Coming from my work computer, which has a quad-core Core i7 chip and 16GB of RAM, I didn’t notice a significant drop in performance for most tasks. Things like Slack, Spotify, browsing, email, Messages, Notes all work smoothly on the Air; no Core i7 chip needed.
Occasionally, there were small little annoyances. Like when I tried to rotate images in Apple’s Photos app. There was just a tiny delay, but letdowns like that were the exception, not the rule. If I were going to be doing a lot of work editing photos and video, I’d probably still go for the Pro. But I make my living as a writer and editor, so the Air would be fine the majority of the time. I’d say the same is probably true for most people.
That said, I can’t help but feel like Apple could have been even more generous with specs. In addition to offering a USB-A port on the Surface Laptop 3, Microsoft offers a Core i5 processor for $999, albeit with 128GB of storage, not 256GB. (For the record, that configuration is sold out on Microsoft’s site, but I mention it anyway to make a point about what a tech giant can afford to include at a $999 price point.)
In fairness to Apple, it does seem to have bested Dell’s offer with the newest XPS 13, whose $999 configuration has a piddly 4GB of RAM and Intel UHD graphics (as opposed to Iris Plus, which is saved for higher-end configurations). Like the Air, the $999 2020 XPS 13 has a Core i3 processor and 256GB of storage, so they’re well matched on those specs, though that 4GB of RAM would make this a configuration a non-starter for me.
If you have money to invest in up-sells, both the $999 and $1,299 configuration can be upgraded with a 1.2GHz quad-core Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and either a 1TB or 2TB SSD. The graphics don’t get better, so if you think you want a discrete GPU, consider a MacBook Pro instead.
As for battery life, Apple is still claiming 12 hours of video playback or 11 hours of web browsing. I came pretty close to that. I put together a 13-hour playlist in the Apple TV+ app just to be safe, but in fact, the machine went dark after 11 hours and 34 minutes. Close enough, I’d say. It’s also worth noting this falls in line with Microsoft’s own claims for the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3, which is rated for eleven and a half hours of “typical device usage.” Neither of these machines come close to the new Dell XPS 13, however, which clocked 15 hours and 55 minutes.
In daily use, your mileage is obviously going to vary. Apple’s official 11-hour stat assumes you’re browsing in Safari. I use Chrome out of habit, even though I know it’s a battery hog. That said, the drain wasn’t so bad, at least not until I started doing calls in Hangouts. At one point the battery plunged by 13 percent even during a brief meeting. Once I finished the call, the battery continued to drain at a slower rate. All that said, I’d sooner expect a workday of unplugged use – maybe not the full 11 hours under most circumstances.
If you’re shopping for a lightweight laptop and don’t plan on using heavy-duty apps or doing serious gaming, the Air is one of a small group of favorites, including the Dell XPS 13 and Surface Laptop 3. The MacBook Air isn’t just a solid choice for Apple fans. Thanks to the lower starting price, increased storage and vastly improved keyboard, it’s worth considering for most people.