MacBook Air (2020) review: the best MacBook for the most people

The MacBook Air has been the poster child for Apple’s laptop line-up ever since Steve Jobs pulled it out of a manilla envelope live on stage.

It’s not the only computer the company makes, but Apple acknowledges it’s the most popular.

The reason for that is simple, the MacBook Air blends price, performance and portability into a single package. It’s thin and light enough to carry around all day, powerful enough to run the majority of tasks users demand and unlike some of Apple’s other gear, it doesn’t cost the Earth.

The quietly-announced refreshed model for 2020 doubles down on all the MacBook Air’s strengths; starting with the keyboard.

Nothing has frustrated Apple users like the butterfly keyboards installed back in 2018 as a way of making the device thinner. Instead, they proved unreliable and prone to breaking. The keyboards are so famously infuriating that Oscar-winning director Taika Waititi pleaded with Apple to change the keyboards immediately after winning his statuette.

The designers over in Cupertino appear to have got the message. 

The new MacBook Air features the same scissor-switch ‘Magic Keyboard’ as the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The keys have much more travel than the previous Air and Apple has also brought back the inverted T-shape arrow keys. As someone who uses a laptop mostly for typing, I am happy to say that this new keyboard is almost reason enough alone for MacBook Air users in search of an upgrade to make the leap.

Keyboard aside, the design remains the same. The new MacBook Air keeps that familiar wedge-shaped chassis with two Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C ports on the left and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right.

It would have been nice if Apple had pushed the screen out further and minimised the bezel but alas, it’s not the case. Still, the screen is a glorious Retina display with a 2,560 x 1,600 pixel resolution and in-plane switching that means you can see it clearly from a wider angle.

The colour options for the new Air are silver, space grey and gold.

Dipping below the brushed aluminium surface for a minute, let’s talk about components. The MacBook Air still utilises Intel chips despite Apple’s increasing move towards its own processors – which you’ll find in both the iPhone and the iPad. The entry level MacBoom Air ships with a tenth generation 1.1GHz dual-core Intel i3 chip which is the review model Apple lent to use.

This model starts at £999, which is actually a price drop on the previous generation and makes the MacBook Air even more of an attractive package. 

However, for an extra £300 you can bump up to a 1.1GHz quad-core i5 processor and a jump from 256GB of storage to 512GB. If your budget allows, it may be an idea to go for the higher spec for greater future proofing. As an extra sweetener, Apple is throwing in a year’s subscription to Apple TV+ for free no matter which model you buy. 

Apple’s stated battery life for the Air sits at 11 hours, although as you can imagine that’s extremely variable depending on the usage. I actually drained the laptop in less time – around nine hours – but I was maxing out the performance during coronavirus-induced isolation. Ironically for a laptop that’s thin and light our current lockdown status means I can’t slip it into a bag and cart it around for a day.

The niggles that remain with the MacBook Air are nothing new. Alongside wanting the screen to be edge-to-edge it would also be better to have USB-C port either side rather than stuck together. This would make it easier from both plugging in power cables and not crowding out one port when you plug a bulky accessory into the other. The RAM is a default 8GB but you can upgrade to 16GB if you want to.

The Air isn’t meant to be the performance juggernaut that hardened video editors or game designers need, but it remains the best MacBook for the most number of people. It’s interesting that this new model was introduced alongside the brand new iPad Pro, which appears to be heavily encroaching into its territory. Thanks to a new accessory, you can now equip the iPad Pro with a backlit keyboard and trackpad that goes hand-in-hand with cursor support to make it almost into a MacBook.

Although I prefer a tablet over a laptop when it comes to general gadgetry, the truth remains that a laptop is still a more vital purchase if you’ve only got space in your bag/budget for one device. And while Apple seems to be more focused on refining and pushing the iPad at the moment, I’m glad the company has given the MacBook Air some love.

The 2020 MacBook Air is pretty much the perfect upgrade – it fixes what was wrong, leaves what was right (mostly) and even manages to shave some value off the price.

If you’re searching for the ultimate sweet spot when it comes to Apple products – this is it.

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