For years on, the MacBook Air was left behind – looking dated, having inferior TN panels, and featuring significantly less capable hardware. However, after Apple has solved the first two aspects of the MacBook Air in 2019, things took an immediate turnaround, when they introduced the M1 chip.

Its low-voltage ARM nature enabled Apple to completely remove the fan from the chassis, thus resulting in a completely silent laptop, that happens to be extremely capable.

So, for the lowly $999, you can get a fast laptop that will breeze past your daily work, and can actually be used for productivity. Well, this is not an inexpensive product, by any means, but if we have to be honest, it has the potential to be a best-seller.

You can check the prices and configurations in our Specs System: https://laptopmedia.com/series/apple-macbook-air-13-late-2020/

Contents


Specs Sheet

Apple MacBook Air 13 (Late 2020) – Specs


Dimensions


304.1 x 212.4 x 0.4 ~ 16.1 mm (11.97″ x 8.36″ x 0.02″)

Ports and connectivity

  • 2x USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps), Thunderbolt 3, Power Delivery (PD), DisplayPort
  • Card reader
  • Wi-Fi 802.11ax
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Audio jack 3.5mm Combo Jack

Features

  • Fingerprint reader Touch ID
  • Web camera HD
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Microphone Three-mic array with directional beamforming
  • Speakers 2 Stereo Speakers
  • Optical drive
  • Security Lock slot
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Force Touch trackpad

What’s in the box?

Inside the well-branded package, we found the laptop, itself, a USB Type-C cable, and a 30W power brick.

Design and construction

Apple stood to their name and delivered a very high-quality product. It is built from an aluminum unibody and has a very interesting design. At its thinnest spot – at the front, it stands at only 4.1mm, while the thickest one is 16.1mm tall. In terms of weight, the MacBook Air (Late 2020) stops the scales at 1.29 kg. The laptop is both stylish and very rigid. With pretty much no chassis flex, despite the thin profile.

Its lid opens effortlessly with a single hand. This is enabled by the hinges, which operate extremely smoothly. Additionally, you will find a couple of very thin bezels on the sides of the display, while the bottom one holds the name of the device, and the top houses the HD camera with its LED, which shows when an app is using your camera. Protecting the panel, there is a glass cover.

Then, let’s take a look at the keyboard. In contrast to the Pro model, this device lacks a Touch Bar but still features the Touch ID, fingerprint reader. The key caps are decently sized, and the entire board feels exactly the same as that on the MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020). In practice, this means that it has shallow travel, but clicky, satisfying feedback.

Also, the laptop packs a very high-quality trackpad. It is smooth and the tracking is very accurate. As for the speakers – they are surrounding the keyboard for a very deep stereo sound.

Interestingly, this laptop has basically no vents to be found. This is a result of the passive cooling setup.

Ports

Similar to the Pro model, the MacBook Air comes with only two Thunderbolt 3 connectors and an Audio jack. And although this is a bit easier to swallow, because it is not a Pro-branded product, it is still too little for effortless work with accessories.

Disassembly, upgrade options and maintenance

Although you won’t be able to upgrade anything on the MacBook Air, it’s still worth seeing what’s inside. To access the internals, you need to undo 10 Pentalobe screws. After that, pry the bottom panel with a plastic tool, and lift it away.

Inside, we see a neatly tight package. As usual, the majority of the space is taken by the battery, which now has a 49.9Wh capacity.

Above it, you can see the tiny motherboard, which has the passive cooling element on its left side.

The big plastic bars on the left and right side of the battery are the speaker units, which are one of the good ones on the market.

Display quality

Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020) has a display with a 13.3″ (33.8 cm) diagonal and 2560 x 1600 resolution. Additionally, the screen ratio is 16:10, the pixel density – 227 ppi, their pitch – 0.11 x 0.11 mm. The screen can be considered Retina when viewed from at least 38 cm (from this distance, the average human eye can’t see the individual pixels).

Its viewing angles are great. We have provided images at 45 degrees to evaluate quality.

