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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: What should you buy? – Tom's Guide

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If you want one of Apple’s best iPhones, an iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison makes a lot of sense. Yes, they’re both very powerful and capable flagship phones, complete with Apple’s A14 Bionic processor and 5G, but they feel quite different when you actually put them in your hand.

As you’ll see in our iPhone 12 Pro review, the regular Pro’s 6.1-inch display makes it easy to use with one hand. And our iPhone 12 Pro Max review shows that going big with a 6.7-inch display has its benefits. But there’s more two these two iPhones than their sheet size difference.

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max also differ in terms of price, camera features and especially battery life. Here’s what  you need to know before you buy.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Specs compared

iPhone 12 Pro iPhone 12 Pro Max
Price $999 $1,099
Display 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170) 6.7-inch OLED (2778 x 1284)
Colors Silver, Graphite, Gold, Pacific Blue Silver, Graphite, Gold, Pacific Blue
CPU A14 A14
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Rear camera 12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.4), 12MP telephoto (f/2.0) 12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.4), 12MP telephoto (f/2.2)
Zoom 2x optical/10x digital 2.5x optical12x digital
Front camera 12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2) 12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)
5G sub-6Ghz, mmWave sub-6Ghz, mmWave
Battery life (hrs:mins) 9:06 10:53
Size 5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
Weight 6.66 ounces 8.03 ounces

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Price

The iPhone 12 Pro starts at $999 for 128GB of storage. Upgrading to the 256GB model costs $1.099, and the 512GB version costs $1,299. 

Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099 for 128GB. The 256BG version costs $1,199 and the 512GB model is priced at a whopping $1,399 (or $100 more than the MacBook Pro).

If  you’re on the fence between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, it’s good to know that you can get double the storage on the regular Pro for the same cost as the entry-level Pro Max.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Design

(Image credit: Future)

If you want an iPhone that’s easier to use with one hand, the obvious choice is the iPhone 12 Pro. It features a 6.1-inch display in a fairly compact design that measures 5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches and weighs 6.6 ounces. 

Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a beast of a handset. It packs a 6.7-inch screen into a taller, wider and heavier chassis that comes in at 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches and 8.03 ounces. This is best for those who want an immersive screen and don’t mind using two hands.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro feature sleek flat edges and narrower borders, as well as a Ceramic Shield Display that’s designed to offer four times better drop performance than the iPhone 11 series. And the water resistance is great for both models, too, with an IP68 rating that allows them to be submerged in up to 6 meters of water for 30 minutes. 

I also like the matte glass back on both phones (which resists fingerprints) and the polished stainless steel band that runs along the outside of the handsets (which adds a bit of bling).

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Displays

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

The OLED displays on the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro and 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max are simply among the best you’ll find on any phone. These panels are bright, colorful and accurate, though the sheer size of the Pro Max may tempt you if you enjoy watching videos on the go. The Pro Max’s display is also ideal for reviewing documents.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

In our lab tests, the screens on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max were evenly matched in terms of color reproduction. The iPhone 12 Pro registered 115.6% of the sRGB color gamut and 81.9% of the more demanding DCI-P color space. By comparison, the iPhone 12 Pro Max hit 119.7% and 84.8%, respectively.

The iPhone 12 Pro proved a bit brighter, as its display averaged 742 nits based on our testing, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max reached 654 nits. Both screens are plenty bright enough to see in direct sunlight.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Cameras

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max both offer triple rear cameras along with Apple’s computational photography upgrades, including Night Mode portraits and Smart HDR 3 for better photos in tricky lighting. Plus, both phones record Dolby Vision video in 4K for stunningly colorful footage.

But there are some notable camera differences here. The iPhone 12 Pro Max benefits from a larger main wide camera sensor, which lets in more light, and the larger iPhone also offers a slightly more powerful zoom than the iPhone 12 Pro. 

