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Apple MacBook Air M1 review: The innovation is strong with this one

The Retina display of the MacBook Air M1   | Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

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I was in the eighth grade when Apple announced its first MacBook. It was gorgeous for its time and every high schooler had to have the white polycarbonate laptop. Its design standard was set by the Powerbook G4, one of Apple’s early laptops. Then came the aluminium unibodies of the late 2000s and 2010s, offering a premium finish ultimately setting Apple apart from others in terms of design and price point; these models were a landmark of my university years.

What did they all have in common though? They were powered by Intel chipsets.

Specifications
  • Dimensions & Weight: Height: 0.41–1.09 cm; Width: 30.41 cm; Depth: 21.24 cm; Weight: 1.29 kg
  • Apple M1 Chip: 8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores; 7-core GPU; 16-core Neural Engine
  • Battery & Power: Built-in 49.9-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; 30W USB-C Power Adapter
  • Storage: 256GB configurable to 512GB, 1TB or 2TB
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi: 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible; Bluetooth: 5.0 wireless technology

So last year, when Apple announced M1, their first native chipsets for Macs, I was keen to get my hands on one. If you are going to opt for any MacBook, the space grey and gold models are the ones to go for; leave the silver behind in 2018. It is easy to keep these unibodies clean, a simple wipe-down with a microfibre cloth has it looking fresh-out-the-box in a jiffy.

Just like its predecessors, the only available ports on the device are two Thunderbolt / USB-4 ports on the left and one AUX port on the right, so be ready to invest in a connecting hub for this device.

All in working order?

The display on MacBook Air M1 is eye-catching. If you see this in a store, it will imprint on you. With practically no bezels, the 2560x1600-resolution (227 pixels per inch) Retina display shows off sharp and clear text as well as vibrant colours on a P3 colour gamut. This means, considering most users have been using sRGB for well over a decade now, display P3 offers a 25% larger colour space compared to sRGB. Editing photos and videos and creating animations on the MacBook Air M1 is a minutely detailed process.

With my 2015 MacBook Air, there were some overheating issues which stressed me out to the point of shutting it off and waiting for it to cool down. Apple paid attention to this common malady and the MacBook Air M1’s fanless design paired with the chipset sustained a lot of the battery for a neat cooling effect. In eliminating that wheezing fan noise, Apple integrated an aluminum heat spreader that dissipates the heat the system generates, so no matter how intense the task, the laptop is hush-hush.

How the cooling system in the M1-powered MacBooks works

How the cooling system in the M1-powered MacBooks works   | Photo Credit: Apple Inc.

The battery holds strong with this one; I could use the device for about 16 hours before it had to be charged from a red low battery to a white full bar – and the best part is, charging just takes an hour. As do its predecessors, this laptop charges via Thunderbolt/USB-4 and the typical Mac adapter, and, yes, I do see the rumours swirling about the return of MagSafe chargers. However, I have had loose contact issues with the MagSafe chargers for MacBook in the past. I quite like the USB-4 option as it feels secure.

Accompanying this pleasant silence is the keyboard. I am not a fan of butterfly mechanisms for keyboards, but MacBook Air M1’s Magic Keyboard is equipped with a scissor mechanism. Essentially, individual keys are attached to the keyboard via two plastic pieces that interlock in an X-form, and snap to the keyboard and the key. Compared to the controversial butterfly variant, the scissor mechanism has more travel time, allowing for better fluidity on the user’s part. Plus, there is less likelihood of dust and debris getting caught under the keys, thankfully. And, the top right key is the power button and the Touch ID key — no FaceID here.

But then...

My point of contention with this MacBook Air is the camera. Apple claims it includes their latest image signal processor (ISP) within the M1 chip, promising better noise reduction, greater dynamic range, and improved auto white balance and Machine Learning-enhanced face detection so users look their best during video calls. I did not experience this at all. In fact, there was far too much noise and grain, so much that I ended up using the EpocCam app and my smartphone as an external webcam to attain high-quality clarity during video calls. Reddit forums are spewing vitriol against the lacklustre camera, and I will admit, I did not particularly like this feature in such a grandiose device.

Software-wise, the MacBook Air sings when running on M1 and macOS Big Sur combined. The latest OS is stunning with minimal bugs. As someone who often uses Chrome and kept away from Safari due to the latter’s often glitchy performance in the past, Apple’s native browser is lightning fast and intuitive with macOS Big Sur. The widgets scheme for the desktop is easily accessible with a swipe on the Force Touch TrackPad while not cluttering up the workspace.

But best of all with M1, I noticed apps opened faster and, unlike previous models, the device did not slow down when multiple applications were open at the same time. Apple ultrabooks are not exactly famous as gaming devices but I did find myself pleasantly surprised when playing Arcade games and heavy-duty games such as The Elder Scrolls, BioShock Infinite and Firewatch. And still, no overheating thanks to the new cooling system!

Read More | All you need to know about Apple’s M1 chipset

Rounding off this experience, the review device sported an 8 gigabyte RAM but thanks to the M1 chip and I got the horsepower that a 16 gigabyte RAM would have offered. This is innovation; breathing new life into existing tech while not overwhelming the user with bigger numbers. And starting at ₹92,900, it is an investment for a long-term device with boosted technologies. Be sure to pick up AppleCare plans as Apple India has upped its service game for those with these plans for quicker turnarounds if there is ever an issue.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 10:54:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/gadgets/macbook-air-m1-india-review-macos-big-sur-in-depth-innovation/article33729933.ece

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