It's strange: I'm holding a 2021 MacBook Air that looks exactly like my 2018 MacBook Air. And yet everything is different. That Intel-Air with retina display, which I celebrated as an excellent novelty in 2018 has aged extremely badly: It only took two years to transform the already weak device into a hair dryer with a short battery life despite a good capacity. The current MacBook Air with M1 ARM CPU looks like it's from another world: Finally a Mac that really deserves the name!
Intel was never first choice
But let's start at the beginning, but a small step into the past: When Apple switched from IBM's PowerPCs to Intel in 2005, I was conflicted. On the one hand, the switch gave an enormous performance boost, on the other hand, Windows compatibility somehow robbed the Mac platform of its exclusivity. Suddenly everyone wanted MACs because they could install Windows on them. Good for Apple, good for anyone who dared to make the switch, but also kind of weird: the Mac was now a fancy PC with an exclusive operating system, nothing more.
I found that kind of a shame - especially since I never really liked the Intel platform for various reasons. One of them is that the original 8086 processor and all its predecessors since 1978 are still at the core of every modern Intel-compatible processor. It's not really efficient. Back then PowerPC and today ARM were much better positioned as pure RISC processors. The fact is that Apple didn't switch to Intel because the processors were so good - but because IBM's PowerPC processors could keep up less and less.
Macbook Air M1: The first truly real Mac
However, Apple's philosophy has always been to offer everything from a single source. This was achieved quite early on with the iPhone: With the iPhone 4, Apple was able to install its own processors for the first time. Hardware and software came from a single source. That was the case with the iPad right from the start and probably also one of the reasons why the tablet has been able to assert itself against all the competitors to this day: Hardware and software from a single source also means that Apple's CPU and functions can be precisely matched to each other. There is no unnecessary overhead or waiting for the development steps of a supplier, resulting in a computer that is as perfect as possible.
So it was only logical that Apple sooner or later move the Mac to the in-house ARM processors would. Based on Apple's company philosophy, the Macbook Air M1 - like its siblings Macbook Pro M1 and Mac Mini M1 - is basically the first really real Mac: A computer whose core components are completely supplied by Apple! With all Macs before, either Intel, IBM or Motorola were the processor suppliers.
Macbook Air M1 in practice: super snappy
But back to the Macbook Air: The fact that the decision to equip the Mac with the in-house M1 ARM processor was a wise step is already apparent when you start the device for the first time. More precisely, it starts itself when you open it and is there immediately - Apple definitely didn't promise too much here. Setup is child's play and done quickly: In order to avoid technical overhead, I decided to set up the new device from scratch and not import a Time Machine backup of the 2018 model. As a secondary computer, the Air was largely networked with the iCloud anyway – I didn’t store any important data here. The setup is identical to that of the Intel Macbooks, the only difference is the enormous "snappyness": You hardly notice any delay with many steps, where Intel Macs sometimes allow themselves a few clear seconds of concern.
The display is worlds better
Incidentally, what I find particularly remarkable about the new Macbook Air M1 is the display: I was always skeptical about the 2018 display because it compared to mine due to the lack of sRGB support and TrueTone function iPad Pro, iPhone 11 or even that iMac Pro somehow colorless and gloomy. As if you were suffering cataract. The problem has been eliminated with the new Air: the display supports the large P3 color space, the TrueTone function automatically adjusts the colors to the lighting and the brightness has also increased significantly. Apple “replaced” the 400 nits with the 2018 model, originally it was only 300 nits. The 400 nits display of the Macbook Air M1 is completely sufficient in most viewing situations, image editing is finally fun here and, above all, it is no longer as tiring as it was the case with the 2018. By the way: The sound is also impeccable.
Finally scissor mechanism again
The same applies to the keyboard: It has the good, old scissor mechanism that Apple actually installed everywhere until 2016. This makes the Air slightly thicker, but the typing feel is far better. For my part, I like to write again on the Macbook Air, including this post. That was never the case with the very flat butterfly keyboard, even if I never had any problems with this keyboard from a technical point of view. What is not so nice, however, is that Apple has removed the control of the keyboard lighting from the keyboard. This is now controlled automatically by the system, but in my opinion it is often too bright. At least it can also be set manually via the menu bar and the new control center. That doesn't change the typing feel: The Macbook Air M1 is a huge step forward in terms of keyboard compared to the models with butterfly keyboards.
