Apple MacBook Air M1 Review: Power is priceless

A few years ago I bought my 2015 edition MacBook Air during an online sale at a very good price. Over the years, the feel of cold aluminum on my knees marked my mornings as I sipped hot coffee and typed my story for the day. It was the perfect device for writers, thin and light with a keyboard that prompted you to touch it again. While he could easily handle most of the tasks the reporter performed for him, there were occasions, especially when handling high-resolution photos or RAW files, that I would have felt he was struggling a little.

The new MacBook Air won’t allow you to complain on this front. And that’s thanks to the new Apple M1 silicon that powers it. But how powerful is the new MacBook Air with M1? Here’s what I feel after using it for a couple of weeks.

Apple MacBook Air M1: What’s New?

Well, when it comes to looks, the MacBook Air is no different from the version launched earlier this year. So it has the crystal clear display, finger-friendly keyboard with TouchID and a large trackpad. There are still only the two USB-C ports. All the changes are inside.

The old MacBook Air and the new MacBook Air M1 next to each other. (Image Source: Nandagopal Rajan / Indian Express)

The M1

Since Apple has put its own M1 chip inside, this is also the first MacBook Air not to be powered by an Intel processor. Apple’s new silicon is based on 5-nanometer technology and contains 16 billion transistors. While this will all read like Greek for an average reader, it just needs to know that this is probably the most powerful processor with integrated graphics ever installed on a laptop. Apple’s new chip design means it’s faster at machine learning processing and has a lower thermal impact and therefore offers twice the battery life of an average laptop.

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So how does that translate to MacBook Air?

You realize this is a different MacBook the moment you start setting up the device. As you download the apps you need, you are faced with the fact that now all apps may be compatible with Apple’s silicon. With some apps, like Google Chrome, you are offered the option to download an M1 compatible version. With other software like Adobe, you can use existing versions. Photoshop, however, has released a Beta version for the M1.

Let’s start with Chrome. The bad side of what is the most popular browser in the world is the fact that it is an energy hog. My company’s IT team recommends opening only one tab in the browser when using standard office laptops. Otherwise everything could stop. On the new MacBook Air, I had over three dozen tabs open, one of them streaming video from YouTube, while working on the WordPress backend. I didn’t even hear a whine from the computer and it was fresh as a cucumber the whole time.

The last line is important. I have not heard complaints from the computer as well because this is a fanless design. And that’s why it’s even more surprising that the device stayed cool despite the heavy lifting.

Speaking of heavy work, I used macOS native video editing features to work on a PRO RAW image shot on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. In a second, the software could identify the background and remove it. I haven’t seen any computer work so fast with RAW images. In the Beta version of Photoshop I could do more, and even functions like pinching a face to make it look slimmer worked literally without any processing time.

Interestingly, every time you open a RAW image on iPhone 12 Pro Max it takes a second and shows a processing message, there is no such delay on MacBook Air. You’ll also notice this speed boost when engaging in any type of video editing, even if it’s a 4K file shot on the iPhone 12. The output comes out much faster than you expect. Plus, simply moving files is much faster.

Since the M1 actually stems from Apple’s mobile processor thinking, the new MacBook Air can run many iPhone and iPad apps without any ports. On the Mac Store, you can switch to see the mobile apps available for any search. Then you can run the Flipkart app or listen to music from JioSaavn natively on the device and without the browser.

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Given how hooked we are all to our devices, the MacBook Air will be used for much more than business. Even though I’m not a gamer, I was keen to download and test Little Orpheus, one of the games optimized for the new silicon. From the rich environment in which the game is set to the pure physics of the games, from flying sparks to smoke as the protagonist moved to the movement of suspended rocks, the game presented one of the best graphics experiences I’ve ever had on a MacBook Air. And the whole game flow was so smooth despite the fact that I had more pending things at the time.

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One of the best aspects of the new MacBook Air is the battery life. And this could end up being the USP of the device. With regular work, the new M1 processor can make juice last over 18 hours, two business days when we actually worked in the office. With work from home, when your laptop is literally buzzing from dawn until midnight, you’ll need to recharge it every day. But this is fantastic in every sense of the term.

What could be better?

My slight disappointment with the M1 is how Apple hasn’t really pushed the camera’s capabilities over the previous version. With a Full HD front camera, this MacBook Air has had the opportunity to be more relevant to the pandemic times we live in.

For users who need access to specific software, there will initially be some frustration in making it compatible with the new silicon, especially if it’s not a very popular app. So keep this in mind before committing to the new MacBook Air.

Should you buy the new MacBook Air?

If you’ve been looking for a new laptop for the new year and your budget is in the Rs 1,00,000 range, look no further. Also, if you were going to buy the MacBook Air, only buy this version as it costs the same as the Intel version. If you are someone who needs high processing power during the day, you will still need the MacBook Pro as any fanless model will have some limitations.

The new MacBook Air with the M1 processor gives users a track to do more with their laptops, from video editing to graphics-rich gaming, and you’re not really paying anything extra for the enhanced experience. This MacBook Air is clearly the laptop of the year and M1 the processor of the future.