This might seem like an opinion you’ve already seen bandied about the crowded tech blog space, but I just can’t quit the MacBook Air. Never has a laptop commanded mainstream attention for so long, in part because Apple plain refused to update it significantly for the best part of a decade.
In 2020 I found myself with a review unit of the Air’s latest iteration. It has Apple’s Magic Keyboard after the butterfly key saga was mercifully ended and, frankly, it takes the Air back to where it belongs –an easy laptop to recommend if it’s within your budget.
When it does everything this well it’s hard to use anything else. I just can’t leave the charger at home like I used to.
The keys finally clack where for two years the brittle squares of plastic clicked and cracked their way into mediocrity as the Air’s 2018 redesign carried over the divisive keyboard from the now-retired 12-inch MacBook. Pair that with the Retina display and the 2020 model is finally what the laptop should have been when Apple redesigned it.
Apple didn’t update the Air for years but didn’t stop selling it as the company found itself continuously surprised that people kept buying it. The sliver slab with the glowing Apple logo was comforting to people and it was the West’s go-to computer of choice. I don’t think the Air is that anymore as there are simply too many excellent Windows laptops at similar or cheaper prices that can do more.
Apple may have wanted to retire the Air and keep the 12-inch MacBook and the MacBook Pro as the two options, but it turned out that people loved the Air brand too much and kept buying it as Apple tried to phase it out. It means that the Air is now similarly priced to the cheaper MacBook Pro, confusing the line-up and meaning some might want the extra power the Pro provides.
They might also want the Touch Bar, but I will never understand those people. Give me the Air’s functions row and media keys every day of the week.
So, the Air isn’t the go-to buy anymore, but it is the do-everything laptop that I turn to when I want the best, simplest tool for the job. As a tech journalist I also run a Windows laptop in the Microsoft Surface Book 2 which I use as a desktop style machine with external keyboard and mouse, laptop stand, and occasionally even speakers attached.
Thanks to the cloud’s most modern of conveniences, I leave that set up plugged in for the several-hour grinds and have the MacBook Air as the satellite that orbits my workstation, the computer I grab when I need to escape to the living room to get that article finished or the one I take in my bag to the café when my brain won’t fire up at home.
The Air also manages to delight with its little flourishes in the way only Apple hardware can, like the Touch ID sensor in the power button and the Force Touch trackpad that I will never fully believe isn’t actually physically clicking. There are more capable laptops for the price or specs, but for pure design satisfaction there’s still nothing better in its price range than the Air.
The one place I’d urge Apple to improve is in the battery life. Part of the Air’s rise to the top of the tech pile was its undeniably stellar battery that defined ‘all day’. I’m writing this on my Air away from the plug and my eyes have darted up to the battery meter far more often than they used to five or six years ago.
If I used Pages instead of Word or Safari instead of Chrome then it’d last longer as Apple’s software is kinder to the power, but I have my preferences. The 2020 MacBook Air can do everything I want it to for my needs, and those needs are likely to line up with most people’s. But if it wants to get back to being the go-to then it needs to be able to last a work day away from the mains. As an Air advocate, I’d prefer that to having to curb my twenty-tab Chrome workflow.
This could well come to pass if Apple produces an Air with its own ARM-powered processors. It has already committed to releasing the first Mac of that era this year and it’ll bring with it many advantages including iOS apps on a Mac, and maybe a touchscreen. But if the move brings truly superior battery life then it might be time to fully celebrate the return of the king.