Life with a MacBook Air M1

The life of an Apple Mac enthusiast has been filled with many ups and downs over the years. My Apple Mac journey started in 2000 with a used Bondi Blue iMac G3 and Mac OS 9. Although work has mostly required the use Windows PCs, Apple has been the only hardware I've used in my personal life since.

I've had the opportunity to use many different types of Mac hardware including the original iMac, Mac Mini, MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.  Up until recently, my favorite Mac of all time was the 2014 MacBook Air (sorry Mac Mini).

That is until I got my hands on the new MacBook Air M1, February 4, 2021.

At first glance, the M1 looks exactly like the early 2020 Intel MacBook Air:

But that's where the similarities end, and the secret sauce of the M1 begins...

[ SCREEN ] As mentioned above, the screen is basically the same as the Intel based model. While the 400 nits of brightness is too dim for some folks, I've found it to be a non-issue in all my normal situations. The MacBook Air's move to Retina in 2018 was a HUGE advancement, and even more in the M1 with adding P3 color gamut. Bottom line it looks great.

[ KEYBOARD / TRACKPAD ] Anyone dealing with a butterfly keyboard will be pleasantly relieved that the keyboard is really close to the MacBook keyboards of old...reliable and comfortable to use. Bringing back the inverted-T design of the arrow keys was another relief for those who missed it.

The Touch ID / Power button is a real gem and very useful for unlocking your Mac, Apple Pay, and apps like 1Password.

The M1 trackpad is a perfect size, doesn’t push to keyboard too far back for my hands, and works great.

[ WEBCAM O' JUNK ] The 720p webcam is basically complete crap, and Apple should be totally embarrassed. Especially in the current age of COVID, work from home, and constant video conferencing.

I suspect the tapered design of the aluminum screen lid (at the edges) don't provide enough thickness to put in a better webcam (or even Face ID) components. Apple MUST FIX.

[ NEW NON-BURNING-THIGH OPTION ] People with any Intel based laptop knows that the bottom of these things get really really warm. Intel MacBooks with the aluminum bottoms can get down right hot.

I'm please to announce that the M1 doesn't get ever.

I have been unable to get this laptop to even feel a tiny bit warm. I've tried normal use cases, as well as running Geekbench and 3D graphics tests; I have never been able to move the temperature needle.

You are now free to wear shorts and use your laptop on your lap without fear of 2nd degree burns!

[ BATTERY ] My M1 got pulled off power around 10pm the previous night. It's been on battery power to write this article on and off for the last 8 hours, watched some YouTube videos last night, and did some other focused work this morning.

It's now 11:20pm the next night and I still have 38% battery. Dropbox and Backblaze have been running the whole time. Keyboard brightness always on at 100% regardless of power status. Screen brightness also at 100% even on battery. Screen saver kicks in after 15 min of non use. When I wasn't using it, I just closed the lid.

This is not in any way even remotely scientific. I realized I don’t even think about the battery since getting the M1. I've now got unused power bricks and USB-C cables previously from all over the house. I only have 2 remaining; in my office and on the table next to my side of the couch.

Great battery life...period

[ M1 SOC / RAM / SSD ] I'm not into the art that is CPU architecture and design. I just know that this thing is FAST, FAST, and oh yeah...FAST! Also really quiet like the “you can't hear it coming until it's too late” electric car kind of quiet.

I've been keeping an eye on activity monitor from time to time and most things barely register on the graph. It feels like buying a Lamborghini and using it to go to the grocery store.

The scary thing about the M1’s performance (and crushing of all others) is what many have pointed out recently; this will be the slowest silicon chip Apple ever makes for a Mac. Just let that sink in for a moment.

I've been lurking in the MacBookAir subreddit recently. One of most asked questions is 8GB of RAM or 16GB of RAM? The answer will need real world usage to confirm because of the RAM now being directly on the chip, and the current method of estimating RAM usage.

The SSD is also really fast, but still soldered to the board for no internal replacement options. There's been some hubbub recently about macOS Big Sur writing to the SSD more than people think it should. The jury is still out if it's actually behaving like some of these diagnostic tools claim. I'll wait a bit and see what pans out, but I'm not worried at this point.

I keep Macs for a long time, and I can't upgrade the RAM or the internal SSD. I ended up deciding on 16GB of RAM and the 1TB SSD for future proofing, but picked the 7 core GPU to save a bit of money. I have no FOMO about not getting the extra GPU core, primarily because the overall performance of the M1 hasn't required me to even take a glance at it (other than writing about it here).

The MacBook Air M1 is a tremendous leap forward in the many areas I've discussed. It's definitely the best computer I've ever owned, and I have ZERO regrets on getting in early (except the darn webcam).

But the MacBookAir M1 is NOT for everyone. If you need 4 Thunderbolt ports, attach multiple external monitors, and run extremely graphic intensive applications, I'd hold off for a bit.

Rumors are speculating that new Macs running a higher performance variant of the M1 are arriving this year, with some GPU improvements to better compete with systems running discrete graphics.