Which Macbook should you buy? Apple’s laptop line was notoriously busy in 2018, with the Macbook, both the new and last-generation (2015) Macbook Air, and Macbook Pro all competing for an overlapping market segment. Things got simpler in the following years, with both the Macbook and last-generation Macbook Air officially discontinued in 2019. With Apple’s most recent batch of new product releases, the choice is now easier than ever: the Macbook Air 2020 is the best Macbook for most people.
First, a caveat. The Macbook Air is an ultraportable machine, with all the obvious performance limitations that entails. If you need your laptop to perform demanding tasks like graphic design or dedicated video editing, then you’d be much better served by the recent 16-inch Macbook Pro or a Windows alternative like the Dell XPS 15.
But the vast majority of people, including many different types of professionals, have a much more basic use case: web browsing, document editing, content consumption, and communicating through services like Skype or Facetime. It is in this general-purpose category where the 2020 Macbook Air excels, offering a polished MacOs experience at a competitive price.
This year’s model brings a number of practical improvements over the 2019 Macbook Air. Most notably, the controversial butterfly keyboard design of prior Macbook Air and Pro models has been replaced by a ‘Magic Keyboard’ that promises a more traditional and reliable typing experience. Finally taking a cue from its Windows competition, the 2020 iteration starts at a more robust 256GB of storage-- a much-needed bump up from the 128GB of its predecessor.
The performance not only got a boost with slightly better Intel Iris Plus graphics and the latest 10th generation Intel chips, but now comes in more options: whereas the prior model was only sold with a midrange core i5 processor, the 2020 Macbook Air is available in an entry-level core i3/256GB or i5/512GB configuration. The inclusion of an i3 option allows Apple to offer the Macbook Air at a lower base price of $999, or $1,299 for the beefier configuration. An i5/256GB option would have been welcome, though it’s worth noting that this year’s i3 chip is still markedly faster than the 8th generation dual-core i5 of the 2018 Macbook Air model. The webcam is unfortunately still stuck at 720p, but it’s the same camera as the one found on the more expensive Macbook Pro line (including the new, $2,399 16” Macbook Pro).
There’s no denying that $999 is on the pricey side for an i3 CPU, but consider the complete Macbook Air features package: you’re getting an all-aluminum chassis, touch-id fingerprint sensor, and the excellent Force Touch trackpad of prior Macbook Air Models. Also making a return is Apple’s True Tone display technology, which automatically adjusts your screen’s color temperature to match the ambient lighting of your surroundings. These core features, combined with the 2020 improvements mentioned above, make this year’s Macbook Air the go-to choice for a diverse cast of students and professionals who are looking to upgrade from an older Apple machine or to buy into the MacOS ecosystem but don’t need the added power of Apple’s more expensive Macbook Pro line.
Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as a research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University.