Ultimately, the image displayed on Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020)s screen changes according to the ambient light and luminance level, when the True Tone option is enabled.

We simulated extremely high ambient luminance – 30 000lx, with a color temperature of 9000K. Under these conditions, the Correlated Color Temperature on a white screen and at maximum brightness is 7160K (average) – slightly colder than the 6500K optimum for sRGB. This value, when adjusted to 300 lx and 4000K ambient light, was 5620K, which is warmer than the optimum for sRGB.
The following tests are performed with True Tone and Automatically brightness adjustment disabled.
We measured a maximum brightness of 415 nits in the middle of the screen and 410 nits as an average across the entire area, with a maximum deviation of 11%.
In the illustration below you can see how the display performs from a uniformity perspective.
Values of dE2000 over 4.0 should not occur, and this parameter is one of the first you should check if you intend to use the tablet for color-sensitive work (a maximum tolerance of 2.0 ). The contrast ratio is decent – 910:1.

To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction to the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. To start, there’s the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye, giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy.

Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that is being used by millions of people on HDTV and the web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used in professional cameras, monitors, etc for printing. Colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is an essential part of the color quality and color accuracy of a mainstream device.

Still, we’ve included other color spaces like the famous DCI-P3 standard used by movie studios, as well as the digital UHD Rec.2020 standard. Rec.2020, however, is still a thing of the future and it’s difficult for today’s displays to cover that well. We’ve also included the so-called Michael Pointer gamut, or Pointer’s gamut, which represents the colors that naturally occur around us every day.

The yellow dotted line shows Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020)’s color gamut coverage.

Its display covers 100% of the sRGB/ITU-R BT.709 (web/HDTV standard) in CIE1976. This is a prerequisite for a vibrant and punchy image.

The following graphics show the color coverage situation with the Colour LCD profile (gamma 2.2 and native white point).

Our “Design and Gaming” profile delivers optimal color temperature (6500K) at 140 cd/m2 luminance and sRGB gamma mode.

We tested the accuracy of the display with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange, etc. Below you can compare the scores of the Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020) compared to the sRGB standard.

Response time (Gaming capabilities)

We test the reaction time of the pixels with the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and vice versa.

We recorded Fall Time + Rise Time = 32 ms – slow response time, but slightly faster than that on the MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020).

Health impact – PWM / Blue Light

PWM (Screen flickering)

Pulse-width modulation (PWM) is an easy way to control monitor brightness. When you lower the brightness, the light intensity of the backlight is not lowered, but instead turned off and on by the electronics with a frequency indistinguishable to the human eye. In these light impulses, the light/no-light time ratio varies, while brightness remains unchanged, which is harmful to your eyes. You can read more about that in our dedicated article on PWM.

Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020)’s display doesn’t use PWM for brightness adjustment, which makes it comfortable, and more importantly – safe, for continuous work.

Conclusions

Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020)’s panel has a wide color coverage, high resolution, comfortable viewing angles, and high maximum brightness. Its backlight doesn’t use PWM for brightness adjustment. In comparison to the MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020), the Air has a significantly lower contrast ratio, maximum brightness, and a slightly worse uniformity of the colors across the area of the display.

Sound

Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020)’s stereo speaker setup sounds very good. Its loud, and clear sound has no deviations across the entire frequency spectrum.

Software

This MacBook Air comes with a preinstalled version of the macOS Big Sur. Of course, all updates are done automatically, and you can configure when, and how to be implemented from the OS, itself. However, the biggest and most interesting feature of the software this device comes with, is undoubtedly the Rosseta 2. This is a real-time code translator, which lets you run x86 apps on your ARM processor. And this is exactly what makes the new MacBooks based on the M1 chip so special, as it provides almost full support for most Intel-based macOS programs.

Battery

Now, we conduct the battery tests with screen brightness adjusted to 120 nits and all other programs turned off except for the one we are testing the notebook with. This device’s 49.9Wh battery lasts for 24 hours and 20 minutes of Web browsing, 13 hours and 20 minutes of video playback, and 4 hours and 13 minutes of continuous video rendering.

