Here’s why you should buy the new 2020 MacBook Air [Comparison]

Apple has officially debuted a new MacBook Air that brings some of the first major changes to the laptop since Apple revitalized it in 2018. Read on as we compare the new 2020 MacBook Air against its predecessor, with details on performance, the new keyboard, and more.

2018 vs. 2019 MacBook Air

Apple revitalized the MacBook Air with a Retina Display, Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, and more in 2018, marking its first major update after several years of neglect. And in 2019, Apple once again gave the MacBook Air a mid-year update, bringing a True Tone display and updated butterfly keyboard.

With all of that being said, the 2020 update to the MacBook Air is far more notable if only for one reason: a new keyboard design. Read on as we break down all of the changes between the 2019 MacBook Air and 2020 MacBook Air.

2020 MacBook Air Display

One of the aspects of the 2020 MacBook Air that’s unchanged compared to its predecessor is the display. You get the same 13.3-inch LED IPS panel with a 2560 x 1600 native resolution at 227 pixels per inch. Apple touts that the display has support for “millions of colors.”

The MacBook Air also still features Apple’s True Tone technology, which aims to make your Mac’s display appear more natural based on ambient light in your room.

The True Tone technology in Mac computers and Apple Pro Display XDR uses advanced multichannel sensors to adjust the color and intensity of your display and Touch Bar to match the ambient light so that images appear more natural.

The 2020 MacBook Air does, however, add support for 6K external displays. This means you can even use the new MacBook Air with Apple’s Pro Display XDR. Here are the full details on external monitor support for the 2020 MacBook Air:

  • One external 6K display with 6016 x 3384 resolution at 60Hz at millions of colors, or
  • One external 5K display with 5120 x 2880 resolution at 60Hz at millions of colors, or
  • Up to two external 4K displays with 4096 x 2304 resolution at 60Hz at millions of colors

Size and weight

The MacBook Air is still the thinnest and lightest computer sold by Apple, but it’s slightly thicker and heavier this year, thanks to the new Magic Keyboard (more on that in a bit). Here are the details:

2018/2019 MacBook Air dimensions:

  • Thickness:0.16-0.61 inch (0.41-1.56 cm)
  • Width:11.97 inches (30.41 cm)
  • Depth:8.36 inches (21.24 cm)
  • Weight:2.75 pounds (1.25 kg)

2020 MacBook Air dimensions:

  • Thickness:0.16-0.63 inch (0.41-1.61 cm)
  • Width:11.97 inches (30.41 cm)
  • Depth:8.36 inches (21.24 cm)
  • Weight:2.8 pounds (1.29 kg)

These changes are unlikely to be noticeable in real-world use, but if you’re using a case on your MacBook Air, you might need a new one this year. As we’ll discuss later, thickness and weight changes are well worth the new reliability and travel changes with the keyboard.

Processor and RAM

One of the major changes with this year’s MacBook Air revision is that Apple is now offering multiple different processor configurations. The 2018 and 2019 MacBook Air were only available in a single configuration: 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz.

This year, Apple is expanding the options for MacBook Air buyers. The base model includes a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz, but there are two additional configuration options:

  • $100 upgrade: 1.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, with Turbo Boost up to 3.5Ghz
  • $200 upgrade: 1.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz

Notably, the 2020 MacBook Air also includes faster RAM. The base configuration still offers 8GB of RAM, but it’s now 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory — which is faster than the 2133MHz LPDDR3 offered in the 2019 MacBook Air. You can still configure it up to 16GB as well, and there is still no 32GB option.

The new MacBook Air features Intel Iris Plus Graphics, compared to Intel UHD Graphics 617 in the 2019 model. Apple touts that the 2020 MacBook Air features graphics performance up to 80% faster than its predecessor.

Storage

Another major change with the 2020 MacBook Air is the base storage configuration. Whereas the base 2018 and 2019 MacBook Air models featured a measly 128GB storage configuration, Apple has increased that to 256GB this year. Almost no one should buy a computer with just 128GB of storage in 2020, so it’s nice to see Apple increase the base configuration.

You can also upgrade to configurations of 512GB and 1TB, as well as an all-new 2TB option.

Keyboard

The biggest change with the 2020 MacBook Air is the keyboard. Gone is the unreliable and low-travel butterfly keyboard. Instead, Apple has shifted to the same scissor switch Magic Keyboard design introduced with the 16-inch MacBook Pro last year.

There’s really only so much you can say about this keyboard change, but the gist is this: the MacBook Air’s Magic Keyboard offers additional key travel and improved reliability, two changes that make for a much more enjoyable enjoyable typing experience.

The new MacBook Air also features an “inverted T” layout for arrow keys, again much like the 16-inch MacBook MacBook Pro. You also still get a normal function row of keys along the top, flanked by Touch ID on the top-right.

More changes (or not)

The MacBook Air still features the same two Thunderbolt 3 ports as its predecessor. The webcam is also still the same at 720p, and there’s no support for Wi-Fi 6 connectivity.

Apple does point out that there are notable improvements to the speakers and microphones on the 2020 MacBook Air. There are stereo speakers with what Apple calls “wide stereo sound” as well as a new three-mic array with directional beamforming. The 2020 MacBook Air also features support for Dolby Atmos playback, unlike any previous MacBook Air.

Battery life should realistically be around the same year-over-year, though Apple actually says battery life has decreased from 12 hours to 11 hours for web browsing and from 13 hours to 12 hours for video playback.

2020 MacBook Air pricing and wrap-up

Last but not least, Apple has adjusted the pricing structure of the 2020 MacBook Air. Whereas the 2019 model started at $1,199, the the new model starts at $999. Here’s what this year’s base configuration gets you compared to last year:

For education customers, Apple is also offering an exclusive 128GB MacBook Air configuration that is priced at $799. Education buyers can also get the 256GB model for a discounted price of $899.

Should you upgrade to the 2020 MacBook Air from the 2018 or 2019 model? It really depends on your keyboard preference. If the butterfly keyboard is just too unreliable for you to use on a regular basis, then it’s an easy upgrade decision. On the other hand, If you’re actually a fan of the butterfly keyboard design, and your MacBook Air configuration offers quick enough performance, there’s really no need to rush out and upgrade.

And if you’re using a pre-2018 MacBook Air, the 2020 model is the update you’ve likely been waiting for. With a sub-$1,000 starting price, a reliable keyboard, 256GB of base storage, and multiple processor configurations, the 2020 MacBook Air feels like a true follow-up to the older MacBook Air models.

In fact, as I wrote earlier this month, the MacBook Air is the easiest MacBook to recommend to people in several years. What do you think of Apple’s 2020 MacBook Air refresh? Do you plan on buying one, or have you already? Let us know down in the comments!

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