Macbook Air (2020) in the test: Apple's cheapest laptop is so good

Macbook Air 2020

The Macbook Air gets a new keyboard, more memory and faster processors - and was even cheaper. Our test reveals who the entry-level Mac is worth. If you want to buy an Apple notebook, you have to decide: Pro or Air? The choice depends not only on the size of the wallet but also on the desired equipment. The Macbook Pro has a lot of steam under the fully recycled aluminium cover and is aimed at those who don't want to compromise on the go. However, that has its price: it starts at 1500 euros, there are hardly any limits upwards.

The Macbook Air, on the other hand, is quasi Apple's entry-level Mac; to this day, the wedge-shaped laptop is the most popular computer from Cupertino. On Wednesday, the group surprisingly presented a new version. This offers three major innovations:
  • the basic version now has twice as much memory (256 instead of 128 gigabytes)
  • the processors are faster
  • the keyboard has been changed
We tested the device and revealed how the 2020 version performs in the everyday test.

MacBook Air: two connections in the home office? Scarce!

MacBook new

The Macbook Air is definitely chic. With the housing tapering towards the front, the current model is still reminiscent of its style-defining predecessor, which Apple founder Steve Jobs once pulled out of the Manila envelope. The epithet "Air" is now wrongly used: At its thickest point it is now even a touch thicker than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the ratio is 1.61 to 1.49 centimetres. Sure, this is complaining at a high level, but the difference is also limited on the scales: 1271 to 1363 grams. In terms of portability, both are on the same level.

The display measures 13 inches and convinces with accurate colour rendering and uniform brightness. If you want, you can activate the True Tone function, which is also known from the iPad. As a result, the notebook can adapt to the colour temperature of the screen to the ambient light and thus improve legibility in dim light. Practically!

The Macbook Air has two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left side of the case, which are also compatible with all USB-C equipment. On the right is a 3.5-millimetre jack for headphones and headsets. In times of home office with a connected keyboard, mouse and screens, you quickly reach your limits - a multiport adapter is, therefore, a recommended purchase. Good models are already available for 30 euros.

Apple specifies the battery life as eleven hours. In our day-to-day life, the notebook lasted a working day with not too complex programs, with a higher workload - for example, when editing videos, more on that later - the runtime is of course shortened.

The end of the butterfly

The most far-reaching change to the Macbook Air is the change from the much-scolded butterfly keyboard to the so-called magic keyboard. The predecessor's butterfly keyboard was super flat, but in addition to the quality defects, which sometimes led to the failure of individual keys, users often complained about the hard typing feel and the keyboard's volume.

The new keyboard is still flat, but is based on the so-called "scissor mechanism". This increases the key travel from 0.5 to a millimetre, which may sound like little, but it makes a lot of difference.

The backlit keys no longer have such a hard stroke and feel softer and more comfortable when typing. They are also a bit quieter. The arrow keys are now arranged like an inverted T and are therefore easier to find blindly.  Instead of the touch bar from the Macbook Pro, which is not for everyone, there are still the classic function keys. Practical: A fingerprint scanner is integrated into the power button on the right side. This enables the computer to be unlocked quickly.

Overall, the Magic Keyboard is progress on all levels and provides a completely different typing experience. If you write a lot, but never really warmed up with the old keyboard, it is worth switching to the new Macbook Air for this reason alone.

The huge trackpad serves as a mouse replacement. This is easy to use and is still unparalleled in terms of precision and gesture control.

MacBook Air: faster and more storage

The memory has doubled: The basic model of the Macbook Air now has a 256 gigabyte SSD, so far the cheapest model has been delivered with 128 gigabytes. The basic equipment of the notebook now finally offers enough space for files, films, music and photos. For a surcharge of 250 euros, the memory can be doubled to 512 gigabytes. A terabyte costs 500 and two terabytes 750 euros extra. 

You should estimate the memory requirements exactly before buying because the hard drive can no longer be replaced. Eight gigabytes of RAM is standard, which can be increased to a total of 16 gigabytes. Here, too, you have to commit yourself when buying, retrofitting is not possible.

Four cores in Macbook Air for the first time

A criticism of the old Macbook Air models was the low computing power. Here Apple has improved: The Macbook Air now contains 10th generation Intel chips. In the basic model, this is an i3 with two computing cores. For a surcharge of 50 euros, you get an i5 quad-core chip and for 130 euros more an i7 quad-core chip with 1.2 gigahertz - a novelty for the Macbook Air.

Our test device with i5 chip scored 5 1092 points in the single-core test of the Geekbench test program. Compared to the 2018 model, this is a performance increase of more than 30 per cent. In the multi-core test (2910 points), the plus is even clearer at 60 per cent. So you shouldn't save on the 50 euros for the processor upgrade. According to the manufacturer, the iris graphics chip is up to 80 per cent faster.

How do tools and games work?

What do these numbers mean in everyday life? Everyday office applications like Microsoft Office or video telephony tools like Teams and Skype run smoothly. The Macbook Air packs browser-based streaming services such as Netflix just as effortlessly (the improved speakers also shine here). Even the RAM-hungry Chrome browser with 20 tabs opened in parallel did not bring the Macbook to its knees. You can also cut a podcast on the laptop. With the Air, you are prepared for all everyday tasks.

Surprisingly, even powerful graphics applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or Illustrator performed well, even if the device reached its limits with many layers open at the same time. However, if you work with extremely high-resolution film recordings, you have to be very patient - or use the more expensive Macbook Pro.

In principle, the same applies to gamers: 3D video games from Apple's arcade service (such as "Oceanhorn 2") run well, for current blockbuster games - if they are available for Macs at all - the Macbook Air is still too weak. But if you mainly want to gamble, you buy a game PC or a console anyway.

No wifi 6 on board

keyboard of MacBook

Too bad: The wireless standard Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) is not supported by the new Macbook Air, in contrast to the iPad Pro presented at the same time. In addition, a 720p front camera is still installed, in which the picture is noisy, especially in dim light. Apple, it's really time for a full HD webcam.

Conclusion: the new standard Mac

The current Macbook Air is a good entry into the world of Macs. You get around a package of timeless design, long battery life and great screen. With the new keyboard, more memory and higher performance, Apple have made improvements in the right places.

Despite more performance, the price was reduced - a trend that could already be observed with the iPhone 11: The new Macbook Air costs 1199 euros, with student discounts it is 100 euros cheaper. Some retailers already get the device at a discount of around 1100 euros. In perspective, it should slide just below the 1000 euro mark. For comparison: When Apple launched the revamped Air two years ago, the notebook still cost 1349 euros. 

If you need even more power and want to stay in the Apple world, you should go for the Macbook Pro. However, the 13-inch model was not revised for some time. An update is expected this year - if possible, you should wait a bit longer to buy.



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