Unless you need ports or monster performance (hello MacBook Pros!), Apple's new M2 MacBook Air is pretty much a perfect laptop.
Inside and outside, Apple has redesigned its iconic MacBook Air to be thinner, lighter, and more powerful. The M2 MacBook Air ditches the wedge-shaped clamshell design for a more uniform aluminum unibody that fits nicely alongside the MacBook Pros. The Retina display is larger than ever and the bezels are thinner, giving the whole package a more contemporary look. And just like the M1 MacBook Air (and all Macs with Apple silicon), the M2 chip is the real game-changer. Without Apple's 2nd-gen silicon, the M2 MacBook Air's svelte, fanless form factor would not be possible (at least not without major compromises).
When I reviewed the M1 MacBook Air in 2020, I went full hyperbolic and declared: "Windows laptops are so screwed." In the nearly two years since then, I've yet to use a Windows laptop that really compares. My stance hasn't changed. The new M2 MacBook Air is a phenomenal laptop for the same reason the M1 MacBook Air was: It excels at all the sensibilities of a laptop. You won't find any gimmicks here. All of the features you need to be great truly are.
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Stunning new design — The MacBook Air has been recognizable by its iconic aluminum wedge shape since the very beginning. The last MacBook Air redesign was in 2018 when it got a new metal chassis, USB-C ports, and a Retina display. Nearly four years later, Apple has finally given the laptop a makeover that won't be outdated for at least a handful of years.
At 0.44 inches thick, the whole M2 MacBook Air is basically the same thickness as the bottom half of the 14-inch MacBook Pro. It's so thin and so light (2.7 pounds) that I often forgot I even had it in my backpack; my full-frame Sony A7RIII camera with zoom lens weighs more.
"We don't really have to play any kind of games with shape or form to make it look thin," Evans Hankey, Apple's vice president of industrial design told GQ UK. "And I think that's one of the most lovely and remarkable things: It's quite honest and simple."
As expected, the tolerances of the M2 MacBook Air are incredible. The unibody construction feels solid and has no flex. Corner to corner, it's a beautifully crafted machine milled from aluminum. There are four circular pads on the bottom of the M2 MacBook Air that elevate the body off surfaces to help with cooling. Apple is selling the M2 MacBook Air in four colors (silver, space gray, starlight, and midnight); I was sent a loaner starlight model (light gold) for review.
One thing that's easy to miss is how good the four-speaker system sounds. It supports Spatial Audio through Dolby Atmos content; the audio clarity across the entire frequency from the highs, mids, and lows is leaps ahead of my 2019 13-inch Intel MacBook Pro. The six speakers in my 14-inch MacBook Pro still blow it away in the low-end, but the thicker body also means more volume push fuller sound.
In terms of ports: There are two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 USB-C ports, MagSafe 3 for charging, and a headphone jack. That's all you get. No SD card slot and no HDMI port like on the MacBook Pros. I get that those are now "pro" features, but I'm old enough to remember when the MacBook Air came with an SD card slot. I really miss those days. It's also still a bummer that the M2 MacBook Air only supports one external monitor (up to 6K resolution). Not a dealbreaker, but worth mentioning.
Larger, brighter, higher-resolution display — With the exception of the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, the MacBook Air has pretty much stuck with a 13.3-inch display throughout the years. On the M2 MacBook Air, the screen is a larger 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display with more vertical pixels (2,560 x 1,664) and increased brightness (500 nits versus 400 nits on the M1 MacBook Air), rounded top corners like the Liquid Retina XDR displays on the MacBook Pros, and a notch for the 1080p FaceTime HD camera. It's a fantastic display with the full works, including P3 wide color gamut and True Tone. There's no 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate like on the MacBook Pros, which means scrolling isn't nearly as smooth, but on the bright side, it does mean better battery life.
The 1080p webcam on the M2 MacBook Air looks about the same as on the 14-inch MacBook Pro and is far better than the disappointing webcam in the Studio Display. No Mac webcam comes close to what you get with an iPhone 13 Pro camera (with the help of the upcoming Camera Continuity feature in macOS Ventura), though.
Best-in-class keyboard and trackpad — No surprise, the keyboard and trackpad on the M2 MacBook Air are best-in-class. I'm happy to report Apple lifted the keyboard — with full-height function row keys and Touch ID power button — from the MacBook Pros and dropped it in the M2 MacBook Air. The butterfly keyboards of past MacBooks are no longer a concern and the scissor-switch keyboard here is delightful to type on. The key travel does feel the slightest bit shallower with quicker bottom out compared to my MacBook Pro, but that could be a placebo effect due to that keyboard's longer break-in.
The glass trackpad is excellent. But Apple has always made the best and most responsive trackpads so it'd be more of a shock if it shipped a worse one. (That's why we test, because as we saw with the butterfly keyboard…)
So much raw power with M2 — Apple's transition from Intel to its own M-series silicon over the past two years couldn't have gone smoother — it was a real quiet revolution. With the new MacBook Air, Apple fitted it with the 2nd-generation M2 chip — and there’s a lot to unpack.
