Magic Keyboard makes the new $999 MacBook Air

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Dan Ackerman / Tips Clear

Take a 2019 13-inch MacBook Air. Now take the brand new 2020 version. Stand them next to each other and try to tell the two apart. You can not; They are identical. Until you open both lids. It’s a subtle thing, but if you look carefully, the keyboard has a new look. The flat island-style keyboard is slightly raised in the new model compared to the older one.

To like

  • The new keyboard design is a huge improvement
  • Double the starting memory
  • Starting price back to $ 999

I do not like it

  • The base model uses an Intel Core i3 CPU
  • No changes to ports and connections
  • The webcam needs an upgrade
  • Upgrading the main memory is particularly expensive

That’s because this is Apple’s Magic Keyboard, a design that was first seen in 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro and is based on the standalone Magic Keyboard for the iMac ($ 1,549 in the back market). This is a huge improvement over the long-lasting butterfly keyboard that has been found on most Macs over the past few years, which has been plagued by glitches and general consumer dissatisfaction.

Especially the new Magic Keyboard makes the latest Air such a winner. Yes, it solves an issue that was largely made by Apple itself, but the end result is very satisfactory, especially when combined with new starting prices and $ 999 component changes. So I think it’s worthy, with the caveat that Editors’ Choice nod there is a specific configuration that represents the best overall score.

The new keyboard isn’t the only interesting addition to the new MacBook Air. Another big news is that after a few years, starting at $ 1,199 and then $ 1,099, the laptop is officially returning to the classic price of $ 999 (GBP 999, AU $ 1,599) (although some retailers would regularly cut it by around $ 100).

There is a little catch, however. That starting price of $ 999 only includes an Intel Core i3 CPU, not the Core i5 you’d expect for this price. Aside from this one issue, most of the other news is good. New upgrade options for CPUs include Intel’s 10th generation quad-core chips. The standard memory jumps from a meager 128 GB to a more reasonable 256 GB. Intel Iris graphics are a step up without adding any additional hardware from AMD or Nvidia.

The price is correct

There was a time when I called the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air “the most universally useful laptop you can buy.” That was back when Air was very student-friendly for $ 999 and far surpassed anything in the Windows world that could be got for the same price. Others may have matched or exceeded the processor speed, but the Air had a sleek unibody aluminum shell, a near-perfect keyboard, and an operating system that wouldn’t drive you (as) crazy.

But that was a long time ago. Over the years, the MacBook Air fell behind the competition, stubbornly holding onto its design and even most of the specs as other laptops evolved. In 2018, the system finally got a much-needed reboot, adding a high-resolution screen, sleeker frames, and Touch ID. But at the same time it also added the severely malicious butterfly keyboard and increased the price. I always felt this was a mistake – $ 999 is a major psychological and financial barrier, especially for students, writers, and anyone who needs maximum reliability and ease of use on a budget.

Keyboard development

Now that I’ve had the chance to get my hands on the new MacBook Air, the keyboard is a major selling point. The keys are visibly higher. You feel more substantial. Typing is satisfying and unlike the previous version, you will never wonder if a keystroke was registered. It’s hard to overstate how big the change is when the two MacBook Air keyboards are used side by side.

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The butterfly keyboard on the left compared to the new Magic keyboard on the right.

Dan Ackerman / Tips Clear

And it is time. Apple had stuck to its long-suffering butterfly keyboard design, well beyond what anyone had thought. This super flat style was introduced in the late, great 2015 12 inch MacBook (A misunderstood classic that I’ll defend until the end of time). Even so, everyone hated the keyboard, even though it crept into the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro via the line of products ($ 850 at Back Market) Models.

The butterfly keyboard has been redesigned several times over the years, which never made everyone happy (and gained a reputation for stuck keys and other malfunctions), even if the The keyboard hatred was frankly exaggerated.

