Apple has finally evolved the tried and tested MacBook Air with a new shape, faster internals, and some quality of life improvements that most users will appreciate. So should you make the jump to M2 or buy the less expensive M1 MacBook?
No More Wedge
Take a look at the new M2 MacBook Air and one thing will jump right out at you: Apple ditched the wedge. This iconic design hasn’t changed for 14 years, first appearing in 2008 with the original Intel-based MacBook Air.
The new-shape MacBook Air more closely resembles the updated MacBook Pro introduced in 2021. Gone is the “wedge” shape, in favor of a flat design that’s propped up on four slight-protruding feet. The concave appearance of the older models has been replaced with a “boxier” look that feels like a throwback to older models (notably the last MacBook Pro to feature an optical drive).
Take a glance at the keyboard and things don’t look so different. While the MacBook Pro received a dark-on-dark keyboard style, the new MacBook Air looks almost identical to the old from this angle. While the feel of the chassis and lack of wedge may divide opinion in terms of look and feel, the keyboard should feel familiar to existing MacBook Air owners.
A New M2 Chip and Up to 24GB RAM
The MacBook Air was one of the first Mac models to receive an Apple Silicon processor. The new MacBook Air is one the first to receive that chip’s successor, the M2. While this may sound like a big deal, the changes are probably less noticeable than the name may suggest.
While the M1 was a massive improvement over Apple’s previous MacBook chips, the M2 is a much more incremental improvement over the M1. The company quotes a 1.4x speed boost in terms of video editing and a 1.2x in terms of photo editing tasks like applying filters. The base M2 model has an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU, while the original base M1 managed only a 7-core GPU. There’s also a new 10-core GPU option for those who want a boost in graphical performance.
One thing is clear, and that’s if you have an older MacBook Air with an Intel chip, the new M2 (and M1) chip blows it out of the water. If you’ve been holding off on making the switch, the M2 revision is a great jumping-on point.
Perhaps the biggest benefits will come to those who use their MacBook Air for video editing. The M2 chip features hardware-accelerated H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes Raw playback. There are video encode and decode engines, plus dedicated ProRes encode and decode engines for those who use the format.
Finally, if RAM is a sticking point for you the new M2 machines can be configured with up to 24GB of RAM. By default, both 8-core GPU and 10-core GPU configurations have only 8GB of RAM, with an option for 16GB also available (as per the original M1 MacBook Air). Both machines ship with 256GB of storage in their base configuration, with a 2TB maximum available at checkout.
If you don’t use your machine for video editing and you’re not configuring for RAM-thirsty software then you might not notice much of a benefit in opting for the M2 over the older M1, especially considering both chips are quoted for the same 18-hour “all-day” battery life that makes Apple’s new ARM-based architecture so efficient.
A Bigger, Brighter Display
The M1 MacBook Air shipped with a Retina display that delivered up to 400 nits of brightness. In this context, Retina is used to denote a screen that—at optimal viewing distances—makes it very difficult to distinguish individual pixels.
2022’s updated M2 model ships with a Liquid Retina display, a moniker used by Apple to distinguish superior IPS LCD panels from their predecessors. It’s Apple marketing speak for a slightly nicer display, one that hits 500 nits peak brightness but delivers the same P3 wide color gamut as the M1 model.
The updated MacBook Air has slimmer bezels, which means there’s a slight increase in resolution to 2560×1664 (up from 2560×1660). While the extra real estate is negligible, smaller bezels make the display look and feel more modern, making better use of the available space.
Be aware that the Liquid Retina display in the M2 models falls short of the standard set by the mini-LED display used in 2021’s 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. On the flip side, the new MacBook Air does inherit one thing from its bigger brother: the display notch.
The notch sits right in the middle of the top edge of the display, housing a webcam and ambient light sensor. This design decision has divided opinion, but there are ways of modifying macOS so that it’s barely noticeable.
Just like the revised 2021 MacBooks before it, 2022’s MacBook Air gets a big quality of life improvement in the form of a MagSafe 3 power connector. This means that the power cable snaps to your laptop using a magnet, which can safely disconnect if it gets snagged on something (or someone). This should prevent you from dragging your laptop off your desk or a table.
Since the M2 MacBook Air features the same Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and 3.5mm stereo jack as its predecessor, this frees up both ports for use with accessories when connected to power. Previously, one of the ports would need to be connected to power to charge the laptop, leaving you with only one for plugging in additional devices.
The base M2 model comes with the same 30w adapter as its predecessor, while the upgraded 10-core GPU model comes with a new 35w dual USB-C adapter instead. Both models are compatible with the same fast-charging technology seen in the 2021 MacBook Pro, but you’ll need to purchase Apple’s 67w (or better) adapter to do this.
A New FaceTime Camera
The M1 MacBook Air ships with a 720p FaceTime camera, and it’s starting to show its age. Fortunately, Apple saw fit to upgrade the camera in the M2 model to a 1080p model, an upgrade we saw in 2021 with the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro revision. While a slightly improved camera might seem minor to some, it’s nice to have at a time when more people than ever are working remotely.
A Better Set of Speakers
Apple is known for its attention to detail when it comes to sound quality, and the M2 MacBook Air has seen an upgrade in this department too. The revised 2022 model has a four-speaker sound system that supports spatial audio in the form of Dolby Atmos, for a wider soundstage and more immersive listening (or watching) experience.
The 3.5mm stereo jack has also received a slight improvement, with support for high-impedance headphones which would previously require an external headphone amplifier.
Now Available in Black
If you’ve read this far and your response is “so what?” it’s unlikely a lick of paint is going to sway you… unless you’re a fan of dark color schemes. In addition to the usual Space Gray, Silver, and a rebranded toned-down version of Gold (now dubbed Starlight), the MacBook Air is now available in a bold new tint that Apple calls Midnight.
It might be the best shade of laptop the company has ever produced, harking back to the days of the all-black polycarbonate MacBook from the mid-2000s.
A New Price Point
In typical Apple fashion, if you want the latest and greatest then you’ll have to be prepared to cough up. While the base M1 MacBook Air (with a 7-core GPU) starts at $999, the base (8-core GPU) M2 starts at $1,199. This increases to $1,499 for the 10-core GPU option (with 512GB of storage), going all the way up to $2,499 for a maxed-out machine with 24GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD. You can configure your MacBook Air on the Apple Store website.
You can no longer order the M1 version with additional cores (though you can beef up the RAM and storage at checkout), making it a true budget option for anyone who needs a basic laptop at a (relatively) and is happy to save some money.
Some Things Remain Unchanged
Not everything is new on the 2022 MacBook Air revision. Apple is using the same 8GB of unified memory on all models, the same included storage and total storage limitations, the same Magic Keyboard and Touch ID functionality, and both models also feature Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
You also get the same number of Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, an 18-hour battery life, and a similarly portable (if slightly updated) form factor. If you think you need a little more power, consider opting for the revised 14 or 16-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro or M1 Max processor instead.
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