At its WWDC keynote, Apple — as it tends to do now — threw out number after number, chart after chart, touting the M2's performance. I don't blame you if it all went over your head. So let's start with the chip itself, which packages a CPU, GPU, and unified memory (RAM). Compared to the M1, the M2 chip has an 8-core CPU with up to 18 percent faster multi-core performance; an 8-core GPU (configurable with up to 10 cores in the GPU) with promises of up to 35 percent faster graphics performance; and unified LPDDR5 RAM with up to 50 percent more bandwidth (100GB/s) and support for up to 24GB of total memory. It's a lot of up to claims.
Other big M2 numbers that may or may not be meaningful to you: over 20 billion transistors, a 16-core Neural Engine capable of processing 15.8 trillion operations per second (40 percent more than M1), and media encode and decode engines that can play multiple streams of 4K and 8K ProRes video. Also, Apple says the M2 CPU uses 75 percent less power than the "latest 10-core PC laptop chip" (an Intel Core i7-1255U tested in a Samsung Galaxy Book2 360) while pushing out almost twice the performance.
All of the features you need to be great truly are.
Meanwhile, the GPU can deliver up to 2.3x the graphics performance compared to Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics (tested with the same Galaxy Book2 360) according to Apple. The company says the M2 chip uses up to 80 percent less power when hitting peak performance.
Got all that?
If you understood the tech dump above, good, you know the kind of performance to expect from the M2 MacBook Air. If you only understood a little bit or none of that, allow me to translate: The M2 chip is slightly more powerful than the M1 chip for light workloads like web browsing, but less powerful than the M1 Pro/M1 Max/M1 Ultra chips inside of the MacBook Pros and Mac Studio for — this is key — heavy workloads despite having a "2" in its name.
The M2 MacBook Air I've been testing is not the base model, but the upgraded 10-core GPU version with 512GB SSD, priced at $1,499. It still has 8GB of unified RAM, which in 2020 was plenty — I had said in my review that 8GB of unified RAM in the M1 was better than 16GB of RAM in an Intel MacBook — but feels more limiting in 2022. Apple really should lead by making 16GB the minimum amount of RAM in its non-Pro laptops. I'm also really spoiled by the 64GB of RAM in my 14-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro, which seemingly never fills up.
I'll leave the battery of benchmarking to other reviewers, though I did run several, including Geekbench 5. The M2's 8-core CPU is about 10 percent faster on single-core and around 18 percent faster on multi-core compared to the 8-core CPU in the M1. I didn’t bother with benchmarking games; Macs just aren't good for gaming because so few games are optimized for Apple silicon, meaning frame rate benchmarks for old games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider don't feel super valuable in my opinion.
I think what most people really want to know is how well the M2 MacBook Air handles workloads that historically have not been its strong suit, like video editing in Final Cut Pro. Similar to tests I did for my M1 MacBook Air review, I ran several video export tests to see how the M2 MacBook Air compared with the M1 MacBook Air and my M1 Max MacBook Pro (just for fun even though I knew it'd destroy them both).
30-second video export tests
Five 4K HDR 30 fps video clips shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max, HDR Tools effect applied to each clip to correct to Rec. 709 SDR, then exported to 4K SDR in H.264 with Final Cut Pro (total file size: 266MB):
- M2 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 22 seconds
- M1 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 22 seconds
- M1 Max MacBook Pro (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB RAM): 13 seconds
The same 30-second video with same settings exported to 4K SDR in Apple ProRes 422 with Final Cut Pro (2.3GB):
- M2 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 6 seconds
- M1 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 11 seconds
- M1 Max MacBook Pro (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB RAM): 4.5 seconds
The same 30-second video with same settings exported to 1080p SDR in H.264 with Final Cut Pro (78MB):
- M2 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 16 seconds
- M1 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 30 seconds
- M1 Max MacBook Pro (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB RAM): 12 seconds
1-minute video export tests
The same 30-second 4K video with same settings, duplicated to total 1-minute, then exported to 4K SDR in H.264 with Final Cut Pro (total file size: 532MB):
- M2 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 41 seconds
- M1 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 41 seconds
- M1 Max MacBook Pro (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB RAM): 23 seconds
The same above 1-minute 4K video with same settings exported to 4K SDR in Apple ProRes 422 with Final Cut Pro (total file size: 4.59GB):
- M2 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 9 seconds
- M1 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 18 seconds
- M1 Max MacBook Pro (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB RAM): 6 seconds
The same above 1-min 4K video with same settings exported to 1080p SDR in H.264 with Final Cut Pro (total file size: 156MB):
- M2 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 30 seconds
- M1 MacBook Air (8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 8GB RAM): 58 seconds
- M1 Max MacBook Pro (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB RAM): 19 seconds
What all this means — If your brain hurts from all the numbers, here's what you need to know. The M2 and M1 chip are identical when it comes to exporting video in H.264 on both the 30-second and 1-minute exports. That's not surprising since the Media Engine in both chips comes with hardware-accelerated H.264 (and HEVC) encode and decode engines.
