The previous-generation MacBook Air M1 was revolutionary. It was one of the first notebooks to use Apple silicon, and it effectively shut down anyone who dared to doubt the Cupertino company’s ability to design its own Mac chips. The resulting ultraportable was not only competitive with Intel’s processors, but it easily outpaced them, laying the groundwork for two years of upgrades across Apple’s computing portfolio.
Now that the transition is complete, attention returns to what for many is their first foray into Mac ownership. Whereas the Air M1 hid its updates behind a familiar design, the MacBook Air M2 ditches it in favor of a completely new look inspired by Apple’s more expensive notebooks in recent years. This includes an additional color option, with an inky Midnight finish joining the Starlight, Space Gray, and Silver finishes.
A new look to go with the new Apple M2
I’ve been fairly effusive in my praise for Apple’s high-end M1 series of Apple Silicon chips in the 14-inch MacBook Pro. It was powerful enough to satisfy any desire for a desktop Mac while also bringing back some long-missing ports and a nicely massaged design.
The new MacBook Air follows suit with a design refresh, and for the first time, it is not a tapering wedge. Instead, the 2022 Air feels like a squashed-down Pro: a consistent 0.44-inch thickness from front to back, to go with its 2.7-pound weight. That’s actually slightly lighter than the M1-based Air, which is still available as Apple’s entry-level model with the M1 chipset.
While the wedge Air is thinner at its narrowest point, the flatter 2022 model feels slimmer overall. When I switched out the MacBook Pro in my bag, the benefits were immediately apparent. Although the screen sizes are similar, at 3.5 pounds, the 14-inch Pro is noticeably heavier to carry around all day.
Some port improvements, but not all of them
Of course, Apple has taken advantage of the Pro scale to include a full-sized SD card slot and a standard HDMI port, which the 2022 MacBook Air M2 must do without. Instead, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports are on one side and a 3.5mm headphone jack is on the other. Apple’s clever magnetically clinging power jack, MagSafe 3, is also included.
It makes a bigger difference here, because the old Air required charging via one of its two data ports (though you can still do that here, too). If you buy the higher-spec Air models, Apple also includes a selection of more flexible chargers. While the basic model has 30W and a single USB-C port, there’s also a 35W model with two USB-C ports — so you can charge both your iPhone and your laptop — and a single-port 67W charger that reduces a 50% charge time to just 30 minutes.
In general, the port situation is similar to the old Air: no improvements in data speed here. You can connect a single display with a resolution of up to 6K/60Hz, but no more. Depending on the chipset in your MacBook Pro, it can drive up to four external displays.
A great screen, even with a notch
This is in addition to the MacBook Air’s 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display, which is slightly taller than the previous Air design. It has rounded corners, just like the latest Pro models, and it’s also slightly brighter: up 100 nits to 500 total. It’s a nice screen, but I wish it had ProMotion refresh for smoother scrolling and transitions. This is reserved for the MacBook Pro, as is the Liquid Retina XDR Mini LED panel technology, which offers improved contrast and more saturated colors.
The notch, I believe, is the most contentious. Apple has finally upgraded the webcam, which now has a 1080p resolution rather than the previous Air’s 720p, and it makes a noticeable difference for video calls. The problem is that the thinner bezels necessitate a cut-out in the top center of the laptop’s screen.
I’ll be honest: I don’t care about the notch. I didn’t notice it on the iPhone or the MacBook Pro 14 released last year, and I stopped noticing it after a few minutes on the new MacBook Air M2. Yes, if your status bar is overflowing with icons, the notch may cause some issues.
If you do care, I suspect you have a problem, as I don’t see Apple abandoning this design anytime soon. Perhaps it would be easier to swallow if it used the notch for a Face ID camera and supported facial recognition login like the iPhone. Instead, the power button on the top right of the keyboard incorporates a Touch ID sensor.
A typist’s keyboard
That keyboard has the same switches as the MacBook Pro 14, but it has a body-color tray instead of the black tray found on the more expensive notebook. It means full-height function keys, which I know some people dislike, but more importantly, it means moving away from Apple’s old “Butterfly” mechanism, which has caused so many problems. I liked how those keys felt, even if they were noisy when in use, but given how many keyboards broke, it’s a good thing the tech is no longer in use.
