MacBook Air with M2 Review: Modern Design + Modern Performance
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MacBook Air with M2 Review: Modern Design + Modern Performance

It’s been 14 years since the original MacBook Air was unveiled. And we look back with fondness at that first step, since technology tends to age like dog years. Even when something new is launched, there’s always something boundary-breaking over the next horizon.

However, in the iterations since the first ultra-slim Mac got pulled out of the manilla envelope, Apple’s always kept the MacBook Air designed wedged … that is until now.

The all-new MacBook Air sports an entire redesign, but after a week with it, it still screams MacBook Air in use. This thing is ridiculously light and thin, and like the M1 MacBook Air which remains in the line at $999, it lasts for days and offers plenty of performance.

It also moves into the future, though. Apple’s MacBook Air doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in the modern Mac notebook line. Rather, it mirrors the look of the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, complete with a larger screen and smaller bezels. So let’s unpack the new MacBook Air: It’s a familiar and refreshing Mac.

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A Stylish, Sleek, and Ultra-Portable Build

 Even with this updated design, the MacBook Air still proves itself worthy of its name. The M2 model weighs at just 2.7-pounds and just 0.44-inches thick. That’s 0.1-pound lighter than the M1 MacBook Air and also thinner than its thickest point at 0.63-inches. Not quite as thin as the thinnest point — 0.41-inches — though.

In use, the redesigned machine is super easy to carry or handle with just a hand. And when you toss it into a backpack or bag, you won’t really feel it. And when using it on a desk it’s sturdy, but even on your lap it feels a bit more balanced. It’s not top heavy or bottom heavy, and Apple clearly paid attention to the overall weight and where it falls in use.

It’s also a premium build with aluminum throughout. It’s soft to the touch and it comes in four different finishes, the expected space gray and silver, but also new “Midnight” and “Starlight” options. I’ve been testing the latter and it’s best described as a mix between silver and gold, very light on the latter.

If natural or environmental light hits it the right way, it can shimmer a bit as well. It’s also pretty good at hiding fingerprints. The reflective and glossy Apple logo on the top case is more of a straight gold here as well. I will note that on the bottom of the Mac, the regulatory info and serial number now live under the trackpad and unlike the newer MacBook Pros, the name of the device isn’t stamped into the aluminum.

In fact, this MacBook Air doesn’t say MacBook Air anywhere on the device. The 13-inch MacBook Pro and M1 Air still have it under the screen, but the new Air follows suit of the newer Pros.

Like the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros did for the “Pro” line, this MacBook Air marks the return of MagSafe to the “Air” line. In this form it’s MagSafe 3 and it’s a braided cable that’s color matched to the color of your MacBook Air. Oddly enough, the plastic which covers the USB-C port at the end is just white though and not color matched. By no means the end of the world. In the box you’ll get a standard 30-watt plug with the $1,199 model or one of the fancy new dual USB-C port 35-watt plug with the $1,499 model.

The MagSafe port is on the left hand side residing next to two USB-C ports. MagSafe here is just as a delight to use as the MagSafe of yonder years. It attaches with an audible click, can be easily removed without dragging your laptop with it, and has a circular LED indicator on it. This way you’ll see orange if it is charging and green if it is fully charged. The high-impendancy (AKA higher quality) headphone jack is on the right hand side. And that’s it for ports or really access points into the body. Like the M1 MacBook Air, this is a fully fanless device.

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In terms of controls and input, the Magic Keyboard is here and with a function row with full size keys. This will be a bit more familiar to folks, but also makes it easier to find the keys without looking. There’s a larger area for your finger cap to hit. As for the typing experience, it’s punchy and you won’t feel keys bottom out. You still have half keys for the arrows though. There’s also no function to control the key backlighting here — you’ll go into System Preferences to control that.

And in the top row as the last key on the right is your Touch ID sensor. It’s quick and makes it easy to login — there’s no Face ID here even with the improved webcam — and authenticate downloads or purchases.

