Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Engineer, developer, entrepreneur

Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

The M1 Macbook Air, one year later

November 04, 2021 — Carlos Fenollosa

This article is part of a series:

  1. Seven years later, I bought a new Macbook. For the first time, I don't love it
  2. How I moved my setup from a Mac to a Linux laptop
  3. Fed up with the Mac, I spent six months with a Linux laptop. The grass is not greener on the other side
  4. This article

Ah, the life of a regular user. All the cool youtubers are rushing to publish their reviews of the new and shiny Macbooks Pro, and here I am with my review of the year-old M1 Macbook Air.

(If you want to watch some great MBP reviews, I recommend the ones from Lisa and Dave)

Since I'm not a reviewer, I'm going to do something unusual and probably more interesting.

I am going to compare the 2020 Air with the 2013 Air as it was released.

2020 vs 2013

The TL;DR is that the 2020 is a 9.5/10 but the 2013 was a 10/10. I was in love with that machine since day one until the day I retired it.

Of course, any nitpicks I will mention don't really matter and they are outshined by the fact that it's a fantastic machine and there is no other consumer laptop that comes close.

Let's start with the things where the 2020 is better than the 2013:

  • Mind blowing battery life under normal and low use. You can easily get 14-16 hours when web browsing, writing or streaming. The 2013 used to get 10-12 with low use, and 5-7 with regular use, but this is incredible.
  • Great battery life under moderate load, about 7-10 hours. The 2013 suffered when the CPU was stressed and dropped to 3-4 hours.
  • The Retina screen is really nothing out of the ordinary nowadays, but it shines when compared to the TN panel that the 2013 had.
  • The speakers are incredible for a laptop this size. The 2013's were not bad for the time, but these are much better.

Now, some aspects where both machines are equivalent:

  • The SSD is quite fast, applications launch quickly, the system is very responsive
  • The webcam is acceptable
  • The keyboard and trackpad are both great
  • The version of macOS included on release was a bit buggy but it improved with the following release
  • The 2020's form factor is nice and compact, and the 2013's also was when compared to contemporary laptops

And finally, a few issues which are unique of the 2020:

  • The battery is degrading at the speed of light. After only 56 cycles the health is at 85%. My usage pattern is similar to the one I had with the 2013, and it took four years before I had to replace it.
  • Speaking of which, it has a non-user-serviceable battery or SSD. I had to swap both on my 2013 and I dread the moment this laptop completely dies because of SSD degradation.
  • The port selection sucks and it took me 4 tries to get a good USB/Thunderbolt dock
  • Speaking of which, the headphone jack is on the wrong side
  • External monitor EDID management is buggy and many LCDs look blurry. The 2013 had no issues with this.
  • External USB drives behave erratically. Sometimes they mount and unmount instantly, other times they take multiple minutes to mount/unmount
  • Emulation of Windows systems is in a bad state. I have multiple Virtualbox images which replicate older computers I used when I was a kid, for nostalgia reasons, and they stopped working.

Overall, some of these items are related to the Apple Silicon, others are related to the form factor, and others to software. It doesn't matter. The experience is perfect but not flawless.

I am, however, very hopeful for the future, so I don't really mind.

What about Pro users?

From my analysis of the 2016 Macbooks Pro:

[Apple] Ask your own engineers which kind of machine they'd like to develop on. Keep making gorgeous Starbucks ornaments if you wish, but clearly split the product lines and the marketing message so all consumers feel included.

The 2020 Macbook Air is clearly a consumer laptop, and the 2021 Macbooks Pro are undoubtably a Pro laptop. We are back to the famous four-product matrix.

That is probably the most important aspect of the Great Contrition that Apple is going through, and not many Apple pundits have talked about it.

The fact that consumers can buy a great laptop for 1000€ is fantastic. But even better is that Pro users now have the option to spend a lot of money on a machine which is leaps, not steps, ahead of the consumer one.

Speaking of price:

Many iOS apps are developed outside the US and the current price point for your machines is too high for the rest of the world. I know we pay for taxes, but even when accounting for that, a bag of chips, an apartment, or a bike doesn't cost the same in Manhattan than in Barcelona

Non-US salaries make it a bit difficult to justify the expenditure on a 2021 Pro laptop, but anybody can develop iOS apps on a sub-1500€ Apple computer.

Finally, a laptop I can recommend

I can safely recommend the 2020 Air to any non-technical person who asks me which laptop they should get. More importantly, I am now confident that the next 10 years of Apple hardware will not disappoint me. I will not need to keep fumbling with Linux laptops unless for fun.

Furthermore, for price-sensitive Pro users, the Air is still probably the best bang for your buck.

Honestly, I really don't know if I consider myself a "Pro" anymore. I am a power user but I definitely don't need superfast CPUs, tons of RAM, pixel-perfect screens or eardrum-breaking speakers.

But boy, am I glad that users who need those finally can have them. This one is for you, congratulations!

 

The story ends here. Did you read all previous chapters?

  1. Seven years later, I bought a new Macbook. For the first time, I don't love it
  2. How I moved my setup from a Mac to a Linux laptop
  3. Fed up with the Mac, I spent six months with a Linux laptop. The grass is not greener on the other side
  4. This article

Tags: apple, hardware

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