M1 MacBook Air 6 Month Review

Since the 2022 M2 MacBook Air reviews have hit the interwebz recently, I thought I’d share my own review. So here’s my little write-up of the 2020 MacBook Air – the M1, not the M2 – after owning and using it for a solid 6 months.


Rating

First, here’s my final verdict up front: fantastic, love it, 10 out of 10!

Let me break it down a bit.

Hardware

Body

The all-aluminum unibody design has been around for years and remains as top-notch as ever. The keyboard deck never flexes or creaks. The magnetic lid snaps shut effortlessly, and it can be raised or lowered with a single finger (not two hands), which is super nice. It’s very light and easy to carry with its wedge design. The metal enclosure itself is often cool or cold to the touch and never gets warm thanks to the amazingly efficient M1 chip powering it. I opted for a transparent plastic protective shell on the bottom and lid, giving it a softer and warmer feel. Despite the extra bulk, there is not extra heft. The overall package remains thin and light yet sturdy.

Speakers

Its speakers blew me away when I first heard them, and after six months they still impress me with how full and rich and loud they are. Stereo separation is delightful. They only lack full bass since the chassis housing them is so thin.

Trackpad

The glass trackpad sets a standard of excellence as is super smooth to scroll. The force-touch haptic feedback from the trackpad makes the entire thing a giant button that “just works” anywhere you tap or click. When I’ve had to use any other laptop’s trackpad since having the MacBook, my fingers have felt offended with slight disgust. Also, the various finger gestures work exceptionally well.

Keyboard

The keyboard is also excellent; it’s just clicky-clacky enough in both feel and sound. So it’s not too loud, not mushy feeling, plenty of key travel. I’m no keyboard snob and I don’t need a mechanical KB, but I blog and write and type a lot and love using the MacBook Air for all of it. Let the fingertips fly.

On top of that, the backlit feature is fantastic as it perfectly, without fail, auto-adjusts the keys’ backlighting to the exact ideal brightness in any light or dark setting I’m in. I never have to think about it or futz with it. It just works just right. Apple nailed this feature with aplomb.

TouchID

It’s present and fantastic. It always works to bring up my passwords while using Safari, for example. It lets me login to my MacBook. Super handy. Love it.

Display

The display is oh-my-gosh gorgeous, especially since I was accustomed to a just-barely HD panel before. At just over 13 inches, it’s a superb “Retina” crisp screen. I don’t see pixels; I see vivid and clear and smooth text and images and videos. Now I’m spoiled. It has the feature that automatically adjusts the color temperature to show true colors based on ambient lighting, but honestly, if it never adjusted, I’d be fine. Sometimes the shift can look jarring, but my eyes then adjust quickly enough. Resolution can be adjusted/scaled as needed; I find the default setting just right. Though small-ish at 13.3 inches, it’s big enough to use for anything. That said, if Apple made a larger MacBook Air screen, like 15″, then I’d prefer the extra room for sure.

Webcam

I never use it, actually. It’s probably fine. So I fired it up just now for this review using Photo Booth in a well daylit room. The image looked good with minimal graininess. I guess I should try FaceTime…ok I just FaceTimed my wife while she’s out shopping! It works great. From my MacBook to her iPhone, we had instant and clear video and audio. So the webcam and mic are good.

Ports

It has some. Two USB-C/Thunderbolt. I don’t know the specs on them, but charging via USB-C is plenty fast and simple. They work with my USB-C thumb drives well. And the 3.5mm headphone jack, well, it works fine though I never use it.

Software

macOS

It runs macOS Monterey and everything works perfectly, easy, and fast. The OS is very nice. I love that it’s both a “real” and “full” OS like Windows (which I use for work) yet it’s also simple and elegant and similar in many ways to my iPhone and iPad. Also, software updates are free and just work.

The entire software ecosystem can’t be beat. I mostly use my iPhone and MacBook, as the laptop has replaced my iPad+Keyboard+Mouse combo. My iPad now is a nice-to-have tablet on the side, and I sometimes use it with my MacBook either as a second extended display or via Universal Control.

Widgets and Menu Bar

These easily slide out from the right to the left and look like those on iPhone and iPad. The consistency and elegance are super nice. They’re combined with Notification Center (notifications?), which is fine I guess. They work well and look good. No real complaints. And Control Center is similar, a very handy place to toggle certain settings; it’s accessible and functional enough. What’s extra nice is that many settings or controls are enabled in the Menu Bar for quick access, similar to the Windows Taskbar area on the bottom right. The Menu Bar itself is a wonderfully consistent experience on the Mac across all apps; I really appreciate and enjoy it.

Finder

File management is simple and easy, yet for a long-time Widows user, it has taken me time to adjust. But I really dig it.

Mission Control

Window management is nice, functional, and looks elegant too. It’s different from Microsoft Windows and takes adjustment, but I’d say it’s on par. In some ways, MS Windows is slightly better to me in how it “snaps” windows to edges and corners and how it allows you to view running apps in the Windows Taskbar.

