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
- 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.
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.
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
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
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).