CPU/GPU – Apple M1

Apple’s engineers have made their first-ever SoC that is to be used for desktop Mac and Macbooks. It is a statement that shows that Apple is relieving Intel and AMD from their duties of supplying chips for them since 2006 and that the Cupertino-based company is ready to dominate on the CPU/GPU hardware front, same as how they have been really dominant in the laptop, desktop, and smartphone markets as well.

As this is an SoC, it packs all the necessary components that a PC needs in one package, like the CPU, GPU, and RAM or as Apple refers to it, the Unified memory, which includes both the GPU VRAM and the CPU RAM.

Apple has also added a Neural Engine, to tackle AI, Apple’s very own Secure Enclave, the SSD and USB controllers as well as the Image signal unit, and more.

Before that, Macbooks have relied on multiple processors to handle different work, and all those different chips have had to communicate with each other through long distances and access different memory that at the end of the day slows down the machine and hinders it from reaching its potential to the fullest.

Apple’s Unified Memory Architecture places all of that needed memory in one place, that is next to the chips themselves, meaning that the distance that the signals have to travel is basically eliminated and that the processors inside don’t have to go through different memory pools.

The M1 SoC has in itself an 8-core CPU that utilizes the big.LITTLE architecture, which has been a mainstay in smartphone chips since forever. The cores are divided into two pairs of four, with four high-power cores that kick in when performance is needed and four low-powered cores for power efficiency that are there to handle background tasks and other processes that don’t require huge computing power. The combination of both ensure that power is there when needed, but in a way that doesn’t compromise the power efficiency of the device.

The high powered cores, which have the codename “Firestorm”(don’t worry, they don’t get as hot as the name suggests), can work either alone, delivering great single-thread performance or in tandem, where they share the same memory and do a great job in multi-threaded tasks as well. Moving over to the power-efficient quartet, codenamed “Icestorm”, which Apple says offers the performance of a previous generation dual-core MacBook Air, but with much lower power consumption.

CT and X-ray scan of the M1 (Source: System Plus Consulting)

To go a bit deeper, we would like to show you an X-Ray and CT scan of the M1 chip. The X-ray plus CT scan can give us detailed imaging for analysis as well as an inside look and an understanding of the complex system structures that were used in the creation of the SoC. From the scans, they identified the integration of two silicon decoupling capacitors in the M1. One that is embedded on the surface and one on the substrate. We can also take a look at the processor die, which uses a mind-blowing number of 16 billion transistors.

CPU Benchmarks single/multi Geekbench 5
Apple MacBook Air M1 1732/7574
Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1 1727/7564
Apple iPad Pro 11 2020 1118/4636
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 747/2709
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 972/3000


Continuing with the iGPU inside the Apple M1, there are two distinct versions of the M1’s GPU. One has all of the 8-cores enabled and will be used for high-end devices such as the MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and some configurations of the MacBook Air. The other version has one of the GPU cores disabled and its clock speeds lowered. With that, Apple has also shaved off some bucks off of the devices that will feature this version of the M1, mainly the MacBook Air.

GPU Benchmarks 3DMark Wildlife GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 (1080p offscreen) GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 (1080p offscreen) GFXBench Aztec Ruins OpenGL (1080p offscreen)
Apple MacBook Air M1 17698 404 fps 273 fps 214 fps
Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1 17752 407 fps 274 fps 215 fps
Apple iPad Pro 11 2020 13357 186 fps 130 fps 110 fps
Huawei MateBook Pro 3281 95 fps 72 fps 47 fps
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 2118 96 fps 69 fps 42 fps
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 4240 140 fps 97 fps 59 fps

One new addition to the M1, which not many CPUs on the market have is a Neural Engine, which is implemented heavily in Apple’s other SoCs inside their iPhones. The Neural Engine is specially designed to handle Artificial Intelligence and machine learning tasks, across various applications such as video analysis, voice recognition, and image processing.

