M2 MacBook Air Review: Apples to Apples

Picking a laptop from the Apple tree is a little harder this year

The Pros

  • New design
  • M2 Chip is a beast
  • Colour rich screen

The Cons

  • Unwarranted price bump
  • Minimal ports
  • Only supports one external display

The MacBook Air is the perfect laptop for most people. The M2-powered MacBook Air (2022) is the perfect laptop for most people. The M2 MacBook Pro is the perfect laptop for most people.

Do you see the conundrum with Apple’s current laptop lineup yet?

I’m hard-pressed to call it an issue since every laptop Apple sells for under $2,000 is great. But, it still doesn’t make walking into an Apple Store and buying the right computer for you any more straightforward.

There are a few perks that make the refreshed M2 Air feel new, and realistically, a $200 price bump over last year’s M1 Air isn’t that much, but when it comes down to it, the new laptop doesn’t do very much to stand out from the crowd.

In 2020 when Apple introduced the M1 series of chips, it was an incredible achievement to see the tech giant’s ARM-based chipsets running laps around Intel-equipped Macs. This year, the M2 chip is just as impressive, but the context surrounding it has changed. No longer are we comparing it to Intel-based computers. Instead, now we get to compare it to the M1, and the improvements aren’t as exciting.

The world’s best-selling MacBook

This photo is staged to show off the blue hue. Under most lighting conditions it looks black.

The MacBook Air has been slowly taking over the wonderful world of MacBooks since Steve Jobs first pulled it out of that iconic manila envelope in 2008. What started as a premium alternative to the white plastic MacBook, has grown into a stellar entry-level MacBook and now even into a base-level MacBook Pro replacement.

The latest iteration is the most potent Air yet, and it can handle way more than a laptop of its size should be able to do. The M2 Chipset is ridiculously quick and the tiny computer’s battery life shocked me. I was easily able to get more than 12 hours out of it and opening apps was never a problem. It only slowed down once I started to edit a three-layered 4K unboxing video. I’ll mention here that my review unit only features 8GB of RAM, so it maxed out pretty quickly. If I was buying a new Air to edit videos, I’d step up to 24GB.

^This video was edited on the MacBook Air ^

The new model also comes in two new colours – ‘Midnight,’ the same dark blue from the Apple Watch Series 6, and ‘Starlight’ which has become Apple’s latest gold hue. Of course, the classic ‘Silver’ and ‘Space Grey’ options return.

The screen in the new MacBook Air is also an improvement. It now supports 10-bits of colour, and it features a peak brightness of 500 nits, making it slightly brighter and more colourful than the older Air. On top of that, the display has been pushed out 0.3-inches to 13.6-inches and features a notch like the redesigned MacBook Pro (2021). The notch isn’t overly noticeable, and the larger screen feels like an improvement over its predecessor’s display. Overall the screen is a subtle upgrade, but there’s no denying it looks excellent and features great colour accuracy.

Other improvements include an impressive new 1080p webcam. Compared to the softness of the Studio Display’s webcam and the graininess of the MacBook Pro’s 1080p camera, it’s a nice step up and likely more than enough for most people’s video chatting needs. Apple says a new signal-to-noise processor in the M2 chip helps the camera look its best all the time. The three built-in microphones are also clear and work as expected.

To help hear your video calls, there’s a new four-speaker array that features Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio when you’re sitting right in front of the new Air. MacBooks have always offered impressive speakers and the M2 Air is no different. Its speakers aren’t as deep or as rich as the 14-inch MacBook Pro, but detailed, loud and clear without much tinny distortion like other laptops often fall victim to.

A compelling package but not without flaws

As much as I was excited about the new MacBook Air’s redesign, there’s a part of me that’s disappointed Apple didn’t push the aesthetic a little further. For instance, unlike the new MacBook Pro, the Air didn’t get its name etched into the bottom of the chassis. My best guess is that Apple did this to save space to add as much battery as possible, but it would have been nice to see these little details on the new laptop. The new design looks exactly like a thinner/smaller 14-inch Pro but with fewer ports. It’s actually one millimetre thinner than the previous MacBook Air, but without the iconic wedge shape. It still feels small and light, and the weight even feels a little more evenly distributed in the new model.

