During the first months of 2020 there was rumor of the arrival of a new 14-inch MacBook Pro which should have been the perfect device for mobility and built with the same philosophy as the MacBook Pro 16: a larger display and better heat dissipation . Apple users, and not, were eager to be able to touch a new laptop that had compact dimensions and high performance.
Then in March the MacBook Air 2020 came out by surprise with Intel processors tenth generation and in April also the new MacBook Pro 13 with the old 8th generation CPUs. The notebook catalog of the Cupertino house therefore becomes more crowded and the user is not always able to find the most suitable device for his needs. We are trying to clarify a bit by analyzing the potential of each product, who it is aimed at and what the Windows-based alternatives are.
MacBook Air 2020 is proposed as the cheapest Apple laptop and it will be taken into consideration by those who simply need a light, well-built machine with a good display and a good sound system. For this category of users, performance can go into the background, because they aim to have a small and compact laptop. As will be clearer reading the review, however, Air 2020 is not the best from this point of view.
DESIGN: NOT THE MOST COMPACT
Those who consider buying a MacBook Air do so for two reasons: they want to have an Apple laptop without spending a lot or they need a small-sized machine. The thing, however, that few consider is that there are now many ultrabooks on the market and that that charm that Air devices had a few years ago has disappeared, because the proposals for even smaller, compact laptops with a modern design are not lacking. Considerations that also apply when comparing the Air 2020 with the same MacBook Pro 13 which can boast a more contained thickness:
- MacBook Air 2020: height: 1.61cm, width: 30.41cm, depth: 21.24cm, weight: 1.29kg
- MacBook Pro 13: height: 1.56cm, width: 30.41cm, depth: 21.24cm, weight: 1.40kg
Even the weight does not vary much, but 110 grams are almost imperceptible when you take laptops in your hand or hold them inside a backpack. All this to tell you that if you are thinking of the MacBook Air simply because it is small, then it is better to look at something else, for example the new Dell XPS 13 (height: 1.48cm, width: 29.60cm, depth: 19.90cm, weight: 1.20kg).
From the constructive point of view MacBook Air is as always impeccable. The bitten apple has accustomed us for years to perfectly made laptops, solid, robust and free of any burr in the assembly. The unibody shell is entirely in aluminum and the body resumes the lines of the original 2008 Air, with the side profile that tapers off at the bottom edge. The chassis and display do not flex even under strong pressure and this high attention to materials gives the laptop a more premium appearance. As per Apple tradition, the weights are well balanced and can be opened with one hand.
The Air is certainly a nice product also from an aesthetic point of view, but if we put it next to a Windows laptop from 2020 it looks old and with a dated design. The project remained identical to that of 2018, when the transition to the current structure took place, and by opening the body the frames appear very thick. It is certainly an unpleasant detail: from a machine that costs so much you expect it to be in line with current standards.
The display does not change compared to the previous model: we have a panel 13.3-inch LCD with 2560×1600 pixel resolution. In my opinion this is the correct resolution for such a small screen. Other competing compact laptop manufacturers usually offer two options: a variant with Full HD 1080 and one with 4K.
Full HD may not be enough for the operations we do on a daily basis with a PC, but 4k is excessive for such a diagonal, it only increases consumption without offering a tangible advantage in viewing content. The 1440p, or in this case the 1600p because we have aspect ratio 16:10, they are the right compromise between impact on the battery and definition.
The screen does not offer the same accuracy in the color reproduction of the Pro models, but it is always a panel of excellent quality. Thanks to 400 nits of maximum brightness et al treated protective glass to have a poorly reflective surface, the readability is discreet even outdoors when there is a lot of light.
KEYBOARD: A GRADE BACK TO THE PAST
Even the new Air has a keyboard with scissor mechanism which takes the place of the butterfly one. We already appreciated this solution in the MacBook Pro 16 review and we liked Apple's choice to admit its mistakes in creating laptops with such obvious problems.
The new keyboard has a stroke higher than a millimeter and this also affects the thickness of the laptop which increases to the same extent as that of last year's Air. The keys are very stable and above all all the critical issues related to dust have disappeared which, getting stuck under the keys, blocked the operation and made the writing experience unnerving.
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I must admit that I have always been a little skeptical about these issues and I did not believe it even when some reports emerged. I used a MacBook Pro 15 with an old keyboard every day and I had never encountered problems. In about two weeks my laptop has changed its face, the letters have started to get stuck and the experience has become impossible for me too until I decided to buy an external keyboard to continue working.
Waiting to send my MacBook Pro 15 under warranty to be repaired, I am happy that new users will not have to make a manic cleaning with compressed air of their laptop and will never experience the problems of the butterfly mechanism.
HARDWARE: INTEL TENTH GENERATION
Air 2020 has been updated not only in the keyboard but also in the hardware platform because they are now used Intel's 10th generation processors. The basic variant is sold with i3 Dual Core ma with only 50 euros more you can make the transition to an i5 Quad Core. We have chosen to test the latter because the price increase is not excessive and will probably be the most purchased model. With the new CPUs also come the RAM LPDDR4X with a frequency of 3733MHz. With the i5 there is also an upgrade of the video card to the new Intel Iris Plus, but despite there is a tangible increase in graphics performance, the Air 2020 remains an inadequate gaming machine.
