A photo of a MacBook Air with M2

Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

I’m going to cut to the chase. The MacBook Air 2022 is, currently, the M2 Apple device to get. Not only does it boast the same internals as the MacBook Pro 13-inch, save for a fan, but it’s also got a redesigned look and feel that makes it stand out from prior Air devices and feel truly modern. Its biggest drawback is the lack of a fan, but that’s the norm for the ironically named Air series.

At the same time, not everyone needs the M2 chip. It is powerful, but so is the M1, and casual users will start to feel diminishing returns with this device. Similarly, power users who might be more attuned to the M2’s significant but incremental performance gains will miss the lack of a fan, as they’ll face throttling during lengthy work sessions.

The ideal audience for this device is someone who has light to medium workloads, with occasional dips into more intensive tasks like 3D modeling, and who feels like their current MacBook’s screen size or webcam doesn’t meet their pandemic-era needs. Others would likely be better off waiting for a 14 or 16-inch MacBook Pro, but the design is enticing enough and the chip impressive enough that I’m tempted not to be patient.

Price and Configurations

The refreshed MacBook Air, in traditional Apple fashion, isn’t very customizable. There’s two basic variants, and while you can customize their storage (up to 2TB on both models) and memory (up to 24GB, once again on both models), the chief difference between them is GPU cores. Both models come with the new M2 processor, but the $1,199 base model has an 8-core integrated GPU while the $1,499 model has a 10-core one. This shouldn’t mean much to the average user, but power users who regularly run GPU intensive tasks like 3D modeling should opt for the higher end version. The $1,499 model also starts with a base 512GB of storage as opposed to the base 256GB that’s on the $1,199 model, though both start with 8GB of RAM.

Any storage or memory upgrades will cost you $200 a pop, so if you want to go all out with the 10-core CPU, 24GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage, you’ll be shelling out $2,299.

For our review, Apple sent us a configuration with the 10-core GPU M2, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD.

A Brilliant Redesign, Even With the Notch

Aside from the new M2 chip, the refreshed MacBook Air’s other spiffy new feature is a new design that helps justify upgrading if you’ve already got a speedy MacBook— say, the M1 Air. The classic wedge-shaped case is gone, which actually makes the laptop slightly thinner when closed, thanks to the lack of an angle on the chassis. In its place are a number of improvements and tweaks. These include a larger TouchID power button and MagSafe 3 charging, but the most noticeable one is the new webcam notch.

A photo of the MacBook Air with M2

The MacBook Air with M2’s notch
Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

The little black box juts into your menu bar and houses a 1080p FaceTime webcam (sorry, no FaceID). It’s a strategy Apple’s used on its phones before, and it’ll probably drive some ire from laptop users who are experiencing it for the first time. I, myself, have been pretty vocal about it in other arenas. But just like on the iPhone, the reason for the notch is because the bezel that used to surround it has now been trimmed away to make room for more screen space. Yes, the new Macbook Air has the thinnest bezels on an Apple laptop yet, down to just 5mm, or 0.2 inches, which gives you an impressive 13.6 inches of screen space without making you buy a larger device.

It’s up to you whether that’s worth a notch. Perhaps Apple’s plans to let you use an iPhone as a webcam might see us getting webcam-less displays in the future. At any rate, it’s a shame that FaceID isn’t an option on Air yet, given how prevalent and convenient Windows Hello is. If the webcam is important enough to justify a notch, then go all out with it.

A photo of the MacBook Air with M2's keyboard

Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

TouchID is still plenty convenient, though, especially when you’re masking up. It’s built into the power button here, and enables you to have a lengthier and more cryptic device password. Unlike on older Macs with TouchID, the power button’s also been enlarged to a full size key to accompany the TouchID, with the rest of the function row following suit. It’s a minor touch, but makes adjusting brightness or audio easier and doesn’t eat into trackpad size (instead, the larger keyboard just uses what was empty space on older models).

