MacBook Air 2020 Review


I’d been rocking a MacBook Pro 2015 13" as my daily driver portable since 2015. I’ve been holding off on getting another Macbook for a long time due to the keyboard fiasco with the 2016 onward machines.

I’d been waiting and waiting, was almost ready to grudgingly pull the trigger on a 16" Pro despite not needing or wanting a portable that size, purely to get a working keyboard on a portable macOS device. I did seriously consider a system76 14" machine, but… linux not macOS. And no local support here in Australia. I do like macOS and I do like the integration with my other devices. And some of the software I really like. So Linux was out for this. I wanted macOS.

And then Apple dropped the 2020 air. I ordered on day of release.

It’s been a week now since mine arrived, so I figured I’d do a “no bs” review from the perspective of someone who uses the device as I believe intended (and coming from a previous generation MacBook):

  • light office apps
  • browser apps
  • terminal sessions
  • FaceTime/skype/etc.
  • media consumption
  • general lightweight portable use

for things more heavy than that… this isn’t what the machine is for. I have a desktop for that.

And so…

My previous machine:

  • 2015 MacBook Pro 13": 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, i5-5287

What I ordered

  • 2020 MacBook Air: 16 GB RAM, 1TB SSD, i7-1060GN

Physical construction and UI (i.e., keyboard/trackpad/screen):

  • the keyboard is going to be personal preference to an extent, but this new keyboard is my favourite portable keyboard I’ve used. I’ve been using laptops since 1995. It has enough travel (like the older 2015 machine), but somehow feels like it has more definitive feedback, better key stability and just generally feels more direct. I was instantly at home with it. I’d tried the butterfly trash several times and just never had the confidence to go there, even forgetting the horrible reliability. They just never felt comfortable. This does.
  • trackpad - it’s a force touch trackpad like my 2015. it’s bigger, and so far I have had zero issues with false input whilst typing, etc. the additional size is nice, but other than that, nothing to report. Apple make the best trackpads in existence, and this is a typical example of that. No complaints
  • Screen: its 2560x1600 native res, with True Tone. out of box scaled res is “like 1440x900” which is non-integer scaled but looks just fine and has a decent usable desktop area. Performance in the desktop is totally fine, no complaints. The truetone feature adjusts to ambient light to give you a natural looking white balance. I turned it on (I have it on my iPad) and forgot about it. vs. my old machine it does tend to look less blue in certain conditions. Brightness wise, indoors I’m using it on 50-60% brightness most of the time and that’s plenty.
  • speakers: way better than the 2015 pro. I’d say they’re on par with the speakers in my 2018 iPad Pro, and those blew me away. Maybe these are slightly better (surprisingly loud) but it’s a much larger device so that’s less of a shock. I hear the 16" is better but that’s purely down to laws of physics vs. available space I’m sure. No complaints.

So far so good.

Other things…

Does it drive a 4k display just fine? Yes. 60hz 4k output, no hitching, window lag, etc. No fan noise even (fan doesn’t even turn on), which apparently the 16" machine has issues with on an external display :smiley:

What are the temps, fan speeds? Don’t know, don’t care. I’ll go investigating that if I find it to be unacceptably loud, but for now I am running it without third party monitoring tools installed, as I want to confirm what it is like out of the box without the tools burning cpu time, etc.

How’s the fan noise/heat? there’s a lot of chatter about this on the internet after a few people have tried doing stuff like gaming on the thing. Well, no shit - a 12 watt processor with integrated graphics in an ultrabook form factor isn’t great at that.

Under heavy load (cpu bound long duration apps) - yes the fan will spin up. If you’re doing that on an MBA, you bought the wrong machine.

Normal desktop/web stuff? Never hear it. It’s almost entirely silent.

What DOES kill the machine is 4k video in YouTube.

Due to a pissing content over h.265 vs vp9 between apple and google we currently have the following situation:

  • CPU has both h.265 and vp9 hardware acceleration support
  • apple do not expose vp9 acceleration in the OS, as they want h.265 to be the standard
  • google do not encode 4k video in h.265, only vp9
  • safari does not support vp9 at all and will get 1080p YouTube that runs fine (encoded in accelerated h.264 I believe)
  • chrome on macOS supports vp9 in software without hardware acceleration

end result:
Chrome is hot/loud/stuttery on the little processor on 4k video. Safari only supports 1080p YouTube.

Suggestion: use safari and get 1080p

But this is really something Apple need to rectify to support vp9 in hardware. It’s killing chrome peformance on their machines and burning battery life. The customer loses.

