Apple M1 MacBook Air (2020) — Beast and Beauty

Are you sure this thing is not butter, because damn this thing is as smooth as the creamy stuff

My MacBook Air — Image by author

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am new to this whole tech review thing. I don’t have a long history in technology, gadgets, software development, or computer hardware. I used to be a web designer, graphic artist, and coder and I only ever worked with PCs. I had never even touched an Apple computer until a few weeks ago.

So, why again do I think I am qualified to do tech reviews?

I represent a largely overlooked part of the tech economy. Many of us have never had the money to afford expensive tech and gadgets, but like everyone else, we still wanted the latest and greatest. People like me tend to save for purchases instead of putting them on a credit card because due to circumstances we either have poor or no credit at all.

It took me four months to save enough money for my new MacBook Air, and while I waited for the day when I could plop down the cash and walk out of the store with that beautiful white box, I obsessed over benchmarks, specs, reviews, and industry news. I must have watched a thousand YouTube videos about the M1 chip.

I asked questions of experts and thought very carefully about my purchase before I spent the money.

So, like the MacBook, when I bring any piece of tech home, no matter if it costs $20 or $2000, I know everything there is to know about it and how I can use it.

I wanted the M1 Macbook Air to be the first piece of tech I reviewed because more than any other purchase I have made recently, this one has affected me the most.

And, before I get into it: there are plenty of other reviewers with far more technical knowledge than me who have taken deep dives into benchmarks and stress-tested every part of these machines, but I am not interested in all that, and I can’t compete with them.

I am only going to be writing from the perspective of someone who may not have unlimited funds for gadgets and puts value on the products we do buy. I am exploring how these products fit with my work and home life and if spending this kind of money is a worthwhile use of my limited funds.

I will be discussing how the products feel, and how they fit in my workflow. I’ll talk a lot about value and “bang-for-the-buck.”

I’ll look at products from the perspective of someone who cannot afford to waste money, so the products must work as advertised or they are of little use. I will also do a lot of prepurchase discussions because it pays to know everything about products we could potentially spend thousands of dollars on.

Are you ready?

Image by author

Pre-purchase

When I finally knew I would the Apple MacBook Air instead of a PC, I still overthought about what model and specs I should choose. I had originally intended to buy the M1 Mac Mini, but I started seeing a need for something more portable.

I knew that, of the two MacBook’s, the Air was the one I wanted. I loved the idea of having no fans, and I just didn’t see enough benefit to spending the extra few hundred dollars more getting the Pro.

Because of the cost of upgrading the SSD storage, I knew I would only get the 256 GB version and use an external SSD, which is a huge saving overall.

The thing I was not sure about until the very end was whether I should get 8 GB or 16 GB of unified memory. It was an important decision because these Macs are not upgradeable, and what you buy you are stuck with.

I would be using the laptop for quite a number of things:

  1. I am a writer, so the majority of the work on the MacBook would be in Microsoft Word, only because that is what I was used to using. I think I may switch over to using Ulysses or LibreOffice (more on that later).
  2. I have a music-related YouTube channel and I make music videos with 4K images and clips. This combination proved to be too much for my Dell Laptop, but the base model of the MacBook Air should have no problem.
  3. I have two more YouTube channels in the works.
  4. I also have a podcast and I do a little podcast editing on the side in a freelance capacity.
  5. I build websites and blogs and create all my own branding and graphics.

The software I use is:

  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator
  • iMovie or OpenShot Video Editor. For bigger projects, I would like to use Premiere Pro
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Audacity or GarageBand
  • A number of browser plugins and extensions

If you look at my usage, I am in no way a power user. No heavy compiling, no 8K Raw, very little color grading, and no huge file sizes.

After watching hundreds of YouTube videos about the case for 16 vs. 8 Gb of RAM, I finally settled with Mark Ellis and Dan Hansen and just went with the base model MacBook Air.

The other things about getting the base were price, and because I live in the Philippines, I didn’t want to wait an additional month to have Apple ship me the laptop.

I bought the laptop from a local computer store called Gadget Headz and was the proud owner of my perfect white box.

