Whoo hoo! It arrived today. A day earlier than expected. So exciting!
Just to recap: I went with the MacBook Air, 8 core, 16GB RAM, 1TB disk. I maxed out the RAM and also upgraded the SSD (I might have skipped upgrading the SSD but the base 512GB one had a delivery date a week from today and that plus it’s always good to have spare SSD space nudged me to upgrade). It’s not cheap, and it’s a fanboy purchase for sure as I don’t really need a laptop… but I couldn’t resist not getting the first of the M1 devices so I splurged out the money even though I really should not.
First impressions after maybe an hour of off and on usage: it’s great, I ❤️ it! Not that I had any doubts, but you know… the general consensus after the Apple event of last week was that they didn’t go into much details, the graphs had no numbers etc. and so there was always the little speck of doubt that we don’t really know how things are until the device is in hand. For years everyone knew the iPhone and iPad A-series chips could outperform Macs or PCs in various tasks, just that iOS being iOS not many people used them as Mac or PC replacements. But would macOS work well on them was the big question; and also how would 3rd party apps that were not recompiled for Apple Silicon perform? Would the performance be poor like with the Surface Pro X devices for instance, which were similarly ARM based and resorted to emulation to run Intel architecture apps and had limitations like being unable to emulate 64-bit apps?
It’s amusing how just a few years ago there were rumours that macOS and Macs would die soon and Apple would focus on iOS and iDevices only etc.; and here we are now with super excitement around macOS and Macs. Not only is macOS Big Sur a big leap in terms of architecture compatibility, it also pulls a design refresh successfully.
To answer the question of macOS and M1 in general, there’s absolutely no performance concerns. There’s plenty of YouTube reviews you can watch as well as Geekbench scores etc. and they all say the same thing: this thing performs well and the battery life is amazing! When I got the MacBook Air it had 86% charge and I’ve only touched 61% with the off and on usage. I close the lid whenever I leave it and when I come back and open the lid it’s instantly on… just like your iPhone. No brief startup delay like any other Macs.
In terms of performance I am not a good judge of it as neither do I compile any code on this nor do I do Final Cut or PhotoShop etc. I can tell you that both the Music and Photos app opened instantly and loaded my library from scratch (Apple Music and the iCloud Photos) super fast… that’s something even my previous MacBook Pro had trouble with. And having used something like the Raspberry Pi 4 which is similarly ARM based and on which I could notice a performance difference compared to even a PC from few years ago I feel no such difference with the MacBook Air M1. If someone gave me this and didn’t tell me it was
ARM Apple Silicon based I wouldn’t know.
The only thing I would have noticed is the 3rd party apps that have not been recompiled for Apple Silicon. One of the first things I downloaded was LastPass from the App Store and when I double clicked on it nothing happened. It was only after a bit more clicking around and minimising other windows that I noticed there was a message to install Rosetta (Apple’s translation software for Intel architecture to Apple Silicon).
Would have been good if the window brought itself forward, or even if Rosetta was installed by default; but no big deal. I, for once, decided not to install Rosetta right away. I wanted to see what apps I’d miss without Rosetta, and I think I’ll install it maybe in a few days (again, based on the reviews it looks like an app running translated by Rosetta is faster than the same app running natively on Intel architecture so there’s no performance impact except maybe less battery optimisation on the M1… which is fine). I don’t use too many apps but of the ones that I tried the following are not compiled for Apple Silicon yet:
- Microsoft RDP
- Microsoft Visual Studio Code
I figure some of these – Bear, LastPass, BitWarden – have iOS versions so if they just enabled the iOS versions to work with macOS I could have downloaded that from the App Store.
(Oh, in case you weren’t aware macOS on Apple Silicon can run iOS apps and you can download these from the App Store. The app developer has to make it available for running on macOS though, and not everyone has done that. You can now run Overcast (the podcast software) on macOS this way though).
Thankfully iTerm2 works (phew, else I’d be stuck without a terminal – that’s something I’d miss!) and so does BBEdit. The lack of LastPass and BitWarden through my self-imposed restriction is a bit of a hassle, but thanks to Handoff between iPhones and Macs I can always copy a password on my iPhone and paste it on the Mac. I’ll limp along for a couple of days this way I suppose.
One odd thing which I hadn’t encountered before was that iTerm2 said my hostname was “Android”. And when I typed
hostname it did say the name was “Android”. But in System Preferences > Sharing the name was set to something else so that didn’t make sense. Turns out I am not alone though as I found this StackOverflow post. These are three different commands to view your hostname (and all of them don’t give the same answer; in my case the first two gave the name set in the Sharing screen whereas the last one returned “Android”):
scutil --get ComputerName
scutil --get LocalHostName
scutil --get HostName
The fix is to run whichever command gave you the wrong name with the
--set switch to set the hostname. Thus in my case:
scutil --set HostName MyMac.something
That’s all for now!
ps. Almost forgot! Such a relief not having the butterfly keyboard any more. My previous MacBook Pro had a butterfly keyboard and while I didn’t mind it initially my fingers soon tired of it. This one (like its Intel based predecessor) has the new Magic Keyboard and it’s such a pleasure to type on. Also, the keyboard has some helpful keys like enabling Do Not Disturb, starting Dictation, and doing a Spotlight Search. There’s also an Emoji key, not sure if this was present previously. So glad I don’t have to deal with butterfly keyboards. I’d definitely have skipped the MacBook Air – M1 chip or not! – if it had a butterfly keyboard. :)
Update: A week later (22nd Nov) I filed a return request for this device. Nothing wrong with it, just that I couldn’t find a use case for it in my existing workflow. I am used to a big screen and such, and currently with an iMac and external display I am sorted. If I want to start using the M1 Macbook Air similarly I’d have to change things around and I wasn’t keen on that. It wasn’t a cheap device to keep just as a part-time laptop either; so I returned it. Hopefully 2021 will bring a redesigned M1 based iMac and I can get one of those.
Update 2 (31 Dec 2020): I went ahead and ordered a Mac mini. Many more applications are now being released for the M1 Mac (e.g. Docker, which was missing earlier and I wanted to use). Plus I didn’t over spec on the disk space like with the Macbook Air so that plus the fact that this is not a laptop resulted in this being relatively cheaper.
Update 3 (sometime in June/ July 2021): I bought the MacBook Air again. But this time I went with the base model – the 7 core GPU, lowest storage etc. I wanted a laptop sooner than later and also didn’t want to spend any more money than I needed to as I know I won’t be using it much; also I wanted it to run macOS as that’s what I enjoy working on… so the MacBook Air it was. Moreover there was some deal going on in Amazon so I was able to shave off a few £££s that way too.