Are Apple Laptops Really That Bad Now?

For many users, the MacBook Air is the epitome of a subnotebook and a mobile companion. Although the device was neglected by Apple for years, it was still selling very well thanks to price cuts. Only in 2018 there was a major update including a significantly better screen. Two other major points of criticism, namely the butterfly keyboard (or its susceptibility to errors) and the performance of the economical dual-core processor are now the subject of the update for 2020. We now had the new model with the faster quad-core processor in detail Test and Apple clearly missed an opportunity here, possibly even on purpose.

But let's start with the positive things first. The screen is unchanged and still very good, even if the Windows competition has closed the gap in the meantime and is even ahead in some areas (e.g. brightness). The great aluminum case was slightly thicker this year to accommodate the new keyboard, which we also like very much and the typing feel corresponds to the older MacBooks without a butterfly keyboard. The runtimes remain on a high level and the speakers could even be improved a bit.

However, there are also some negative points that we honestly find difficult to understand. Apple uses special processors from Intel based on the current Ice Lake generation and is also offering models with four cores in the MacBook Air for the first time. However, the chips are still part of the energy-saving Y series, which, with a low TDP, is actually unproblematic when it comes to cooling. Apple sticks to the idiosyncratic cooling solution with an additional fan in the case, which can be very loud under load with over 45 dB (A). Too loud for the given performance, as you have to expect a drop in performance after a few seconds. In addition, we do not understand why Apple is still doing without Wi-Fi 6, although it is actually already (at least partially) integrated into the new Ice Lake chip.

The low performance is actually not the big problem, because the new MacBook Air is fast enough for everyday things, and casual users are certainly the main target group for the MacBook Air. In addition, the distance to the MacBook Pro models should be maintained become. But we don't understand why Apple doesn't cool the Air completely passively and does without the fan. The best example of this is the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, in which both the Core i3 and the Core i5 (15 watt CPUs, by the way) are completely passively cooled. The result is a significantly higher short-term performance and even after the inevitable drop in performance during longer load phases, the performance is still better than the Air.

It is possible that Apple did not want to put too much effort into this update, because the current model will probably sell very well again. We also suspect that it will not be long before Apple equips the MacBook Air with ARM processors, something that has been rumored about for years. The iPad Pro 11 is definitely faster in terms of CPU performance. In this case, Apple could start up the marketing machine and advertise its own processor (faster than previous Intel chips, more efficient, no active ventilation, etc.). But for that we have to be patient.

Until then, the current MacBook Air remains a decent choice for many users who really only need a fancy computer for simple things. However, the MacBook Air could have been significantly better.

Andreas Osthoff - Managing Editor Business Laptops - published 1251 articles on Notebookcheck since 2013
I grew up with modern consumer electronics. With my first computer, a Commodore C64, I started building my own systems. During my dual studies at Siemens, I started as a test editor for Notebookcheck. I am now mainly responsible for the areas of business laptops and mobile workstations. It is always a great experience to test the latest devices and technologies and to compare them with one another.
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