Unboxing

They do things a bit differently here in the Philippines, and when you purchase a product, especially electronics, they are always tested first.

After paying for it, I did have the joy of helping the sales guy take off the plastic wrap and slowly take the laptop out. I went with space gray because I like the aesthetic better than silver or gold. When I saw it for the first time, I let out a little involuntary gasp as the light from the fluorescent bulbs hit the shiny apple logo.

Apple outshines when it comes to unboxing. They know the experience is almost orgasmic to someone who loves and obsesses over tech and gadgets as I do.

A lift of the lid and the screen sprang to life. I expected the screen to be much smaller, and the body of the laptop to be tiny, but even for a beast like me with huge hands, it was the perfect size.

Everything checked out and we put everything away and I took it home.

Setup

I’ve set up a lot of PCs with Windows, but never an Apple product, but this was so easy I never needed to worry about it. Even though a few things were different, it was not alien, and I stumbled my way around Big Sur and started figuring things out.

I watched a few YouTube videos about settings and got to know the interface. I decided to put the dock on the right side because I like that extra space at the bottom.

My goodness, the display is beautiful. My old Dell had a really nice IPS panel, but it was nothing like this. The resolution was perfect. I did turn off True Tone after a few hours because I like the color and tinting a certain way. I also used light mode because I prefer it.

The first thing I set up was Office 365 and OneDrive. I must say, Word works like a dream and I have never used it when it was so fast and snappy.

The problems came up with OneDrive. It was buggy, and I got the floating beach ball more often than not when accessed files from the cloud. I eventually moved my important files to iCloud and removed OneDrive. Since I started saving everything there, it has been a dream.

But, it got me thinking — why am I spending $10 a month when I am no longer using OneDrive? I decided I am going to look into using the native “Pages” app or something like LibreOffice, which is free and open-source, which I adore.

The other option is to use a dedicated writing app like Ulysses.

Adobe Creative Cloud, Photoshop, and Illustrator all installed easily and OMG! are they fast! As much work as I have done in Photoshop with several huge files open at the same time, I have never been able to bog down this beast of a laptop.

It’s like butter.

I’ve been using Adobe products for decades and I have never had them work so flawlessly and fast. And these are the Rosetta Versions! I can’t wait until I can install the ARM versions.

I have used iMovie to create a few music videos, which was fun, but I haven’t needed Premiere Pro or Final Cut yet so I haven’t installed them.

I haven’t even used Audacity yet because I discovered GarageBand and I love it. Talk about a great application!

Setting everything up was a cake and my Bluetooth devices work like a charm after I installed the latest BigSur update.

Everything works like you expect, how you hope, and except OneDrive, I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Everyday Use

Frankly, I don’t use the MacBook Air exactly like it should be used. I know there are gestures and keyboard shortcuts and ways to switch between windows and desktops, but I have only used the basic functionality.

I took a week off and the rest of the time I have been writing, and I haven’t put in the time to learn this machine properly. But, even saying that this has been the best experience I have ever had with any computer.

It’s fast and everything works exactly like it’s supposed to. And do I even have to mention the battery life? After the first charge I didn’t plug it in again for two days and I still spend very little time charging. Part of the reason is I don’t use Chrome, and although I have used the Brave browser at times (which is built on Chromium), I mostly use Safari now and it uses very little resources.

I try to use native apps whenever possible and I do keep Facebook closed most of the time because it is a huge resource hog.

The battery is amazing even I have my screen brightness cranked way up because I like to work in the dark.

One thing I haven’t used much is the keyboard and I will tell you why. When I type, I tend to slam my fingers into the keyboard and I destroyed my old Dell. I bought an iClever BK10 Bluetooth keyboard that I can beat all I want because it’s so cheap to replace. I would hate it if my beautiful Apple keyboard were to get damaged right away.

Everything else has been more than I could ask for. That fact that I can just close the lid and walk away, and then open the lid, touch my finger, and am ready to go is freaking awesome.

I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and I have to say, in regards to value, prices, specs, ease of use, and how fun it is to use, this is the best technology purchase I have ever made.

Introverted essayist and creator- I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up!

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