2020 MacBook Air Impressions

For the past few years, I've been using a one-port 2016 MacBook1 as my personal laptop that I carry with me whenever I am traveling or need to work outside the house. It's been a mixed bag – the size was pretty much perfect and very similar to a thin version of my old 12" PowerBook G4, but the CPU performance was absolutely awful and the battery only lasted about two hours. Also, I was finally bitten by the infamous Butterfly Keyboard Issue and was getting double-entries from my spacebar.

In March, when Apple released the new MacBook Air with a new keyboard and one of the first 10nm Intel CPUs2 on the market, I decided it was time to upgrade, so I bought the middle stock configuration of the new machine3.

2020 MacBook Air

Basic specifications:

CPU Intel Core i5-1030NG7 (1.1GHz base, 3.5GHz turbo, 10nm process, Ice Lake μarch)
RAM 8GB4 LPDDR4-3733
Storage 500GB Apple AP0512N SSD
Display 13.3" 10-bit Retina display @ 2560x1600 (221dpi)

I haven't had it for long, but here are some initial reactions:

  • size isn't as nice as the 12" (37% heavier, and about 20% more volume)
  • new keyboard is more reliable and has a pretty good feel. backlighting is also much stronger.
  • battery life is way better. 5-6 hours of moderate use, and several days of standby
  • screen is a bit brighter and looks less goofy with night shift on. still not nearly as good as my 2019 iMac.
  • CPU performance is nominally a lot better5 and feels less like the limiting factor in day-to-day operations. It still chugs a lot when trying to do medium-intensive things like processing 24MP RAW images from my Ricoh, but at least it finishes eventually now instead of beachballing until I die of old age.
  • integrated GPU is massively observably more powerful than on the 12" (GeekBench says the "compute" score is only 50% higher, but it feels much smoother when doing basic rendering operations like Exposé)
  • the enormous trackpad is really fun. My work MacBook Pro has the same trackpad, but I basically never use it undocked, so this machine is my first time intensively using the giant trackpad on modern 13"-class Macs. I'm pro.

There's a reason that the MacBook Air is Apple's best-selling Mac. If you need a portable Mac, it's probably what you should get. No TouchBar, acceptable price, and now a functional keyboard. Officially endorsed.

PS: I wrote this entire post on the new machine and didn't get any inadvertent double keystrokes at all. Hurray!

  1. A.K.A. the MacBook One 

  2. Only 3 years late. Some day some former Intel executive will write a tell-all about why Intel fell so far behind TSMC in lithography 

  3. Yes, I got "Space Grey" this time, for the first time in a laptop. It's okay. I think I'll go back to regular old silver next time. 

  4. I strongly considered getting 16GB, but I mostly just run nvim and firefox. How much RAM could that use? 

  5. GeekBench says it's more than twice the single-core performance and almost four times the multi-core performance