A new, cheaper and more powerful MacBook Air is almost a revolution for Apple, which has long advocated an elitist business strategy. As for whether this recipe will lead the brand to new successes, this is what we will see ..
The MacBook Air 2019 edition had been widely criticized for its technical weaknesses. If the quality of manufacture and the classy sobriety of the design always honored the brand, the endowment of the device in terms of equipment had turned out below expectations. It must be said that the integration of a Core Y and a 128 GB disk for a product over € 1,000 was enough to make even the most addicted fan jump.
Fortunately, 2020 is not 2019, and Apple has obviously heard the critics: this new edition of its 13-inch format wants to be more rational, with in particular an updated processor part. The brand has thus bet on a latest generation Intel chip (Ice Lake) for the heart of its machine. In addition, the user now gains the possibility of choosing between several configurations (2 or 4 cores), knowing that the copy that we have obtained has a Core i3 (2 cores, therefore). Storage side, from 128 GB minimum, we go to 256 GB. And retaining the assets it already had, Apple obviously hopes to arise as a more serious alternative, in a market that does not lack competition: let us mention among others the Surface Laptop 3 , XPS 13and other HP Specter .
Obviously, Apple has not focused its attention on what could be improved at the level of the chassis of its ultraportable: the MacBook Air 2020 edition is, seen from the outside, a carbon copy of the 2019 edition. The dimensions of the two devices are there to prove it: both share 30.4 cm in width, 21.3 cm in depth and up to 1.6 cm in thickness. And if we do not question this choice from an aesthetic point of view – as the MacBook flatters the retina of its user -, we can wonder about the functional aspect, which would not have said no to some improvements. Admittedly, the fingerprint sensor is there, and it is also particularly effective in its work, but the camera continues to display a 720p resolution.
We also regret the number of famel inputs / outputs possible. The MacBook Air also succeeds in doing even less well than the Surface Laptop 3 on this criterion: while one offered 2 USB ports including a USB type A, a headphone jack, and a separate charging socket, the Apple product is content with two USB type C ports, one of which must be used for charging, and a headphone jack. And always to put things in a certain context and to justify our annoyance, the latest models of XPS 13 offer an SD card reader, 3 USB 3 ports including 2 with T3 support, and a headphone jack. Mathematically, Apple’s offer is still at least slight.
And this is not the only annoyance that we have noted. With an Ice Lake processor from the Y family (very low consumption), one would have thought that noise pollution would be reduced to a minimum. However, it is not the case. Admittedly, the MacBook Air 2020 remains silent when it is little used, but as soon as a somewhat arduous task points the tip of its nose, the ventilation activates, and makes the breath rise to 45 dB. In an equivalent format, the Razer Blade Stealth does for example much better, while the components it embeds are of a whole new level. To return to more similar products, the 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 produced 40 dB in load, again with a class U CPU, not Y. This need for ventilation is easily explained by the temperature reached by the processor: 100 ° C supported on all cores,monothreaded . This regime therefore allows both the chip not to undergo significant frequency variation and the chassis to maintain reasonable surface temperatures, the majority of the heat being evacuated by the vents at the back of the laptop.
Out of curiosity, we had fun removing the base that protects access to the internal components, however knowing what we were going to find there. As usual, Apple has completely locked its configuration, with the help of internal covers and a welded design. SSD and memory are thus inseparable from the motherboard.
You will understand, the envelope and the technical services of the MacBook Air chassis are not impressive, especially in the face of competition. However, we can console ourselves by praising the care taken (once again) in the input devices ( touchpad and keyboard). The first is wide, pleasant to the touch, and precise in recognizing finger movements, while the second is a model of efficiency, with a short, clean and precise stroke.
To bounce back on the arguments mentioned above, we could obviously say that some noise pollution is a lesser evil, provided that the performance is at the rendezvous. This is the whole problem of the recipe proposed by Apple: with a Core i3 given for a TDP of 9 W, there is no risk of going very far. The MacBook Air thus behaves very well on light tasks (simple office automation or browsing on the web) or on medium, but short loads, which therefore benefit from a high Boost frequency (2600 MHz). On the other hand, on longer or more intensive applications, the weakness of the embedded Core Y quickly appears.
Moreover, we can even distinguish here and there some effects of slowing down while the machine does not seem to occupy unduly, a sign that the processor can be quickly overwhelmed by certain background tasks. Note that for the sake of correspondence, our performance tests were carried out under Windows 10. An adjustment which will not however change the nature of our conclusions: under MacOS, the MacBook Air expresses the same weaknesses. For example, if our H.265 encoding test is a little better under MacOS than under Windows 10, its results remain in the same orders of magnitude, and are much lower than what we are entitled to expect an ultraportable at this rate.
Logically, our comments on application performance also apply to graphics performance. On our two benchmarks, the MacBook is unable to provide a decent experience.
Mobility / Autonomy
Reading the previous paragraphs, you necessarily think that we expected a lot from this MacBook Air on the question of autonomy. ” Caramba, still missed, ” allegedly launched Ramon in Tintin. The Apple ultrabook only takes 6 h 55 min on our test. And that we do not come to bring out the argument of a Windows 10 less economical than a macOS. With its preferred system and under similar conditions, the MacBook manages to glean 15 to 20 min, no more. It is very far from what we expected, and for comparison, the Huawei D14 or the Surface Laptop 3 take between 45 and 60 minutes more, for performance 2 to 3 times superior.
So far, we can’t say that this new MacBook has impressed us. Rest assured however, we have kept the main arguments of the machine for the end, because if Apple could have been more innovative on the management of components, the brand has lost none of its ability to take care of elements in direct connection with the comfort of use. A statement valid for the “input” part, and which is also valid for the screen which has beautiful characteristics: calibration with small onions, with an average Delta E measured at 2.4, and brightness which can be increased to ‘at 507 cd / m² are its main assets. The contrast is not exceptional, but it does not alter the experience, which remains particularly convincing.
We note however that, here again, Apple could have pushed its concept a little further: by offering thinner edges, for example, or a touch screen.
To the pleasure of the eyes, Apple adds that of the ears. As usual, the brand offers a particularly advanced audio system. This MacBook Air 2020 thus finds few equivalents on the market, apart from the Razer Blade Stealth , or the model it replaces. The precision of the stereophony and the power displayed by the loudspeakers are stunning, and if we can distinguish a very slight dynamic compression at high volume, it is not enough to distort a nice general experience. Experience that we will find elsewhere if we decide to go through the headphone jack: the signal is restored without distortion, and has a good power reserve.