It may look the same, but trust me, it is not even close to being the same. It is a case of new wine in an old bottle. And boy, this new wine despite not being matured is so it is so fine. Yes, I am not talking about some new French Bordeaux -- but Apple's new Macs which have ditched Intel's processors for something new developed in-house called the M1. Now, all this had been foreshadowed at Apple's WWDC conference earlier this year which I covered here. Apple basically announced new processors based on the technology found in the iPhone and iPad, but these chips were for the Mac. This was a big change as macOS based products had been running on Intel processors -- as much of a hardware change this is, it is perhaps a bigger software change as in a way the foundational philosophy behind Intel's chips and the chips Apple uses in its iPhone are polar opposites. This would mean applications that would run on the Mac would now need to be recompiled for this new kind of processor. This is like a once in a generation event -- and for the Mac, it last happened in 2005-2007 when Apple dumped its old PowerPC processors for the ones by Intel. But now, these applications have to be compiled in the same way they are done for iPhone and iPad. This is a massive change, but Apple is handling it masterfully thanks to its Rosetta translation technology and the fact that its chip is so good coupled with its vertical end-to-end integration of hardware and software.
So, the new MacBook Air looks and feels more or less like the 2018 model that I have, but in use, it has fundamentally replaced my iMac and for many their 16-inch MacBook Pro which starts at more than 2x the price. This is game-changing and that's why I believe laptops will never be the same again. But then this is nothing new for either Apple or the MacBook Air. The moment Steve Jobs took out that first MacBook Air from that manila envelope, laptops had changed forever. Suddenly, we all wanted 7-8 hours of battery life, we wanted a full laptop experience but in a package that didn't break your back and suddenly everyone was okay not having an ethernet port and the CD drive. Everything was wireless. And every other laptop wanted to be a MacBook Air which triggered Intel to create the UltraBooks branding.
This laptop will trigger similar things -- everyone will want 18-20 hours of battery life, people will start loathing fans if they already don't and they will expect that instant iPad and iPhone like responsiveness on a PC. Also, they will want that beastly performance of an entry-level iMac, but in something that you can hold with one finger going all Michael Jordon and basketball on it.
From the outside, it is fundamentally the same notebook -- it looks fabulous, meticulously engineered in aluminium but now having a good keyboard since Apple ditched its butterfly switch keyboards for very tactile and comfortable to use traditional keys. It is compact and light - and fan-less delivering a lot.
I believe that more than hearing how good it is, it is better to look at the tasks I managed to do. I did all of this on the base level model which has 256GB of storage, 8GB RAM and a 7-core GPU. Here's what I was able to do with it.
More than this as a day to day computer, it is basically amongst the nicest I've ever used. I never hear a fan, it never gets warm, even though during the winters in Delhi, the cold aluminium of the MacBook Air can feel colder and it never felt lacking for horsepower. I almost never felt this was a notebook that just had 8GB RAM. More than all of this was the consistently astounding battery life I was clocking. I was often hitting 18-19 hours on a single charge.
I could have 30 odd tabs open and Safari would not break a sweat. For a writer, it has one of the best keyboards of any notebook -- so that's a huge leap for me personally, and yes, no Touch Bar to wreck the typing experience. It also has a very exquisite screen on which Netflix lights up. It also helps that it has some great speakers to boot coupled with its really capacious trackpad which remains the class of the field 13 years on.
But there are things you give up on to get this experience. And in some cases, things go from nasty to ridiculous. For instance, it still has that terrible 720p web camera. Sure, that iPhone 12 class ISP does brighten and smoothen up things but it is still quite a terrible camera especially for the age of work from home. You lose EGPU support which was a big deal for me, but Apple thankfully has augmented that with a much more powerful integrated GPU. But still, that's not a match for EGPU. And yes, since this is an ARM-based chip, you lose support for Windows via Bootcamp or Parallels. Apple says, if Microsoft brings Windows on ARM as something that a user can license like a normal copy of Windows 10, then the M1 Mac will support it, but that's in Microsoft's hands and it’s likely that the folks at Redmond will not budge. It also comes with just two ports which can be an issue for some.
But at the end of the day, for the price Rs 92,900, there is no notebook on the planet that can match its capabilities. In fact, not even notebooks that cost twice as much can match the MacBook Air now that it has that M1 chip. That unique and elegant blend of portability, raw power, battery life and compatibility despite a major architectural change is transformational.
It kind of feels like Apple is on the cusp of greatness which hasn't been fully unleashed because these laptops still look like the older models. It kind of feels like the way one first used an iPhone and an iPad. You knew that multi-touch and that user interface was the way to go immediately despite giving up on a lot of basic features. Over the years, those devices have grown to do more than anything before they could. In the case of the M1 MacBook Air, most people will not even get that feeling of compromising -- be its app support, be it battery life, performance. Laptops are never going to be the same for you once you have used an M1 Mac. So, yes, this is the best laptop in the world for most people -- I now choose it over the Asus ROG Zephyrus 14 which I claimed was the best in the business just months ago.
(Edited by : Jomy)
First Published: IST