In short, the Air was probably the big winner of the M1, followed by the Mac Mini.
The M1 sent the Air from being a fire emoji joke to being... goddamn capable. And fanless.
The M1 GPU's on par with a 1050 Ti (base Air) or a 1060 6 GB (16 GB, 8C), which for 5 watts is damn good, and... yes, for a consumer Mac, also damn good.
Mac gaming... however, is in a rough state, but it is recovering. Apple's added a crapton of controller support, and helped port Metro Exodus and Divinity 2 across. Plus we're through the worst of the transitions.
If you can get an Air for a few dollars off, I'd say to go for it, if he's used a Mac before. Otherwise, yeah, lean towards the PC side.
I'd probably suggest an Asus laptop that utilizes Windows. Just easier to translate upgrades for drives, has all the necessary ports, and is relatively inexpensive if you price match. Macs are not bad machines all around, but get nurfed when some thermal or expansion issue will arise. At least with an Asus laptop, if there is a failure of sorts, you can replace shit unlike in most Apple products.
At a software standpoint you get great options on IOS for digital design, video editing, and things of that nature. Gaming, I think Windows is still better for that type of thing. Also I find that the Windows environment is just better for doing school work, but you can easily get Open Office as an alternative for free that does all the same shit.
M1 chipset looks intriguing and I would have to say that if you have the extra money to put into it, then your kid would love it. Though an Asus machine hardware wise along with there are a lot of different options when it comes to the Windows platform. 10 has a lot of annoying bullshit, but really depends on your standpoint of the pros and cons of what a 16 year old would use the machine for. I would have to say if he is just doing normal school work with some gaming, an Asus machine you could spend the same amount of money as a Mac and get a kick ass laptop for. Asus laptops are the only laptops I would fuck with though for Windows PCs. The rest are fucking junk.
Long post, but it ends with "Get the Mac because Windows fucking sucks and the Windows 10 laptop experience sucks even more." Read the post if you want my reasoning.
I very much subscribe to "you get what you pay for." I've done the "cheaper" and more "budget friendly" options, but I've started to realize that the time I'll spend troubleshooting something... well is worth something. I'm not 16 or 18 anymore. Time has become a resource as I've matured and grown up. The time I wasted working through kinks and stupid problems started to build up. But it wasn't just lost time, it was time taken away from working on something beneficial to me.
I "gave up" on AMD's graphics division after I started getting frustrated with the little issues adding up. I used a card that was part of the crossover from Catalyst Control Center and Crimson (still sucks btw), sold that card, bought a Nvidia 10-series at launch. Later on, I tried a second time with a 5000 series card because the hype made it sound like the best thing since Lite Brite. I returned it within 10 days. It was another case of AMD buggy unstable piece of shit drivers. So far, I've used a 10-series and a 30-series card much longer than the AMD GPUs I used, and I can count on one hand I've had to go with the nuclear "DDU it" option. In contrast with AMD, I had to DDU my drivers every single update. I pay the Nvidia premium because the drivers just fuckin' work, with the exception of Linux. This is maybe the only time I would consider AMD a better option and even then I would be hard pressed because I've never had Nvidia's drivers blow up on me, even when I ran Debian as a daily driver for 6 months.
You might find yourself asking, "Okay, what the fuck does this have to do with Mac vs Windows you unit of a sperg? This thread isn't about your complaints with AMD." Well, pay the fuck attention because I already stated my thesis; You get what you pay for and AMD is a budget option and drivers are where AMD cut costs.
Windows laptops are another case of "you get what you pay for." Microsoft thinks it knows best. It installs shit you don't want and overwrites the manufacturer's drivers because it feels like it. A laptop that I lightly used for 3 months (spent a year and a half off on the shelf because covid) worked great until I got roped into a forced update. If I didn't give up on it, I would be on week 6 of working on this demon box from hell. The bar of expectations for this laptop is literally on the ground. But it is a $500-750 paperweight because it blue screens over driver errors. It blue screens, even with a fresh install, again from driver errors. My experience with Windows 10 in this regard isn't unique. The forced updates on the platform (even if you turn them off in Pro/Ent they randomly turn back on!) WILL break drivers. If your manufacturer is a bastard, they will roll out an initial version of the drivers your laptop needs and that's it. This also assumes they list everything you need because they also expect the drivers to be installed at the same time Windows is installing. I found out the hard way that the manufacturer website is no-longer a reliable source to get drivers for your device. I don't even know if this is a recent development or not because as the consumer, I had the power to decline an update and not have to worry.
