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New MacBook Air Features Magic Keyboard and Lower Price

As an Apple-focused journalist, I have to maintain a certain level of psychological distance from many of Apple’s product releases. Would I like a Mac Pro, if one were to drop in my lap? Sure, but there’s no way I’d spend that kind of money on such a niche machine. Every now and then, however, Apple releases a Mac that is exactly what I need, and the latest update to the MacBook Air hits that sweet spot. (Now, Apple, if you could see your way clear to a significant update to the 27-inch iMac, an affordable 5K or 6K Retina display, and an iPhone in the SE form factor, you have my Apple Card number already.)

Don’t expect an industrial design update—the new MacBook Air looks almost identical to the 2019 model it replaces. The big win for the new model is Apple’s scissor-switch Magic Keyboard, but the company also promises up to twice the performance, more storage options, and support for up to a 6K external display. Oh, and it starts at $999, or $200 cheaper than the previous model. Let’s dive into the specs.

Ding Dong, the Butterfly Keyboard Is Dead

As noted, the new MacBook Air features Apple’s new Magic Keyboard, which replaces the much-maligned butterfly keyboard that has been hanging like an expired and increasingly odoriferous albatross around the neck of Mac laptops for years. Reports from users of last year’s 16-inch MacBook Pro, where the scissor-switch Magic Keyboard debuted, have been almost universally positive. I care deeply about my keyboards, and having tried (and disliked) the butterfly keyboard on Tonya’s 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2016, I refused to buy a new MacBook of any sort until Apple replaced it.

As on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air’s Magic Keyboard delivers 1 mm of key travel for a better typing feel, and it puts the arrow keys in the inverted-T arrangement so you can use them without looking. It retains 12 function keys at the top, paired with a standalone Touch ID sensor, so no Touch Bar. That’s ideal for me since I rely heavily on the function keys for no-look switching among apps (using Keyboard Maestro), and the Touch ID sensor should reduce the number of times I have to type my password. A T2 security chip is standard.

MacBook Air with Magic Keyboard

Apart from the keyboard, the new MacBook Air is almost identical to the previous model physically. The 13.3 Retina display offers the same 2560-by-1600 native resolution, although it gains True Tone technology to adjust the colors and intensity of the display to make images look more natural. The Force Touch trackpad is the same size, and there are the same pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports and 3.5 mm headphone jack. It still has stereo speakers, though Apple now claims “wide stereo sound,” whatever that is, along with support for Dolby Atmos playback. Three microphones also remain standard, but Apple says they now offer directional beamforming for better voice capture when using FaceTime. The FaceTime HD camera remains an unimpressive 720p.

Case-wise, the new MacBook Air is the same 11.97 inches (30.41 cm) wide and 8.36 inches (21.24 cm) deep, but at the front of its wedge-shaped design, it’s 0.02 inches (0.5 mm) thicker. It’s also about an ounce heavier (23–40 grams, depending on which spec you believe).

Changes inside the case caused Apple to shrink the new MacBook Air’s battery, dropping it from 50.3 watt-hours to 49.9 watt-hours. That doesn’t seem like much, but Apple also dropped the runtime estimates for “wireless web” from 12 to 11 hours and for “movie playback” from 13 to 12 hours. I consider battery life estimates to be complete fiction anyway, but it’s a little sad to see even the fictional estimates dropping.

Faster CPU, More Storage

In its announcement, Apple says the new MacBook Air is up to twice as fast as the previous model. That speed comes courtesy of 10th-generation Intel CPUs, with the MacBook Air gaining quad-core processors for the first time. The base option is a 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 that will probably be pretty slow, but you can upgrade to a 1.1 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 for just $100, and a 1.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 for $250.

Apple moved the MacBook Air from Intel UHD Graphics 617 to Intel Iris Plus Graphics, which the company says offers up to 80% faster graphics performance. 8 GB of RAM is standard, or you can upgrade to 16 GB for $200. Finally, Apple doubled the base amount of storage, from the previously paltry 128 GB to 256 GB. That’s great, and you can opt for 512 GB ($200), 1 TB ($400), or 2 TB ($800).

Obviously, if budget is paramount, the entry-level processor, 8 GB of RAM, and base 256 GB of storage are acceptable. However, if you’re like me and are looking at the MacBook Air as a travel machine that you’d like to have for as long as possible, I recommend maxing out the CPU and RAM options and making sure you buy sufficient storage. That strategy served me well with my 2012 MacBook Air, which continues to function acceptably after almost 8 years of service.

Apple improved a few other specs as well. The Intel Iris Plus Graphics processor now supports either a single external 6K (6016-by-3384) or 5K (5120-by-2880) display, or a pair of external 4K (4096-by-2304) displays, all at 60 Hz with millions of colors. As far as I know, that basically means that the MacBook Air can now drive Apple’s 6K Pro Display XDR or the LG UltraFine 5K Display—I’m unaware of any other displays that fall into this range.

Finally, while 802.11ac Wi-Fi remains standard, Bluetooth 5.0 replaces the Bluetooth 4.2 from the previous model.

