As ultraportables go, the MacBook Air more often than not sits at the top of the heap. However, like most Apple products, it's been just out of reach of being affordable. Sure, it's been the cheapest MacBook you could get, but with a starting price of $1,099, that's not saying much.
That changes with the MacBook Air 2020. Starting at an unheard of $999 ($899 for education users, tested at $1,299), Apple is extending consumers' wallets a much-needed olive branch. But don't assume because it's cheaper, that Apple made any compromises. The laptop gets a host of new features including an Intel 10th Gen processor and the Magic Keyboard. This just might be the best MacBook Air yet.
MacBook Air 2020 pricing and availability
The base model costs $999 and has a dual-core Intel 10th Gen Core i3 processor with 8GB of RAM and Intel Iris Plus graphics. The company doubled the base storage from a 128 to 256GB SSD, a move everyone can appreciate.
I had the opportunity to test the $1,299 model which has a quad-core 1.1-GHz Intel Core i5-1030NG7 CPU. It's a first for the MacBook Air. There's also 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and Intel Iris Plus graphics.
You can customize the Air with a 10th Gen Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, but that would jack the price up to a budget-exasperating $2,249.
CPU: Intel Core i5-1030NG7 processor
GPU: Intel Iris Plus
Display: 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600
Size: 11.9 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 2.8 pounds
MacBook Air 2020 design
What can I say? It's a MacBook Air. That means it's just as stunning and sleek as its predecessor. Wrapped in gold, I'd be proud to pull this out of my bag no matter where I went. The iconic emblem regally gleams whenever the light hits the lid. Outside of that, it's just a plane of uninterrupted gold anodized aluminum. It's a gilded minimalist vibe that I'm digging.
And if the Gold is too flashy, the laptop is also available in Space Gray and Silver.
The interior offers more gold with a massive Trackpad and a new, improved keyboard (more on that later). Located in the top-right corner, the power button doubles as the Touch ID sensor.
The 2020 Air has the same dimensions of its predecessor, the MacBook Air (2019) at 2.8 pounds, 11.9 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches. That puts it on a par with the 2.8-pound, 12.1 x 8.3 x 0.6-inch HP Envy 13 (Wood Edition, 2020). The Air is also lighter than the Lenovo Yoga C740 (3 pounds, 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 ~ 0.7 inches) but heavier and thicker than the Dell XPS 13 (2.7 pounds, 11.9 x 7.8 x 0.5 inches) and Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (1.7 pounds, 2.4 pounds with case, 12.5 x 7.9 x 0.3 inches).
MacBook Air 2020 ports
Such a slim frame doesn’t allow for many ports. You only get a headset jack on the right side of the laptop. On the left, there’s a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports and that’s it. So if you’re planning to use a mouse or an SD card, you’re going to need a dongle or a USB Type-C hub.
MacBook Air 2020 display
Apple's Retina display continues to be as pretty as the proverbial picture. Singer/actress Janelle Monae’s wine-colored pantsuit drew my gaze during the Antebellum trailer, on the Air's 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600 panel. Details were crisp enough that I could see the individual creases and folds in what appeared to be the sateen material.
And that was before I enabled TrueTone, which adjusts the color temperature automatically according to the environment. In my naturally-lit living room, the color looked more natural while it seemed a bit more vivid in my bedroom to adjust for the dimmer setting.
I would definitely recommend keeping TrueTone enabled as the colors seemed a bit muted without the feature.
Measuring for color reproduction ability, the MacBook Air reached 113% of the sRGB gamut, which is above our 100% minimum, but below the 122% premium laptop average and the Envy’s 116%. However, the Air was more vivid than both the XPS 13 (111%) and the Surface (97%).
Averaging 386 nits, the Air is pretty bright, outshining the 357-nit average and the XPS 13 (382 nits). However, the Surface Pro and Envy were brighter at 395 and 401 nits respectively.
MacBook Air 2020 audio
The laptop might be light like a gentle breeze, but it can get as loud as a hurricane. According to Apple, the speakers deliver “twice the bass and 25% more volume. The Air’s pair of top-mounted speakers filled my smallish living and dining rooms with crisp percussion on Jay-Z’s “Lucifer.” However, the guitar and piano were fighting for a cramped soundstage which only made the rapper and the background singer’s vocals sound distorted.
I got cleaner audio when I started listening to Teyana Taylor’s “We Got Love.” The low-end was distinct as were the vocals. The keyboard was clear up to a point, but when all the elements of the track came together, there was noticeable brassiness.
MacBook Air 2020 keyboard and trackpad
From here on out, the only time I want to hear about butterflies is when I'm nervous or taking a nature hike. Apple made the wise decision to ditch those horrid Butterfly keys for the Magic Keyboard found in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The difference is palpable.
