We've been waiting for this to happen for years. And it's finally here. This normal looking MacBook Air has something completely new inside. An Apple M1 processor instead of an Intel processor. This transition is a huge deal, and Apple is making huge claims.
A new entry-level MacBook Pro also has an M1 processor. We have a thousand questions going into this review. Will the M1 be faster? Will battery life be better? Well apps designed for Intel run okay on this ARM-based Apple chip? And is running iOS apps on the Mac weird or good?
Did Apple do everything that it needs to do to make this transition basically? And the stakes are high. The MacBook Air is Apple's most popular laptop, and this version looks identical to the last MacBook and it starts at the same price, $999 for the eight gig model. This review unit here is $1650 with 16 gigs of RAM and a terabyte of storage. But you know, one thing that you can't spec out, and Intel version of the MacBook Air. They're only selling the M1 version now. It's a big bet.
You can still get a 13 inch MacBook Pro with an Intel chip, but the entry-level 13 inch MacBook Pro with two ports has the exact same M1 ship as Dieter's MacBook Air. And it starts at the same $1299 as before. This one is $1,900, with 16 gigs of RAM and one terabyte of storage. Those prices aren't that different from before. And this is still the base model.
The best way to think about it is as a MacBook Air with a fan so that the M1 can run hotter for longer, since the Pro and the Air are so similar, and since the real news here is the M1
Before we get too far into it, we need to lay some groundwork. Apple is making its own Mac chips now using the same technology it uses for iPhone and iPad chips. That means these Macs pick up the things that Apple is good at on those computers. They're very fast, yet manage to have great battery life. It also means they can run iPhone and iPad apps, which is interesting, but there's a potential hiccup. These are ARM processors, which are a completely different instruction set than Intel processors. At the most basic level, apps designed for Intel can't run on ARM. You need special translation software, and a lot can go wrong there.
On windows, Microsoft solution is emulation, and it means that Intel apps are slow, and that they kill what would otherwise be pretty good battery life. On these Macs, Apple has a translation layer called Rosetta Two. All that under the hood stuff is important for understanding what happens when you push these machines but in just regular day-to-day use, I didn't have to worry about any of it because these computers are fast, no matter what kind of app that you use.
This MacBook Air is the most impressive laptop that I have used in years. Now, we are going to show you some benchmarks but the bottom line is that I haven't had a single performance complaint. I could run as many apps as I want to and do things on this computer that would have brought my old MacBook Air to its knees. And it does all of that even though it's completely different on the inside.
There's no fan on this MacBook Air, and Apple has done more than just swap a chip out. It's changed the way that RAM works, but it has one big pool of memory for both the CPU and the integrated graphics. There are tons of complicated technical changes on this logic board, and none of it is a problem. It's all just seamlessly good and fast, and even though I've tried, it never really even gets hot.
This computer does things that could give bigger heavier pro laptops a run for their money. So we often run a benchmark on the game, "Shadow of the Tomb Raider." Now for ultra books running Tiger Lake, we always do it at the lowest graphical setting at 1920 by 1080 or 1200. And they struggle to get 30 frames per second. This MacBook Air got 38. It is very impressive for a laptop with integrated graphics. I wouldn't have even bothered trying on the old MacBook Air. -
The story is pretty much the same on the MacBook Pro. In fact, in day-to-day performance and shorter benchmarks, their results were the same as the Air. But since the pro has a fan, it doesn't pull back on performance to maintain temperatures. So it can sustain heavier workloads over time. And that takes some work. to get this thing hot enough to kick on the fan, I had to run the multi-core Cinebench test on a loop for at least 10 minutes, and when the fan came on, performance never really dropped. The air got much slower as it got hotter and throttled the processor.
This all sounds like we're sort of shocked. It's because we are. We have been around for a while and we've seen processor transitions before. They're usually a little rough. And even when they go well, there are exceptions and caveats. This one doesn't seem to have it.
For example, at the verge, our video team works with Adobe creative cloud, and those apps are fast on these machines. We can jam through Premiere and Photoshop with no problems. We run a 4K export test on every machine, and both of these computers beat older Mac laptops and Intel Ultrabooks, hands down. And again, these are Apple's entry-level machines with first-generation M1 chips in them.
And here is what is wild about all of that. That tomb Raider game and those Adobe apps haven't been coded to work with this ARM-based M1 chip yet. They are translated through Rosetta Two.
See, what happens with these apps that expect an Intel processor is that when you launch them, Rosetta just translates them into ARM code, and then they just run. Unlike windows emulation for ARM, they're not significantly slower, or buggier. Even Geek Bench scores are really impressive. To get this kind of performance out of apps that weren't even designed for this chip is buckwild.
Look, if you're a professional who needs to do real hardcore things through your laptop, I am not going to promise you that this is better than an Intel chip with a separate, serious GPU. But if you're just looking at getting a basic laptop like the MacBook Air, Apple did it. It's good. I never worried about whether an app was running through Rosetta or Native or what. There's really no caveats.