Where the M2 chip has a huge advantage is its support for ProRes (and ProRes RAW) encode and decode, and that's why you see the M2 stomps all over the M1 chip with way faster export times (83 percent faster on the 30-second 4K export and 100 percent faster on the 1-minute 4K export) even though the file sizes are way larger than H.264.
With my 10-core GPU configuration, that works out to the M2 MacBook Air being a very capable video editing machine — great for small to mid-sized creators or filmmakers like YouTubers. If you're making a feature-length film with the full treatment for effects and color correction and all that, and/or editing high-res RAW footage from professional cinema cameras, a MacBook Pro is more suitable.
To be fair, the M2 MacBook Air I tested has the upgraded 10-core GPU, so of course, it's going to chew through video better than the 7-core GPU in my M1 MacBook Air. And naturally, the 32-core GPU in my M1 Max MacBook Pro crushes them all. The ProRes encode engine does a lot of heavy lifting, though. A fairer comparison would pit the base M2 MacBook Air with 8-core GPU against the base M1 MacBook Air with 7-core GPU to see if the $200 difference is worth it, but I can only work with what Apple sent me to try. That said, if you're considering the 10-core GPU M2 MacBook Air, even with 256GB of SSD ($1,299 config), it's kind of a beast for video editing.
I also want to address the two elephants in the room: thermals and throttling. Whereas the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro (with dated design) has a fan to help cool the M2 chip when it's under load, the M2 MacBook Air is fanless. For heavy workloads like rendering or editing large video projects, or batch processing an ungodly amount of RAW images in Lightroom, performance does bottleneck briefly and the bottom of the laptop does get toasty. But the good thing is the M2 MacBook Air is darn efficient; the throttling doesn't last long and it cools down quickly. How much is the M2 MacBook Air throttled compared to the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro? I didn't have access to that laptop so you’re gonna have to look elsewhere for that info.
Battery life is beyond good — The MacBook Air has always been a battery champ. The last pre-Retina model was almost impossible to drain with typical mixed usage. The M1 MacBook Air pushed battery life even higher with up to 18 hours for "Apple TV app movie playback" which is an unrealistic benchmark, to say the least; the M2 MacBook Air has pretty much the same battery life.
In my week of testing, I got almost exactly the same battery life as I did on the M1 MacBook Air. For work: seven to eight hours in Google Docs and with 20+ tabs in Chrome, messaging all day in Slack and Messages, taking a handful of video calls in Zoom, and streaming music through the Spotify app. For casual web browsing and watching YouTube or Netflix videos: no less than 10 to 12 hours but not more than about 14 hours. Battery increased anywhere from 2 to 3 hours when I used Safari, which everybody knows is more power-efficient than Chrome. But alas, most people have to use Chrome for work!
Of course, if you're running more CPU- and/or GPU-reliant apps like Adobe Creative Suite, Blender, or Final Cut Pro, the battery is going to take a hit. But for regular usage like the above workload, the battery life on the M2 MacBook Air is almost too good to be true; definitely a charge-once-per-day laptop.
There are three charger options. The 8-Core GPU M2 MacBook Air comes standard with a 30W USB-C charger. But it'll cost an extra $20 for the 35W dual USB-C version or the 67W USB-C charger that's capable of fast charging the laptop to 50 percent in 30 minutes. The 10-core GPU M2 MacBook Air — and this is important to note — with 512GB SSD comes with either of these upgraded chargers for free; if you order a 10-core GPU with 256GB SSD, the 30W charger is the pack-in and the other two versions still cost an extra $20. Confusing? A little bit. My review unit came with the 35W dual charger, but I did verify the fast charging speeds with the 96W charger that came with my 14-inch MacBook Pro.
Also, MagSafe is back! It's not compatible with any older MagSafe chargers, but who cares, MagSafe is back!
It's no understatement that laptops changed overnight from the moment Steve Jobs pulled the original wedge-shaped MacBook Air out of a Manila envelope in 2008. That MacBook Air and every model in the 14 years after transformed laptops from chonky clamshells to svelte portables with battery life for days.
Even with initiatives like Intel's "Ultrabooks," 360-degree convertibles, 2-in-1s, and touchscreens, the MacBook Air has never lost its luster. Apple kept making its thinnest laptop better and better. With the M2 MacBook Air, Apple is once again setting the bar for thin-and-light laptops — with hard-to-beat performance and efficiency to match.
Apple is once again setting the bar.
The $1,199 price tag gets you an M2 MacBook Air with 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD. Add another $100 and you get the same configuration but with a 10-core GPU. Things start to get pricey when you add more RAM (16GB is another $200 and 24GB is $400) or storage ($200 for 512GB, $400 for 1TB, and $800 for 2TB). My advice for shopping for Macs with Apple silicon remains the same: Buy as much RAM as you can because it's not something you can upgrade later. At least with storage, you can always connect an external one, and those are super cheap.
The M2 MacBook Air is a winner all around and an easy recommendation, unless you simply don’t care about the redesign and upgrades, in which case just get the M1 MacBook Air and save $200. On the other hand, if you're going to spec up the M2 MacBook Air, a 14-inch MacBook Prom might be better? It could just offer more bang for your buck.