The new Air is designed around the M2, and it’s a fresh start for a classic laptop.
The new MacBook Air is a remix—a bundle of ideas already seen in other Apple laptops, whether we’re talking about the previous MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, or the 14-inch MacBook Pro.
In that sense, it’s not too exciting since we’ve seen most of its individual features before. But it is interesting in another sense: It’s the first major redesign in years to Apple’s most popular laptop, what we’ve previously called the best Mac laptop for most types of users.
This flat, plain, slate-like machine is also a clean slate for the storied MacBook Air, and it’s the first time the Air has been redesigned around the company’s own silicon. Apple has improved on the previous design in almost every way, even though the laptop loses a bit of its unique identity in the transition. It’s still the best MacBook for folks who are OK with paying its relatively high purchase price, but it’s not a mandatory upgrade over its M1 predecessor.
Table of Contents
|Specs at a glance: 2022 M2 MacBook Air|
|Screen||2560×1664 at 13.6 inches|
|OS||macOS Monterey 12.4|
|Networking||Wi-Fi 6; Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||MagSafe, 2x Thunderbolt/USB 4, 3.5 mm headphone|
|Size||0.44×11.97x 8.46-inch (1.13×30.41×21.5cm)|
|Weight||2.7 lbs (1.24 kg)|
|Warranty||1 year, or 3 years with AppleCare+|
|Price as reviewed||$1,899|
|Other perks||1080p FaceTime HD camera|
Truth be told, the specs aren’t the draw here, apart from Apple’s inclusion of the brand new M2 chip, seen so far only in last month’s refresh of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. We’ll start there.
The 5 nm M2 comes in two configurations. One has eight GPU cores, and the other has ten. That upgrade will set you back an additional $100 on top of the laptop’s $1,199 base price.
In either case, you get eight CPU cores and Apple’s Neural Engine NPU with 16 cores. Apple claims the CPU cores are faster than the M1’s and that the NPU can process up to 40 percent more operations per second than the NPU in the M1. But it’s really on the graphics side that users will notice the biggest improvements. There’s also a 50 percent bump in memory bandwidth, which might be the biggest boon of all.
The M2 supports up to 24GB of unified memory now, too. That’s up from a maximum of 16GB in the M1, but it’s worth noting that both of Apple’s default configurations of the 2022 MacBook Air come equipped with just 8GB. Going to 16GB adds $200 to the base price, and jumping all the way to 24GB adds $400 over the base.
There are two other configuration options at the time of purchase. The entry-level configuration includes 256GB of solid-state storage, and you can upgrade to 512GB ($200), 1TB ($400), or 2TB ($800). The upgrade to 512GB, at least, is surely worth it.
Then there’s the power adapter. There are actually three options—there’s a 30 W USB-C adapter and a 67 W alternative, and there’s a 35 W adapter that has two USB-C ports so it can charge another device at the same time as it’s charging the laptop. The default is the 30 W adapter, of course. Jumping to either the dual-port 35 W or the single-port 67 W costs $20 more, but some configurations require it and default instead to the dual-port 35 W adapter.
We recommend spending that $20 for the 67 W charger, as the dual-port 35 W option we tested is pretty slow. It’s too bad there’s not a dual-port 67 W charger to pick; that would have made the most sense.
You’re stuck with whichever RAM or storage option you pick permanently, so choose wisely. You can, of course, buy a different power adapter later if you want to.
Back to the stuff that you don’t get to configure yourself: the MacBook Air includes an upgraded 1080p webcam (a huge improvement over the last model), Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, a Touch ID fingerprint reader, and a redesigned sound system that includes four speakers with Spatial Audio support, as well as three microphones. Apple claims that the laptop gets up to 15 hours of battery life when browsing the web over Wi-Fi and up to 18 hours of Apple TV app movie playback. (It’s a 42.6-watt lithium-polymer battery.)
There are two Thunderbolt/USB4 ports, a headphone jack, and the new implementation of MagSafe previously seen in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. Since the last MacBook Air had just two Thunderbolt ports and had to use one to charge, that means you effectively get one more port than you used to when you’re connected to power. Sadly, both ports are on one side of the device.
Infuriatingly, the M2 has the same display limitation that the M1 did: It can only drive one external display in addition to the built-in screen. Competing laptops universally lack this limitation. It’s clearly meant to differentiate the lower-end M1 and M2 MacBooks from their pricier M1 Pro and M1 Ultra-equipped counterparts. But those are already well-differentiated, so this shortcoming feels arbitrary and ridiculous, even for a laptop that isn’t aimed at power users.