Let’s start with the zoom on both phones, The telephoto lens on the iPhone 12 Pro has an optical zoom of 2x and a digital zoom of 10x. However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max delivers a 2.5x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom.

As you can see in this shot of harvest decorations, the iPhone 12 Pro Max gets you closer to your subject than the iPhone 12 Pro. It’s not a dramatic difference, but it’s still a welcome upgrade.

I also challenged both phones in low light with this close-up of a Christmas tree. The iPhone 12 Pro Max did a slightly better job capturing the gold ornament on the left, as you can see that it’s slightly sharper and more in focus. Same thing goes for the icicle in the center.

I took this next photo of a holiday sign in near darkness with Night mode engaged on both phones. While the iPhone 12 Pro shot is fairly bright, the iPhone 12 Pro Max image delivers much better texture and detail in the fabric on the dresser and in the flecks of paint on the sign. The words are in better focus, too. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Performance

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max share the same specs, as they’re both powered by Apple’s 5nm A14 Bionic chip and 6GB of RAM. So it’s not a surprise that they offer comparable performance.

On Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the iPhone 12 Pro notched a single-core score of 1,585 and a multi-core score of 3,669. The iPhone 12 Pro Max scored a similar 1,603 on single core but hit an even higher 4,111 multi-core mark.

We also transcoded a 4K video to 1080p using the Adobe Premiere Rush app, and the iPhone 12 Pro took only 27 seconds. The iPhone 12 Pro Max was right behind at 28.5 seconds. 

Lastly, we ran the 3D Mark Wild Life graphics benchmark, and both phones excelled. The iPhone 12 Pro registered 51 frames per second on the Unlimited test and the iPhone 12 Pro Max reached a slightly higher 54 fps.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Battery life 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Other than their sheer size, battery life is the biggest difference between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. The iPhone 12 Pro has a 2,815 mAh battery, compared to 3,687 mAh battery for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

On on the Tom’s Guide battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over 5G at 150 nits of screen brightness, the iPhone 12 Pro lasted 9 hours and 6 minutes. The iPhone 12 Pro Max lasted a much longer 10:53.

The phones on our best phone battery life list all last over 11 hours, but keep in mind that many of those handsets are 4G-only. 5G uses up more power.

Both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Max ship without a charger. You’ll need to supply your own 20W ($19) charger if you want fast charging to 50% in 30 minutes. The magnetic MagSafe charger is one of the best wireless chargers yet because it’s so easy to use, but its 15W charging speed is slower than wired charging. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Bottom line

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are both formidable flagship phones, but they’re great for different types of users. Apple’s Pro phones are very evenly matched on display quality, performance and photography, but the regular iPhone 12 Pro is best for those who want a compact device. 

I personally prefer the iPhone 12 Pro Max for its larger screen and nearly 2 extra hours of battery life. And while the photography differences are subtle, the Pro Max’s camera offered better results in Night Mode.

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The best Cyber Monday iPad deals 2020 – Tom's Guide

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Trying to find the most affordable iPad? Cyber Monday iPad deals have emerged to cut costs on Apple’s tablets — and that includes the brand new iPad Air (which is at its all-time low price right now).

You can also find deals on the more affordable entry-level iPad and super-pricey iPad Pro (which gets much more affordable). While searching for the best Cyber Monday deals, we’ve kept an eye out for ways to save on Apple’s tablets. 

Want a big screen and a lot of speed? You can save the most money on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro: 2018’s still-great model is up to $350 off, while the newer 2020 model is $99 off at Amazon. And you can use that spare cash to buy yourself the Magic Keyboard, which is a must-have if you want the most out of your new purchase. 

Make sure to check out our guide to Cyber Monday Chromebook deals for more savings.

