One month with Apple's new MacBook Air. Three annoying problems

Apple has solved the keyboard issues with the new MacBook Air. Which doesn't mean it's the perfect product for a committed Airhead.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

I'm stuck with it now.

The laughter of an Apple store employee still echoes around my bones.

He'd been amused, you see, by the fact that my still relatively new MacBook Air had been cursed by a defective Butterfly keyboard. This forced me to buy the latest MacBook Air as soon as Apple announced it in March.

The Apple store employee offered: "So you bought an Air that was a piece of crap and you didn't bother getting the keyboard replaced?"

This has been preceded by: "HAHAHAHAHAHA."

It was the first time I'd ever bought a gadget before I'd physically seen it. I was desperate. And, I confess, I'm something of an Airhead.

The MacBook Air has been my one and only writing companion since Steve Jobs first unveiled it. In general, it's been an unfailingly good machine. It's light, durable and every new iteration has been that little bit better than the previous one. Until the Butterfly floated in at the end of 2018.

I've had the new 2020 MacBook Air for just over a month now. It's fair, I think, to give it an Airhead's appraisal.

Let's start with the most important element. Typing on it is a joy. At first, I was surprised that I had to lift my fingers a little further, as its (supposedly Magic) keys are more elevated than the Butterfly's. Now, the sure-handed springiness of the keys offers reassurance that the previous Air could not.

Of course, I've already managed to drop croissant crumbs on the keyboard. So far, it's as if my new Air has brushed them off. The previous Air keyboard had a reputation for allowing the crumbs inside, which made the keyboard behave as if it had been Novocained.

For the first couple of weeks, then, I was a relieved writer. The 2020 Air was performing perfectly. But I don't always pay attention to the details until they headbutt me.

There I was, typing away one day, when I suddenly noticed my battery had surprisingly little charge left.

If you're a regular user of a laptop, you become accustomed to how much juice you can squeeze out of your machine. Without even looking up, you'll know whether there's fifty percent of charge left or twenty.

The Butterfly Air had the longest battery life of any Air I've owned. This 2020 Air has slipped back toward long gone times. I really can't go half a morning without it dipping somewhat alarmingly. It feels as if this battery is around 20 percent less efficient than the previous one.

It's a frustration, as battery life is something you don't want to think about.

Still, if I had to exchange the ability for the letters I choose on the keyboard to actually display on the screen for less battery life, I'd still choose the former.

But then there was another echo of Airtimes gone by. 

It was later in the evening and suddenly my new Air's fans started to whine. I couldn't remember my Airs doing anything like this for some years. I haven't changed my usage patterns at all. Yet here was a fan-whine, slightly more muted than fan-whines of old, but still surprisingly abrupt.

It's odd, then, that as Apple has gone back to an older keyboard design -- even if it's rebranded its move as, oh, Magic -- two issues from olden times have reemerged.

But then I looked to my left and found a new issue. The so-called Thunderbolt 3 power adapter is already damaged. Squished, you might say. The plug end of it is bent, too.


Already squished.

Chris Matyszczyk/ZDNet

This is quite bizarre. Initially, my Airs had the quite brilliant MagSafe connecter, which elegantly flew off once it felt excess tension. The Butterfly Air dispensed with that, yet still offered a perfectly solid connector. This new Air thing took less than a month to get damaged. Which feels more than a little careless. 

I feel sure I didn't do anything with it or to it that I didn't do with my previous Airs. So it's disappointing that small, but important elements may be a touch flimsier.

I know I'm stuck with this machine now. And mostly it's performed very well. Its true test will, of course, come after a year. Or more.

In essence, as with so many things we used to think normal, the new Air -- at least in my use of it so far -- has veered away a little but solved the biggest problem of the previous iteration.

No, I haven't emailed the Apple store employee to ask what he thinks. Not yet.

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