Also convenient is the return of MagSafe! While the MacBook Air with M1 used USB-C charging, the M2 MacBook Air comes bundled with a braided MagSafe cable that helps guide itself into its charging port. It’s sturdy and certainly easier to use, though it can be more prone to accidental removal. This probably won’t be much of a problem for a careful user, but since my cat likes to tug at my charging cables, it does make me a little paranoid. MagSafe also doesn’t eat into your other ports, as you still get two Thunderbolt 4 connections and one 3.5mm jack here.

A photo of the MacBook Air with M2's charging brick

Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

While we’re on the topic of MagSafe, there’s several bricks available for this laptop. Which one you get depends on your model, but you can always buy a different one a la carte or pay extra during configuration. The 30W standard charger comes with the 8-core GPU model and works like any other MacBook charger. The 67W brick comes with the 10-core GPU model and works like the 30W one, but enables fast-charging. Fast-charging promises to bring you to 50% charge in around 30 minutes, but I didn’t get a chance to try it. That’s because my model came with the 35W charger with two USB-C ports. This is an alternate pack-in for the 10-core GPU model. The 35W charger has similar speeds to the 30W one, but thanks to its second USB-C port, can charge two devices at the same time. This was great for keeping my Airpods topped off while testing.

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, there’s also two new colors joining the Air family. Apple calls these Starlight and Moonlight, but what they actually are is dark blue and rose gold. I opted for rose gold for my review unit, because I’m basic that way. It’s well executed, but I really do wish I could opt for the same vibrant red I have on my iPhone. I suppose that wouldn’t fit the MacBook’s subtly classy vibes, though.

A photo of the MacBook Air with M1 Sitting on top of the MacBook Air with M2

The MacBook Air with M1 Sitting on top of the MacBook Air with M2
Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

Regardless, all this comes together to make the new MacBook Air feel way more intentional and attuned to the rest of Apple’s ecosystem than the last generation MacBook. It’s genuinely impressive how many changes Apple’s made while maintaining an appealingly compact 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inch footprint. Which is good, since while the new Air’s performance is great, it’s not enough of a game changer on its own to justify the upgrade for most.

Do You Need the M2?

I won’t mislead you— The MacBook Air M2’s performance makes it feel like an F1 car. It’s a 5nm chip with 4 efficiency and 4 performance cores, plus an extra 2 GPU cores if you spring for the more expensive model (which is the one we reviewed). It can also support up to 24GB of RAM with 100GB/s of memory bandwidth and has a faster neural engine, leading up to a promised 18% improvement in CPU speeds and 35% improvement in GPU speeds.

That’s enough to supposedly playback 11 4K streams simultaneously before throttling, up from the M1’s 5. But this chip is still positioned below the M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra. With that in mind, it’s less of a revelation and more of a refresh. The M1 might not be an F1 car, but it’s still faster than most roads need.

With that in mind, how much you stand to gain from the M2 depends on how you plan to use it. We found our biggest improvements over the M1 in tests like Geekbench, which attempts to give a general overview of entire system performance. The M1 Air earned 7,441 points in the benchmark’s multi-core test and 1,712 in its single core test, while our M2 Air hit 8,975 points in multi-core and 1,942 points in single core.

To back up Geekbench, which can be unreliable due to its synthetic nature, we also had our M2 Air render a detailed 3D image in Blender using both its CPU and GPU, plus we had it transcode a 4K video file down to 1080p using Handbrake. These tests had similar results, with the CPU Blender test taking 4 minutes and 33 seconds on the M2 Air and 6:24 on the M1 Air. The GPU Blender test took 4:36 on the M2 Air vs. the M1 Air’s 7:54, and our Handbrake test finished in 4:15 on the M2 Air and 8:52 on the M1 Air.

These numbers are significant, and generally fall in line with Apple’s estimates. But they also represent niche tasks. If you largely use your MacBook to browse, play video, and only occasionally edit images or video, you’re going to want to take other additions like the design and 1080p webcam into account as much as, if not more than, the new chip.

A photo of the MacBook Air with M2 from the back

Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

What you can’t rely on the chip to do, even casually, is game. It’s a shame, too, since the M1 and M2 chips are more than capable of gaming given their strong graphics performance. But they also require developers to optimize for the Mac market, which thanks to the system’s low reputation among gamers, isn’t something most companies are willing to dedicate resources to.