Cyber Monday iPad deals — top 5 sales right now 

Best Cyber Monday iPad deals and sales 

10.2″ iPad (32GB/2020/LTE): was $459 now $259 @ Best Buy
Those who want the freedom of an LTE-enabled iPad can save $200 by going with Best Buy and Verizon. With a 2-year contract you cut 36% off the 2020 iPad’s price, and you can get the same savings on the 128GB iPad too.View Deal

10.9″ iPad Air (2020): was $599 now $569 @ Amazon
The new iPad Air sports a larger 10.9-inch display, speedy A14 Bionic CPU, and support for USB-C charging. Plus, with Magic Keyboard support, it’s as close to a laptop replacement as you can get. Best of all, it’s now on sale, with the grey model at $30 off when it’s in stock at Amazon. View Deal

11″ iPad Pro (128GB/2020): was $799 now $729 @ Amazon
Those who push their iPad to the limit will want to save with the 2020 iPad Pro. Not only does it tear through work with Apple’s insanely fast A12Z Bionic CPU, but its edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display (which features 120Hz Pro Motion technology) offers super smooth visuals. You’ll sometimes find this deal at Best Buy, but it comes in and out of stock.View Deal

10.5″ iPad Pro (64GB/2017): was $779 now $680 @ Amazon
Not to parrot Homer Simpson too closely, but “it’s still good, it’s still good!” Amazon’s got $104 off the 2017 iPad Pro, which is still a great tablet. The Tom’s Guide battery test took 13 hours and 55 minutes to drain this iPad Pro of a full charge, making it one of the longest lasting slates ever — plus, it’s got a 120Hz ProMotion display, giving you smooth refresh rates. The iPhone 12 and the iPad Air 2020 don’t even have that.View Deal

12.9″ iPad Pro (64GB/LTE/2018): was $1,149 now $799 @ B&H Photo
Most people wouldn’t really find the extra value in buying the 2020 iPad Pro (which is mostly great for its extra rear camera and slightly faster processor), which is why any deals on the 2018 iPad Pro are attention-worthy. This deal takes $350 off Apple’s speedy and sleek 12.9-inch iPad, which works with the fantastic Magic Keyboard. B&H also has a $350 off sale on the 256GB version.View Deal

10.2″ iPad (128GB/2020): was $459 now $409 @ B&H Photo
Available to order (but on back order):
Apple’s just upgraded the processor on its entry-level iPad, and B&H is giving you $30 off the 128GB model. The 2020 iPad (8th Generation) features Apple’s A12 Bionic CPU, a more-than-welcome upgrade that gives the iPad the speed boost that iPadOS’ multitasking tricks deserve.View Deal

12.9″ iPad Pro (128GB/2020): was $999 now $899 @ Best Buy
Those who want the latest and greatest can still save. Amazon’s knocked $99 off the 2020 iPad Pro, which packs the fastest processor (Apple’s A12Z Bionic CPU) in any tablet today, as well as dual 12MP/10MP rear cameras and a 7MP front-facing camera for when it’s time to take a FaceTime or Zoom call. This is one of the best Cyber Monday iPad deals we’ve seen on Apple’s premium tablet. View Deal

iPad mini (Wi-Fi, 256GB, 2019): was $549 now $479 @ Amazon
A 64GB version of the iPad mini had been available at $65 discount, but it’s out of stock. You can still get the 256GB model on Apple’s smallest iPad. Its handheld size makes it ideal for reading and you’ve got a lot more storage on this version.View Deal

Cyber Monday iPad deals — which iPad should I buy?

Apple’s iPad family is now bigger than ever. Currently, these are the models that Apple offers:

The 10.2-inch iPad is the most popular iPad for a reason. It’s Apple’s mainstream model that’s both its most affordable, while offering good bang for your buck. The tablet uses Apple’s A12 Bionic processor, giving faster performance that makes the tablet more capable for iPadOS 14’s multitasking tricks. It’s also going to make your next round in Apple Arcade a bit smoother.

The new 10.2-inch iPad can be used for sketching and drawing, thanks to its Apple Pencil (1st gen) support. For the first time, you can also pair the 10.2-inch iPad with Apple’s Smart Keyboard. 