My main pain point is mostly to do with the port selection. The new Air only features four ports: one MagSafe charger, two USB-C ports and a single high-impedance headphone jack. While this is enough, the two USB-C inputs are a little too close together for my liking, and an extra one on the right side of the laptop would have been helpful. Hopefully, Apple will remedy this in the future, but looking at its current sub-$2,000 laptop lineup, I wouldn’t hold my breath. This means that many people will still be living the dongle life if they opt for the new MacBook Air.

Typing on the new MacBook Air feels great.

On top of that, the MacBook Air with M2 only supports a single external display. The new chip supports 6K screens, which is nice, but it would’ve been impressive to see Apple extend this to at least two1080p displays or even one 4K and one 1080p option, without requiring a workaround.

Looking past the above issues my gripes fall less with the new Air and more with how Apple has positioned it within its current laptop lineup. I assume that the company is throwing every MacBook at the wall to help account for supply chain delays, but maybe the tech giant is just trying to see if selling a wider range of products results in more sales. Either way, the new MacBook Air would fit much better in the product lineup at $1,299, with the older M1 Air being killed off and replaced with a more cost-effective device (perhaps the rumoured M-series chip equipped 12-inch MacBook successor?)

The benchmarks

As I mentioned above, the new Air is an M2 MacBook Pro killer since they both run the same chipset and the M-series of chips don’t need a fan unless you’re pushing it to the extreme. I’d argue that if you plan to push your computer that hard, you should jump up to the M1 Pro or Max chips for extra performance.

While I did see remarkably similar performance between the two machines in our tests, none of the benchmarks we run stress the machine for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. For tasks that would take a lot longer than that, like exporting a long video, the added fans of the M2 Pro might give it more of an edge over the M2 Air. The longest running test was Cinebench and the Air did appear to start slowing down significantly near the end.

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That said, from what we’ve seen, there doesn’t seem to be any significant reasons to justify the existence of the M2 Pro for most circumstances, and in day-to-day tasks, both computers likely perform the same.

When it comes to gaming, the Air can handle most indie games without too much of a hassle, but AAA games are still a little much for the tiny machine unless you’re playing on low settings. Not that there are many games to play on Mac, but if you’re a gamer, be warned. Having said that, I’m a casual gamer and I’m pretty impressed with the new Air’s capabilities.

My first MacBook was a 2014 MacBook Air, and it could barely run the indie game Kentucky Route Zero. With that in mind, the fact that I can run Hitman even if it has to be at low settings, the new Air is a pretty exciting jump forward for me. Combine that power with the Metal 3 framework that Apple talked about at WWDC, and perhaps we’ll finally start to see more games trickle over to macOS during the next few years.

Is this the MacBook for the masses?

This computer seems both hard and easy to recommend. Banking on human nature leading most people to want to newest computer and $200 not being that much money I think it’s safe to recommend the new Air to most people.

Having said that, I still think the older M1 Air (especially if you can catch a discount) is the best bang for your buck laptop out right now. As a writer/casual gamer/nerd/video editor, I’m drawn to the 10-core GPU M2 Air with 24GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, but since many users likely won’t be working with hundreds of gigabytes of files every week, that’s overkill for most people, especially since it clocks in at $2,650 CAD. I’ll also mention here that the actual computer I own is the 14-inch M1 Pro/32GB of RAM/2TB storage ($4,149).

The Air I’m testing is the 10-core GPU version with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. So far, it’s been amazing for writing and researching, and it even supported a single 4K display all week without any lag at all. It struggled a little more than I’d like when video editing 4K footage, but it stood up decently well when editing photos in Lightroom and Photoshop. This version costs $1,900. If you shoot in ProRes you might be able to edit better without proxying your footage, but I'm expecting people with this computer to be working with entry-level mirrorless cameras, GoPros and phone footage.

Overall, this middle-of-the-road spec is likely the model that will please most people, but if you only plan to use this computer to do writing and research-based tasks. However, even the base model might be enough as long as you rely on the cloud for document, music and photo storage.

The new MacBook Air starts at $1,499 in Canada and comes in four colours:‘Space Grey,’ ‘Silver,’ ‘Starlight’ and ‘Midnight.’

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"This computer seems both hard and easy to recommend. Banking on human nature leading most people to want to newest computer and $200 not being that much money I think it’s safe to recommend the new Air to most people."