In Civilization VI’s built-in benchmark running at 1440 x 900 resolution, its max on Mac unless you mod it, I only hit 21 fps with high settings. Total War: Warhammer II’s benchmark running at 1920 x 1200 with ultra settings didn’t fare much better, yielding an average fps of 26.3. You can always lower the settings to get more playable framerates, but neither of these games are too demanding, so it’s disappointing that the M2 can’t run them at their best.

Granted, during the M2’s reveal, Apple brought out Capcom to show off Resident Evil Village running in 1080p on the system, which would be a feat. We’ll be excited to test that port once it comes out, and hopefully, it indicates a future where big developers are willing to dedicate more resources towards optimizing for Mac.

If you do want to game on your laptop, you might also consider using a PC. Apple’s M-series chips are impressive, but the Lenovo Yoga 9i we reviewed, which has an Intel Core i7-1260P, wasn’t too far behind on performance. It actually surpassed the M2 Air in Geekbench (1,792 single-core score and 9,516 multi-core score). Its Blender renders were a little slower at about 6 minutes, and its Handbrake time was closer to 9 minutes than the M2 Air’s 4:33. But that’s all still workable, and in the Acer Swift 5 model we reviewed, its Core i7-1260P chip was able to hit similar numbers, plus run the Civilization VI benchmark at 1080p with a framerate of 53 fps.

Long Lasting

The MacBook Air with M2’s battery life is about on par with the M1 model’s battery life, which is to say, very good. During constant video playback with the screen set to 200 nits of brightness and all other apps closed, the laptop lasted for a little over 14 hours. That’s not as much as you’ll get with the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro, but it’s more than enough to go through a whole work day without charging. You could probably get away without packing your brick, even.

A Full-Size Function Row

The Magic Keyboard returns on the MacBook Air with M2, marking the final nail in the coffin of the butterfly switches of old. These chiclet keys are comfortable and cushiony, and I was easily able to exceed my usual, somewhat embarrassing 78 words-per-minute average all the way to 92 wpm with it. This was using a standardized online typing test, and my score remained high throughout 3 trials.

A photo of the Macbook Air with M2's keyboard (left) next to the Air with M1's keyboard (right)

The Macbook Air with M2’s keyboard (left) next to the Air with M1’s keyboard (right)
Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

Granted, some of the improvement must have been in my head, as the keyboard doesn’t change much over what the M1 offered. The power button is larger and textured, to make its TouchID integration easier, and the entire function row now has full-sized keys. Otherwise, the arrow keys are still an inverted T-shape and the height hasn’t changed. But travel felt a touch more generous now, perhaps due to the laptop’s bottom case no longer being at an angle. Apple didn’t provide any numbers on key travel, so take this with a grain of salt, but keys generally seemed to offer a bit more bounce when pressed.

The 5 x 3.2 inch Force Touch trackpad definitely feels like a less subjective improvement over the M1 model’s, though. It’s wider without being shorter, and generally gave me a smoother scrolling experience. Palm rejection isn’t perfect but is strong, meaning the added width won’t pose problems for most users. Still, both laptops offer similar levels of haptic feedback, and both take multi-touch inputs, like switching apps with three fingers, well.

Great for Music but Meh for Dialogue

Because of the laptop’s redesign, the M2 Macbook Air takes a different approach with its speakers than previous models. Rather than sitting on the side of the keyboard, the speakers are now integrated into the upper part of the case, between the display and the keyboard. You get two tweeters and two woofers here, and your experience with them will depend on whether you’re listening to music or dialogue.

I listened to The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights to test music, and the experience was superb for a laptop. The max audio was loud enough for me to clearly make out lyrics across my entire two-bedroom apartment even through a closed door. More reasonably, I could get a comfortable volume at 40%. Mids and highs lacked echo and tin here, but what impressed me most was the surprisingly deep bass, which is a rare accomplishment on devices this thin.

Dialogue, for whatever reason, wasn’t as lucky. Listening to the trailer for Prehistoric Planet and an episode of the My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast, spoken word was prone to both tin and echo.