Our iPad Air (2020) review explains why that tablet is the best iPad for most people. It’s a lot like the iPad Pro, but its starting price is $200 less. Those perks start with thin bezels and the flat-edge design, but it’s also got the support for the top Apple accessories — the 2nd Gen Apple Pencil that’s much easier to charge and the Magic Keyboard which is an actual delight to use.

Apple’s iPad mini is the smallest tablet in Apple’s lineup (as its name implies). It’s not light on power, though, as Apple’s A12 Bionic chip makes it as fast as the normal iPad. Beloved by many, its portable size makes it ideal for reading, as well as writing emails and browsing social media. And don’t worry, its screen is still great enough to watch an episode of one of the best Netflix shows.

Power users, though, will want the iPad Pro. It’s available in both 11-inch and 12.9-inch sizes and you’ll find better deals on the 2018 model, which is pretty similar to the 2020 edition. The newer iPad Pro does feature slight performance gains found in Apple’s octo-core A12Z CPU. Even though its pricey, it’s still been the subject of holiday sales. Other cheap iPad deals are available as well, so keep your eyes open for optimal savings.

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Black Friday & Cyber Monday 4K TV Deals (2020): Samsung, LG, Sharp, Sony & More TV Deals Listed by Consumer Walk – Business Wire

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BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Compare the best 4K TV deals for Black Friday & Cyber Monday 2020, together with all the best 55-inch, 65-inch and more 4K TV savings. Check out the latest deals using the links below.

Best 4K TV Deals:

Best TV Deals:

Searching for more deals? Click here to compare the full range of deals at Walmart’s Black Friday & Cyber Monday sale and click here to see Amazon’s current Black Friday & Cyber Monday deals. Consumer Walk earns commissions from purchases made using the links provided.

About Consumer Walk: Consumer Walk reports the latest online retail news. As an Amazon Associate and affiliate Consumer Walk earns from qualifying purchases.

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Apple’s M1 MacBook Air has that Apple Silicon magic – Ars Technica

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Enlarge / Hey, my macro lens still works!
Lee Hutchinson

The new M1-powered MacBook Air is hilariously fast, and the battery lasts a long-ass time.

If you stop reading this review immediately after this, then know that unless Windows virtualization is a requirement of your workflow, you should probably just go ahead and sell your old MacBook Air immediately and get this thing instead.

Assuming you’ve got a grand or so lying around that you weren’t going to spend on something else. But hey, if you do, then I can confidently tell you that in spite of what a legion of Doubting Thomases (including me!) might have said about Apple’s freshman effort at its own PC silicon, it is now my studied opinion that there are far, far stupider ways to part with your cash.

A quick caveat on this “review”

Apple MacBook Air (late 2020) product image

Apple MacBook Air (late 2020)

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Apple provided Ars with a couple of M1 Mac Minis for review. One of those went to Samuel for him to write up, and the other went to Jim for him to do his silicon analysis. Apple declined our request for any model of M1-powered laptop.

The MacBook Air being reviewed here is my personal device, which I bought shortly after the unveiling event. I’ve written this as quickly as possible after receiving it, but I had to wait for the device, which is why you all had to wait for the review. (This is also why it’s in kind of an intermediate configuration, rather than stock or maxed out like most review devices—I bumped the RAM up to 16GB and the internal storage up to 1TB, because that’s what I wanted.)

Because this is my device, I’m coming into this review from a slightly different perspective than some of the other publications doing MBA reviews. I’m not going to tell you why you should buy a MacBook Air, or how it might work for you. But I am going to talk about what it has been like to own it for a few days and how the device fits into my life. I do most of my power-user stuff on the desktop rather than on a portable, but I do occasionally need to leave the office and hit the road—and the M1 MBA is going to be a great traveling companion. You know, once we can hit the road again without worrying about plagues and stuff.