Outside of that… I’m pretty happy. It’s a great upgrade from a 2015 machine and so long as your expectations aren’t unrealistic (like for example, running cinebench all day and expecting silence) performance is great. If you use the right apps, battery life is great (I’ve yet to run it out, estimate for light usage is 11-12 hours for me using safari - using for 3 hours and having about 9 life estimated remaining).


Nicely written and hits on every point that seems important. Thank you. :+1:

I was thinking about getting one but I want to wait for the next 13" (or 14"??) MBP to compare.

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Obviously don’t know what the new 13" pro will bring, but I feel that it could be a machine that is overpriced for what it is and not capable of doing higher end work to justify the price (within the MacBook lineup I mean). Maybe there’s a niche for it, but its very small. If you need more power, the 16" is far more powerful for not a heap more vs. a reasonably specced 13" at the moment. I just don’t know how many people need “a little bit” more power in something that is still ultraportable.

YMMV, but my 13" Pro also struggled with higher end workloads as well. But then again I see “desktop replacement” machines as all bad anyway, they simply don’t perform anywhere near as well as a desktop so I leave desktop stuff to desktops :slight_smile:

Well, I’m still hoping for a 13/14" with somewhat better graphics, like a low end Navi. But even without that, if we take the 16" as a template the new little brother might get at least some decent cooling this time.

We both don’t. That’s why I’ll wait for it. :wink:

Well, we don’t know FOR SURE, but we’ve got a a pretty good idea.

I doubt Apple will put a discrete GPU in it. They will consider the 64 EU ice-lake integrated graphics as enough, and it will keep changes required to their design minimal (I really don’t think apple plan to do any major design tweaks to their smaller machines until they go in house ARM).

You’ll end up with a 13-14" truetone display, a keyboard like this one, and the top spec will be something like an ice lake i7-1065GN.

Similar short term boost, better long duration clocks due to better cooling and higher TDP class of ice lake. Maybe an option for 32 GB of RAM. Expect 9-10 hours of battery life claimed.

Expect to pay 50% more than an air for the privilege :slight_smile:

We’ll see how close my predictions are in a month or two :smiley:

That might be enough for the premium price for me. I use Capture One, Luminar 4 and other software that benefits from boost but also from better sustained performance like on the export of many images at once, for example. A few programs also support Metal GPU acceleration (which I would totally call metal acceleration feature or short Metal AF :stuck_out_tongue:), which is the reason I would reeeaaaally like to have a teeny-tiny little navi in there.

I have edited photos on the old Air before (not fun on that TN panel) and performance wise it works … kinda. But on a pro that would actually be a viable option even for whole projects and not just single images.

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Just fyi in case you didn’t know… the current air panels aren’t TN - they’re retina IPS - have been for a few years and the new ice lake parts are significantly faster and more cores. This one feels and benchmarks significantly faster than my old 13" Pro for example.

But yeah, if you do that sort of thing I mention above maybe wait for the pro. I expect my prediction to be pretty accurate based on intel roadmaps and what apple are up to lately, so if that’s what you want, a couple of months it should be here… :slight_smile:

I am aware. I was talking about the ooooold model. Like 2011 ooooold. :wink:

I just hope they iron out the kinks in Catalina until then. Mojave is so damn solid and supports basically everything.


Here is what’s pissing me off at the moment: I would love to just run a somewhat current MBP with a good keyboard and Mojave for the OS. Well, I can pick two, I guess. … Thanks, Apple. :+1:

:neutral_face: :face_with_raised_eyebrow: :angry: :rage: :face_with_symbols_over_mouth: :bomb: :boom:

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What’s not working for you?

I haven’t run into any major problems myself outside of the retirement of 32 bit support. So I get it if that’s a thing for you…

I might be fine without 32bit on that machine, I still have my 2009 mac pro on mojave for things like my old Eye-TV USB thingy for analogue video capture.

But I’ve heard nothing but complaints from the video people, especially FCPX was a mess on Catalina launch. I would hope they fixed that by now. But I had a few stability issues myself on a quick test on my half broken 2015 15" MBP. So I just noped out and went back to mojave.

Fair enough. I’ve run Catalina on the 2015 Pro and 2020 Air - had to upgrade/discard a few things, but that was about it.

I mostly use it as a web browser/mail client, media player, GoPro video short/hobby video editor and a unix terminal though so my usage isn’t as intense as some.

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