Rounding out the notable specs, we have a 25 percent brighter 13.6-inch screen (up to 500 nits, which we confirmed in our measurements) with a resolution of 2560×1664 pixels. You won’t find the higher-end Mini LED tech found in the two largest MacBook Pro models or the 12.9-inch iPad Pro here, though.
Like the 24-inch iMac released last year, the MacBook Air comes in a handful of finishes. There are the two classics—silver and space gray—as well as starlight and midnight. Starlight is a sort of gold-adjacent cream color, while midnight (my favorite, and it seems a lot of other people’s, too) is a deep, dark, metallic blue. All four look both spectacular and Apple-y, though, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them.
Whatever the color, when I hold the laptop and look at it, the most striking thing is that it feels like it has relatively little DNA from its predecessor apart from its focus on thinness. Rather, it feels like an ultrathin variation of the admittedly thick 14-inch MacBook Pro. And indeed, the dimensions of the laptop as seen from the top are very close to those of the 14-inch MacBook Pro—the new Air is just a tad smaller on the edges, but it’s quite notably thinner.
It’s just 0.44 inches (1.13 cm) thick, with a width of 11.97 inches (30.41 cm) and a depth of 8.46 inches (21.5 cm). The previous version had a tapered design that was 0.16 inches thick at the thinnest point and 0.63 inches at the thickest. The switch from that tapered look and feel to a uniform slab is exactly what makes it feel, well, not quite like a MacBook Air.
At 2.7 pounds (1.24kg), it’s just a bit lighter than the 2020 M1 MacBook Air, and it’s nearly a pound lighter than the 14-inch MacBook Pro. It lives up to its name: It feels like it’s barely there. But the more even distribution of weight and thickness makes it feel a little less sleek in your hands than you might be used to coming from an older Air.
Keyboard and trackpad
While its MacBook Pro cousins have keyboard keys set into a black frame that is distinct from the rest of the aluminum body, this MacBook Air more closely resembles its predecessor in that regard, with the keys set into whatever color aluminum frame you chose when you ordered the device.
Otherwise, though, the keyboard is exactly the same as the one found in the MacBook Pro—right down to the full-height function row with Touch ID, which is a definite improvement over the last MacBook Air design.
The keys are just the right amount of bouncy for a laptop keyboard, and while they obviously won’t please desktop mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, it’s hard to imagine them disappointing just about anyone else. It’s a great keyboard.
The keyboard is accompanied by a luxuriously large trackpad exactly like the one in my own 14-inch MacBook Pro. Once you’ve used one of Apple’s trackpads, some of the competition’s efforts feel pretty awful by comparison. Not everyone loves the fact that these trackpads are gigantic, but the palm rejection is nearly infallible, so it’s all upside as far as we’re concerned.
This is one of the best keyboards you can get in a laptop this size right now, and it’s arguably the best trackpad for this size, full stop.
In a world of Mini LED and OLED displays, the new MacBook Air’s more standard LED screen won’t blow anyone away. But it’s bright, the colors are impeccably balanced, and the resolution is high enough to keep things looking sharp and clear. It might not bring the “wow” factor, but it brings the quality.
Like the new MacBook Pros, the 2022 Air’s screen sports kind of a weird, taller aspect ratio. That’s because Apple has eliminated most of the bezel—though there is a tad more on the edges than with the Pros, just like you see when comparing the iPad Air with the iPad Pro.
There’s one consequence of this not everyone will love: The screen has a camera notch at the top. Some people will simply hate it, and if you’re one of those people, you probably already know that.
We advise most users to give it a chance, though. Apple has made some smart decisions on the software side to make the notch mostly non-intrusive—and even downright forgettable. And most of the early software growing pains that users experienced when the MacBook Pro made this change last year have been taken care of. Your mileage may vary if your workflow involves significantly more menu bar icons than the average user has, though.
We measured the MacBook Air’s screen at close to the 500 nits of brightness that Apple claims, but note that it still has all the limitations of an LCD display. It doesn’t have the inky blacks we enjoy with OLED or even with Mini LED.
So again: It won’t dazzle you, but it’s still a high-quality display.
We tested the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the same M2 chip last month, so if you’ve been following along, you probably know what to expect from the Air’s performance. But testing the Air did produce a couple of interesting findings you should keep in mind when considering which Mac laptop to purchase.