The trackpad is also quite spacious, making it easy to move between windows, complete edits in Photoshop or Pixelmator Pro, scroll timelines in Final Cut Pro, or just whoosh through a large spreadsheet. 

An Immersive Display with a Much Better Camera

The screen here now lines up with modern performance. You won’t find thicker black bezels around a 13-inch screen, but rather thin bezels on the top, left and right surrounding a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display. The physical screen goes closer to the edges and in turn whatever you have displayed stretches further. It feels more immersive in everyday use and it’s just flat out better looking.

Apple’s Liquid Retina display produces visuals that can pop with color and vibrancy, while also being able to be more stark with contrast points and darker hues. It’s still also a 60Hz display, so it’s not 120Hz super high frame rate. You likely won’t find this to be a problem unless you’re coming from a 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro which boasts that higher refresh rate. It also has the necessary tech specifications like support for the P3 Wide Color Gamut and reaches a brightness of 500-nits.

The latter here ended up making a big difference when using the display in direct sunlight outdoors or under really bright fluorescent lights. Apple says it’s 25% brighter than the M1, and I’d hedged that maybe it scales even more? It can battle those tougher viewing conditions and let you still use the device, and not have to get up and go inside.

Now like the iPhone’s with Face ID, the MacBook Air now has a notch. You see in turn by slimming down the bezels, Apple had to move the built-in camera. And as we all saw on the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro, they opted for a notch in the centered top of the display. So it cuts in a little, but you likely will find that it won’t bother you or that it just fades away. Kind of exactly what happened with notches or pinholes on smartphones.

If you consider it a tradeoff, well, consider it paid off since it’s a 1080p FaceTime HD camera. Not only do I look more like myself, but there are a lot more details — hint, you can make out my gray hair — but it also looks a lot better in lower lighting. Case in point: It will be better for late night FaceTimes in a dorm for students or anywhere that the lighting is low. The improvements with video calls, PhotoBooth, and any app that uses the camera are from the physically better hardware and the image signal processor from Apple’s M2 chip. 

M2 Delivers Plenty of Speed

While the M2 MacBook Air is not the first Mac with Apple’s M2 chip (that’s the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which I reviewed here), it is the first where it’s an entirely fanless option. So if you’ve been holding onto an Intel-powered MacBook Air that can sound like a leaf blower when you open Google Chrome, get ready for silence at all times from the laptop itself.

I’ve been testing the $1,499 MacBook Air with M2 and in this configuration, the chip features an 8-Core CPU, 10-Core CPU, and a 16-Core Neural Engine. It’s paired with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of solid-state-storage. The only difference between this and the $1,199 variant is that the M2 chip only has an 8-Core GPU, and it comes with 256GB of solid-state-storage.

So this model has a bit more power in terms of graphical performance for creative tasks, and that also puts it in line with the base $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s the exact same configuration of the M2 chip and the highest version of it that Apple offers.

Yes, a lot of tech specs, but what does this mean for performance? Everything on the MacBook Air with M2 really flies. It’s a noticeable jump over an M1 Air with applications opening faster, it’s scoring super high on benchmarks, videos render quicker, and just a general fluidity to using it. This in comparison to an Intel-powered Mac — much like M1 one is — is truly night and day. For once, you won’t hear a fan and for the most part gone are the days of seeing the pinwheel popup.

If your workload includes photo edits and video edits of 720p, 1080p, 4K and even 8K files, you’ll be totally fine here. Yes, a MacBook Air is capable of doing that and it’s still kind of shocking. Apple’s switch to in-house made chips — aka Apple Silicon — has really improved the Mac experience and you get a lot more out of your devices.

With my daily workload I frequently had Safari, Chrome, Pixelmator Pro, Slack, Preview, Parcel, Music, Photos and Messages all open at the same time. I didn’t experience any slowdowns with that and I also had multiple tabs in each of the web browsers. I said it in the 13-inch MacBook Pro M2 review, but you’ll be really hard pressed to make this Mac slowdown.