The MacBook Air’s speakers are hidden between the keyboard and the display. I was skeptical that it would deliver the same volume and audio quality as Apple’s notebooks with more visible grilles, but it’s actually quite impressive. A Pro has more bass, but this has more than enough punch for music or annoying fellow coffee shop patrons when you take an impromptu FaceTime call.
The Apple M2
The $1,199 entry-level notebook includes an 8-core CPU with four performance cores and four efficiency cores, an 8-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. Step up to the $1,499 configuration (or add it as a $100 custom option on the entry model) to get a 10-core GPU.
In any case, there’s 100 GB/s of memory bandwidth and a media engine with hardware acceleration for popular video formats. Apple may point users who want to do video editing to their MacBook Pro series, which offers an increase in graphical prowess among other benefits, but the MacBook Air M2 isn’t completely out of the water if you need to crunch through an iMovie project of a family vacation or school play.
The big configuration question
In terms of memory, the standard configuration includes 8GB of “unified memory,” which is RAM shared by the CPU and GPU. A $200 or $400 upgrade to 16GB or 24GB is available. While this may appear to be insufficient in comparison to what Windows PCs typically come with, the argument is that by sharing the memory, macOS can make better use of it.
If it runs out, it’ll start using the Air’s SSD storage, which is where things get interesting. The base model has 256GB of storage, which can be upgraded to 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB. I’d probably skip the two largest sizes, which can add up to $800 to your configuration, but the 512GB version appears to be worthwhile. Because Apple used a single 256GB chip rather than a pair of 128GB, performance will be lower than with my 512GB review machine’s twin 256GB.
The MacBook Air M2 scored 1,932 in the single-core test and 8,959 in the multi-core test in Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance. Certainly ahead of the M1, but not by the same margin as the transition from Intel Air to Apple Silicon. The SSD scored around 2,850 MBps for reads and 2,200 MBps for writes in the Blackmagic Disk Speed test.
Different laptops for different folks
The MacBook Air’s performance is a balancing act, as unified memory, flash storage, the M2 chipset, and the fanless design all attempt to deliver speed without overheating (or burning your legs). With no active cooling onboard, the base gets toasty — but never unbearably so — and the Apple M2 will eventually throttle back accordingly. Of course, processor throttling isn’t unique to Macs, but with high-intensity workloads, you can expect it to happen sooner than, say, in a 14-inch MacBook Pro with a fan.
If it were my money, I’d go for 512GB of storage and 16GB of unified memory to alleviate two of the most obvious potential bottlenecks (not to mention leaving me feeling a little happier about future-proofing a non-user-upgradable laptop). That would bring the Air to at least $1,599, but I’d still have the 8-core GPU.
Would you be significantly disadvantaged — or even disappointed — if you bought the cheapest new MacBook Air? What if you only upgraded your storage or memory, but not both? For most users who require a laptop that can handle internet browsing, media playback, messaging and email, and the usual slew of productivity tasks that come with working from home, there’s more than enough grunt here to deliver.
The same is true for battery life, with Apple claiming that the new MacBook Air can last up to 15 hours of web browsing over its WiFi 6 connection. In practice, I managed 10-12 hours by switching between apps rather than just Safari. It’s very similar to the old M1-based Air.
Apple MacBook Air M2 Verdict
Though some of my lingering frustrations remain, it’s clear that Apple has done more than just change the external appearance of the new MacBook Air. For example, the lack of an embedded 4G/5G modem and the limitation to a single external display. Apple’s stingy refusal to include a USB-C to USB-A adapter in the box also irritates.
Nonetheless, the improvements over the old Air are noticeable — and compelling. The screen, performance, and usability all improve while the battery life remains unchanged. While the lingering Air M1 could save you money, only those on the most limited of budgets should seriously consider it. There’s simply more to enjoy here.
As for “power users,” they should, unsurprisingly, shop in Apple’s MacBook Pro aisles. If you regularly edit video, play games, or perform graphically intensive tasks, the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips remain far superior. For the rest of us who simply want macOS on a sleek, silent, and highly portable device, the 2022 MacBook Air M2 delivers in spades.