Apple MacBook Air M2 Review
Electronics,  Technology

Apple MacBook Air M2 Review 2022

Two years ago, Apple released one of the most impressive laptops ever made, the M1 MacBook Air. But as good as that machine was and still is, all of the advancements were on the inside. The outside of it was an old design that we’ve been familiar with for years. Now, Apple has released a brand new Apple MacBook Air M2 with a complete redesign that brings the outside up to speed with how impressive the inside is.

Plus, it’s got the latest Apple MacBook Air M2 chip for even better performance than before. There are some buts, though, and the big one is this new Air is $200 more expensive than the older one, starting at 1199. Plus, with the M1 Air still being produced, you can find sales and deals on it quite easily, pushing the price gap between the two even further, while the real-world performance difference might not be as much as you think. So let’s dive in.

Thin Design

Apple MacBook Air M2 Review

The new apple macbook air m2 has the same thickness on the front and back. Some people might be bummed that Apple‘s moved away from this iconic MacBook Air shape, but I’m not one of them. I think this new design is fantastic and exactly what Apple needed to do. It’s modern and sleek and just nice to look at. That is unless you get this new midnight color. This new color is quite beautiful. It’s got a blue-black finish that changes in the light but as soon as you touch it, it gets covered in nasty fingerprints.

And if you’re anything like me, those will drive you batty. Apple’s far from the only company to face this problem with dark-colored laptops. I’m looking at you, Razor. But if that’s something that will bother you, go with one of the other colors. I’ve also got the new silver gold starlight color here, which stays fingerprint-free. Though the wedge shape is gone, the new Air is remarkably thin. It’s even thinner than the older model. It’s hard to convey in words just how thin this computer is. But as soon as you open it and start typing on it, you’ll notice it.

The bottom half is barely thicker than an iPad. The new Air is also slightly lighter than the old one at 2.7 pounds versus 2.8. This is far from the lightest computer you can buy, but it’s certainly light enough that toting it around wherever I need to go isn’t a problem. But since this is an Apple computer we’re talking about here, that thinner profile and lighter weight doesn’t make the new Air feel flimsy or weak. It’s just as well built and sturdy as the rest of Apple’s MacBook line, and I don’t foresee any bending or durability issues here. This is just a nice computer to hold and use. With this new design, Apple has changed every aspect of the Air, down to its ports and charging configuration.

It’s got the resurrected MagSafe charging that debuted on the MacBook pro 14 and 16 last year, and it’s just as nice here as it was there. You even get a color-matched cable in the box. Take that, MacBook Pro. Since the Air can now charge over MagSafe, you effectively get an extra port because you don’t have to use one of the two Thunderbolt ports for charging anymore. However, you can if you want. Unfortunately, it’s still just two ports, and they are both on the left-hand side. I’d have loved some ports on the right side, and while I know it would never happen, a USBA port is still super useful in this, the 2022nd year of our dongle. Alas, this USB hub is staying in my bag. Also, Apple is still limiting external displays to just one here, so if you like to plug your laptop into two monitors, you’ll need to step up to a 14-inch MacBook Pro or find another workaround.

  • Apple MacBook Air M2
  • Apple MacBook Air M2
  • Apple MacBook Air M2 Review

Apple MacBook Air M2 Display

The other big thing that comes with this new design is a brand new display. It’s a little bit bigger, 13.6 inches versus 13.3. But most of that is in the height as it’s noticeably taller than before. There are also smaller bezels around the sides and top and bottom giving it a more modern feel. It’s also noticeably brighter than the older Air, hitting 434 nits of peak brightness in my tests. That makes it bright enough to use outdoors, and it’s just more comfortable to look at all day long.

Makes the screen feel more roomy, less cramped, and more comfortable to work on without making the computer much bigger or bulkier. It is not as impressive as the mini LED screens you get on the MacBook Pro 14 or 16, but it’s a certain improvement over the old Air’s display and better than what you get on the 13-inch MacBook Pro M2. But this display now comes with a notch, just like the MacBook Pro 14 and 16. Let me tell you, I hate the notch on my own 14-inch Pro, and I hate it on this thing.