Price and Availability

Despite the faster CPU, added storage, and improved keyboard, Apple dropped the price of the MacBook Air by $200, so the entry-level configuration starts at $999, or $899 with the educational discount.

Why the lower price? My best guess is that Apple needed to differentiate the MacBook Air from the low-end MacBook Pro—previously, they overlapped a bit too much. Rumors suggest that Apple will soon release a 14-inch MacBook Pro to replace the 13-inch MacBook Pro—it’s possible the price drop will set the two models apart better.

It’s also possible that Apple saw the success of the inexpensive iPad, particularly in the educational market, and decided to follow suit with the MacBook Air for the Mac line. Apple may be a high-margin company, but having an inexpensive entry point into each product line is just smart business, particularly for a model that Apple said was “the most popular Mac.”

The new MacBook Air is available in silver, space gray, or gold, and the online Apple Store is now reporting delivery dates two to three weeks out. It comes with macOS 10.15 Catalina and almost certainly will not run earlier versions of macOS.

If, like me, you’ve been waiting for this update to the MacBook Air, the only reason not to order right away is the rumored 14-inch MacBook Pro. If Apple were to offer a 14-inch model with the new keyboard, function keys, and Touch ID instead of a Touch Bar, and significantly better performance for not too much more, I’d have to consider it seriously. But is it pure fantasy that Apple might offer a configuration of the MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar? Probably.

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Comments About New MacBook Air Features Magic Keyboard and Lower Price

Notable Replies

  1. Very nice update. Vastly better CPU, better specs, and slightly lower price.

    I have to say I really like the new MBA. This MBA with i7/16GB/1TB will be a great replacement for my wife’s 2010 13" MBP. Believe it or not, that little old Mac is still going strong and despite my ongoing nagging she refuses to shell out almost $2k for a new MBA as long as her old MBP isn’t falling apart. Of course that thing is built like a tank so it could be another while. That I upgraded her RAM and put in a Samsung 860 SSD didn’t exactly help make the case for a new Mac either. :wink:

    Anyway, does anybody here have a better idea what CPUs Apple is actually putting in these MBAs? I can’t find matching Intel specs on the wiki page for publicly known (or publicly sold) Core iX CPUs. Judging from Apple’s specs, these are Ice Lake-U/Y low-power CPUs, but the listed CPUs don’t match what Apple is using. Anybody know specifics?

  2. Oh and one typo: “it’s 0.02 inches (5 mm) thicker” Should probably be 0.5 mm.

  3. Don’t expect an industrial design update—the new MacBook Air looks almost identical to the 2018 model it replaces.

    Doesn’t this replace the 2019 MacBook Air (which in turn replaced the 2018 MBA which was a significant redesign)?

  4. A bummer for me that this new MBA is limited to 16 GB RAM. I guess I’ll keep waiting for the 14" MBP (which I assume will offer 32 GB). This MBA might have otherwise just been good enough and its portability is great. The CPU is quite decent (BTO i7 option) and when I’m at a desk I connect to a TB hub anyway so the Pro’s extra 2 ports are not of real use to me. I would hope the 14" comes with better screen and battery lifetime, but I do prefer the real f-keys. If the 16" serves as a sign, the new 14" will retain TouchBar.

  5. Oh, yeah, I forgot there was a speed bump (must have missed it in my spec archive). I’ll fix that.

    I’d prefer 32 GB as well, but I can live with 16 GB on a travel and secondary laptop.

    That’s my hope as well—I’m dying to see how it benchmarks, particularly compared to the i3 and i5 that are also available.

    That’s my guess as well, though probably with an Esc key. I actively don’t want the Touch Bar, but given that there was a low-end model of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with function keys for a while, I’m holding out hope until the announcement drops. Then, if I’m wrong, I’ll buy a MacBook Air right away. :slight_smile:

  6. And a new keyboard, I think. Though still using the problematic design, it was supposed to be ‘better’.

    I always use the excellent MacTracker as a reference (when reading the announcement yesterday, I couldn’t remember when the last refresh of the MBA was).

  7. I have and use MacTracker, but I maintain my own Web archive files of the spec pages for all of Apple’s products in DEVONthink. That makes it much easier to compare old and new, and was the only reason I noticed that the MacBook Air’s battery got smaller.

  8. If only it had been released last year. My Retina Macbook is due to retire soon and I have many apps that won’t run under Catalina. I am not hopeful but I will wait until someone comes up with a way to “downgrade” to Mojave. Major obstacles are graphics drivers and the T2 chip, as discussed on these forums.
    And… the Australian dollar has plummeted so it won’t be such a bargain here! (Currently AU$1999 for the 512Gb version - the same as I paid for the 512Gb Retina Macbook in 2015)!

  9. Some first benchmarks are in. The new 10th gen quad-core i5 is a massive improvement over the previous 8th gen dual-core i5. Even single core.

    What I’m particularly curious about is how the $150 i7 upgrade does compared to the i5. Either way, this is quite impressive. My 2013 13" MBP despite its i7 gets only ~750/1500.


  10. My order was placed less than 10 minutes after it was live in the Apple Online Store. i7, 16 GB and 512 SSD. I’m thinking of it as my MacBook Pro w/o the horrid Touch Bar.