That said, I love Mission Control on the Mac, most often invoked via the 3-finger trackpad gesture. I kind of use Spaces with it but not much. I only use full-screen apps when I intend to focus on one task for a while (like typing this draft). Mission Control works in both window and full-screen mode and it’s great to easily see all my open app windows and Spaces (desktops?) and select one. Similar to MC is App Exposé; it’s nice but I don’t often use it. And split-screen app windows, like on iPad, is very handy and nicely done, though things get a bit cramped in this mode on the 13″ display.

With window/app management, there’s also the Dock, which is just very nice to use all the time. It’s similar to the Windows Taskbar. LaunchPad is nice and cool as a place to launch apps, easily seeing them laid out in a grid like on the iPad.

Messages

Also known as iMessage, having this app work on my MacBook with a full keyboard to seamlessly text others, whether they’re on Apple or Android, is fantastic. Love it. I can so easily share files or web content from my Mac to my wife’s iPhone via text message. So modern and handy.

Safari

Likely the greatest app I use is the web browser, which is Safari. It works great across all the sites I use, and the iCloud Keychain password manager is excellent. Speaking of iCloud, it’s wonderful and reliable here as well.

Photos

The Photos app on MacBook has more features than found on iPad or iPhone, which I love. The edit/adjustment sliders are numerous and powerful, similar to what I once used in Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s abandoned Aperture (wish they’d renew it again).

Gaming

The Mac isn’t known for gaming like the PC is. But I do have Steam installed and can run at least one Steam game: RPG Maker MZ.

iWork and More

The fact that when you buy a MacBook you also get an entire suite of great software “for free” is just awesome in my book. I get the whole Apple “office suite” (Pages, Numbers, Keynote, the first two of which I genuinely use) along with all the productivity apps on my iPhone but fully featured (Notes, Mail, Calendar, Reminders, Contacts). This is so incredibly good. Whereas on Windows, I must buy Microsoft Office separately, and it’s not cheap.

Also, while it’s possible to run iPhone or iPad apps on the Mac, I don’t. I haven’t found much reason to, and the browser plus web apps plus Mac apps, so far, is plenty.

Overall

Battery Life

It’s as incredible as you’ve likely heard elsewhere. My M1 MacBook Air easily lasts all day on a single charge. In fact, I typically charge it partially every 3 days or so. It’s remarkable indeed. I was accustomed to both my iPad’s battery life (a tablet) and my Chromebook’s – both of those go a full day and then some on a charge. Well, the M1 MacBook is at least as long-lasting as a tablet or Chromebook. No joke. In practice, I often go places a full day or overnight and intentionally leave the wall charger at home simply because I know I won’t need to charge up during that time.

Performance

My base model M1 MacBook Air, which I bought from Apple’s Refurbished Store online, has only 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD space. I figured it’s easy to add more storage via thumb drives or whatever. And I thought the memory would be a bit low but good enough. To my surprise, 8GB of RAM on this M1 machine for regular, normal, or casual usage is plenty by far. I never see slow down. And when I tested it by opening tens of apps and around 40 browser tabs all at once, it just kept on going smoothly. Somehow the M1 magically manages running apps and memory so fast. It’s true what real testing reviews say: you have to work very hard to try and make the M1 MacBook slow down or maybe heat up.

Note that I’ve had one Apple computer before. In 2012 I owned a used late 2009 MacBook with an Intel Core 2 Duo chip inside. I liked Mac OS Mountain Lion software back then, and the hardware was excellent, but the overall performance was a bit slow/sluggish; there was often “beachball” waiting.

AirPods

I have the 2nd gen AirPods to use with my MacBook (…iPhone, Apple Watch, and iPad). They work great with everything, easily switching between devices far more reliably than I thought would be the case. The few times I need to tell a certain device to switch to them is easy enough.

Apple Watch

While wearing my Apple Watch, it automatically unlocks my MacBook when I wake it from sleep every time, which is super handy and convenient. And what’s more, while unlocking, my Apple Watch makes an unlock sound and vibrates correspondingly so it actually feels like a lock popping open on my wrist. While this speaks much about the Watch, the MacBook works with it flawlessly.

Summary

My iPad was my computer more than once, for long periods of time, but it was lacking. Also, a nice Chromebook was my computer for a long time, more than once; it too was lacking. I’ve also used Windows laptops and desktops for years, from budget pieces of junk to high-class business workstations. All in all, though, I love the Mac. And I love my MacBook. I’ve protected it with AppleCare. And I will surely never buy another inferior laptop. I plan to replace my M1 MacBook Air with a future Apple-silicon laptop someday. I will likely also buy an M1 or better iMac desktop computer eventually.

With the new M2 MacBook Air now available at a starting price that’s higher than the M1 MacBook Air, which is the better buy? I’m not sure, but I highly recommend the M1 MacBook even now, especially if you buy it refurbished from Apple for only $850. The M1 MacBook has all the power and battery life most anyone needs and is still likely the best deal today. I see mine lasting many more years to come.

Do you have a Mac? Are you Mac curious?


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