REVIEW: Apple's M1-powered MacBook Air

Dubai - Chip ahoy! All-in-one, do-it-all custom-built processor finally ready to rumble



By Alvin R. Cabral

Published: Wed 27 Jan 2021, 8:03 PM

Last updated: Wed 27 Jan 2021, 8:08 PM

With Apple using their own chips to power its iPhones, iPads, iPods, Watches and TVs, it was just a matter of time when they'd use such on their computing machines. That time has come, and it's a really big deal.

Apple just unleashed its first wave of Macs being run by its very own Silicon chips, rightfully starting off with the M1. The folks at Cupertino are promising a significant experience bump-up with all the tech they've cramped into this tiny wonder. Time to find out how that translates into actual action.

TALE OF THE TAPE

You will notice quite a number of stuff that have stayed put. But don't be surprised; we all know the real deal here, and this is the first time we had to merge two key specs. That's how serious Apple is with their upgrade for this new computing machine.

FORM

Surprise... the new MacBook Air looks exactly the same as the one released earlier this year — and obviously, it's still thin and light. The finishes are as sleek as ever; the rose gold colour is really the most eye-candy of the lot, but the space grey variant is, personally, one of those things that's really simple but grows on you — fast.

Like its few previous iterations, there are only three I/O connections on this new machine — two Thunderbolt/USB-4 ports on the left and a 3.5mm audio port on the right. You can make a case that, indeed, a couple more of the former comes in handy; the one further is also its charging port, leaving only one port for utilisation. If there comes a time that you need to connect or charge multiple devices, then that's a handicap. (More often than not I have the need of charging my iPhone, Watch or AirPods — or, worst-case scenario, two or all of them — on my MacBook, especially when I'm nowhere near a power outlet, which is practically all the time.)

And yeah, for the uninitiated, there are no regular-sized USBs in sight (been this way for a while); the whole idea of the Air line is its slim profile. Cute to think that the original MacBook Air from 2008 featured a full-sized USB port hidden behind a pull-down door.

The overall keyboard and keys are standard Apple fare, which are smooth to your fingers' feel as you glide through them. Along with the usual Force Touch trackpad, its still quiet when typing — just don't punch them down like a typewriter. You don't get Touch Bar with it though; that's reserved for the higher-end MacBook Pros.

It also doesn't feel wonky when you hold it with one hand. There are some laptops that seem to 'bend' a bit when you hold it that way, giving a little scary feeling.

M1: NEW CHIP IN THE BLOCK

We've done a bit of detail into Apple's newest chip, but let's delve deeper, getting-to-know-each-other style. We found it even cute that when you try to download Google Chrome, the site wants you to specify if you're rocking the latest one (and not those among the 'most common'):

Anyway, first up: Apple has used its own Silicon chips for a good decade now, with the 'A' series been powering iPhones and iPads and the 'S' line for Watch; the current iterations are the A14 Fusion and S5. Since 2006, Apple's desktops and laptops have been using Intel processors. The company also announced that Macs' full transition into Silicon architecture will be completed in two years.

So what's up with the M1? Here's an overview.

This is a typical Mac motherboard (which will soon be history). It had different chips, each with dedicated purposes, to control different components, including memory, security, controllers for input/output and the CPU itself.

The M1 system-on-chip integrates all of these into one under its hood.

With all those other chips gone, that — in theory — would allow for an even slimmer and lighter frame. But apparently, that's not the case: Both the early-2020 and M1 MacBook Airs still have the same listed dimensions and weight. Of course, there can be other components that can be slapped in to boost other sectors of the machine, so that.

And under that hood comes a whole lot of goodies Apple has been touting.

All these translate into a number of significant boosts, among others, to the new MacBook Air's performance:

• Custom technology, which makes the new and upcoming Macs more efficient

• Its cores give up to 3.5 times boost in CPU performance

• Its GPU provides up to six times faster graphics; up to 3.9 times and 7.1 times quicker video and image processing, respectively

• The updated Neural Engine is capable of crunching 11 trillion processes per second

• Best-in-class security, courtesy of Secure Enclave

• Richer and more detailed games

• More power-efficient, with three times higher CPU performance per watt

In short, it's better by several notches. We felt smoother transitions between processes and just an overall seamless experience.

BATTERY

Another huge leap — and a big beneficiary of the M1 chip — is battery life. With it, Apple promises you'll get up to 15 hours of wireless Web and up to 18 hours of Apple TV playback, both big leaps from the early-2020 model's 11 and 12 hours; that's a third and a half more, respectively.

In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, this MacBook Air really impressed as it lost only 10 per cent — that's a really huge improvement over the version released earlier this year, which clocked in at 18 per cent.

Meanwhile, in the charging test, we used the in-the-box 30-watt charger and USB-C-to-USB-C cable, AKA Thunderbolt 4. We also put this Mac on flight mode and set its brightness to half. Here's how it went.

It's really no surprise that this MacBook Air — even this M1 variant, or any laptop for that matter — refilling its juice takes some time. Matter of factly, it's quite rare for a laptop to really zip through the charging process; off the top of my head, I can recall that Lenovo says its ThinkPad X1 Carbon can go to 80 per cent in an hour, though we haven't had the chance to test that.

In any case, given all its chip enhancements, we expected it to be at least two-thirds of the way in an hour, which obviously didn't happen. This is one area we believe Apple should work on.

But its longer life can more than make up for this shortcoming. While Apple lists it at a max of 18 hours, this — of course — depends on how much you use it, Web connection and everything. In our run, it was more than enough to last an entire day and still have under 50 per cent of life left. The M1 chip is, again, the key here: It optimises your usage, thus enhancing battery performance.

AND SO...

It was, indeed, quite surprising that it took longer than expected for Apple to finally use their own processors in their computers. But they're no stranger to being 'late'.

The MacBook Air with the M1 chip is, as Apple promised, a significant leap in both performance and the future direction of the company's offerings. It offers them more flexibility and more freedom to tinker with it and, consequently, chart the performance of Macs to, as it is said, exact specifications.

And though Macs are indeed on the premium side, here's some good news: The entry-level M1 MacBook Air's price stays put just like the early-2020 model. One more reason to seriously consider it.

GOODIES: The M1 chip and everything that goes with it, entry-level price sticks

GOOFIES: Charging time still takes a lot of time, still pricey, limited number of ports

EDITOR RATING: Let's face it, Macs are still a premium lot, so it still prices itself out of reach for a certain category of users. But the Air is still its entry-level option, and this new M1-powered model is a good way to make a grand entrance (especially if you consider shifting from Windows). 4.5/5

alvin@khaleejtimes.com


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