The New MacBook Air’s Biggest Problem

The New MacBook Air’s Biggest Problem
12 min read
26 April 2020

The last MacBook Air had two fatal flaws Apple's butterfly keys were a disaster, and the dual core processor kneecapped any potential for serious multitasking. Both of these are now fixed in the 2020 model but now the MacBook Air has two even bigger problems Dell and HP are now building laptops that not only outperform the MacBook Air, but Also managed to match its legendary build quality So, what to recommend then? A laptop, for sure, but which one?

As expected the 2020 Air's all aluminum chassis is exceptionally thin and Rigid serving as a reminder that Apple's billion plus dollars a month in R&D must go somewhere. They really are a leader when it comes to working with premium materials. Like the competitors we've chosen, the air features two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone combo port, but Dell gets bonus points for the placement of its charging ports on either side and It's microSD reader, while the Spectre x360 actually stands out from both of the others Thanks to their inclusion of a type A USB Something the 2020 Air absolutely nails though is: the speakers. These are legitimately the best Sounding thin and light speakers that I have ever heard.

The combination of a shocking amount of bass, and Dolby Atmos produces a sound that somehow feels Twice as big as the machine itself. The only problem is that to produce this much sound out of such little speakers It's very clear that there's a lot of software trickery at play Which is where the HP Spectre x360 comes in for the kill. Although the x360 cannot produce the lower notes that the MacBook Air can, at medium volumes, It does produce a clearer sound that can make speech easier to understand, which can be really important for things like video calls. As for the XPS 13? Well, You're going to have an exceptional listening experience on that as well Using the set of dollar-store earphones that you dug out from under the couch cushions. The New MacBook Air’s Biggest Problem

From the outside, There's another striking difference between these laptops The MacBook Air has significantly more Last-gen looking thick bezels, especially on the top But, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. You see, in a premium Ultrabook, I'm looking for a couple of things: great build quality so that I can take it with me on the go, excellent battery life—Same thing—, and an exceptional keyboard so that I can really get to work. And that thicker top bezel on the MacBook Air Surprisingly gives it the best keyboard here Allow me to explain.

For a good typing experience you need three things: a stiff chassis, Consistent key switches, and Comfortable hand positioning. Now, all three contenders here nailed the chassis stiffness, and the key switches But, if your hands are a little larger, you're likely to be less comfortable on the Spectre x360 or the XPS 13 Compared to the MacBook Air and this is due to its much larger palm rest areaThe New MacBook Air’s Biggest Problem

So if your hands are hanging off of the edge of your laptop, you can't really rest them there; particularly if those edges are super sharp, like on the x360. In an attempt to quantify the importance of this, We actually grabbed a set of calipers, and some Lysol wipes and measured the length of people's hands in the office versus how long their hand is while typing, to find the ratio between the two. This ratio was plugged into existing hand length data for the entire population to figure out what Percentage of people were—are likely to be comfortable on each of these laptops

The New MacBook Air’s Biggest Problem

Turns out, just 36% of females, and 21% of males are going to be comfortable on the x360. 

The Dell was a big improvement, but the MacBook Air? Well, 92% of females, and 77% of males are going to be more at ease on this thing, thanks to the additional space on the palm rest. I personally think out of the three, I would go XPS 13, but if I had to make a blanket recommendation — Thing is I got small hands guys —, the MacBook Air is one that I could be more confident in. Interestingly, this metric, Which we've never really looked at before. Personally, don't find it to be that exceptional.

On that subject, All of our test subjects have exceptional displays that deliver accurate colors to the viewerThe New MacBook Air’s Biggest Problem

But there is one area where Apple really nailed it here: The resolution. 2560 by 1600 is the 16 by 10 version of QHD, the resolution that we've been saying should be standard on high-end laptops For Years. Yes, yes, Dell and HP both have 4k display options that will give you more pixels than Apple and HP even has an OLED option that will deliver Absolutely stunning visuals — at the expense of some battery life —, but guys, these are 13-inch screens! You don't need over 8 million pixels on a display this size! All it serves to do is hurt battery life and make it more difficult to crank the backlight through those tiny pixels.

We still feel that Apple continues to drop the ball by not including touchscreen support on their laptops, though. But, they make up a lot of background by adorning their ample wrist rests with what are unassailably the best trackpads on the market. The XPS 13 trackpad, in particular, is getting darn close, but Every time I use a non touchscreen laptop, I find myself Genuinely missing the feature. Not that often, necessarily, but sometimes. Of course, for Apple users, There's going to be a lot more than a touch screen to miss by moving over to the PC The excellent integration between Apple's laptops and their other devices just keeps getting better.

I mean, one that stood out to me this time is that the Apple Watch can be used for authentication. —it's been a while since I've really tried to use a MacBook. That makes unlocking the MacBook just as convenient as the facial recognition on our Windows devices, and then, if you don't have an Apple Watch, Touch ID is still excellent, and is going to get you into the OS super fast. Bringing us to macOS:  I don't— I'm at the point, now, where I don't really understand the hate going either way. Yes, it will take a few days for a tech-savvy person to get used to the different shortcuts and general workflow but with how web-centric Almost everything we do is now, I suspect that for many people, Aside from app compatibility, like whatever it is you do professionally, aside from that, The fact that you're on a completely different operating system is probably going to fade into the background For the most part. The only thing that—it's a little thing—, But that continually annoyed me was that, to get a window to take out half of the display, I had to—like—long press fullscreen and then use this stupid, little menu. Like, why the heck do I have to install paid app to get proper window snapping functionality? Oh. Microsoft patented window snapping? That's a dick move. Dick move.

Anyway, Everything's been pretty positive so far, and I promised a problem here, didn't I. I could point out its webcam Especially right now, with work from home being such a big trend, but, quite frankly, all of them are bad, So I guess we're gonna have to wait for SOMEBODY to make the first movement. This isn't gonna be it, but there's a bigger one. It's performance. For some reason, Apple has decided to include, only, a Wi-Fi 5 network card, Which, probably isn't a huge deal, right now, but as Wi-Fi 6 becomes more commonplace, XPS 13 and x360 owners are going to enjoy significantly faster Wi-Fi.

And, as for the processor, well, The base model still has a dual core i3,which we find truly unacceptable in 2020. Even something like a background app install, or an update can make a dual core machine feel sluggish. But, the good news is even, if it costs extra, At least you can get a quad core in the MacBook Air now. So, for our config, we chose the i-5 1030NG7 for its decent balance between price, and performance. And it is a lot better than last gen. Unfortunately, it's not actively cooled or at least not directly there is a fan in the chassis but there's no heat pipe on the small wimpy heatsink assembly for the CPU Connecting it to some kind of radiator, and the exhaust of that fan.The New MacBook Air’s Biggest Problem

What that means Is that the MacBook Air 2020 only has about 10 watts of CPU power to play with, before it would overheat So, needless to say then, it gets absolutely flogged by the XPS 13 and Spectre x360 with their 25 watts of available CPU power. Consuming less power means more battery life though, right?

Well, The thing is its hard to directly compare battery life results between macOS and Windows But, in our testing, the MacBook Air and the XPS 13 both got a bit over 10 hours away from the wall while the Spectre x360 kept going for an additional hour Which makes recommending the MacBook Air slightly difficult The feel in the hand, the display, the keyboard, and speakers, like all the parts that you would interact with regularly, are excellent, but, as spec'd, this is a $1,500 machine that will fall behind very fast If you try to do more than browsing the web, and writing that novel you've been working on. That said, Heaps of people don't need to do much more than that. And with the improved keyboard, —It really is a lot better—, and the additional power—which really is a lot betterThe New MacBook Air’s Biggest Problem

This is a much more compelling machine than last gen Furthermore, no matter what the price or performance, the XPS and the x360 are Also really expensive, and they will never come with macOS, for the people who care about that. So in a total reversal here, yeah, it's flawed But I'm ready to recommend the 2020 Air to anyone that doesn't need maximum performance, and is willing to spend a little bit extra For a thin, light, comfortable laptop, and then for those who do need the performance, There are rumors of a new MacBook Pro 13-inch that might really make these Windows machines sweat. So, make sure you're subscribed for that face off.

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