The MacBook Air is Apple's most popular computer. Now there's a new model, and Apple sent me one to review. It might look the same as the older models, but it has some great upgrades.
The processors are now the best available from Intel, there's plenty of storage on the entry-level model and, yes, Apple finally fixed the keyboard.
It's a tough time to launch a new computer. People are worried about the coronavirus and can't go to Apple Stores to play with the new models (they're closed indefinitely in the U.S.). They also might be worried about where their next paycheck is going to come from.
But the terrible situation we're all in right now also means millions of people are working at home. Students and workers might need new computers that are powerful enough to get their jobs done, keep them entertained at night and last as long as possible. So maybe Apple has an opportunity here.
The newest MacBook Air is a great laptop, so put it at the top of your list.
Here's what you need to know.
The MacBook Air has always been known for being super thin, light (it weighs just 2.8 pounds) and powerful. Apple invented the category of super-thin laptops with its first MacBook Air back in 2008. The design of this model is relatively unchanged from the 2018/2019 versions, but Apple made some important updates.
Apple now offers 256 GB of storage in the entry-level $999 model. That's twice as much as you used to get, and it's the right move as apps are getting larger, and Apple's push into services is increasing the amount of content people might want to download.
For instance, Apple TV+, which is free for a year with most new Apple product purchases, including the Air, lets you store movies and TV shows for viewing when you don't have a Wi-Fi connection. Apple Arcade ($9.99 a month), offers lots of games to download.
Apple also added Intel's latest 10th generation Core processors, which offer faster Wi-Fi, better performance, faster photo rendering and more. The entry-level model comes with a Core i3, but the model I tested included the more powerful Core i5 option, which is a $100 upgrade. It felt fast enough for me and I didn't see any slowdowns while running a bunch of apps, like Apple TV+, lots of tabs in Chrome, Slack and photos at once.
Apple used to include a Core i5 chip in the $999 model but told me that this Core i3 chip is a big upgrade from the 2018 Core i5, so most people should still see a performance bump. But if you want a computer that will run modern apps for several years, you should consider at least getting the Core i5 model, just for a bit of future-proofing and extra power. And speaking of power, while I wasn't able to test this without owning a 6K display, the 2020 MacBook Air is the first to support up to 6K displays, a nod to the new Intel Iris graphics that are included in all models.
The speakers are great, although not quite as good as the stellar speakers on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which I reviewed last year. But you'll like them — they're full, sound balanced, and don't get too tinny like most laptop speakers.
The 13-inch Retina Display is sharp and colorful and has the True Tone technology that Apple offers in iPhones and some iPads. This wasn't in my 2018 MacBook Air but was added to the MacBook Air refresh in 2019. It's a nice upgrade and feels more comfortable to look at, since the whites balance depending on your environment ever so subtly. It's a feature I love, and it's a good bump if you're coming from a 2018 MacBook Air, as I am.
I've only had the new MacBook Air for about a day, so I'm still fiddling with battery life to see how long it'll run. That takes longer than a day. But, it seems to be good enough to get through most of a workday so long as I keep the brightness at about half max. Stay tuned for more on battery life in a couple of days as I use it longer.
I'm pleased to report that the new keyboard is a vast improvement.
I've been using a 2018 MacBook Air for two years and, over time, it started to get jammed due to the older butterfly-design. That keyboard design is much more shallow and helped Apple create super-thin laptops, but it ended up being frustrating to type on because key presses didn't always register.
The scissors-switch design in the new MacBook Air has a proven track record in other machines. It worked well in the 16-inch MacBook Pro and is based on the design of the popular wireless Magic Keyboard that Apple sells as an accessory.
Just for quick comparison, here's the 2018 MacBook Air. Notice how the keyboard looks really similar:
But the new one is much more pleasant to type on. The keys feel like they have more give to them when you press down, and I was immediately typing with fewer typos.
So far, they haven't jammed on me. Then again, the problem didn't appear for about a year after I bought my last MacBook Air, so it'll take longer before I know for sure how reliable it is.
The complaints I have about the 2020 MacBook Air are relatively minor.
The first is the same complaint I had with the 2018 MacBook Air: The webcam is still only 720p. It's fine, but not great. I wish Apple would upgrade it to at least 1080p for sharper video chats. It seems like the space is there.
Also, I sort of wish Apple included Face ID in its computers. Microsoft supports "Windows Hello" on some Windows 10 computers, which includes the option to unlock some laptops just by looking at them, just like Face ID on an iPhone or iPad. The MacBook Air doesn't include that option, although the fingerprint reader works just fine. Plus, it's easy to configure it to unlock if you're nearby wearing an Apple Watch, which is nice.
Buying a Mac gets you access to Apple's entire ecosystem, like Messages, Apple News and Apple TV+. But some people just prefer Windows to macOS. If you're not a Mac person, or have no real preference between the two systems, there are some really nice Windows 10 laptops out there you should know about.
The 13-inch HP Spectre 360 2-in-1, for example, costs $1,299.99 and comes with a 512 GB drive and a Core i7 processor. It's often on sale for $999 or less, but that same configuration for a MacBook Air would cost you $1,449.00. Dell sells the XPS 13 2-in-1, another laptop lots of reviewers like, with a Core i7 chip and 256 GB of storage for $1,399.99. Those two laptops also work as so-called "2-in-1" computers that let you rotate the screen 360-degrees and prop it up in tent mode, or use it like a tablet.
Yes. And it only took me a day playing with it to reach that conclusion.
Lots of people have asked me over the last several months if they should "buy the MacBook Air or wait." And I always said "just wait." The old model desperately needed a new keyboard.
It's finally here. That means folks who have the 2018 MacBook Air, or even the 2019 model with the older keyboard, should seriously consider picking up the new one. The processor bump alone is worth it, and then there's the new 256 GB entry-level storage and a keyboard you can actually type on. Toss in the good speakers, solid display and lightweight design, and you have the complete package.
Again, there are several really good laptops available with Intel's 10th generation chips. You might also want to look at the HP Spectre X360 or Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 if you don't need macOS. They're super nice.
But, if you're an Apple person, the new MacBook Air is the best laptop for most people.