MacBook Air M1 Review 2021

Thanks to the new M1 SoC, the MacBook Air can be used quickly, and without a fan, it is absolutely silent. However, it loses a few points on the B grade.

A MacBook Air with an Intel CPU wasn’t an ideal combination. Loud fan, thermal throttling, and in the end, there was a performance that was overwhelmed with tasks beyond Microsoft Office. That is probably why the MacBook Air was one of the first notebooks to which Apple donated the new “Apple Silicon” M1-SoC.

MacBook Air M1 Review 2021

In contrast to the MacBook Pro, customers can no longer buy a new Intel version of the MacBook Air unless there are remaining stocks at retailers. After working with the M1 MacBook Air for over a month, I am convinced that no one needs an Intel version of Apple’s entry-level notebook anymore.

Technical data: MacBook Air M1 Review 2021

Display33.78 cm (13.3 “) IPS display with LED backlight, 400 nits maximum brightness
resolution2560 x 1600px, pixel density of approx. 227 PPI
processorApple Silicon M1 SoC (5nm)
4x efficient cores + 4 performance cores Max.3.20
GHz
graphicintegrated (7 or 8 GPU cores)
random access memory8 or 16 GB LPDDR-DDR4X (4266 MHz)
hard disk256GB, 5120GB or 1TB SSD
networkBluetooth 5.0
WLAN 6
LAN 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac / ax
connections2x Thunderbolt / USB 4 with TB 3 (40GB / s)
headphone / microphone combination socket
battery packLi-Ion battery with 49.9 Wh
Input devicesbacklit keyboard
trackpad
SoundStereo speakers, dual array microphone
camera720p
securityTouchID sensor
operating systemmacOS 11 “Big Sur”
Dimensions30.41 cm x 21.24 cm x 1.61 cm (widest point)
Weight1.29 kilos
Pros
  • fast
  • fanless
  • Trackpad
  • Battery life
Cons
  • USB Type-C only
  • no touch screen
  • Multiple monitor issues

Scope of delivery: everything as always

As with the predecessors, there is only a little paperwork in the simple white box (and, of course, Apple stickers) in addition to the MacBook Air and the 30-watt power supply unit, including USB-C charging cable. No dongles, no other accessories – just the MacBook Air and the charger. Everything is neatly packaged, and apart from a large plastic film, the environment is also happy.

Design and workmanship: MacBook Air M1 Review 2021

Anyone who has ever held a MacBook (whether Air or Pro) knows how good these notebooks’ craft is. The housing is made of one piece of aluminum and feels very high quality. Apple knows how to build perfect hardware. But it can also be paid for well. So customers can have certain demands with the MacBook Air.

MacBook Air M1 Review

As with its predecessor, the M1 MacBook Air also uses a slight wedge shape. Together with the magic keyboard and the large trackpad directly below, only one feature shines through its absence – the touch bar. There is still no such thing in the MacBook Air. Opinions about the touch bar differ widely. Personally, I am glad that I can control the display brightness and volume of the MacBook Air simply with the function keys and not with a digital slider that never really worked 100%.

MacBook Air M1 keypad

Compared to the Intel predecessor, Apple has hardly changed the appearance of the MacBook Air. Only a few function keys have changed. Instead of Launchpad, there is now, for example, a button for the Spotlight search or a button for memos.

Connections: Thunderbolt 3 or something like that

Apple has also opted for two Type-C ports on the left side of the M1 MacBook Air. It’s not a real Thunderbolt 3 because this standard belongs to Intel and the M1 SoC is not from Intel. Apple calls it “Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports with support for Thunderbolt 3 (up to 40 Gbit / s)”. Let’s keep calling it Thunderbolt 3 to avoid widespread confusion.

MacBook Air M1 Review 2021

Display: almost full marks

Nothing has changed here either. The new MacBook Air is the already known and perfect 13.3 ″ IPS display with 2560 x 1600 pixels. With a maximum of 440 nits and about 12% deviation on the entire panel, the display appears bright and evenly illuminated. The MacBook Air scores have a high level of color accuracy in almost all color spaces.

The MacBook Air is well equipped, even for simple color-critical work. The white point is not 100% accurate ex-works, but this is also under control after calibration. You can download the ICC file here. The remaining values ​​are also pretty good for a “non-graphics notebook.”

