I bought an M1 MacBook Air, one of Apple’s startlingly powerful new Macs powered by their own CPUs instead of Intel’s. The worst thing about this new hardware is that it’s so power efficient that it can’t warm up my lap on a cold morning.
I started using Apple products in the late 1970s. In the 80s, I was a die-hard Apple II, IIe, and IIgs user, but never had a Mac (they were breathtakingly expensive). In the mid 90s, after a side quest with an Amiga for a fun couple years, I over-invested in a Power Mac 7100 while trying to make a desktop publishing business work. It was one of the worst Macs of all time, but it was my first Mac, and I loved it anyway.
In the late 90s, I went old school with a Macintosh Classic. When the colourful new iMacs and iBooks appeared, I got one of each — my first laptop/desktop combo — and I have had a fairly fresh pair of Macs ever since. I’ve owned most significant Mac models made in the last 20 years, and I’ve used all of them hard.
That’s a lot of history with the platform, and it’s why I feel competent to write this four-word review of the new M1 MacBook Air:
Amazing hardware, shitty software.
For years, my frustration with the quality of macOS has been escalating to the point where it has threatened to destroy my enthusiasm for technology in general. But Apple Silicon is so impressive that it has inspired me once again, in spite of the shabby state of macOS. I’ve had a lot of fun trying it out.
There’s really nothing negative of any importance to say about the hardware. All the enthusiasm coming from more serious reviewers seems justified, and the that negative review that got a bunch of attention was just daft, reflexively anti-Apple blindness.
At times I have thought perhaps it wasn’t quite as impressive as I was expecting from such a monster of a system, but then I go back to using my best-in-class Intel Macbook Pro — only a year old — and the differences are glaring. Waking them up side by side is a fun exercise. The Air can run around the room three times before the Pro says, “Huh? What’s going on?”
I can ride a bike upwind or downwind just fine, and I’ll get where I’m going either way, but for damn sure I’d rather had the wind at my back! And that’s how the M1 MacBook Air feels. Despite my love of screen real estate, I’d actually rather work on the Air right now. My 16" MacBook Pro is getting jealous.
But the software… 🤦🏻
Here are the macOS software issues I noticed within the first few hours of use. The size of the list for such a short time period is what matters, not the details. And this is just crashes, hangs, glitches — not subjective impressions of usability. It’s pathetic that MacOS 10.16 is this twitchy.
- Serious crashes: three kernel panics while asleep. Doubleplusungood! The crashes stopped when I disabled iCloud Photo Library — more or less confirming an issue I’ve been tracking all year on my older Macs.
- Messages hung when inserting an Emoji… twice. Emoji wouldn’t insert, and then Messages became unresponsive.
- Safari stopped responding to input.
- Confirmed that I cannot change external drive icons. 🙄 Not a “glitch,” per se, but a regression introduced in Catalina.
- Janky authentication of Google mail accounts: the Safari window that opened up to display login form was unresponsive to input.
- Although just “warm,” I was surprised to notice easily detectable heat at the top of the keyboard on day 1. I haven’t noticed it since (not even when running benchmarks), but I did then. That’s likely the effect of macOS’s notorious indexing/setup behaviour. Or maybe it was the kernel panics!
- Finder hung when I typed a word in the spotlight search field. Had to be relaunched. Happened again a while later.
- 30-seconds of beachballing after clicking “done” on a simple screenshot annotation.
- Emoji picker hangs another app, OmniOutliner this time. Seems to hijack input focus — app is not technically hung, but rather the emoji picker? Either way, it’s a really shitty bug.
- Mysteriously prompted to re-authenticate a Google account by a notification… but when I clicked “continue,” nothing happened. Account seems functional.
- Failure of about a half dozen random custom keyboard shortcuts — all working fine on my 2 other Macs on Catalina.
Get your QA shit together, Apple!