After months of speculation and prediction, the new M1 Macs are finally here, and the M1 MacBook Air is likely to be the favorite among general consumers. The new M1 chip blows the competition out of the water, the new Air has an impressive battery life and its fanless design makes it absolutely silent.
Thanks to Big Sur's new design language and the M1 chip's ability to run iPhone apps on MacOS, the MacBook Air is more like the iPad Pro than ever. With Apple's update to the iPad Pro earlier this year, the Magic Keyboard was also introduced, essentially making it a true laptop alternative.
Which one is right for you? Let's find out.
Display and design
Since its redesign in 2018, the MacBook Air is only available in a size of 13 inches. This is no different with the Apple M1 MacBook Air, which uses the same outer casing as the previous model. It has the same 2,560 x 1,600 (227 ppi) resolution, the same 16:10 aspect ratio, and the same thin (but not ultra-slim) frames. The Retina display also has True Tone, which dynamically adjusts the white balance to the ambient light.
The iPad Pro's display is a little different. There are two iPad Pro sizes to choose from – 11-inch and 12.9-inch – with the first having a resolution of 2,388 x 1,668 and the second having a resolution of 2,732 x 2,048. Both have a pixel density of 264 ppi, which should make them a bit sharper than the MacBook Air despite their similar screen sizes.
The iPad Pro is also equipped with True Tone and has the advantage that its dynamic refresh rate reaches up to 120 Hz and thus enables wonderfully smooth scrolling and animation. The MacBook Air is still locked to 60 Hz.
Both the MacBook Air and iPad Pro now come with Magic Keyboards. In both cases, this is a huge improvement over what is on offer. Earlier models of the MacBook Air didn't have a flat, bug-prone butterfly keyboard, while the keys on the iPad Pro's keyboard case were soft, squishy, and unsatisfactory. This is an important upgrade for both devices.
The Magic keyboard is very different from the two previous keyboard designs. As mentioned in our MacBook Pro 16 review, it's "the best Mac keyboard ever released," with big keys, a fast mechanism, and even a physical Esc key. We love it.
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Let's start with the iPad Pro. Apple's tablet processors have always been way ahead of the best offerings from their competitors, and the A12X Bionic in the 2018 iPad Pro prevailed against the competition. Interestingly, however, the 2020 iPad Pro has an A12Z Bionic chip instead of a new generation A13X, which is the same as the A13 found on the latest iPhones.
The only real difference between the two chips is in GPU performance, where the A12Z makes a noticeable improvement over the A12X. The real difference is in the camera setting. The 2020 iPad Pro has a dual camera setup compared to the single camera of the 2018 model. It also has a LiDAR scanner for Augmented Reality (AR) applications. It seems a little tricky right now, but it has exciting potential in the future when AR becomes more relevant.
On the other hand, the M1 MacBook Air makes a tremendous leap in performance. The previous MacBook Air from earlier this year only had two cores and four threads in the base model. The M1 MacBook Air has an 8-core CPU, a 7-core GPU, and Apple's 16-core neural engine.
How does that translate into performance? The M1 MacBook Air not only beats the previous model, but also most other mobile processors, especially when it comes to single-threaded performance. That said, if you're a budding content creator or photographer, the MacBook Air is finally a viable option for complex tasks. It's far more powerful than the iPad Pro.
Both devices are designed for portability. The MacBook Air is Apple's thinnest and lightest notebook, while the tablet status of the iPad Pro makes it easy to slip into a pocket and take with you anywhere. The MacBook Air weighs 2.8 pounds and measures 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches. The all-aluminum construction keeps it lightweight while still making it strong and sturdy as you'd expect from an Apple laptop.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the closest to the MacBook Air in terms of size. The Wi-Fi model weighs 1.41 pounds while the Wi-Fi and cellular versions weigh 1.42 pounds – half the weight of the MacBook Air. It measures 11.04 x 8.46 x 0.23 inches and is therefore close to the dimensions of the MacBook Air.
The 11-inch model is quite a bit more portable, however, weighing just 1.04 pounds and measuring 9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23 inches. It's the right choice when size is important to you.
Apple claims that the battery in the MacBook Air will last up to 15 hours of wireless internet surfing, up to 18 hours of Apple TV playback, and up to 30 days of standby time thanks to the built-in 49.9 watt hour battery.
The iPad Pro doesn't last that long, but it's not far behind. According to Apple, both models allow you to enjoy up to 10 hours of Wi-Fi web browsing and video playback or nine hours of web browsing over a cellular network. The 11-inch model has a 28.65-watt-hour battery compared to the 36.91-watt-hour battery on the 12.9-inch model.
The app ecosystems
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Big Sur and the introduction of the M1 chip mark the greatest integration of MacOS and iOS app stores since Mac Catalyst. Catalyst made it easy for developers to port their iPad apps to the Mac.
With Big Sur and M1, many iPhone and iPad apps can now run natively on MacOS. However, the experience is mixed to say the least. The MacBook Air doesn't have a touchscreen, so Apple implemented touchpad controls that are confusing at best and frustrating at worst. Developers must also choose to have their apps viewable on the Mac. Users will find that many of their favorite iPhone or iPad apps are missing as the developers decided not to.
While progress is certainly being made, there is still a solid divide between the two app ecosystems.
Configurations and price
The MacBook Air's configurations aren't as rugged as last time, but with the M1 chip as the only option, that's to be expected. The base model of the M1 MacBook Air includes the M1 chip, 8 GB of unified memory and a 256 GB SSD. Users can alternatively configure the 8GB model with 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB SSDs. You can also upgrade to 16GB of RAM, with the base model starting with a 512GB SSD. That can be upgraded to 1 TB or 2 TB.
With I / O, users are just as restricted as in the past. You get two USB-C ports, the Magic keyboard, Force Touch trackpad, and a Touch ID sensor. The MacBook Air also supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. The webcam has the same gritty 720p resolution that we've all grown accustomed to.
The configurations are even less flexible on the iPad Pro, as users only determine the internal storage. The base model (in both sizes) starts with less storage – just 128 GB. This can be increased to 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB. The 11-inch entry-level version with Wi-Fi and 128 GB of storage costs $ 799. If you have 1TB of storage and cellular connectivity, it'll cost you $ 1,449.
If you prefer the 12-inch version, the entry-level model starts at $ 999 while the top-end model starts at $ 1,649. This means that the price premium for converting from 11 "to 12.9" is $ 200.
What about the chic new Magic Keyboard Cover for the iPad Pro? You get a device that is even more comparable to the MacBook Air. Be warned though – it is extremely expensive. The 11-inch version costs a princely $ 299, while the larger edition costs $ 349. Even with the 11-inch iPad Pro, you'll want to pay at least $ 1,098 for the combo, which is $ 99 more than the entry-level MacBook Air.
The MacBook Air's performance makes it a clear winner
Before that, we gave this to the iPad Pro thanks to its flexibility and its powerful A12Z processor. However, M1 has changed the way we look at it as it has changed the way the industry looks at everything.
The MacBook Air isn't as portable as the iPad Pro, but it's still thin and light and by no means inconvenient to carry around, but the M1 chip makes the MacBook Air worthwhile. It's now better for video editing, photo editing, opening Chrome tabs, and more. Even if the integration of apps may be flawed now, it offers great potential for the future.
There are also rumors of an update to the iPad Pro on the horizon. That said, in terms of price, performance, and durability, the M1 MacBook Air has the iPad Pro beat.