The “True Tone” feature on the MacBook Air should be deactivated for color-critical work. This function ensures that colors are adapted to the environment’s lighting conditions and repeatedly leads to undesirable results when editing images.

The use of external displays with the MacBook Air is currently somewhat critical. Currently, Apple officially only provides an external display – but that can also be the Pro Display XDR with 6K. For everything else, a lot of dongles and adapters have to be used. Theoretically, six external displays are possible. Ideally, you only have one display connected. Wide-screen support is officially given, but it doesn’t work perfectly with all models, according to reports on the Internet.

You can Also Read: MSI Bravo 17 Review

Software: more and more iPad

With the change to the ARM architecture with Apple Silicon, the MacBook Air relies on a technology similar to the iPads. During my test, the iPad Pro was already compelling in many areas as a laptop replacement and was primarily only held up by the business area’s software.

With the new version of macOS “Big Sur,” the iPad and MacBook are moving a little closer together, even if the changes are not gigantic. The Doc and the menu bar are now transparent, and the app icons are identical to the iPad and iPhone. – including rounded corners. With three new widget sizes, users have more options to better adapt their desks to themselves.

MacBook Air M1 Review 2021

A real change, however, is the new Control Center of the MacBook Air. Instead of accessing your Bluetooth devices via an icon in the menu bar as before, you now unfold an area that could also come directly from the iPad. Here you control Bluetooth, volume, display brightness, WiFi, and keyboard lighting. Everything looks as if it wants to be operated with the fingers. However, this is not possible because the MacBook Air still does not rely on a touchscreen.

Also new is a universal navigation bar on the left edge of the folder. Windows users have known this for a long time, and even with the update to iPadOS 14, it is not new to the Apple cosmos. Accordingly, the MacBook Air is increasingly reminiscent of the iPad (or the iPad of the MacBook Air?), And that consistency isn’t a bad thing.

Finally, with the M1 MacBooks, there is still the option of using iPad & iPhone apps on the MacBook. All you have to do is search the app store and select the appropriate category. However, the selection is currently minimal, and many apps are missing or not optimized for screens other than the iPhone or iPad. Nice gimmick, but not anymore at the moment.

A few more words about Rosetta II – the applications that x86 applications run on the M1 MacBook Air. It is as inconspicuous as it can be. When you start the first non-native app, macOS asks you if you want to install Rosetta II, and once that’s done, you’ll never hear or see it again. If you pay close attention, you will only differentiate between native ARM apps and emulated apps because they take two or three seconds longer to start when they are first loaded fully. 

The performance losses due to emulation are small, so it is unnecessary to install any ARM beta status programs. I have installed the complete Adobe Suite (Lightroom, Photoshop, etc.) as an x86 application on the MacBook Air and will only switch to the ARM version when it is finished.

Performance: enough power for everyday life

Of course, the performance of a notebook can be quantified quite objectively with benchmarks. A Cinebench 23 multi-core score of 6746 only says something about everyday performance/usage to a limited extent. It is roughly on a par with the 11th generation of the Intel i7 notebook CPUs. In everyday life, this means that customers don’t have to worry whether their own applications are still running satisfactorily – they do it.

Thanks to the aforementioned emulation of Rosetta II, I noticed a few bottlenecks. The import of large raw files now takes twelve or thirteen seconds instead of ten seconds, but since the MacBook Air is not primarily a work machine for creators, that is not decisive for the war. The usual browser and office applications all run without problems, and more and more manufacturers are now offering native ARM versions of their apps.

MacBook Air M1

However, should the personal situation change spontaneously and the accountant wants to produce YouTube videos in the future, then that is not a problem either. Productive work is also possible without further ado, albeit with minor restrictions. Without active cooling, the M1 chip throttles its performance by 15-25% after about 7-8 minutes of heavy load. Exporting a theoretical 30-minute Let’s Play takes a little longer than with an actively cooled processor. However, this is not noticeable when using the browser and Office since it is not a heavy burden for the SoC.

However, much more important is that Apple has managed to develop a usable laptop with the current MacBook Air, even in the absolute basic version, which, unlike its predecessors, is really useful in everyday life. The amalgamation of CPU, GPU, neural engine, etc., in the M1 chip, ensures that all parts can access the same memory (RAM). This means that data no longer needs to be cached, and the MacBook Air’s overall performance benefits from this.