This is the tip of the iceberg with the stupid decisions Microsoft has done to lockdown its main product. The platform of customization and choices is no more. People used to roast Apple for this, but why is that still memed on while Microsoft is left unaccountable for the bullshit they've pulled with W10 since converting it to "software as a service" cancerware? Wasn't Windows 10 intended to be free? Why the flying fuck do I pay for a license to get serviced ads anyway?! Why does the operating system try to police what god damn browser I should use? Stop recommending Bing to me. I don't give a rat's ass. Why do I feel like I'm the product for the product? The telemetry and tracking you can't even opt out of. The NSA backdoor. And because Big Tech is constantly hungry for more, Microsoft wants to go a step further and force TPM in W11 because they need to really prove that you, John Smith, used this computer. Why? With the privacy concerns and software issues, Linux seems like the logical thing to embrace. I know my way around the Arch Wiki, so I should be okay, but Linux is still a meme on laptops. It is a monumentally borderline impossible task to try and build compatibility for every possible hardware configuration.
I get what I pay for. The time investment I've wasted with this laptop has easily cost me money I could have spent freelancing. I have had to put time aside at home to work on school work that I could have done at school. Quite frankly, it's not worth it anymore to work with a laptop that I'm going to perpetually have to sort out issues with on, whether it is Windows or Linux. If I'm going to buy a new laptop anyway, I'll spend the extra $300 and not have ads served to me as a base function of the operating system. Even better, the system is just going to fucking work because Apple has a handful of hardware configurations to support rather than an infinite amount that require the manufacturer to support. Do you get absolutely hosed into a smaller screen, less RAM, and puny storage? Yeah, you totally do. But iCloud storage costs less than a breakfast sandwich unless you really need 2TB. It's still competitive with Google Drive's pricing. The biggest drawback is ARM compatibility but it's pretty much a non-issue because Apple addressed that. If they didn't, they would lose sales from customers with needs. Also, VMWare is beta testing the ARM branch for Fusion so that's pretty nifty I would say. The battery life isn't a joke, either. It really does last 20 hours, which is bonkers for a laptop.
Part of my decision was influenced with my experience with Apple products. Apple in general has been great to me, with my iPhone 6S making it over 5 years before I replaced it because the battery was toast from being used to death. Before then, I had a rock solid iPhone 5 SE. I've never had an Android phone receive more than 2 years of support and I've had multiple. I've used my Android phone for trips and such, where I could give 2 shits less if it gets stolen or lost. You get what you pay for.
Like how I've "given up" on AMD's GPUs, I've "given up" on Windows. I have zero regrets about getting a Mac for my college work and it is a cornerstone to help me move to Linux on my workstation. While Linux compatibility is getting a lot better, I don't trust Linux on laptops yet. Most of the applications I use are compatible with Linux and Mac anyway, with the exception of some software my school makes me use for class. I'm just going to virtualize Windows 10 for it. I already have a VMWare Workstation license, so I don't really need to wait for Fusion to work with ARM anyway.
I've got a M1 Air and I love it I was due a new laptop and it became urgent when the old one was starting to randomly power off (Thinkpad X seres) and I've got no regrets about it other than screen size and I'm likely going to sell this one and get a 15in Macbook Pro when the M series ones get released.
My use case is internet, office work and photography with a little bit of light CAD (reviewing stuff not really creating files) and its done everything I've asked it to do flawlessly so far, All my laptops at home tend to live in a dock and when I am out and about I don't use a mouse and I have a few USB A and C memory sticks for when I need to use them and my own nas and extranal hard drives connect to the dock anyway.
I'm not a fan of Windows 10, and I don't game so it was a reasonable option for me but others miles may vary.
I've tried Linux and for a server or Industrial OS it's great but for general day to day use for most people it's not there yet just to many little problems and compatibility snags to say it's ready for prime time, but if your technicaly competant and enjoy tweaking computers a lot you will be fine just make sure your happy with that before you commit.