Specs at a glance: 2020 MacBook Air (M1)
Screen 2560×1600 at 13.3 inches
OS macOS Big Sur 11.0.1
CPU Apple M1
RAM 16GB
GPU Apple M1 (8 core)
HDD 1TB SSD
Networking 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac; Bluetooth 5.0
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 Gen 2/DisplayPort, 3.5mm headphone
Size 0.16–0.63×11.97×8.36-inch (0.41–1.61×30.41×21.24cm)
Weight 2.8 lbs (1.29kg)
Warranty 1 year, or 3 years with AppleCare+
Price as reviewed $1,649
Other perks 720p FaceTime HD camera, stereo speakers

Unboxinating

Approaching a device like this as a reviewer is different from approaching a device as a consumer. When the UPS guy drops it off, you can’t just rip the box open and jump in—there’s stuff you have to do first.

Tripods. Lights. Gotta iron the big white sweep cloth so I’ve got a background for pix. Gotta try to remember where the DSLR battery is.

It’s the oddest part about working for Ars, even after going on eight years. Your technology buying experiences are not always your own—sometimes the Ars readership comes along for the ride.

So after unboxing, I logged on and ran some benchmarks. That’s the first thing you have to do when you’re reviewing—you either do the benchmarks first, or you do them dead last, and I wanted to get them out of the way because this was, you know, my laptop, and I’d actually like to use it for stuff rather than having it be tied up running battery tests for 20 hours at a time.

Only a few days earlier, I had used my living room HTPC—a base-config 2018 Mac mini—to do the entire set of Mac comparison benchmarks for Samuel’s Mac mini review. I had a pretty good feel for how quickly the Intel mini’s hex-core i5 banged through each of the tests, since I’d just seen the numbers, and from talking to Samuel and Jim I was anticipating the new MBA’s M1 would beat the Intel-powered mini.

I just didn’t realize how hard a beatdown it would be.

Getting the benchmarky bits out of the way

So here’s how fast it is in a bunch of charts and graphs.

According to Apple, the MacBook Air’s M1 is voltage-limited in order to function within the fanless design’s thermal envelope. iFixit’s teardown shows in detail that the Air’s M1 cooling setup is an entirely passive affair, with just a heat transfer plate in between the M1 CPU and the aluminum body. I was expecting performance similar to but perhaps a bit lower than the M1-powered Mac mini, and that’s more or less what I got. However, the Air’s M1 is good for at least a few solid minutes of full-bore Firestorm core performance before it throttles back.

<a href="https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MBA_M1_2020_49_v1-scaled-1.jpg" class="enlarge" data-height="1920" data-width="2560" alt="The M1 MBA's passive cooling setup, disassembled over at iFixit.”><img alt="The M1 MBA's passive cooling setup, disassembled over at iFixit.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MBA_M1_2020_49_v1-scaled-1-640×480.jpg” width=”640″ height=”480″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MBA_M1_2020_49_v1-scaled-1-1280×960.jpg 2x”>
Enlarge / The M1 MBA’s passive cooling setup, disassembled over at iFixit.

In benchmarking, I noticed that subsequent runs of the Final Cut Pro export would slow down dramatically—the first export would complete in about 1 minute and 19 seconds, but if I immediately repeated the export it would take a bit under 2.5 minutes—and the Air would be quite warm to the touch. After closing the lid to hibernate until the Air was cool and then repeating the export, the time was once again in the 1:20-ish range.

To create some more sustained load, I cloned the source video three times and then repeated the export process. Starting from a cold startup with the MBA’s chassis at ambient temperature gave a result of 4 minutes, 21 seconds. This time, I opened Activity Monitor’s CPU graph to spy on the core utilization. All eight cores were engaged until about 2:56, at which time half of the cores—presumably the high-performance Firestorm cores—dropped to less than 50-percent usage and stayed there until the run completed.

A second run immediately after that took 7:37—not quite twice as long, but heading in that direction. Activity Monitor’s CPU usage graph showed half of the cores (presumably the high-performance Firestorm cores) at half utilization for the entire run.