It’s not because it’s ugly or distracting. It’s because it completely messes up how I use the menu bar on a Mac. See, I love menu bar apps. I’ve got ones for clocks, calendars, tasks, system monitoring, and a bunch of other utilities, but the notch takes up enough space that a lot of my menu bar apps just don’t show up anymore. There are, ironically, other menu bar apps you can use to make this workable. Bartender works best for my needs, but it’s annoying that a third-party app is necessary to make Apple’s design usable here.

Apple MacBook Air M2 Performance

All right, that’s all the new stuff on the outside, but Apple’s also made some updates to the internals here. My review unit is a $1,499 configuration with eight gigabytes of Ram and 512gb of storage. It’s probably the right spec for most people, which I’ll get into in a bit. The main update here is it has the new M2 arm chip, which is also in the MacBook Pro 13 that Monica recently reviewed. In the base Air, it has eight CPU cores and eight GPU cores. The model I’ve got here it’s got 10 GPU cores, the same as the 13-inch Pro, and two more than you could get in the M1 Air.

But while the Pro is a little thicker and has a fan, the Air is thin and sleek, and it doesn’t have a fan. It’s a perfectly silent computer, but the lack of a fan and thinner design makes the M2 chip perform noticeably worse in benchmark testing. It doesn’t really take much to get the system to throttle back the power being sent to the chip and slow its speeds down to keep temperatures manageable. Here you could see that impact in our test results of the multicourse in a bench 23 benchmark. It also shows up in other stress tests, like when we’re using Premiere Pro for video editing or exporting a lot of raw photos from Lightroom. The Air is just noticeably slower at these things than the Pro.

The bottom of the computer also gets considerably warm doing these tests. The other thing to be aware of is Apple confirmed to me that the base 1199 model with 256 gigs of storage has just one NAND storage chip, which makes its storage perform much slower when copying files or multitasking between a bunch of apps than models with the 512 gigs or more of storage, which have two NAND chips. It’s even likely to be slower than the base model M1 Air storage because that used two chips.

Now the new 13-inch Pro has the same problem, and we’ll be testing the base Air just to see how slow it is in practice. So be sure to check out the verge for that. The short answer is don’t buy the base model if you can avoid it. The overall question with most of these performance results is, does it really matter for the Air? And the answer is, for most people, probably not. For the things that an Air is ideal for productivity work, browsing the web, video calls, watching TV shows or movies, writing term papers, stuff like that, the performance is more than adequate even if you’re spending all day doing those tasks.

I never once ran into a performance issue or felt the computer heat up while I was using the Air to do my actual job as a knowledge worker. It’s also fine for occasional light photo and video editing, especially if you’re using Apple’s photos or iMovie apps for those tasks. There’s just no good reason to buy 13 inch M2 Pro over the Air to save a few seconds on tasks you only do occasionally and then give up all of the other benefits you’d appreciate on the Air every single day, like the better screen, better webcam, MagSafe, thinner and lighter weight, and so on.

Suppose you think you’re going to be relying on your computer for regularly doing intensive creative work like professional video editing, raw photo editing, or even a lot of coding. In that case, you should probably be looking at a MacBook Pro and likely the 14 or 16-inch models. For the rest of us, unless you really have your heart set on that mini LED screen and are willing to pay a lot for it, the Air is where it’s at, and we get a lighter, quieter computer to boot.

Web Camera & Microphone

Fortunately, inside that notch is a new 1080P webcam that’s much better than the crappy 720P camera on the older Air models and the current M2 MacBook Pro. It’s got better color, contrast, and more detail. It just really looks great for video calls. While we’re on video calls, the MacBook Air’s three-mic array sounds great. It’s got great noise cancellation and clear audio, no complaints.