  11. Congrats! :slight_smile: What shipping date were you quoted? Any configuration I try (except for stock config) comes up no earlier than April 8.

  12. March 26 but I’m guessing it will be later due to everything happening now.

  13. Good luck. Keep us posted. Looking forward to hearing your first impressions.

  14. Will do. My last four laptops were MBPs but I have a feeling this one (as I’ve configured it) will perform like a MBP, at least in my use cases.

  15. We have one arriving later today, March 24, to MA, we had a trip deadline so had to go for 8GB rather than 16GB which had an arrival date of April 2/3. Of course now the trip is cancelled so we have a 16GB one due to arrive ~6-13 April. Unfortunately the one that arrives today is going straight back :frowning:

    The one arriving today was ordered sometime late in the evening of release day, the replacement was ordered yesterday.

  16. Somebody please post some 2020 MBAi7 benchmarks when you get your hands on one as well some opinion on suitability for Lightroom and Photoshop usage for non professionals.

    I am currently using a 2015r rMBP 15 inch machine with Geekbench 5 scores of around 900/3200 but it’s (a) getting long in then tooth, (b) is really too heavy for our planned world travels…it was fine when we were living in the RV but we bought a house and are selling the RV as of last month so as to concentrate on overseas travel.

    Before we start that…and it will be longer than we planned due to corona obviously…I was planning on replacing that laptop with something smaller and lighter since it will get carried around with my body a lot…we’ll be taking iPads too of course but for blog prep and photo processing (advanced amateur retired guy…definitely not pro or high volume) I need a laptop as the available iOS tools plus lack of adequate bandwidth and storage for 100s of 25 MB photos makes the iPad a non-starter for those tasks.

    There aren’t any i7 MBA results up on Geekbench yet…but there are i5 ones at about 1000/2700 and I figure the i7 will be faster than those. Performance wise…the current 2015 rMBP still gets the job done so I really don’t need the extra performance of the new 16 inch MBP. Add in the significant (about 50%) weight penalty for the MBP over the MBA and the extra $1500 it costs for what I would get…and the faster machine really seems like overkill.

    Hence…looking for some real world evaluations on how the i7 performs compared to the i5…a loaded i7 MBA with 16 GB and 2 TB is up around $2,000 but it’s light and I think will be plenty fast enough.

    I’m also considering getting an external SSD and putting the LR catalog and photos on there…that way on return I can plug it into my 27” iMac and move the photos to my storage drives and doing home photo processing on the iMac via Screens or by sitting back in the office instead of in the recliner with the laptop. Adobe is way behind the times in making it easy to use LR on multiple devices…LR Cloud has too few features and bandwidth and storage limitations as well as synchronization issues make it problematic to share catalogs/original photos other than by sneaker netting the drive between computers.

  17. Like you, I’m very interested in the i7 benchmarks. But in terms of replacing a MBP I think it’s worth pointing out that the MBA caps you at 16 GB. My 2013 MBP was maxed out at 16 GB and while that’s still OK for my everyday work by itself, if on top of that I also want to run a VM (which with Catalina is rather likely) I believe 16 GB will no longer be sufficient, let alone future proof on a time scale of 3-5 years.

    I think this MBA is awesome, but for my use I’m afraid I’ll have to wait for the 14" MBP which I hope will allow for 32 GB RAM as on the 16". On the bright side, on MBP systems Apple won’t be limited to U series 10th-gen i7s (15W) as on the MBA. That means quad-core performance on the new MBP could still be substantially better.

  18. True…but that’s all I have in my 2015 MBP and running VMs works fine…especially if you’re not really stressing the VM which I do not. Something to consider though… it as a retired buy who wants to travel and take photos for myself the lighter weight is very attractive. I might just buy my wife an i7 one and use it to test LR and Photoshop for my workload…her 13” MBA is even older than my 2015 model and it is non-Retina and lasts about 3 hours max on battery…I could replace the battery of course but it’s hard to justify spending any money on a (I think) 2013 model.

  19. I wanted to follow up on 2020 MBA performance. Geekbench indicates single-core scores of 1070/1120 and multicore scores of 2724/2877 for the i5/i7 configs, respectively. I find +5% performance bonus totally underwhelming for a $150 BTO option. While $100 for the i5 over the base i3 seems like a no-brainer, I doubt I would recommend the i7 to anyone.

    To make matters worse it appears the MBA despite having excellent CPU options, simply does not allow truly exploiting them due to its limited cooling and thermal envelope. I watched 2 Youtube videos that compared the 2020 MBA i5 to the 2019 13" i5 MBP. While the MBA in general does great, it’s clear that under sustained high load it quickly loses ground to the otherwise inferior 2019 i5 due to throttling. Also, lots of fan noise was reported. Links below.

    I still think this MBA is a great choice for somebody like my wife, but I’ll be suggesting she stick with the i5 and put those $150 to use for software instead (or larger SSD) where it actually would do her some good.

    https://browser.geekbench.com/macs/17

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLogJJfNFGU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSgi2deRivc

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