Further testing—including several runs after letting the MBA sit powered off for about an hour to make absolutely sure it was cooled to ambient—failed to produce anything resembling a precise, repeatable time interval for when throttling starts. The best I can do is to say that it seems that when you throw a heavy workload at the MBA, it runs at full-bore until the Firestorm cores become too toasty, which seems to take anywhere from 3-ish to 6-ish minutes. Then it backs the Firestorm cores off until they show about 50-percent utilization, and the amount of heat generated at that level seems to be within the sustained thermal capacity of the design.

(These are subjective measurements, taken in whatever indoor ambient conditions happened to be happening in my house as I was doing the testing. Your results may vary.)

I hate USB-C charging, give me back MagSafe

The other major thing for a portable like the MBA is battery life, and we’re going to talk about that. But first, very briefly, the loss of MagSafe sucks.

Yes, I know I’m late to the discussion. I know MagSafe was deleted a few hardware revisions ago, but I’m going from a MacBook Air with it to a MacBook Air without it, and plugging in a USB-C cable feels like going back to the freaking dark ages. I’ve been happy with MagSafe plugs on my laptops for almost an entire decade—that quick one-handed snick into place, that easy no-fuss pull to disengage, and that friendly LED to tell you when you’re all charged up.

Gone but not forgotten. I miss these so damn much.
Gone but not forgotten. I miss these so damn much.
Jacqui Cheng

Having to shove a connector into a high-friction plug—often requiring two hands, depending on how you’re holding stuff—is stupid. It’s just stupid. This is a customer-hostile regression in functionality. I’m sure there are excellent reasons for it and that it saves Apple money on the MBA’s bill of materials and on warranty support, but I hate it and it’s terrible. This is not the premium Apple experience I feel like I’m paying for.

Battery life

I used the M1 MacBook Air for work all day one day, filling up about 11 hours of on-the-clock time with Slack, emailing, Zoom conferencing, Messages, and Web browsing, and the Air still had 40 percent remaining on the battery meter when the day was done. This is considerably longer than my old 2015 MBA, which throws in the towel around hour five. (Unlike with the official battery test, my unofficial workday usage test was done with adaptive brightness and Night Shift enabled, and there was a fair amount of idling.)

In the official Ars battery test, with the screen locked at our reference brightness of 200 nits, the M1 MBA lasted for 877 minutes—a bit over 14.5 hours. Charge time back from almost dead to full took a bit over two hours with the included 30W adapter, with the device powered off during the charge.

But I don’t usually spend the day working on my laptop—instead, the place where my old MBA most often lets me down is on long flights. Living in Houston means I usually fly United, and United is particularly miserly with power plugs—if you don’t get certain specific seats, you’re out of luck. In my experience, my Intel MBA is good for three, maybe four hours of movie watching before it’s dead as a doornail—so if I’m flying to California or pretty much anywhere that’s more than a couple of hours away and I don’t get a power outlet seat, I know I probably need to bring a book.

The M1 Air laughs at my old MBA. It laughs at it, gives it noogies, and flushes its head down the toilet in the locker room.

<a href="https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/m1mba-mib.jpg" class="enlarge" data-height="2880" data-width="5120" alt="Artist's impression of how I felt about the M1 MacBook Air's battery life as it continued to play Westworld episodes without running out of juice.”><img alt="Artist's impression of how I felt about the M1 MacBook Air's battery life as it continued to play Westworld episodes without running out of juice.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/m1mba-mib-640×360.jpg” width=”640″ height=”360″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/m1mba-mib-1280×720.jpg 2x”>
Enlarge / Artist’s impression of how I felt about the M1 MacBook Air’s battery life as it continued to play Westworld episodes without running out of juice.

I left the M1 MBA playing 4K Westworld episodes from the UHD BluRay box set, full screen and at max brightness, with the sound blaring at max volume. I finally gave up and shut the laptop off after ten hours, at which point it still said it had 13-percent battery remaining. That’s not only long enough to last out any domestic flight—that’s enough to last you an international flight from the US to Europe.