The 128GB basic memory cut disappears which was totally underpowered for current needs and now starts with 256GB. Once the laptop is purchased, the memory cannot be changed or expanded and therefore we need to evaluate how much storage we need in the configuration phase. The prices to increase the memory are however too high. These are no longer justifiable since NVME SSDs with higher read and write speeds have a significantly lower cost. Eg:
display: LED 13.3 "IPS 2560×1600, 227ppi, 16:10, True Tone technology
Touch ID sensor
- 1.1GHz dual core Intel Core i3 (Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz) with 4MB L3 cache), also configurable with 1.1GHz quad core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz) and 6MB cache L3 / Intel Core i7 quad core at 1.2GHz (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz) and 8MB of L3 cache
- 1.1GHz quad core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz) with 6MB L3 cache, also configurable with 1.2GHz quad core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz) and 8MB L3 cache
- 256GB PCIe SSD, also with 512GB, 1TB, 2TB SSD
- 512GB PCIe SSD, also with 1TB, 2TB SSD
- memory: 8GB LPDDR4X at 3.733MHz, also with 16GB
- battery: 49.9Wh, 30W USB-C, up to 30 days of standby time
- dimensions and weight: 0.41-1.61×30.41×21.24cm by 1.29kg
- graphics: Intel Iris Plus, support for Thunderbolt 3 compatible eGPUs
- video support:
- 1 external 6K monitor 6016×3384 at 60Hz
- 1 external 5K 5120×2880 monitor at 60Hz
- up to 2 external 4K monitors 4096×2304 at 60Hz
- Thunderbolt 3 digital video output: native DisplayPort output via USB-C
- camera: 720T FaceTime HD
- doors: 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)
- Wifi: 802.11ac, BT5.0
- audio: stereo, Dolby Atmos, 3.5mm jack
- keyboard and trackpad: 79-key backlit Magic Keyboard, Force Touch trackpad
- OS: macOS Catalina
PERFORMANCE: GET USED AT HIGH TEMPERATURES
To edit the videos I use the editing program Final Cut Pro on a 2018 MacBook Pro 15 with an 8th generation i7 CPU with 6 cores, 16 GB of RAM and dedicated AMD RX560 GPU. Obviously it is a much more powerful machine than the Air but I wanted to test this toilet to see if it could be used to work with even more complex projects.
Note: to make tests that have a concrete and comparable value between such different machines, the functionality of background rendering must be deactivated. It is a function that renders the video while editing and editing are in progress and is used to offer even lower final export times. To have two systems with the same conditions, I deactivated it and deleted all the files it generated.
The results I got are pretty good with simple videos: with a 10 minute 1080p movie with color correction it did very well by exporting it in less time than the clip lasted. With 4k the difficulties have increased but the times are still acceptable. But when I tried to export a difficult project like the iPhone SE review, full of transitions and effects, it even took 40 minutes.
All these tests may seem absurd, but I did them to show that the real problem with Air is not in the lack of processor power, but in theinadequate cooling system which does not allow you to push performance for a long time. In basic operations, the laptop performs well because there are no slowdowns, for example while browsing, managing emails or watching streaming videos, but when carrying out operations a little more difficult for a long period then it goes into crisis and warms up a lot.
Temperatures are always very high regardless of what activity you are doing. With Telegram and a couple of tabs open on the Edge, 70 degrees are easily reached; when you watch a video on YT you also get to 90/95 and then with a video render the CPU remains at 100 degrees continuously. Although it may include such high temperatures when using Final Cut, these are not justifiable when we are simply using YouTube.
The main problem is that the integrated fan is not connected to any dissipation system. There is no heatpipe that displaces the heat from the CPU or radiator. The only fan available moves the air inside the body but cannot keep the temperatures generated at bay.
TOUCHPAD AND AUDIO: DIFFICULT TO EQUAL
MacBooks have always been the point of reference for the quality offered by their touchpads and speakers. The Air does not disappoint and we have the usual pointing device with Force Touch: the glass surface is smooth, the finger flows well and the gestures are always comfortable and precise. Instead, the speakers are two and facing upwards. The reproduced audio is very high, full of bass and does not distort. For such a small laptop, the quality offered is really high and contributes to making content viewing more satisfying.
Obviously you will have to live with an adapter always hidden in the bag because there are only two Thunderbolt 3 ports with interface Type C and they are both on the left side. I found this choice a little uncomfortable because it is not possible to connect any cables on the right and I had to reposition the accessories on my desk in order to include Air 2020 as well. Fortunately, at least on laptops, the 3.5 mm audio jack remains.
BATTERY: IN LINE WITH EXPECTATIONS
Because of the quarantine we have spent the last few months at home, but despite this one of the most sought after things in a laptop is an excellent battery. On this front too, the Air does not disappoint because it is capable of carrying out all the tasks of a working day on one charge. With a standard use of web browsing, document writing, email management, messaging and watching videos on YouTube I was able to use it 7 hours with 50% screen brightness.
CONCLUSIONS AND PRICES
The new MacBook Air 2020 is a very good machine from a performance point of view, but the cooling system problems are too obvious to justify. In common and less demanding operations it behaves in an excellent way because it is always very fluid and with few loading times; but when asked to keep higher speeds for a long time then he goes into crisis and warms up to high temperatures.
So if you are looking for the cheapest Apple laptop and you don't need a lot of power then it is the perfect machine for your needs. If, on the other hand, you don't have budget problems, turn your attention to the Pro 13 which does not change much in size but offers more efficient cooling. Otherwise, if you don't need the macOS operating system, look at any other Windows laptop in this price range because they have a more modern design and are more powerful.
We, however, advise you to skip the variant with processor with Intel Core i3 and spend 50 euros more to have the Intel Core i5 CPU (configuration available on the Apple website). With a total price of 1279 euros we can take home a MacBook Air with Quad Core chip, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and 256GB of storage space.
PROS AND CONS: