With the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro going on sale, the first set of reviews of the machines from some of the major publications are now out. The M1 chip inside the new Macs is very interesting since it not only offers a major performance leap but also brings about notable battery life improvements. Apple is making some tall claims with its M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. But do the machines actually deliver? Read our review roundup to find out.
The M1 chip inside the new Macs is a big deal and it starts Apple’s transition away from Intel CPUs. The performance claims made by Apple during its ‘One more thing’ event last week were quite tall and too good to be true in many scenarios. However, if the initial reviews are anything to go by, the new M1 chip inside the Macs is truly a powerhouse and a big step up from Intel CPUs.
M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Review Roundup
The M1 MacBook Air has a fanless design and despite pushing the machine to its limits, it only got a bit warm. In comparison, the Intel-based MacBook Air heavily starts throttling under load due to poor cooling.
There’s no fan anymore, for one thing, just an aluminum heat spreader. But even when pushing this machine to its absolute limit, I never felt it get more than a little warm. Apple knows what the thermal ceiling for this system is, and it keeps the MacBook well within it.
Sadly, the M1 chip does nothing to help the poor 720p webcam on the MacBook Air. While the ISP of the M1 chip helps with image processing, the quality still falls short.
Apple has tried to borrow some of its real-time image processing from the iPhone to try to spruce up the image — and I do find that it does a better job evenly lighting my face — but mostly what I notice is that it looks bad (only now it’s a more processed version of bad).
The performance of the M1 chip inside the MacBook Air itself is amazing.
The MacBook Air performs like a pro-level laptop. It never groans under multiple apps. (I’ve run well over a dozen at a time.) It handles intensive apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Adobe Premiere without complaint. It has never made me think twice about loading up another browser tab or 10 — even in Chrome.
What’s impressive is that the performance jump is there even for non-native apps.
I knew that macOS and Apple’s own apps would be fast, many of which have been coded specifically to work with this processor. What has shocked me is how well every app runs.
Unlike on Windows, Rosetta 2 isn’t really emulation but translation. It means those apps take a beat longer to launch, but once they’re running, they just… run. I have yet to run into any app compatibility problems (though there may be some I haven’t been able to track down).
And despite the massive performance bump, the new M1 MacBook Air delivers longer battery life while actually running heavier apps.
My actual results? I’m getting between eight and 10 hours of real, sustained work depending on how hard I am pushing it. That’s not quite 50 percent better than the last MacBook Air, but it’s very close.
To be very clear, I’m getting those numbers using the apps I actually use, which, of course, includes Chrome and various apps that are also based on the Chrome engine, like Slack. What’s remarkable about that is, for some applications, Rosetta 2 needs to do a bunch of real-time code translation, which further eats into battery life.
The M1 chip is so good that it barely uses the fan inside the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
It’s actually hard to get the fan to turn on in general. Things that instantly light up the fan on an Intel-based 16-inch MacBook Pro, like Google Meet in Chrome, barely register on the M1 MacBook Pro. Unless you are routinely pushing heavy sustained workloads on your laptop, the performance difference between the Air and Pro is really not noticeable.
10 hours of battery life on the 13-inch MacBook Pro using apps that you actually use and pushing the machine heavily.
That means battery life on the Pro is excellent, as it is on the Air. Apple has bold claims for M1 battery life improvements — up to twice the battery life of the Intel models — and while I didn’t see that, I did easily get 10 hours on a charge and had to really push things to drain the battery in eight hours.
The M1 chip brings a major change in user experience.
My first thought while using the M1-powered MacBook Air, surprisingly enough, was that it felt like an iPad Pro. It’s shockingly responsive, as if it’s awaiting your next command like an over-eager puppy. Running apps natively built for the M1, like Safari and GarageBand, felt just as fast as launching an iPad app. Safari, in particular, delivers the best web browsing experience I’ve ever had on a computer. Sites load up almost instantly, and scrolling through complex pages feels effortless. It’s like seeing the web for the first time — one unencumbered by the cruft of increasingly sluggish desktop browsers.
Even non-native apps run extremely fast on the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.
Chrome and Slack launch quickly through Rosetta and don’t exhibit any of the slowdown I’m used to on Intel Macs. Google’s browser significantly lags behind Safari when it comes to loading web pages, but again that’s also in line with what I’ve seen on every recent Mac. In a few cases, running emulated Intel apps felt even faster than using them on Windows PCs. Here, Apple is leagues ahead of Microsoft, which failed to make Intel emulation work well on the Surface Pro X. Some apps just wouldn’t run at all. Whereas the M1 MacBook Air handles just about every app without a sweat.
You can even play Fortnite at 60fps on the M1 MacBook Air despite its fanless design. The game itself is unstable but that’s another thing.
It even managed to play Fortnite at around 60fps while running at 1,400 by 900 pixels with high graphics settings. In comparison, it ran at around 40fps with Intel’s Iris Plus graphics on the last MacBook Air. I wouldn’t bet on playing too much of that game on the MacBook Air for now though, as it’s incredibly unstable. Epic stopped updating Fortnite on Apple’s platforms in August, amid their ongoing legal battles.
You can also check out some M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro review videos below.
The M1 MacBook Pro only comes with 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports and up to 16GB of unified memory which might be a problem for many ‘pro users. The M1 MacBook Air, however, is the perfect ultraportable for anyone looking for a new Mac now. What do you think about the M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air from Apple?