A quick note on resuming from sleep: during the Air’s reveal, Apple showed off how quickly the Air resumes from standby by having Senior VP Craig Federighi lift the lid of a sleeping MacBook Air and peek in, all set to the mellow sounds of Barry White. While I can’t say that Barry White plays when I open up my laptop, I can say that the M1 Air wakes from sleep very quickly. It’s not that it’s faster than my Intel-powered Air, since the 2015 model will sometimes wake up instantly, too—but the 2015 Air also sometimes takes a second or two to blink on when I lift the lid. The M1 Air is much more consistent—I’ve only had the thing for a few days, but every wake-from-sleep has been lightning quick.

New silicon, old apps

As has been explained by folks who are smarter than I am, the new M1 does not natively run x86 applications. Therefore, as with the last big architecture transition, Apple has created a bytecode translator that can make your Intel applications work on Apple Silicon. It’s called Rosetta 2, and it works pretty well.

The first time you run an x86 application, you’ll be prompted to download Rosetta 2; after that, launching an x86 application is just like launching an Apple Silicon app—you click on it and it runs.

Apple Silicon-native applications show up in Activity Monitor as "Apple" architecture, while x86 applications are listed as "Intel."
Enlarge / Apple Silicon-native applications show up in Activity Monitor as “Apple” architecture, while x86 applications are listed as “Intel.”

My laptop workflow doesn’t use many apps, but I am a long-term Firefox user—and unfortunately, the x86 version of Firefox seemed to exhibit a bit of stage fright. Specifically, after installation and startup, Firefox 83 would work fine for the first couple of webpages, and then just… stop loading stuff. It would sit with the “Waiting for…” notice in the status bar, like it was going to load the page, and never get to the next step. Trying to quit the browser would lead to the Firefox process going unresponsive. After killing and relaunching it, the browser would work fine again for a couple of pages and then do the same thing.

Rather than troubleshoot, I fixed the issue by downloading the beta release of Firefox 84, which includes native Apple Silicon support. The problem behavior vanished, and everything worked fine.

The other Intel apps I tried, including Slack, 1Password 7, Dropbox, and a 64-bit community port of Boxer, all worked transparently and without issue. (There were also no problems using 1Password’s extension inside of Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.) Running old Sierra games under Boxer worked fine—and, if I’m being honest, running old Sierra games under Boxer is about half of what I actually do use my laptop for, so this was great news.

As long as I can still emulate old DOS games, all will be right with the world.
Enlarge / As long as I can still emulate old DOS games, all will be right with the world.

As for running iOS apps on the MBA, I understand it’s notionally possible, but I didn’t bother. Samuel tried it and had mixed luck, and other reviewers at other sites seem to be having about the same experience. I’m not a mobile app kind of guy, and I only have four that I use regularly—Duo for two-factor authentication, Philips’ Hue app for light control, Golf on Mars for wasting time, and 1Password. (Seriously, my phone home screen is two pages, and the only thing on the second page is a folder labeled “Crap” with all the stuff in it that I don’t want on the first page and can’t delete.)

I have no idea how well Apple Silicon on Big Sur runs iOS apps, and I don’t care. For folks wanting to go down that particular path, Samuel’s review has you covered—and since there’s essentially zero functional difference between how the M1 Air runs iOS apps versus the M1 mini, I anticipate the Air would behave identically to the mini.

Form factor, ports, keyboard, screen

Other than the guts, the M1 MacBook Air is pretty much the same device as it is when you buy the Intel-flavored version. The form factor is unchanged. The Air’s Retina-resolution screen is the same as it was before the M1 transition—crisp and sharp enough to cut glass. Off-angle viewing looks as good as you would expect it to look, and we measured its maximum brightness at 409 nits. Backlight coverage to my eyes looks even, and I don’t see any bleeding at the edges.

