When Apple revealed its new Macbooks powered by their own ARM-powered M1 silicon chips, it made some bold performance claims, confidently stating that they were faster than the chips found in 98% of current laptops and twice as fast as comparable CPUs.
Well, the reviews have landed, and Apple wasn’t lying. If the response of the critics is any indication, the M1 MacBook Air isn’t just impressive . . . it’s downright transformative.
The craziest part is that this paradigm shift for laptops all comes from the addition of a single, painstakingly-designed chip. Aside from removing the fan, everything else in the MacBook Air remains virtually unchanged since its last refresh.
While the M1 MacBook Pro also impressed, it’s the M1 MacBook Air that has critics drooling thanks to its incredible performance that blows the vast majority of other laptops out of the water and price tag which comes in at $300 less than the M1 Pro.
Following the big M1 MacBook reveal, we tried to wrap our head around the reason why the M1 MacBook Pro exists, given that it so similar to the M1 MacBook Air. And after seeing the M1 Air rival the M1 Pro so closely when it comes to performance, we’re still confused.
As such, there is a clear consensus amongst the critics: If you had to pick between the two, the M1 MacBook Air is absolutely the one to buy.
And there are a few main takeaways from these reviews that explain why.
- The M1 chip is a lightning-fast powerhouse: Apple’s M1 chip isn’t just an acceptable alternative to an Intel CPU, it’s so thoroughly trouncing Intel in benchmarking and real-world tests that Intel might have to go back to the drawing board.
- Intel apps (mostly) run great on Apple’s M1 chip: Most current Mac apps aren’t designed for the M1 chip, but Apple has an emulator/translator called Rosetta baked into Mac OS that makes sure those apps still run on the M1 MacBook Air. While reviews indicate there are still a few hiccups, most critics could barely tell the apps weren’t fully-optimized.
- The battery life is amazing: Because the M1 uses less power than Intel’s CPUs, these new MacBooks took a huge leap forward in terms of battery life. And after dozens of different battery tests from reviewers, there’s not a single one who wasn’t deeply impressed of how long the M1 MacBook Air lasted before it needed to be recharged.
- The M1 MacBook Air doesn’t need a fan: Virtually every review said that the M1 MacBook Air could handle every reasonable task that was thrown at it (along with many unreasonable tasks). All the while, it never slowed down or got hot, even when running apps optimized for an Intel chip.
But for the nitty gritty details on the new M1 MacBook Air, we’ve rounded up our favorite reviews we’ve come across on the web, highlighting all the things that make this new laptop incredible.
The Verge Tried to Slow the M1 MacBook Air Down (and Couldn’t)
In his review for The Verge, Dieter Bohn says that the ARM-powered M1 chip can do everything an Intel chip can do . . . and more:
“The MacBook Air performs like a pro-level laptop. It never groans under multiple apps. (I’ve run well over a dozen at a time.) It handles intensive apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Adobe Premiere without complaint. It has never made me think twice about loading up another browser tab or 10 — even in Chrome.”
iMore Was Amazed at How the M1 MacBook Air Remained Cool Under Pressure
The MacBook Air doesn’t have a fan at all, and in the past, that meant that MacBooks have doubled as heaters while sitting in our laps. But as iMore’s Daniel Bader writes in his review of the M1 MacBook Air, that’s no longer the case:
“There’s no more deciding which variant of Intel’s inefficient Core CPUs would overheat inside this narrow chassis (as many MacBook Air owners complained about over the last two years). Instead, the M1, built on a 5nm manufacturing process, is so efficient and outputs such little heat, that Apple felt it reasonable to remove the damn fan.
I initially balked at this decision, since this is iPad territory we’re talking about, and macOS, for better or worse, is much more easily taxed than iOS. I was very concerned that my hyperactive workflow would, without an active cooling system, cause the M1 to slow to a crawl, either through forced thermal throttling or by filling the SoC with so much work that it would just bail.
Neither thing happened.”
