Apple has finally developed a tried and tested MacBook Air with a new design, faster interior elements and some quality of life improvements that most users will appreciate. So should you jump on the M2 or buy a cheaper M1 MacBook?
No more wedges
Take a look at the new M2 MacBook Air and one thing will catch your eye: Apple has dropped the wedge. This cult design hasn’t changed in 14 years, and first appeared in 2008 with the original Intel-based MacBook Air.
The new shape of the MacBook Air is more like the updated MacBook Pro introduced in 2021. The “wedge” shape has disappeared, in favor of a flat design that rests on four slightly protruding legs. The concave look of the older models has been replaced by a “boxier” look that looks like a return to the older models (especially the last MacBook Pro that has an optical drive).
Take a look at the keyboard and things don’t look that different. While the MacBook Pro has been given a dark-to-dark keyboard style, the new MacBook Air looks almost identical to the old one from this angle. While the feel of the case and the lack of a wedge may divide opinions in terms of looks and feel, the keyboard should look familiar to existing MacBook Air owners.
New M2 chip and up to 24 GB RAM
The MacBook Air was one of the first Mac models to receive an Apple Silicon processor. The new MacBook Air is one of the first to get a successor to that chip, the M2. While this may sound like a big deal, the changes are probably less noticeable than the name suggests.
While the M1 was a big improvement over Apple’s previous MacBook chips, the M2 is a much bigger improvement over the M1. The company cites a 1.4x increase in video editing speed and a 1.2x increase in photo editing tasks such as applying filters. The base M2 model has an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU, while the original M1 had only a 7-core GPU. There’s also a new 10-core GPU option for those looking to improve graphics performance.
One thing is clear, and that is if you have an older MacBook Air with an Intel chip, the new M2 (and M1) chip will throw it out of the water. If you’ve been procrastinating with the switch, the M2 revision is a great jump point.
Perhaps those who use their MacBook Air for video editing will benefit the most. The M2 chip has hardware-accelerated H.264, HEVC, ProRes and ProRes Raw playback. There are video encoding and decoding engines, plus dedicated ProRes encoding and decoding engines for those using the format.
Finally, if RAM is your key point, the new M2 machines can be configured with up to 24GB of RAM. By default, both the 8-core GPU and 10-core GPU configurations have only 8 GB of RAM, and a 16 GB option is also available (according to the original M1 MacBook Air). Both machines come with 256 GB of storage in their basic configuration, with a maximum of 2 TB available when paying.
If you do not use your video editing machine and do not configure for software that requires RAM, you may not notice many advantages in choosing M2 over older M1, especially considering that both chips are listed for the same 18-hour “all-day” battery life which makes Apple’s new ARM-based architecture so efficient.
Bigger, brighter screen
The M1 MacBook Air comes with a Retina display that delivers up to 400 nits of brightness. In this context, Retina is used to mark the screen which – at the optimal viewing distance – makes it difficult to distinguish individual pixels.
The updated 2022 M2 comes with a Liquid Retina display, a name Apple uses to distinguish superior IPS LCD panels from its predecessors. Apple marketing is talking about a slightly nicer display, one that reaches a maximum brightness of 500 nits, but provides the same P3 wide color range as the M1 model.
The updated MacBook Air has thinner bezels, which means there has been a slight increase in resolution to 2560 × 1664 (from 2560 × 1660). Although the extra space is negligible, smaller frames make the screen look more modern, making better use of available space.
Note that the Liquid Retina display in the M2 models does not meet the standard set of the mini-LED display used in the 1421 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models for 2021. On the other hand, the new MacBook Air inherited one thing from its bigger brother: a notch on the screen.
The notch is located exactly in the middle of the upper edge of the screen, where the webcam and ambient light sensor are located. This design decision has divided opinions, but there are ways to modify macOS to make it barely noticeable.
Just like the revised MacBooks of 2021 before it, the MacBook Air of 2022 gets a big improvement in quality of life in the form of MagSafe 3 power connectors. This means that the power cord is connected to your laptop with a magnet, which can be safely disconnected if it is attached to something (or someone). This should prevent you from pulling the laptop off the table or desk.
Since the M2 MacBook Air has the same Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports and a 3.5mm stereo port as its predecessor, this frees both ports for use with accessories when plugged in. Previously, one of the ports had to be connected to a laptop charging power supply, leaving you with only one to turn on 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 buy Apple’s 67w (or better) adapter.
New FaceTime camera
The M1 MacBook Air comes with a 720p FaceTime camera and is starting to show its age. Fortunately, Apple considered it appropriate to upgrade the M2’s camera to a 1080p model, an upgrade we saw in 2021 with 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro revisions. While a slightly improved camera might seem minor to some, it’s nice to have at a time when more people than ever work remotely.
Better speaker set
Apple is known for its attention to detail when it comes to sound quality, and the M2 MacBook Air has also undergone an upgrade in this department. The revised 2022 model features a four-speaker sound system that supports Dolby Atmos surround sound, for a wider sound scene and a more impressive listening (or watching) experience.
The 3.5mm stereo jack also received a slight improvement, with support for high-impedance headphones that previously needed an external headphone amplifier.
Now available in black
If you’ve read this far and your answer is “so what?” you are unlikely to be swayed by color… unless you are a fan of dark colors. In addition to the usual Space Gray, Silver and rebranded softened versions of Gold (now called Starlight), the MacBook Air is now available in a new bold shade that Apple calls Midnight.
It could be the best shade of laptop the company has ever produced, recalling the days of the all-black polycarbonate MacBook from the mid-2000s.
In the typical Apple way, if you want the latest and greatest, you’ll have to be willing to cough. While the base M1 MacBook Air (with 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 memory), up to $ 2,499 for the top-of-the-line 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 (although you can increase RAM and storage when paying), which makes it a real budget option for anyone who needs a basic laptop (relatively) and will be happy to save some money.
Some things remain unchanged
Not everything is new on the 2022 MacBook Air revision. Apple uses the same 8GB of shared memory on all models, same storage included and total storage limits, same Magic Keyboard and Touch ID functionality, and both models also have Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
You also get the same number of Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports, 18 hours of battery life and a similar portable (if slightly updated) form factor. If you think you need a little more power, consider choosing a revised 14 or 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro or M1 Max processor.