Let’s take a look at the benchmark results in the charts below. All tested machines have the configurations with the maximum core counts available.
The good news is very good. As was the case with the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the M2 is as fast as it gets for single-threaded tasks, and it smokes its predecessor when it comes to graphics performance. It’s zippy as can be for all its intended uses.
The M2 makes this one of the most performant and efficient laptops on the market for general information work like browsing the web, working with documents, jumping on Zoom calls, and so on. There’s nothing at all to complain about there because it literally doesn’t get any better for those purposes.
The M2’s gains over the M1 are modest compared to the jump from the previous, Intel-based MacBook Air to the M1, of course. What we’re seeing here is a boost in performance akin to the annual iPhone updates: 10 to 30 percent faster, depending on the nature of the task. As with the A-series chips in the iPhone, these gains could add up over time, but they by no means justify annual upgrades.
That said, it’s clear that this fanless design is (predictably) not so great at sustaining performing over time under heavy load. The 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro represented in the charts above has the same specs: The only major difference is the thermal system. When a sudden burst of performance is needed, the Air more or less matches the Pro every time. But we noticed when performing longer-running tasks like 4K video renders that the Pro often outpaced the Air.
To produce a really clear picture of that, we ran three 10-minute Cinebench R23 tests in a row on each machine and reported the final test’s results in the chart above. What starts out as a dead heat always ends with the 13-inch MacBook Pro beating the MacBook Air by around 30 percent.
When you’re just browsing the web, answering emails, or even doing a quick photo edit here and there, you won’t notice this difference—and those are admittedly the intended use cases for the MacBook Air. The Air is as good as any alternative when it comes to launching applications quickly and just generally feeling snappy. But it’s not designed for heavy-duty workloads.
This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s worth noting one more slight disappointment: The SSD speeds didn’t wow us, but they’re good enough. And we’ve heard tell that it’s a worse situation with the 256GB configuration.
A clean slate
I don’t think many people will struggle to pick between the M2 MacBook Air and the M1 Pro or M1 Max 14-inch MacBook Pro, as they’re built to serve very different users. And despite its performance advantage in some specific situations that most information workers won’t run into in their day-to-day, I still think the 13-inch MacBook Pro is in no man’s land.
So the real choice here (provided you’re staying in Apple’s ecosystem) is between this M2 MacBook Air and the 2020 M1 model, which is still in Apple’s lineup at a lower starting price of $999.
The biggest change to the MacBook Air in years wasn’t this new design, the screen notch, MagSafe, or anything else like that. It was the transition to the M1 chip. Previously, the biggest drawback to the MacBook Air was performance, especially when it came to graphics, as compared to pricier laptops in Apple’s lineup or even to Windows laptops at a similar price point. In 2020, Apple changed that story with the introduction of the M1 chip to the line.
As we move from M1 to M2, we see improved performance, but it’s not as radical a leap as we saw jumping from Intel to M1.
So sure, this design looks different, and it effectively has an additional port thanks to the addition of MagSafe. The screen is noticeably larger. But really, those are all just nice-to-haves.
For a few hundred extra dollars over the M1 version, you get a better screen, a bit more performance, and a much nicer camera and audio system for video calls. If those few hundred bucks aren’t an issue for you, I recommend the M2 MacBook Air over the M1 model. But if you can’t swing the extra spending, don’t fret: the M1 MacBook Air is still a great computer.
Price aside, the M2 redesign is nonetheless the best Mac for most people’s needs. It’s an ideal personal laptop for folks who prefer macOS to other operating systems and just need a fast, reliable, well-supported machine. And it will see plenty of use in business, as it’s a great fit for marketers, product managers, project managers, and other roles with similar technology needs.
But as was the case with its predecessor, it’s not the machine for creatives, engineers, or computing enthusiasts with heavy workloads. Think of it in car terms: the MacBook Air is a Prius, not a Tesla Model S, a Porsche 911, or a Ford F-150.
For that kind of performance and utility, you’ll need a chunkier chassis and active cooling—and those things run counter to what the MacBook Air is all about.
- Sleek, slim design
- Excellent build quality
- Out-of-this-world performance for its size and weight
- Great keyboard and trackpad
- Strong battery life
- Throttles and warms under heavy sustained load compared to Apple’s various bigger, more expensive alternatives
- Port situation could still be better
- Expensive, once you factor in attractive configuration options
Like M1-based laptops, it can only drive one external display
All Rights Reserved for Samuel Axon