And in my testing there isn’t really a crazy difference between performance here and performance with the 13-inch MacBook Pro. They both have the same chip inside, just one has an active cooling system, while the other doesn’t. I’m going to continue putting these head to head, but I imagine that there is a clearer difference with the $1,199 Air vs the $1,299 13-inch Pro for more intense tasks, namely in the creative realm.

Ahead, you’ll see a sampling of how the MacBook Air with M2 performed in benchmark tests. Essentially, these serve to run the device through a series of tasks to judge performance, and Air performed very well — in fact, beating out the M2 13-inch Pro across the board. 

<strong>13.6-inch MacBook Air with M2</strong> <strong>13-inch MacBook Pro with M2</strong> <strong>13-inch MacBook Pro with M1</strong> <strong>13-inch MacBook Air with M1</strong> <strong>13-inch MacBook Air (2020) with a 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processor</strong>

GeekBench 5 Single-Core

1,898 single-core

1,876 single-core

1,713 single-core

1,703 single-core

910 single-core

GeekBench 5 Multi-Core

8,798 multi-core

8,092 multi-core

7,006 multi-core

6,203 multi-core

1,740 single-core

3D Mark Wild Life Extreme

6,802 overall score with an average of 40.7 FPS

6,738 overall score with an average of 40.3 FPS

4,929 overall score with an average of 29.5 FPS

3,897 overall score with an average of 23.3 FPS

N/A

It also shows that the performance over the M1 is an improvement, mainly with a lot more power for more intense tasks, but it will be even more evident over an Intel-powered Mac. But for most use-cases, like productivity, other work tasks and for play, the M1 chip provides more than enough bandwidth. Here though, in this redesigned MacBook Air, you’re getting a fully modern package. But if you’re after something more affordable or don’t want the bells and whistles of the display or design, the M1 MacBook Air is still an excellent choice.

If you’re sitting here reading this review on an Intel MacBook Air, I’d say now’s an excellent time to upgrade, though. And a key reason for that is along with the performance boosts and accolades that M2 brings is long battery life. And that paired with overall thickness and weight, is more of a head scratcher here.

I haven’t been able to formally run the battery test, but I can tell you that the M2 Air easily lasts for a full day of work, both productivity based with FaceTime chats, photo and video exports, with a lot of extra legroom. On a particularly long day I started at 4 a.m. eastern time and was on the device — not for work — until about 10 p.m. eastern, without getting a battery alert or needing to plug it in. Standby time is easily a few days as well.

Lastly, you can also fast charge the MacBook Air with a 67-watt plug. In my testing I hit about 52% battery level from 1% in about 30 minutes which meets Apple’s estimate.

A Modern MacBook for Everyone

The 2022 MacBook Air or MacBook Air with M2 feels like a truly modern MacBook for everyone. It’s not necessarily designed for Pros with a high-refresh-rate Mini LED display or with a bunch of ports, but it updates the core line for everyone. And it is an excellent option for a college student, a parent, a grandparent, or just someone who wants a portable Mac that can handle pretty much anything. 

It’s my favorite Mac in a long time and even my favorite out of the current lineup. The M2 Chip inside a super portable design that doesn’t weigh you down with a closer to edge-to-edge display, a punchy keyboard, an improved webcam, and a bevy of others make for a compelling device.

At $1,199, I think you’re getting a lot of value here, but if you currently have an M1 MacBook Air or even 13-inch Pro, I wouldn’t rush out just for performance improvements. You’ll see these; for some workflows, it could be a night and day difference, but for most folks, you’ll get this for the modern design, better display, or webcam. Who knows, maybe even for MagSafe. 

And then there’s the decision of a new Mac buyer or someone who’s upgrading from an Intel Mac — the MacBook Air with M1 vs. the MacBook Air with M2. I’ll be unpacking that longer form, but it comes down to design and, ultimately, the features you want in your Mac. They are both excellent, but the MacBook Air with M2 feels like the future

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.