Like the Mac Mini and the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air is equipped with Apple's new M1 processor, which makes it both more durable and more powerful than previous Intel models. Our test results...
In 2018, Apple finally updated its MacBook Air, which hadn't seen a cosmetic evolution since 2011. The ultraportable then made its revolution by adopting a new chassis inaugurating two USB-C ports and a Retina display with thinner edges; a design much closer to that of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air M1 has the same chassis and the same Retina True Tone display that now covers the DCI-P3, but brings some welcome changes, such as the new, more comfortable Magic Keyboard, an ultra-fast SSD and, above all, the integration of the first processor designed by the Cupertino firm: the Apple M1. As we will see, this processor not only increases the MacBook Air's performance tenfold, but also improves its autonomy while making it perfectly silent, since this new model has no fan.
- Perfectly calibrated screen
- No fan
- Rigidity and finish of the chassis
- Touch ID practical for everyday use
- Only two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports
- Limited screen contrast
- No Boot Camp (Windows 10)
"It's in the old pots that the best soups are made". Following this adage, Apple has therefore simply taken the design of its famous MacBook Air refreshed in 2018. No extravagance then, Apple's ultraportable still measures 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61 cm for a mass of 1.29 kg. The occupancy rate of the 13.3-inch screen - lagging behind the best on the market - is limited to 80% of the front, against more than 90% for the best optimized, such as the Huawei Matebook X Pro (92%) or the Asus Zenbook S13 UX392F (94%).
The rigid and perfectly finished aluminum Unibody chassis is still in place. It's probably the best thing on the laptop market today. As for the MacBook Pro M1, we can't help but think that Apple could have taken advantage of the integration of the M1 processor to reduce the weight of the beast and get closer to the dimensions of the MacBook Retina (12 inches for 920 grams).
The new Magic Keyboard provides more comfort than the old butterfly keyboard, thanks to a longer key stroke. It is also less noisy. Note that the keys dedicated to the backlighting of this keyboard have disappeared; the brightness is now adjusted via the control center, with the help of the mouse. We find the Touch ID fingerprint sensor that allows you to unlock the computer, but also to make purchases and identify yourself on websites.
The FaceTime HD webcam does not evolve and is still blocked at a 720p definition (1280 x 720 px). Apple still announces a better quality image thanks to the power offered by the 16 cores dedicated to artificial intelligence that are supposed to improve the image in real time via face detection and contrast enhancement. This is good, but we would have liked a slightly better defined camera in addition to the new image processing.
The connectivity does not evolve. The MacBook Air M1 still makes do with two Thunderbolt 4 / USB-C ports on the left. Fortunately, it retains a 3.5mm mini-jack headphone output on the right.
The MacBook Air M1 has the same 13.3-inch screen as its predecessors (33.8 cm diagonal for a definition of 2560 x 1600 px). It has the True Tone technology, which allows a dynamic management of its color temperature depending on the ambient light. The only novelty concerns the coverage of the DCI-P3 space, whereas the previous MacBook Air was satisfied to cover the sRGB space.
As is often the case with Apple laptops, the display is perfectly calibrated. The colors are faithful (delta E less than 3), the gamma and temperature curves are stable and close to the reference values. The contrast is also good for an IPS panel.
From left to right, the gamma curve, the color temperature and the delta E. From left to right: gamma curve, color temperature and delta E.
We measured the maximum brightness of the screen at 410 cd/m², which is higher than the average maximum brightness of the tested computers. This peak of brightness associated with a rather powerful anti-reflection filter (reflectance of only 26.7%) makes it possible to envisage the use of the MacBook Air M1 in outside. The 25 ms afterglow is very high and results in a slight blurring effect behind dark moving objects on a light background. Nevertheless, the MacBook Air M1 is within the good average of the laptops tested. For a more responsive slab, one should look at gamer models, such as the MSI GE66 Raider (8 ms) or the Aorus 15-XA (8 ms), for example.
The MacBook Air has 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and the new processor developed and designed by Apple engineers. These M1 chips use the ARM architecture found in the iPhone and iPad, among others. As with the MacBook Pro M1 we tested, the change in architecture did not allow us to run all our usual tests. We used to measure the performance of Macs running Windows via Bootcamp to compare the Cupertino machines to PCs. However, it is simply impossible to install Windows on a Mac with an M1 processor. If the various virtualization players (Parallels and VMware) as well as emulation players (CodeWeaver with CrossOver) are working on this subject, it is still not possible to run Windows applications. Moreover, let's remember that since the arrival of macOS Catalina 10.15 last year, 32-bit applications don't launch at all. So you have to deal with 64-bit Mac applications. Fortunately, Apple has built in an emulator - called Rosetta 2 - that can run all current 64-bit Intel-based Mac applications, and with performance that is simply excellent for an ultraportable PC. We performed most of our tests on Intel Mac applications to get an idea of the performance of the Apple M1 processor.
Since they have the same processor, the differences between the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air become much smaller with this new generation. In the past, Intel CPUs made it possible to distinguish between the two series. But what about now? We found very similar results to the MacBook Pro M1 in the tests we were able to run, except perhaps in video encoding on Handbrake, where the Pro was superior. This is certainly due to the passive cooling of the MacBook Air, which doesn't allow it to maintain as high frequencies over time as the MacBook Pro, which can refresh its processor more efficiently. Our colleagues in the photo section did manage to do 8K video editing on the MacBook Air, a feat normally reserved for much better-equipped - and much more expensive - machines.
To put this M1 in the context of the competition, it was slightly faster than the Intel Core-i7 1165G7 in the Asus ZenBook Flip UX363EA or the Ryzen 7 4700U in the Acer Swift 3 SF314-42. Please note, however, that since we were unable to carry out all of our processor tests, our CPU index for the MacBook Air M1 is not as complete as usual.
To put it simply, the MacBook Air is an example when it comes to audio. The speakers on the M1 version don't sound any different from the Intel version, but that's not a criticism, quite the opposite. Located on either side of the keyboard, they deliver impressive power for an ultraportable. The stereophony is well reproduced and the whole spectrum is rather precise. We can even note the presence of a little bass, which is rare enough on a laptop to be highlighted.
The headphone jack is also excellent. The output level of 260 mV RMS is well above what is usually found on laptops. The measured distortion is imperceptible and the dynamic range is high. Only the crosstalk is slightly below our average, but nothing to worry about, it is still very good.
Mobility / Autonomy
If there's one area in which the new M1 chip is gifted, it's battery life: the MacBook Air lasted 11 hours and 43 minutes of video playback on Netflix; enough time to spend a good night binge-watching your favorite series. This test was carried out as usual, on the Chrome browser, with the keyboard backlight off, volume at 50% and screen brightness set to 200 cd/m². The autonomy even reaches 16 h 14 min using Safari. This shows that there is still a gulf in terms of optimization between Google's browser and Apple's.
With its 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61 cm and its weight of 1.29 kg, the computer is of course easily transportable, and the charger block dear to Apple is still as practical and compact.
The switch to the Apple M1 processor in the MacBook Air is a real success. Apple's ultraportable no longer suffers at all from the comparison with the MacBook Pro, to the point of overshadowing it. The MacBook Air M1 is lighter and operates in cathedral-like silence. Sure, it lacks the Touch Bar, but that's far from a deciding factor. The MacBook Air M1 is Apple's best ultraportable and definitely one of the best ultraportables on the market.