Battery life: runs and runs (in your own cosmos)

Apple had always throttled the Intel MacBook Air’s performance so that battery life of around ten hours could be achieved. With Apple Silicon, the engineers increased the running time, and so Apple promises “up to 15 hours of wireless surfing” and “up to 18 hours of watching films with the Apple TV app”.

To cut a long story short – yes, you can achieve these battery runtimes with the M1 MacBook Air if you use everything from Apple. Hence, Apple’s statement that you can reach 18 hours if you use the native “Apple TV App.” With an efficient browser like Safari, I had almost 15 hours of wireless surfing, although my display brightness could have been lower.

On the other hand, with Chrome, my battery life with the MacBook Air dropped to about 12 to 13 hours – depending on what exactly I was doing online. Another decisive factor for the battery life is whether the developers have already optimized their applications for the new M1 SoC or whether emulation still needs to be carried out via Rosetta II.

Buyers of the new MacBook Air don’t have to worry about the battery. During the day, they always come with everyday applications. If you start exporting 4K films in Davinci Resolve, you will achieve correspondingly shorter runtimes.

Up

Emissions: No fans – no noise

There aren’t many notebooks that are completely passively cooled. How relevant this property always depends on your own pain threshold. In Windows, the Microsoft Surface Pro devices or the Huawei Matebook X come into play. But it is still a rarity, and customers have to look specifically for such devices. The last device from Apple without a fan was the original 12 ″ MacBook.

MacBook Air M1

Personally, I love the MacBook Air for the fanless design because, for me, there is nothing more annoying than a fan that spins up due to minimal load and is then accompanied by a humming or beeping sound. None of this occurs with the MacBook Air, and it should be the same for an office notebook.

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Upgrade: haha, that was good

Previous versions of the MacBook Air could not be upgraded. The RAM and SSD were firmly soldered, so willing hobbyists only had the option of cleaning the fan. With the new passively cooled MacBook Air, this option is also no longer available. The last remaining maintenance measure consists of changing the thermal paste if the CPU temperatures start to rise after two years. At least if you have a suitable special screwdriver.

Conversely, this also means that you have to think carefully in advance which configuration of the MacBook Air you exactly need. While the M1 SoC (regardless of whether it has 7 or 8 graphics cores) and the 8GB RAM are well dimensioned for normal use, you should consider upgrading to 512GB internal storage, as the 256GB of the basic configuration fill up quite quickly.

Sound: pretty good

The best laptop speakers are still in the 16 ″ MacBook Pro (test). The speakers of the 13 ″ MacBook Pro (test soon) come in second place together with the speakers of the Surface Laptop 3 (test). In third place is the MacBook Air together with the Dell XPS 13 (test). At least that’s my subjective perception after doing dozens of self-tested laptops and mobile devices that colleagues around me have tested.

MacBook Air M1 speakers

Even at high volumes, the treble barely pulls, and the MacBook Air’s case only vibrates at the highest volume. However, there is a lack of abundance in the mids and bass areas. It is more than sufficient for YouTube videos, podcasts, or even a little Spotify during the university break.

Conclusion: MacBook Air M1 Review 2021

Apple played it safe with the new edition of the MacBook Air. Nothing was changed beyond the processor. The keyboard is identical. The trackpad is the same, the speakers as before, and the whole case up to the (poor) 720p webcam have remained. The designers avoided headlines like “Don’t buy the new MacBook Air with M1”. This is exactly what would have happened if another new feature hadn’t worked properly. But there wasn’t. Instead, the Apple Silicon launch went as smoothly as it got.

The old MacBook Air was hardly usable beyond light surfing. It got better with an upgrade of the former Intel CPU. Still, customers were again very close to the MacBook Pro in terms of price, which then offered better thermal performance and made the entire Air lineup (almost) superfluous. With the M1 SoC, even the smallest Apple notebook has enough power for almost all everyday tasks.

MacBook Air

The M1 SoC in the new MacBook Air throttles after ten minutes of continuous load, but this is only noticeable when, for example, large videos are being rendered and not during normal use. The speakers are also a bit better. Only USB Type-C / Thunderbolt works like a restriction in the first step but then turns into a speed and comfort boost – except for multiple displays.

The excellent performance and passive cooling make the MacBook Air one of the best everyday notebooks on the market. If I were currently looking for a new notebook, it would be exactly the device I would buy. I would do without a CPU or RAM upgrade, but I would invest the 230$ for 512GB internal storage.

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