MacBook Air (M1): The reviews are in

Excerpts from the ones I’ve read.

Devindra Hardawa, Engadget: Faster than most PCs, no fan required. Apple’s new MacBook Air is stunningly fast. It’s raring to go the instant you open its lid. Want to browse the web? Watch it load bloated sites faster than you’ve ever seen on a laptop. Want to play some games? Step back as it blows away every ultraportable, with no fan noise to get in the way. And if you need to take a break, don’t worry. It’s got enough battery life to last you all day. Using the new MacBook Air is like stepping into a new world where we can demand much more from ultraportables.

Dieter Bohn, The Verge: New chip, no problem. Coming into this review, I had a catalog of potential pitfalls that Apple could have fallen into when switching from an Intel chip to its own processor. Chip transitions are devilishly hard and don’t usually go smoothly. This MacBook Air not only avoids almost all of those pitfalls, but it gleefully leaps over them. Not everything is perfect, of course. Apple’s insistence on using dumpy webcams continues to be a bummer, and running iPad apps is a mess. But as I used the MacBook Air, I often found myself so impressed that I had a hard time believing it.

Jason Cross, MacWorld: An absolutely stunning debut for Apple silicon in a Mac. When Apple said it would start producing Macs with its own system-on-chip processors, custom CPU and GPU silicon (and a bunch of other stuff) to replace parts from Intel and AMD, we figured it would be good. I never expected it would be this good.

Dan Ackerman, CNET: Apple silicon and Big Sur bring big changes. The new M1 MacBook Air feels very much like an Intel MacBook Air, which is a big selling point to anyone concerned about the wholesale platform change. Assisting in this is the Rosetta 2 emulation technology, which automatically installs itself the first time you attempt to install a non-native app (as in, an app not optimized for the M1 platform). So far, it’s let me install things like Adobe apps, including Photoshop and Premiere Pro, Steam for gaming and Google’sChrome web browser.

Joanna Stern, WSJ: The Laptop’s Biggest Leap in Years. The Intel-powered Air? Thirty-five tabs got its fans revving, and it hit 93 degrees. How about 65 tabs? The M1-powered Air was still cool and quiet, though it began showing signs of sluggish scrolling and tab switching. The Intel-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro powered up its fan at around 75 tabs. At a whopping 100 tabs—which no sane human could ever navigate—the M1-powered Pro was quiet as a mouse and scrolling pages smoothly. Even when I threw in a Zoom call, it kept silent.

Todd Haselton, CNBC: MacBook Air with Apple’s own M1 chip is faster and has better battery life than Intel-based predecessors. It’s also the first Mac to run iPhone and iPad apps, but doesn’t have a touch screen, which means those apps aren’t particularly useful, and there’s a limited selection anyway. It feels like a fast laptop, not some kind of dramatic new hybrid like the first Surface was. But long term, the new chip opens doors for Apple to make touch-screen Macs that let you interact with apps without a mouse or keyboard. Or maybe it’s laying the foundation for some sort of iPad that can run both Mac and iPad apps.

Henry T. Casey, Tom’s Guide: A computing revolution. The MacBook Air’s performance — powered by the M1 processor and 16GB of RAM — is phenomenal. When I split its screen between 20 Chrome (Intel, not Universal) tabs and a 1080p YouTube video — plus Apple’s Mail and Photos app, Pixelmator (again, an Intel app) and 1Password (Intel, again) in the background, I never saw anything close to a hiccup. Oh, and in the background, 20GB of 4K video was being AirDrop transferred, while everything stayed smooth and stable.

Lisa Eadicicco, Business Insider: Apple’s new MacBook Air blew me away with its long battery life and fast performance, but missing features hold it back from its full potential. 

Brenda Stolyar, Mashable: The one with Apple Silicon inside. Now, I know what you may be thinking — didn’t Apple just come out with a MacBook Air? Yes, yes it did. Consider that one Intel’s swan song for Mac.

Harry McCracken, Fast Company: One giant leap forward, yet oh so familiar. Of all the ambitious feats a maker of computing devices can undertake, few are as tricky as switching processor architectures. It really is brain surgery, or at least its equivalent in digital form… However, using this MacBook Air, I’ve been struck by the degree to which one principal design goal seems to have been: no surprises. Other than a few handy changes to the keyboard—for instance, the F6 key now toggles Do Not Disturb mode on and off—the new Air is a dead ringer for the old Intel-based Air. (Which, since Apple upgraded it just last March, is still the practically-new MacBook Air.)

My take: I’m in the same boat, Harry. I was set to purchase the new Air — was hovering above the buy button — but all Apple offered for my early 2020 Intel MacBook Air (with extended warranty) was to recycle it for parts. Not having good luck with Apple trade-ins lately.

See also: Apple rejected my Apple Watch.

7 Comments

  1. David Emery said:
    This is a related topic, actually: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/17/microsoft-pluton-security-chip-intel-amd-qualcomm/ Microsoft has designed an equivalent to the Apple T2 chip. Now a fair number of commentators have complained the T2 chip helps Apple lock-in. It’ll be interesting to see how the equivalent Microsoft chip gets (a) adopted; (b) reviewed (from both a technical and a privacy/right-to-repair perspectives…) Will we end up with systems that are explicitly locked into a software vendor’s operating system because of security concerns? And is that A Good Thing or A Bad Thing? (One can argue the security advantages outweigh the potential restrictions.)

    Oh, and don’t some of the tech commentators owe us an apology for their previous dire predictions about the new Apple systems and Apple’s claims for same? Or does being a tech commentator (like being a financial ANALyst) mean “never having to say you’re sorry….”?

    3
    November 17, 2020
  2. Steven Noyes said:
    I’m duly impressed. My experiences with Rosetta left a bad taste on my fingers. It worked but the performance hit was major. Sounds like Rosetta II is a massive leap forward.

    2
    November 17, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      Runtimes and Just-in-time compilers for Java Virtual Machine made significant advances in technologies like Rosetta. I was actually pretty impressed with how well Rosetta I worked at the time, given the state of the art then.

      0
      November 17, 2020
  3. Joe Murphy said:
    @ David E. “ Or does being a tech commentator (like being a financial ANALyst) mean “never having to say you’re sorry….”?”

    David, similar to Tony Sacconaghi’s
    mea culpa moment, https://www.ped30.com/2020/10/26/apple-google-sacconaghi-20-hit/,
    the denial or refutation of acknowledging or holding responsibility for one’s actions or words, is rampant across all sectors of our societies.

    Any thoughts, what do you think?

    1
    November 17, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      Toni: “We have been neutral on Apple this year, and it’s been the wrong call. We missed it.” An apology for missing once is NOT an apology for a -lengthy track record of failure-.

      1
      November 17, 2020
  4. Fred Stein said:
    Tim Cook bragged about ‘new to Mac’ last earnings report. Expect more to come as Mighty Mouse KO’s Oil Can Harry.

    2
    November 17, 2020

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