There's one caveat. I'm sorry. Can you guess what it is? It's Chrome! Of course, it's Chrome. And other apps that use the underlying Chrome engine, like Slack. These apps seem fast enough, but they were battery hogs before, and they seem like even bigger battery hogs now.
So let's talk about battery life. Apple is making some huge claims here. 20 hours of video playback on the MacBook Pro and 18 on the Air. But video playback is easy. The real claim is that you get between 50% and even a 100% better battery life than the previous Intel based models.
We didn't get all the way there. You get the feeling that Apple doesn't test with Chrome, but we came close. The MacBook Pro has a bigger battery, and I had no problems getting 10 hours of use out of it. I had to absolutely attack it to drain the battery in eight hours. I was literally playing 4K YouTube videos in Chrome, in the background, while doing other work to make the battery drain faster. Dieter's MacBook Air also lasted eight, and even 10 hours on a normal workday of web, Slack, and a couple hours of Zoom and whatever else.
And once more apps are running natively as universal apps, instead of through Rosetta, it's reasonable to expect even better numbers.
You know what, we should actually get into the differences between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, in case people are trying to pick between them. Here are the main differences. The pro has that fan for extended workloads. It has a slightly better screen, a bigger battery, better mics, and ladder speakers and the touch bar. Which is not really a plus, because the touch bar is horrible.
On the MacBook Air, they swapped a new buttons on the function row. So there's spotlight search, which is actually good now, and you can search the web, you get a do not disturb button and you get a dictation button. That dictation button is a big win for accessibility. And also dictation is better than I remember. I might actually start using it now.
I don't know why Apple doesn't do to the touch bar what it did to the butterfly keyboard. Admit it was a mistake and move on, but you know whatever, actually there's another mistake. The webcam it's awful. It's god awful. It's still 720p, and Apple has this new image signal processor in the M1 chip that's supposed to make it better, but instead it just makes it a more processed version of bad. I'm not kidding. We were going to give these laptops a 10 out of 10 review score until we saw the webcams. On the Pro especially, which costs more, it's unacceptable when we're all working from home.
But how do you actually pick between these two laptops? My take is unless you can immediately think of something you do that requires like 10 minutes of sustained processing, you should buy an Air. The premise otherwise is just too similar. It only has two thunderbolt ports and woof. Touch bar. Although it does have slightly better battery life.
I am jealous of that battery life, but otherwise I don't think the Pro really quite justifies it's $300 price premium. I think of the MacBook Pro in the way I think of the iPhone 12 Pro, it's a nicer version of the default. And as impressive as this new first M1 chip is, we are waiting to see what Apple can do with actual professional max.
There are four kinds of apps on these new Macs. There's a universal apps which run natively on either Intel or this ARM chip, there are Rosetta apps, which are translated from Intel, there are catalyst apps, which are iOS apps that have been kind of customized for the Mac, and then the fourth thing, the new thing, is that these Macs can run iPhone and iPad apps directly. And it is rough.
I have used mobile apps on laptops before. Chrome OS runs Android apps, and over there it is messy. And over here, it is also messy.
First, a lot of the apps are going to want, like Instagram, Slack, a bunch of games, they're just not here because the developers opted out of making them available on the Mac. And that might be because iPhone apps are pretty weird on the Mac, iPhone and iPad apps are labeled differently in the Mac store and some of them are fine. Overcast is a great app. You can resize the window and it all feels fairly natural, but then there's apps like HBO Max, which show up in an unresizable little window, and it can't even go full screen when you click the full screen button on the video app.
Then there are the bugs. I use Telegram for messaging, and so I decided what the heck, I'm going to try the iPhone version on the Mac. And when it got a notification, it opened up the app, which is great, but it opened it up in front of what I was doing. And then there was a bug where you can't delete iOS apps from the launch center by clicking the X button like you expect. This whole integration is just kind of half baked.
Here's how I absolutely know Apple should just give up and put a touch screen on the Mac. It built an entire system called touch alternatives. It's in the menu of every iOS app running on the Mac. And it is ridiculous. Who is going to remember any of this, just use an iPhone app on their Mac. Come on.
Look, imagine the meetings they had to have to make all of this work, and to figure out the touch bar. Just add the touch screen. It'll be fine.
The only real knock on these machines is that Apple insists on using a horrible webcam in its laptops. Apart from that, you're looking at a huge jump in performance, and significantly improve battery life for the same price as the last models and seamless compatibility with the entire ecosystem of existing Mac apps.
There were a thousand things that could have gone wrong with this transition. The iOS apps were a whiff, but everything else didn't just go right, Apple exceeded our expectations. We had a lot of questions going into this review, and Apple seems to have answered all of them.
The only question left is how fast Apple can bring these chips to every other Mac.