The M1 MacBook Air. The first Apple Silicon Mac, with near MacBook Pro level performance, almost double — double — iPad Air battery life. With no fan… but also no redesign. Starting at $999.
It’s Apple’s most popular Mac, I’ve been reviewing it since it first came out, and I’m going to tell you whether or not you should get it now… or wait for the M2 Air redesign that’s rumored to be coming next.
The M1 MacBook Air got a new heart… but not a new body. More on that incredibly impressive new heart in a hot minute, but it has the same design as the previous Intel MacBook Air. Going back to 2018. And that’s ok. That’s fine. It gave Apple a known thermal envelop to target and it absolutely kept the price down. More on that in a sizzling minute too. And it’s still small, still thin, still light. Just the easiest Mac to cary from work to school or the kitchen to the couch. And still that famous Star Destroyer wedge shape that launched a thousand ultrabooks. And I love it. It’s just not new.
But, new is what’s rumored to be coming with the next generation MacBook Air, likely some time in late 2021 or early 2022. Even smaller, even lighter, maybe as small and light as the now-discontinued 12-inch MacBook nothing. Just once again pushing the envelop — the manila envelop — on ultra portability.
So, if you don’t care about the design, and the current level of small and light is.. just… more than small and light enough, get the M1 Air.
But if you’ve been yearning for something as small and as light as the old 12-inch MacBook, then… wait on the M2.
The M1 MacBook Air did get a boost in the display department. It was already Retina, which means high enough resolution you can’t really see individual pixels, just… clean crisp images and text. Also, TrueTone, so whites never look too yellow or too blue, just proper paper white. But now it’s also P3 wide color gamut, which means reds look richer and greens more vibrant. It can’t get quite as bright as the MacBook Pro, only about 80%, but I’ve found it more than enough in most situations, for most things.
The M2 MacBook Air is rumored to be keeping the same 13.3-inch display, but shrinking the bezels, so there’s less casing around the content. And while there are rumors the MacBook Pro might shift from LCD to mini LED for deeper blacks, higher contrast, and HDR, it’ll probably take even longer for that tech to filter down to the MacBook Air. Like M3 or M4 longer.
So, on display alone there’s no point waiting. If you want a MacBook Air, get it when you need it.
The M1 MacBook Air has… the M1. The first generation of Apple silicon, based on the same IP and architecture as the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12. I’ve got a whole explainer up on it so check the link in the description. It’s an ultra-low-power system on a chip, but it’s got just about the best single-core performance in the business. Also, iPad level responsiveness, where everything just feels… utterly instant. No exaggeration, it’s the biggest boost in the history of the Mac. And that you can get it in something as small as the Air — and fanless, which means silent… is just remarkable. It runs native apps better than ever before and lolligager intel apps — especially the ones that lean hard on graphics — surprisingly well. The 18 hours of battery life are mind blowing, but the simple quality of life is game-changing.
M2… will be M2. The second generation of Apple silicon, almost certainly based on the same IP and architecture as the A15 in the iPhone 13 later this year. And that means we’ll probably get similar to the same kind of improvements in speed that we’ve seen over the last few iPhones. In other words, significant but probably not earth shattering, not at this point. Likewise, once Apple nails battery life for a device, they typically hold the line on it and use future efficiency gains to add extra features. So, I’d expect them to keep the same spec, just perform even better with it.
So, if you want the best mobile processor on the market right now, you’ll get all that and more with the M1 MacBook Air.
But, there will always be a next generation, so the longer you wait, the even better you’ll get.
One of the coolest parts of the M1 MacBook Air is the unified memory. Just a big pool of 8GB or 16GB slapped right on the chipset and shared between the CPU, GPU, neural engine, and image signal processor. Combined with everything from memory compression to ultra-fast swap — I mean 8GB is still 8GB, but it’s the very best 8GB it can be. Same for 16GB. Especially when it comes to graphics, because embedded graphics is usually far, far more RAM constrained. And bottlenecked. But those are the only options on the Air… and on M1. 8GB or 16GB.
And… M2 probably won’t change that much. At least not for the Air. Same with storage. If you really need more, you’ll really need to wait on the higher end MacBook Pros, which currently go as high as 32 to 64GB and 4 to 8TB..
But, if it’s the MacBook Air you’re after, and the current capacities are enough, you can get the M1 today.
Back in 2015, Apple started going all-in on USB-C. But it took until 2018 for that to hit the MacBook Air. Since then, we’ve had two USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports on our the left. And two is good… even if they’re both, yeah… hey Cap, on your left. Which kind of defeats the whole purpose of being able to charge or connect to either one. Especially now, since Apple has put the Thunderbolt controllers right on the M1, and made them as fast as they possibly can be.
But rumor has it Apple might be bringing back MagSafe, the ancestral MacBook charging system, which snaps on magnetically when you want power and snaps off just as easily anytime anyone trips over the cord. There’s also an off-chance Apple will bring Thunderbolt 4 to the party at some point as well.
So, if you’re all about USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 is plenty fast enough, then the M1 MacBook Air is all you need.
But if you’re willing to wait, MagSafe and maybe TB4, could be yours on the M2.
I’m torn on this one, so let me know what you think in the comments.
M1 brought Wi-Fi 6 to the Mac, which… is better than Wi-Fi 5.
There are rumors the M2 might bring Wi-Fi 6E, which adds 6GHz and makes it actually really better. Also maybe, just maybe cellular with 5G. Though that’s still a huge maybe, given how much work there’d need to be on the hardware antennas and software networking efficiency. Also, price. Which is coming right up. Because there’s a reason the cellular iPad costs so much more. A reason spelled Qualcomm.
Personally, I’m more than fine tethering, but if you really want cellular, you may really want to wait. Even if it’s a good long while.
The M1 MacBook Air has Touch ID. That’s Apple’s fingerprint identity scanner. Same as the previous couple of Intel models. Those were based on the Secure Enclave in the T2 co-processor, which was A10 Fusion generation, like the iPhone 7. This is built into the M1, which is A14 generation, like the current iPad Air. And it works great for everything from unlocking to Apple Pay to approving admin escalation. Just way, way faster than typing in a password.
But there’s an off-chance a next generation version, an M2 or M3, will take advantage of the neural engines and offer full-on Face ID instead. Maybe even as well. That’s Apple’s facial geometry identity scanner. It gives you everything Touch ID does, but just by looking at you. No touch needed. And hey, who knows, maybe even with a better webcam built in. Finally. If that’s high on your list as well, drop a like below.
So, if you prefer the idea of Touch ID, then no need to wait. Get the M1 MacBook Air as soon as you need it.
But, if you prefer the idea of Face ID, then you may want to hold out a while and see.
The M1 MacBook Air starts at $999, even less with an education discount, which has always been just the minimum magical price for the Air. And sure, $999 still isn’t cheap, but given the performance, the battery life, and the longevity you get from the build quality, it’s a just ton of value. Which is why it’s just the most popular Mac.
An M2 MacBook Pro, though, sounds like it’s not going to replace the M1 so much as slide in on top of it as an even higher performance, more premium option. You know, bigger on the inside. Smaller on the outside? Just a more powerful Air in an even more portable package… for an even higher price.
So, if money matters and you want an entry level MacBook Air, you’ll want the M1, available now.
But if money’s no object and you’re just lusting after a higher-end Air, you’ll have to wait on the M2.
And while you’re waiting, check out this playlist, where I take a closer look at the M1 Macs and preview the M2 MacBook Airs coming next. Just click on the playlist and I’ll see you next video.