2020 MacBook Air review roundup: Magic Keyboard makes all the difference

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2020-MacBook-Air
Still the kind of ultraportables.
Photo: Apple

The first reviews of Apple’s new and improved MacBook Air are out just days after its official unveiling. It will come as no surprise to fans of the machine that each one has great things to say about Apple’s most popular notebook.

New configurations, increased storage, a reduced price, and — most importantly — and brand-new Magic Keyboard make this a stellar MacBook Air upgrade. Still not sure? Here’s what the critics have to say…

2020 MacBook Air review roundup

Remember when it looked like Apple had given up on the MacBook Air? It focused its attention instead on the 12-inch MacBook, while the machine that kickstarted the whole ultrabook revolution was left to go stale.

That changed when the 12-inch MacBook was scrapped and the MacBook Air made a triumphant return — complete with a refreshed design, faster internals, Touch ID, and a much-improved Retina display — in late 2018.

Another refresh in mid-2019 brought True Tone technology without making any significant changes to the MacBook Air’s internals. Apple’s most recent refresh, however, is a big one. The 2020 MacBook Air is a huge improvement.

So many options

Unlike its predecessor, which shipped with an Intel Core i5 chip that could not be changed, the new MacBook Air is available in different configurations. There are also Core i3 and Core i7 chips to choose from now, and up to 16GB of RAM.

No one buys a MacBook Air for beefy performance, of course. Even with that entry-level Core i3 chip, then, it should be fast enough for most. However, it is recommended that you opt for the Core i5 for just $100 extra.

“The default configuration ships with a tenth-generation 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 … For even basic users, however, I’d recommend adding $100 back onto the system price in order to upgrade to an i5,” explains Brian Heater for TechCrunch. “The system scored 5244 and 14672 on Geekbench 4’s single and multi-core tests, respectively, presenting a marked upgrade over the last model we tested, back in 2018.”

“The entry-level model comes with a Core i3, but the model I tested included the more powerful Core i5 option, which is a $100 upgrade,” writes Todd Haselton for CNBC. “It felt fast enough for me and I didn’t see any slowdowns while running a bunch of apps, like Apple TV+, lots of tabs in Chrome, Slack and photos at once.”

“As for speed, I’ve been using a mix of Chrome, Safari, Notes, Spotify, Photos and Slack, with a few App Store downloads,” on a Core i5 machine, describes Dana Wollman of Engadget. “Performance has mostly been brisk, though I noticed a slight delay when I rotated some pictures clockwise from the main feed inside the Photos app.”

“We’ve found early performance to be pretty impressive – even when loading up the RAM-hungry Chrome, filling it with 25 tabs and then trying to edit photos on the side,” writes Gareth Beavis for TechRadar. “We noticed very little in slowdown at all in terms of switching between tasks.”

Mostly all-day battery life

Like all of Apple’s mobile devices, the MacBook Air promises plenty of use in between charges. Apple says you’ll get a full day, but how accurate are those claims? According to reviewers, battery life is decent.

“Interestingly, the stated battery life has actually contracted, from 12 down to 11 hours,” Heater explains. “After several hours, I’m down to 35% left. I’ve had the brightness and everything else at default levels and have mostly been typing, using Chrome and Slack and listening to music on headphones via Spotify (along with the occasional benchmark).”

“All-day battery life seems like a fair enough description when you’re multitasking; 11 hours is probably a stretch,” Heater adds. “t’s worth noting that this can vary quite a bit based on a number of factors.”

“I’ve only had the new MacBook Air for about a day, so I’m still fiddling with battery life to see how long it’ll run,” writes Haselton. “But, it seems to be good enough to get through most of a workday so long as I keep the brightness at about half max.”

“I’ve had the machine unplugged for close to three hours, and I still have 70 percent battery left,” Wollman describes. However, “that figure quickly plummeted to 59 percent during a brief Google Hangouts call in Chrome and then started draining more slowly again after I was done.”

A magnificent Magic Keyboard

Some things inside the 2020 MacBook Air haven’t changed. Its display remains the same, which is to say it’s still brilliantly bright and sharp, and it still has True Tone. Touch ID remains. You still get two USB-C ports for connectivity.

There is one improvement that’s more important — for most users — than all the rest, though. That’s the Magic Keyboard, which makes the MacBook Air only the second Apple notebook, following the 16-inch Pro, to get one.

Some reviewers say it’s the primary reason you should consider upgrading.

“I’m pleased to report that the new keyboard is a vast improvement,” Haselton writes. “I’ve been using a 2018 MacBook Air for two years and, over time, it started to get jammed due to the older butterfly-design … But the new one is much more pleasant to type on. The keys feel like they have more give to them when you press down, and I was immediately typing with fewer typos.”

“It’s a big improvement on the long-suffering butterfly keyboard found in most Macs in recent years, which has been plagued by breakdowns and general consumer dissatisfaction,” notes Ackerman. “The keys sit visibly higher. They feel more substantial. There’s a satisfying heft to typing, and unlike the previous version you’ll never wonder if a keystroke registered.”

“It’s like night and day, honestly,” explained Heater. “The butterfly mechanisms were a clear misstep for the company … feeling here is pretty similar to what you get with Apple’s Bluetooth Magic Keyboard peripheral. Honestly, that makes it a valuable upgrade in and of itself.”

More reviews to come

We should note two things. One, the new MacBook Air units were provided to these select reviewers by Apple for analysis and not bought independently.

Secondly, these are not complete reviews; reviewers have only had the 2020 MacBook Air for a day or so, so testing has been limited so far. We can expect to find out a lot more in the coming days and weeks.

Based on these early impressions, however, it seems the 2020 MacBook Air is — yet again — the kind of ultraportables. It’s amazingly thin and lightweight, lasts all day, is fast enough for common tasks, and is a joy to type on again.

You can order your new MacBook Air today from the Apple Online Store. Prices start at $999.