aspiring photographers and musicians among you will have to opt for a model with even more storage, but thankfully Apple offers models with up to 2TB.
Speaking of music, the speakers of the new MacBook Air deserve a special mention: volume, sound, and stereo separation are top-notch, especially for such a small laptop, and the voices during movies or video calls can be heard loud and clear.
Unfortunately, Apple has decided to maintain the same 720p webcam that we think has now come full circle and needs to be replaced.
The new Intel Ice Lake processors provide another major improvement: Iris Plus graphics. Macs were never considered gaming laptops, with the exception of Apple Arcade.
All versions of the Air include the new Iris Plus graphics, but only the Core i5 and i7 models can handle some light gaming with an acceptable framerate. Fortnite, for example, is unplayable on the Core i3, but the Core i5 manages to run it at 40fps (1.440×900 pixel resolution and Medium settings). If you want an entry-level gaming device get a Windows laptop instead.
Apple MacBook Air — Software
The MacBook Air runs the latest macOS Catalina; a mature and well-optimized operating system that can take full advantage of Apple’s hardware.
The most useful addition this time around is Sidecar, which can turn your iPad into a second screen for your Mac. It works wirelessly as long as both devices are connected on the same Wi-Fi network or you can connect them via cable.
Apple MacBook Air – Autonomy
The MacBook Air was once considered the king of battery life, but no more. Apple claims that the MacBook Air (2020) can last for 11 hours, but we found that in real-life conditions and usage that figure is around 9 hours. On top of that, battery life goes down even faster when we use non-Apple apps. For comparison, the HP Spectre x360 and Dell XPS 13 (our current autonomy champions) both last on average 2 hours longer.
Charging the device from 0 to 100% using the included 30W charger took more than two hours and 15 minutes, which is quite slow; the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 reached 80% in just one hour.
Apple MacBook Air – Verdict
The new MacBook Air 2020 (Check on Amazon) is a solid choice for macOS fans on a budget. The price cut, the new keyboard, and double the storage capacity are all great improvements, and the Intel Core i5 model comes very close to being the perfect all-around laptop.
However, The Air’s performance is lower than the competition, regardless of configuration.
Compared to the competition
If you want a Mac at all costs, the 13″ MacBook Pro (Check on Amazon) is a tempting option. Its screen and processor are both better and it’s still the best choice for photographers.