Engadget Says The Great ‘Mac vs. PC’ Debate Is Back
Microsoft and other PC makers have done a lot of work in recent years to bring PCs back on level footing with Macs. But as he states in his M1 MacBook Air review for Engadget, Devindra Hardawar believes that Mac just regained the upper hand in the ‘Mac vs. PC’ war:
“With the M1 chip, Apple finally has a way to truly differentiate Macs from Windows PCs. Now there’s more of a reason to opt for a Mac, beyond a slightly different OS and Apple’s excellent build quality. The M1 chip makes the MacBook Air one of the fastest ultraportables you can buy today. And even the biggest Windows fans will have a hard time denying that.”
Tom’s Guide Says You Can Actually Game on a MacBook Air Now…
While nobody is suggesting the M1 MacBook Air will replace a gaming PC anytime soon, Henry T. Casey of Tom’s Guide says that you can, at the very least, run modern games on this laptop. This has never been the case with previous iterations of the MacBook Air:
“When we benchmarked Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm (Intel) on the MacBook Air (where 1440 x 900 was the highest resolution supported), it ran at 37 frames per second, walloping the 7 fps score we got from the Intel MacBook Air and coming in slightly under the M1 MacBook Pro’s 38 fps time. The ZenBook 13 and XPS 13 (which could run that game at a slightly sharper 1080p) posted rates of 21 and 16 fps, respectively.“
…And Macworld Thinks Gaming on a M1 MacBook Air Will Only Get Better
While also chiming in on the M1 MacBook Air’s gaming capabilities, MacWorld’s Jason Cross was quick to point out that it’s running these games in an unoptimized state, so there could even be room for improvement:
“I got double the frame rate of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with a Core i5. Hell, the 16-inch MacBook Pro, with its Core i9, 32GB of RAM, and dedicated Radeon 5500M GPU is only 30 to 50 percent faster.
Again, those results are with games not optimized for the ARM-based architecture of the M1 at all, but rather with the Rosetta2 emulation layer. In a three-pound, fanless laptop. Simply shocking!”
PCMag Is Even Impressed With the M1 MacBook Air
Yes, they might possibly be saying this through gritted teeth, but even PC Mag had to tip its hat to the M1 MacBook Air, as Matthew Buzzi and Tom Brandt noted in their review that there’s no definitive reason to buy a Windows laptop unless there are specific Windows apps you need:
“As usual, Windows diehards (or those who simply need programs that are not available on macOS) in this price tier will still probably stick with the Dell XPS 13, or favored Microsoft Surface Laptop or Surface Pro. Some users will never be tempted from one OS to the other, and that’s fine. For everyone else, whether you’re an Apple fan in need of an upgrade, a longtime Windows user interested in jumping camps, or a platform-agnostic shopper seeking the best deal on an ultraportable laptop, the MacBook Air represents the cream of the crop.”
Laptop Mag Loves the M1 MacBook Air Battery Life
In his Laptop Mag review of the M1 MacBook Pro, Phillip Tracy put the laptop through a proper real-world battery test and found that there’s only one other laptop that lasted longer:
“The MacBook Air lasted 14 hours and 41 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness.
That isn’t the very best runtime we’ve seen, but it’s among the top performers. For comparison, the XPS 13 ran for 11 hours and 7 minutes while the Surface Laptop 3 endured for 9 hours and 17 minutes. The previous MacBook Air powered down after 9 hours and 31 minutes.”
Wired Had No Problem Running Intel-Based Apps on the M1 MacBook Air…
The M1 MacBook Air won’t hit peak performance until more apps are optimized for it, but Wired’s Julian Chokkattu could barely notice a difference:
“The good news is that apps made with Intel in mind can still launch perfectly fine thanks to Rosetta 2, a translation process that helps apps made for the old x86-architecture work on Apple silicon. You’ll see a prompt to install Rosetta when you first try to download one of these apps. The installation takes a few extra seconds, and the rest of the process is just business as usual.
These Rosetta apps run better than they did on the previous MacBook Air. I had no trouble editing a simple 16-minute 4K video in Adobe Premiere Pro, and it only took eight minutes to export. (I didn’t add any effects or grading.) Adobe Lightroom’s media library stuttered for a few seconds upon launch, but I edited and exported RAW files with the elegance and speed of a concert pianist.”