No fan, no heat
Incidentally, what is interesting about the Macbook Air M1 is the fact that the device does not require a fan. That's disturbing at first: You're just used to notebooks whispering at least quietly on more complex websites. The 2018 Air often turned on the fan at full speed in a single tab when visiting Spiegel Online. This habit went so far that I suddenly heard noise where there wasn't any - my brain had apparently "neutralized" the constant fan noise of the old Air and with the absence of the counter wave I now "heard" a phantom fan. I already know this effect from loud hard drives, but it disappeared after a few hours. However, a fan would not be needed at all: The Air does not even get warm during normal everyday tasks - and that is also amazing.
even mine 2017 iPad Pro sometimes emits more heat than the M1-Air - and with a significantly lower system load. Well, the thing is old, three and a half years is (finally) a computer infinity again. I will not publish any benchmarks here – others can do that better. But what I can say is that the device remains fast despite the low heat dissipation, even when many browser tabs are open or YouTube videos are running at the same time. Many an Intel device is already overwhelmed with such a setup. The M1-Air only has 8 gigabytes of RAM, which are also used for the graphics. Incidentally, older games are also not a problem, even if they run on Rosetta.
Impressive performance and battery life
In short: the performance of the Macbook Air is amazing for such a compact device. And because the ARM processor is so resource-friendly, Apple was able to significantly increase the battery life compared to the Intel predecessors. In practice, the 15-18 hours advertised by Apple are hardly achievable. But that was almost never the case with the old Macbooks. The 10 hours advertised back then amounted to maybe four to five hours of real work in practice. But the M1-Air can effectively double this value for me - and so it's finally no longer a problem to get through a whole working day with one battery charge. In the end there is even enough battery life to watch a few YouTube videos. While I got nervous with the old Intel Air when the battery showed below 50 percent and frantically rummaged around for a power supply unit because it was often very quick, you are much more relaxed with the M1 Air: The battery life decreases slowly and constantly and the remaining term can easily be estimated.
There are also points of criticism
Despite all these advantages, you can also tell from the relatively inexpensive Air that Apple has made cutbacks: The Air M1 still has an extremely lousy webcam that already displays muddy pixel mush in daylight. There can only be one reason why Apple saves on such an inexpensive component: they want to set the Air apart from the Pro. Another point of criticism is certainly that currently no Windows software via VM or Dual boot can be executed. It was possible with the old Air, but it wasn't fun either. In this respect, the loss for me is limited. And when I need Windows for work, I go to my iMac Pro. However, if you need Windows on the Mac, it is better to wait with the purchase. I strongly assume that Parallels will soon offer an Intel emulation here or that Microsoft will sell its ARM Windows freely. Either way, these are actually the only points of criticism that, in my opinion, speak against buying a Macbook Air M1.
Conclusion: A Macbook, as I have always wanted
I'm a professional user, but certainly not someone who constantly pushes his computer to the limit with games and video editing. I work with browser, mail, chat and word processing, but that's exactly why I'm particularly sensitive when the boxes are making a racket. What particularly annoys me are devices that turn on the fans even with the smallest load. Unfortunately, that was the case with many Intel Macbooks and my 2018 Air was actually on the verge of a hysterical fan attack from even the simplest tasks. And what also annoys me are delays, for example when waking up from sleep mode or when opening programs. It is precisely these annoying factors that Apple has gotten under control with the M1-Air: programs start without delay, files are available immediately, the computer wakes up faster than you can open the display. And most importantly, there is no fan. In short: The Macbook Air M1 is absolutely perfect for me and my work and the computer I've been waiting for for years. The best part, though, is that the Mac is now truly a Mac - not an expensive Windows box with an alternative operating system. For people like me, that's actually a reason to buy it - Mac to the roots!