Moving to one of the most important factors as to if the M1 will be successful and that is the architecture and the possibility of running apps on the M1. For that purpose, Apple has built various tools to help developers make apps that can run both on Intel and Apple Silicon chips. In addition to that, they have developed a new translation layer, called Rosetta 2, to allow x86 based apps to run on the M1. With this new translation layer, apps, that were previously designed to run on Intel CPUs, will be able to run on this new Apple SoC.

Storage

Our unit was equipped with a 512GB NVMe SSD. We tested its speed with the Black Magic Disk Speed Test software. As you can see, it reaches 2825.5 MB/s Read and 2887.9 MB/s Write speeds.

Gaming tests

Temperatures and comfort

Max CPU load

In this test we use 100% on the CPU cores, using Cinebench R23 in loop mode. Keep in mind that because of Apple’s limitations we weren’t able to monitor the frequency of the Core. However, to assess the stability of the machine in long runs, we took the results it posted in the first, middle, and the last test it ran.

CPU temp.

Apple M1 0:02 – 0:10 sec 0:15 – 0:30 sec 10:00 – 15:00 min
Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020) 45°C 56°C 79°C
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020) 38°C 48°C 71°C

Unfortunately, the lack of active cooling means that the M1 chip is throttling. The Cinebench R23 stability score is 6905, as the first run scores 7688, the middle one 6823, and the last one 6660 (out of 16 runs). As you can see, the temperature is 8°C higher than that of the actively-cooled MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020).

Comfort during full load

As expected, the laptop is completely silent even under an extreme workload. Ultimately, the hottest temperature we measured was 38°C right above the middle of the keyboard.

Verdict

After a couple of days of testing, we came to our conclusion. The gap between the MacBook Pro 13 and the MacBook Air is smaller than ever before. For the $300 less you pay for the latter, you lose the Touch Bar, and the fan from the cooling setup, but the usability is still there. Unsurprisingly, the build quality is awesome, while the software features are basically the same. This means you can run the same apps as the Pro version, you can use the same version of Rosetta 2, but the caveat is that the Apple silicon throttles under heavy load like video editing, 3D rendering, etcetera.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (Late 2020)’s panel has a wide color coverage, high resolution, comfortable viewing angles, and high maximum brightness. Its backlight doesn’t use PWM for brightness adjustment. In comparison to the MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020), the Air has a significantly lower contrast ratio, maximum brightness, and a slightly worse uniformity of the colors across the area of the display. However, you still get the True Tone option, which aims to make the colors as accurate as possible, according to the ambient light – keep in mind that you can always turn this feature off.

Sadly, the laptop features only two Thunderbolt connectors. On one hand, this is unfortunate, as you have to use adapters to connect the most common accessories out there. However, it is still good that you have the bandwidth of Thunderbolt 3.

On the downside, there is no option for RAM upgrades or storage expansion, bar the eventual connection to external hard drives via a dongle.

Nevertheless, we experienced the best battery life on a notebook with more than 24 hours of Web browsing, 13 hours and 20 minutes of video playback, and a bit over 4 hours of productivity (non-stop video rendering).

So, if you are invested in the Apple ecosystem, and you currently own an iPhone, iPad, or other product from the same manufacturer, your life will be slightly easier. And whether you should raise your budget to get a MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020) should be decided on your daily work routine. Yes, heavier (and longer) tasks will make use of the active cooling of the latter, but if your daily work consists of e-mailing, photo editing, and generally less-demanding load, the MacBook Air (Late 2020) is a device you shouldn’t miss.

Pros

  • Exceptional performance from the Apple M1 SoC
  • The Touch ID is quick and accurate
  • Full sRGB coverage and accurate color representation
  • Supports Wi-Fi 6 and features two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Doesn’t use PWM
  • Great build quality
  • Exceptional battery life
  • Loud and dynamic speakers

Cons

  • I/O is limited to two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Soldered RAM and storage
  • Thermal throttling at long heavy loadss

You can check the prices and configurations in our Specs System: https://laptopmedia.com/series/apple-macbook-air-13-late-2020/





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