…And Gizmodo Says the M1 Macbook Air Runs Some Intel Apps Better Than Intel CPUs
In her review of the M1 MacBook Air for Gizmodo, Caitlin McGarry ran some usage tests with Intel-optimized apps and found that its ARM-based chip was still outperforming the Intel CPUs in top Windows laptops:
“Rendering a 3D image in Blender, the Air took 6:24 using its CPU and 7:54 with its GPU. Again, those times easily beat the XPS 13 (9:47 for CPU and 10:50 for GPU) and the IdeaPad (9:37 for CPU and 9:09 for GPU) with their competitive chips. This is particularly impressive because Blender isn’t actually optimized for the M1, which means it was running on Rosetta 2, Apple’s emulation software that provides support for Intel-based Mac apps. That meant the MacBook Air wasn’t just exceptionally faster than its competitors in Blender, but it did it while also running an emulation layer.”
MacRumors Marveled at How Fast Apps Launched on the M1 MacBook Air
MacRumors hasn’t yet posted a formal review, but they did share this video showing just how fast the M1 MacBook Air can launch optimized apps.
Fast Company Says iOS Apps Are Just Meh on the M1 MacBook Air
There was bound to be something about this laptop that wasn’t perfect, and in his review of the M1 MacBook Air for Fast Company, Harry McCracken says that the experience of using iPhone and iPad apps on a laptop has plenty of room for improvement:
“When I tried the new MacBook Air, the App Store was still indexing all those apps, so some might not have shown up in my searches. But most of the ones I hoped to install weren’t available, such as Instagram, Flipboard, and the New York Times app. Eventually, I did find a few of my iPad faves, including the MultiTimer timer app, Documents file manager, and Chunky comics reader. They ran, but having them available on a Mac felt like only a minor whoop at best.”
OK, But What About the M1 MacBook Pro?
You may have noticed that we’ve mostly ignored the M1 MacBook Pro here. That’s because there wasn’t a single reviewer who strongly felt it was the better pick compared to the M1 MacBook Air.
And so, for a microscopic slice of computer users out there, they may find that the M1 MacBook Pro is a better fit for their computing habits.
In his review of the MacBook Pro for The Verge, Nilay Patel says that while the M1 MacBook Pro can operate at peak speeds for longer under heavy duress (thanks to that fan), there aren’t many instances where that’s necessary and in general, the M1 MacBook Air makes more sense for most people:
“This particular MacBook Pro doesn’t necessarily seem like a worthwhile upgrade over the MacBook Air with an M1 chip.
Yes, it offers slightly better sustained performance and a little more battery life than the Air. But I would happily trade back the seconds of faster rendering time on the Pro for the hours of frustration caused by the Touch Bar. And if you have much more serious performance needs, it seems likely that you might want more than two ports, 16GB of RAM, and only one external display. So this machine is a tweener — an excellent, fascinating tweener, but a tweener nonetheless.”
iMore’s Daniel Bader echoed this sentiment while adding that the money you save with the M1 MacBook Air is better spent on extra RAM:
“The obvious question someone looking into the MacBook Air with M1 is going to have is, “Should I buy the Macbook Air or the MacBook Pro?” All things being equal, unless you need the sustained performance the MBP’s fan can give you, I’d recommend putting the $300 you save buying the baseline MacBook Air and investing in that $200 RAM upgrade. You’re likely going to get far more use from 16GB of RAM on an M1 MacBook Air with a 7-core GPU than the minor upgrades, like a brighter display or the Touchbar, on the MacBook Pro.”
Conclusion: The M1 MacBook Air Is a Must-Have Laptop
And so there you have it. That’s everything you need to know about the new M1 MacBook Air, as told by the many critics who got their hands on it.
So now that you know the M1 MacBook Air represents a generational leap forward for laptop computing, there’s only one thing left to do: Buy one.
(P.S. If you’re wondering about the webcam on the M1 MacBook Air, the verdict was nearly unanimous: It’s still crap.)