Leaving the display behind and turning to the rest of the chassis, the Air’s port situation is also the same—the two USB-C plugs support Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 Gen2, and you can connect a single external DisplayPort display that goes up to 6k resolution at 60Hz. Hell, there’s even a headphone jack. That’s just downright courageous.

I missed out on the butterfly keyboard debacle, though I got to experience it vicariously through my Ars coworkers as one by one they all complained in Slack about having to have their butterfly keyboards replaced by Apple. The M1 MBA’s “Magic Keyboard” feels more or less the same as my 2015 MBA—perhaps a bit less mushy, but only a small bit. It’s perfectly serviceable and unremarkable.

Something I greatly dislike, though, is the removal of the keyboard backlight adjustment keys—they have been replaced by a “start dictation” key and a key that toggles “Do Not Disturb” mode on and off. I’m sure that decision was made after a lot of focus group testing to justify it, but man, it’s just powerful annoying to have something you find useful snatched away from you. I find one-touch access to the keyboard backlight to be handy, and I adjust the backlight often. Now the only way to do it is in System Preferences or via a menubar widget. Lame.

This disappoints me.
Enlarge / This disappoints me.

It’s a Macbook Air—it’s just better than before

Let’s back up a bit before we wrap, because I don’t want to end the review on a down note. Yeah, USB-C charging sucks compared to MagSafe, and the removal of the backlight keys irks the crap out of me, but to keep things in perspective, I’m excited enough about owning an M1-powered laptop that I dropped a bit over $1,500 of my own dollars on one even though my current laptop was still basically fine.

The new Air’s battery life is outstanding, and it feels like I’ve finally gotten a portable with the endurance I’ve always wanted. The storage subsystem is quick, load times are minimal, and doing several things on the M1 MacBook Air at once is as quick and responsive as it is when I do the same tasks on my desktop—and my desktop is a Xeon-powered iMac Pro.

I don’t like using too many superlatives in hardware reviews—at least, in hardware reviews that don’t involve flight simulator equipment (for reviews that do involve flight simulator equipment, it’s superlatives for days!). And while I can’t say the M1 MacBook Air is the perfect laptop, I can say that it’s excellent.

<a href="https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/JT3A5942.jpg" class="enlarge" data-height="2737" data-width="4101" alt="I like it!“><img alt="I like it!” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/JT3A5942-640×427.jpg” width=”640″ height=”427″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/JT3A5942-1280×854.jpg 2x”>
Enlarge / I like it!
Lee Hutchinson

Seriously, I just wasn’t expecting the M1—I wasn’t expecting it to be this ludicrously fast for the price and the wattage. I wasn’t expecting the new chip to just work—though given Apple’s previous architecture switches, I probably should have. I wasn’t expecting the Air to kick as much ass as it does. Unlike most portables—including the i7-powered 2015 MBA I’m getting ready to retire—it gets the hell out of my way and doesn’t make me wait on it when I want to do something.

It’s great. And I’m excited to see what Apple does next.

The Good

  • Fast as hell
  • Battery lasts a long-ass time
  • Common x86 apps seem to work perfectly under Rosetta 2
  • To this casual laptop user, the M1 feels pretty dang amazing
  • Checks almost every box I care about when it comes to hardware I want to own and use

The Bad

  • No keyboard backlight adjustment keys
  • You might run into Rosetta compatibility issues with less-common apps
  • No Windows virtualization (not yet, at least)
  • The loss of MagSafe still stings, even after literally years

The Ugly

  • It’s such an improvement over Intel-based MacBook Airs that you might find yourself spending a thousand unplanned dollars to join the Apple Silicon club

The bottom line

It’s like I said in the beginning of the piece: it’s fast. The battery life is great. The M1 seems like a hit, and given Apple’s success at iterating on their silicon designs, it seems like things are only going to get faster. If you’re looking for a portable, and you’re not tied to Windows, the M1 MacBook Air is a pretty damn good use of your money.

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