Fast Charging

Let’s talk about chargers quickly because, in a very uncharacteristic fashion, Apple’s giving you a choice here. The base model Air comes at the same 30-watt USBC brick we’ve been familiar with forever, but if you get the step-up model, you can choose between a 35-watt charger with two USBC ports on it or a larger 67-watt brick that has one port and can fast charge the Air to 50% in about 30 minutes.

My review unit came with the two-port charger, and it’s fine, but I’d probably opt for the 67-watt brick for the ability to fast charge, even though it’s a little bigger. With the Air plugged into the 35-watt charger, it gained an average of about 25% battery in 30 minutes. The bigger charger would be about twice as fast as that, and the 35-watt charger speed will drop to half of its already slower pace when I’ve got my iPhone plugged into it at the same time. I wish that Apple had just put two ports on the bigger brick, but there are a lot of third-party chargers that are smaller, faster, and cheaper than what Apple sells, and they work just fine with the Air’s MagSafe cable.

Apple MacBook Air M2 Battery Life

All of these design changes and new internals may cause some concern about battery life, but I’m happy to report that in my testing, battery life is right in line with what we saw on the M1 Air. That means I can get eight to 10 hours of real continuous use out of the machine for my workloads, maybe a little on the lower end of that if I’m doing a lot of zoom calls.

Perhaps slightly longer on days, I have fewer meetings, and that’s with the display at a comfortable 200 nits of brightness and using Chrome, Slack, multiple spaces, all my lovely menu bar apps, and lots of other inefficient things that I do throughout the day. It’s not as impressive as Monica’s battery life on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2, but I tend to get worse battery life in my laptop usage than many of my colleagues and other people I’ve spoken to.

So I don’t think it’s a reason to be concerned with the Air. If you’re coming from an older Intel MacBook Air, like most people who are likely to buy this computer, you’ll be thrilled with its battery life.

Sound

If you look down at the Air’s deck, you’ll probably notice that it doesn’t have any speaker grills like virtually every other MacBook has. Instead, the speakers are integrated between the keyboard and the display for a cleaner look. There are four speakers in there, two woofers, and two tweeters, and they support Apple’s spatial audio technology. The side by side against the M1 Air sound a little bit better with maybe a little less hollow sounding or echoey sound to them at full volume.

But the difference really isn’t huge, or my ears are just old, and I can’t tell anymore, but I can tell you that they aren’t on the level of the MacBook Pro 14 or 16’s, bassy, thumpy speakers, but they’re still excellent for video calls, watching TV shows and movies, or whatever else you might wanna listen to on a thin and light laptop like this. Plus, there’s fortunately still a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack for wired audio.

Summary

So that’s a new MacBook Air. It’s a computer that’s been a long time coming. The last time Apple redesigned this model was four years ago, and even then, it wasn’t hugely different from the one that preceded it for nearly a decade. But here, we’ve got something completely new and aligned with the advancements Apple’s made in its processor line over the past couple of years. That isn’t to say it’s perfect or the right computer for those with specific demanding needs, but it is the right computer for a huge section of laptop buyers.

I can absolutely say I choose this new Air over the 13-inch MacBook Pro M2 any day of the week. I just can’t see buying that MacBook Pro for its minor performance boost and longer battery life and then giving up all of the Air’s other advantages, at least for my needs. The harder choice might be between this new Air and the older M1 model, which has similar battery life and performance and can be bought for a lot less money, but you’ll give up the new design, better display, MagSafe, and better camera there too.

I think most people buying the new Air are well suited by the mid-range, 1499 configuration I reviewed, which provides a little more processor power, faster and more roomy storage, faster charging, and great performance. You might consider bumping up the Ram to 16 gigabytes if you can swing it, but I don’t think most people will need to. And if you’ve already got an M1 Air, you don’t need to upgrade yet. The performance differences aren’t enough to really warrant it, and that’s still an excellent machine in its own right.

But if you’re coming from an older Air, especially an Intel model, or you’re looking to switch from Windows to Mac for the first time, the new MacBook Air brings a lot to the table, and you won’t be disappointed, provided you can put up with its cost.

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