Boasting a 1-millimeter key travel, the Air's keys are springy and offer a satisfying click that makes me want to keep typing. And even after an hour of typing, my fingers feel like they just started working. When I took the 10fastfingers typing test, I banged out 70 words per minute, matching my average.
The Air’s 4.8 x 3.2-inch Trackpad is massive. But despite its largesse, my hands never accidentally brushed across. But when it was time for my fingers to engage, my Trackpad was smooth and cool to the touch with fast, accurate response. The bottom corners of the pad were nice and clicky.
MacBook Air 2020 performance
Apple outfitted my review unit with a quad-core 1.1-GHz Intel Core i5-1030NG7 processor with 8GB of RAM. This is the first time the MacBook Air has gotten a quad-core processor. The CPU held its own against my collection of 30 open Google Chrome tabs. I didn't see any sign of slowdown, even when I started resizing a few photos in Adobe Photoshop.
However, the MacBook Air had a bit of a rocky start on our synthetic benchmarks. It only scored 2,738 on Geekbench 5.0, an overall performance test. That’s below the 4,248 premium laptop average. The Envy and its Core i7-1065G7 CPU fared somewhat better at 3,487. The Surface Pro (Core i5-1035G4 CPU) and XPS 13 (Core i7-10710U CPU) produced even higher results at 4,443 and 5,481, respectively.
The MacBook Air took 27 minutes and 10 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p, missing the 19:46 category average. However, with the exception of the XPS 13 (14:25), the competing systems didn’t clear the bar either. The Surface Pro completed the task in 24:56 while the Surface Pro clocked in 32:47.
When we ran the BlackMagic benchmark, the MacBook Air’s 512GB SSD showed off its agility with a 1,301.9MBps read speed, topping the 1,162.7MBps average.
Let’s cut to the chase, you’re not going to be doing much gaming on the Intel Iris Plus GPU – unless of course, you're planning to invest in an Apple Arcade subscription. That doesn’t mean you can’t do some light photo or video editing. Running the Sid Meyer’s Civilization VI test, the MacBook Air hit a score of 7, slightly below the 9 category average and the 13 put up by the Envy.
MacBook Air 2020 battery Life
Worker bees will be happy to know that the MacBook Air can last a full work day and then some. The laptop lasted 9 hours and 31 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits), surpassing the 8:42 category average. The XPS 13 tapped out at 7:56 while the Surface Pro clocked in at 7:30. The Envy had the shortest time of 6:31.
MacBook Air 2020 heat
The MacBook Air is one cool customer. After 15 minutes of playing a fullscreen high-definition video, we tested key areas on the laptop. The touchpad measured 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The center of the keyboard and bottom of the laptop registered 86 and 92 degrees, respectively. Each temperature is well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
MacBook Air 2020 webcam
Like most webcams, the MacBook Air’s 720p shooter will do in a pinch. Test shots I took were grainy, but surprisingly color accurate, capturing the purple in my hair and the pink stripes in my plaid shirt. However, if you’re looking for sharp detail, you’ll need to invest in an external webcam.
The latest MacBook Air ships with macOS Catalina. In the interest of unification, Apple has killed iTunes in favor of Music, Podcasts and TV. The last one comes in handy since purchasing an Air gets you a free year of Apple TV. The interface is iTunes-reminiscent with the navigation menu on the left, controls at the top, and the content in list/icon form in the rest of the screen. In practice, it’s a very smooth experience.
And while I don’t use Safari a lot, I appreciate the tweaks Catalina brings such as helping you avoid opening redundant tabs and creating stronger passwords. The new tab screen now shows iCloud tabs and Siri Suggestions. System Preferences has been retooled to fit all of your Apple ID information, allowing you to manage your connected devices, contact info, password and more.
One thing I’ll always appreciate about macOS is the lack of bloatware. Outside of essentials like Safari, Photos and the App Store, you’re not going to see much flotsam.
It seems that Apple has checked off most of the boxes on its fans' MacBook Air wish list. You get the fantastic Magic keyboard and Touch ID in the beautiful svelte chassis we've come to expect from the brand. Plus, for $1,299, you can get a quad-core 10th Gen Intel CPU, a first for the series. And the laptop lasts over 9 hours on a charge.
However, if you need more power, you might want to consider the $1,599 Dell XPS 13, which while more expensive has Core i7 CPU. It also has a brighter, more vivid display. But if you want an ultraportable with great battery life, speedy SSDs and a super comfortable keyboard, the MacBook Air is a good choice. And if you're looking to save a few dollars, consider the $999 Core i3 model.