Then came the 16-inch MacBook Pro at the end of 2019. Not only did it take a big step by killing the long-standing 15-inch MacBook Pro screen and leaving Apple without a 15-inch laptop, but it also pulled the plug on the Butterfly keyboard, replacing it with a similarly flat design that had a much better mechanism underneath. At the time I said, “After just one day of typing on the new Magic-style keyboard on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, I’m ready to turn the butterfly keyboard into a disaster again. That’s because the new keyboard it is.” Positively delightful, which is not praise I lightly offer. In other words, my first thought early in the morning while writing this review on the 16-inch Pro was, “Where the hell has that been for the past four years?”

That updated keyboard is now in the MacBook Air. No, Apple didn’t blow out the screen bezels any more and force a 14-inch screen, although that would have been interesting. Maybe that’s waiting for the inevitable upgrade to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is now the weirdest and least updated of the MacBook lineup.

Double the memory but the same old RAM

One of the things that really hold back both budget laptops and the non-budget MacBook Air is small storage drives. Even when it was updated in 2018 (and at a premium starting price of $ 1,199), the Air only included a 128GB solid-state drive. With operating system overhead maybe some games, apps like Photoshop and illustrator and how high definition photos and videos are these days is really not enough.

Unless you’re a gamer or video editor, nobody really needs 1TB or larger drives, but 256GB is really the new normal, especially if you don’t want to feel like micromanaged storage all the time. The jump from 128GB to 256GB in the base $ 999 MacBook Air is welcome when it’s overdue. The $ 1,299 step-up version gets 512GB by default. In both cases, 8 GB is the standard RAM, which only works because MacOS handles it efficiently. In fact, the 16GB increase should be the new norm, not a $ 200 upgrade.

At the very least, you can update this, unlike the 720p webcam which feels stuck in time and prevents this from being a truly professional business machine, although this is an issue that plagues the entire MacBook lineup. Below are images taken with the 2019 and 2020 versions of the MacBook Air spaced apart. Especially in a (hopefully temporary) era of endless Zoom meetings, this is a shortcoming.

Continue reading:: Apple’s new 2020 MacBook Air left out a major upgrade for people who work from home

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The 2019 version webcam.

Dan Ackerman / Tips Clear

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The 2020 version webcam.

Dan Ackerman / Tips Clear

A core issue

More memory, better keyboard, new CPUs, better graphics. All welcome upgrades. The claim that the Air now has 10th Gen Intel quad-core processors is also to be welcomed, but read the not-so-fine print. The $ 999 version comes with a dual-core Intel Core i3, which doesn’t sound like a very premium experience, at least on paper. After all, a Core i3 is what you get in cheap Black Friday doorbuster laptops.

The test device I used is the updated Core i5 version. On initial tests from home, I found that it is roughly comparable to the current Windows Core i5 laptops, but some newer Core i7 models lag significantly behind. Like the new Dell XPS 13 that we just tested. The battery life was 9:40 in our streaming video battery discharge test. This is a little behind Apple’s claims, but is good enough for everyday use.

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Dan Ackerman / Tips Clear

I haven’t tested the cheaper base Core i3, but I’m sure it will be good for everyday office or student tasks, even humble graphic design and photo editing. But I get a little shocked when I pay a thousand dollars for a Core i3 CPU.

The jump to the quad-core Core i5 costs an additional $ 100, which seems like a wise investment. But then I also want the 16GB of RAM for another $ 200. At this point, you should check out the high-end base model, which starts at $ 1,299 for the quad-core Core i5 and jumps to 512GB of storage, but again only 8GB of RAM. So add $ 200 and you have up to $ 1,499. At this point, you might as well wait for the inevitable 13-inch MacBook Pro update. [Update: The 13-inch MacBook Pro has been updated with 10th-gen Intel CPUs and the new Magic Keyboard]

But no – that’s exactly what the obsessive upgrade monster in your head wants from you. Start with the $ 999 base model and add $ 100 for the quad-core upgrade. This is what you should do based on the specifications on the paper and what we’ve tested so far.

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