The culprit here is likely twofold. First is the lack of audio presets on the MacBook— Apple, again, is notoriously locked down. Out of the box, you can’t open up audio software to set an EQ for “music,” “movie,” and “gaming” modes like you can on most Windows PCs. So while it might be tuned well for music, you can’t adjust that tuning to focus on other kinds of content.

Second is that the speaker’s Dolby Atmos and spatial sound compatibility will only kick on for content that supports it. That often doesn’t include streaming solutions like YouTube and Spotify, but does include Apple Music. While I did both of my tests on YouTube and music sounded fine without these advanced features, it’s another indication that you can expect speaker quality to vary across different types of content and methods of delivery.

A Bigger Screen without a Bigger Device

Aside from the M2 chip, the screen is the biggest selling point for this rendition of the MacBook Air. Its adoption of a notch for its webcam means that the bezels surrounding the notch have been shaved away, making way for a 13.6 inch Liquid Retina IPS display. While not quite reaching the contrast levels of the OLED displays you’ll find on competitors like the Yoga 9i and the Zenbook S 13 OLED, this is a bright screen with colors that pop, great viewing angles, and a comfortable 2560 x 1664 resolution that improves on the more common 1440p resolution with more space for reading, typing, and browsing.

A photo of the MacBook Air with M2's screen (left) next to the Air with M1's screen (right)

The MacBook Air with M2’s screen (left) next to the Air with M1’s screen (right)
Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

I watched a trailer for Apple’s own Prehistoric Planet on the M2 Air, and the dinosaurs were vibrant, the blacks were deep, and I got very little glare in my home office during the afternoon— only getting any when I pointed the screen directly at my window. The screen’s viewing angles were what impressed me most, as I could make out the content even when I was almost parallel with the display.

The screen is still held back by its IPS nature, but in terms of fidelity, it’s leagues above even the expensive MSI Optix IPS gaming monitor I use. It also benefits from being brighter than many OLED displays, topping out at 512 nits on my colorimeter. OLED makes up for this with its contrast and color range, but if you must use an IPS screen, this is a great option.

Finally, a 1080 Webcam

This is the first MacBook Air to come with a 1080p webcam, and it’s about time. In this era of remote and hybrid work, visual fidelity is a much. Granted, I’d also accept a camera-less Air Model that depends on external solutions but offs the notch, but if you’re gonna go internal, then you have to go for 1080p.

A selfie taken on the new MacBook Air's webcam

A selfie taken on the new MacBook Air’s webcam
Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

And this is good 1080p. In a selfie I took at the Gizmodo office in mid-afternoon, my face appears neither overly pale or washed out, and details like individual strands of hair and the blue in my eyes shows up well. There’s some mild fuzziness, but this is better than most internal cameras I’ve seen.

The built-in mic also isn’t too bad. It was near impossible to peak, even with plosive sounds, shouting, and clapping, plus it handled whispers well. It did pick up my home office’s air conditioner during my week with the device in the New York summer, but most of the rest of the city’s bustling was absent. I wouldn’t record a podcast on this, but it’s arguably as good as a dedicated headset microphone.

Should you buy the MacBook Air with M2?

The MacBook Air with the M2 chip is making a two-pronged attack on your wallet. For power users, the M2 chip offers significant though incremental improvement over the M1 chip, although the lack of fans will throttle sustained high-level performance. For everyone else, the redesign to the laptop’s screen, webcam, keyboard, and charging makes this feel like a significantly more modern device that feels in tune with the rest of Apple’s current ecosystem.

A photo of the MacBook Air with M2

Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt / Gizmodo

It’s certainly a smarter approach than the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s, which kept an old-fashioned chassis and simply slotted an M2 chip in it. The power here might be overkill for many users, but if your MacBook Air is starting to look a little long in the tooth, this is a strong replacement that will remain relevant for years to come— assuming you’re ok with a notch. If you’re one of the few for whom the power isn’t overkill, however, then you might want to wait for a new 14 or 16-inch MacBook Pro to take on the M2. The 13-incher’s lack of a redesign is disappointing, but the lack of fans on the Air means it can’t take the M2 to its fullest potential. Still, if you simply moonlight in more intensive tasks, this is the laptop for you.

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