Here it is: the all-new Apple MacBook Air with M2 on review. I'm going to jump the gun and call it the most important MacBook revamp from Apple in some years. That's quite the statement, I know, especially seeing as we've already had the dawn of Apple's own silicon (as found in the Air's M1 predecessor) and all-new MacBook Pro models (14- and 16-inch) within just the last couple of years.
The reason I say that is because the MacBook Air has long been Apple's most popular laptop. Logically so, too, as it's a portable machine that's come in at a more affordable (well, 'sensible' is probably the better descriptor) price point. Adding M2 and updating the design has bumped up that asking price, and with the older M1 Air still available and the fan-cooled older-design MacBook Pro M2 also now available, does the 2022 MacBook Air M2 justify its new position?
MacBook Air M2 review: Price and availability
There was a time when a shiny new MacBook Air would cost you £/$999. Those days are gone, however, as the 2022 MacBook Air M2's starting price is £1,249 in the UK, $1,199 in the USA, and AUD$1,899 in Australia.
However, in contextual terms, that still makes it Apple's more affordable MacBook (well, if you ignore the end-of-life M1 model). The M2 Air costs less than the MacBook Pro M2 13-inch. And it's a lot less cash than the even-more-configurable MacBook Pro 14- and 16-inch models too.
Not that the M2 MacBook Air completely lacks configurability. For the entry price you'll get the base M2 processor (8 CPU and 8 GPU cores), but for extra you can bump that to the 10 core GPU version, add storage capacity, and receive a double-USB-C 35W charger too. It's this step-up model I'm reviewing here.
MacBook Air M2 review: What's new?
It's perhaps easier to ask "what isn't new?", as the 2022 MacBook Air is a whole new machine compared to the 2020 MacBook Air that it replaces. The newer machine embodies Apple's M2 silicon, of course, which is the most obvious internal upgrade over the older laptop's M1 chip, but there's a lot more besides that shift.
First and most apparent when pulling the all-new MacBook Air from its box is that it looks different. I don't mean so different that it's not identifiably a MacBook Air, as it's still got that look and feel, except now it's a bit smaller and lighter (113mm vs 161mm thick; 1.24kg vs 1.29kg in weight).
That above stat is all the more impressive because the 2022 MacBook Air's screen is actually larger than the outgoing model too (13.6-inch vs 13.3-inch, measured on the diagonal). But there's a bone of contention: the 2022 model adds the notch around the camera, so in many working situations you'll sometimes be distracted by the looming shadow to the upper centre of the screen.
The notch has been introduced to permit smaller bezels around the new MacBook Air's display, allowing more screen real-estate as I've already pointed out, but it also permits more space to put upgraded components in place: because the 2022 Air's camera is a 1080p Full HD resolution one, finally kicking the outdated and lower-resolution 720p sensor of old to the kerb.
Colour options have been refreshed too: the addition of Starlight (not that one, The Boys fans) replaces the Gold of before, while new Midnight adds a darker tone to complement the long-standing Space Grey and Silver options. As you can see from my pictures, I selected Starlight for this review, which is approaching a white gold look to my eyes.
MacBook Air M2 review: Screen and speakers
A laptop is often defined by its screen: the size is the reason you may select one in the first place; same can be said for resolution, colour replication, brightness, and so forth. And the 2022 MacBook Air's screen is an all-round upgrade over the 2020 Air and I'm really impressed with it (even though there are better panels further up the ranks within Apple's range).
I'll get the bad bit out the way first: that notch, looming front and centre, is the initial obvious negative. But everyone said that about phones years back, yet look where we are with those and how a notch or punch-hole is now just the norm. Mind you, I do think Apple could make this notch smaller and neater.
Have I been massively distracted by the Air's notch? Not really. A lot of apps will opt to hide it, especially when in full-screen mode, which is why the image up top of this page just looks as though there's a larger top bezel (when in reality there's not). And I've not found menu options to 'fight' with the notch either: in Photoshop, for example, nothing gets lost behind it, the drop menus separate themselves neatly left and right. There's also no scroll space behind the notch, the mouse cursor pings directly through it to aid your experience. So, really, the notch isn't all that 'bad' overall. Given the other advances on display here it's a compromise worth living with that you'll soon forget about.
For me this screen size, at 13.6-inches, is ideal: it's a great footprint for easy portability in backpack or slip bag; it's nigh-on the 14-inch ideal size that gives desirable physical scale; and, in this particular MacBook, at 500 nits maximum, it's 25 per cent brighter than the older Air's screen, which adds to the experience in a practical way for outside/sunlight-heavy use cases.
Use this laptop for a full week (as I have been) and to switch to any lesser screen can really be almost felt. I'm really not looking forward to returning this laptop to Apple and going back to my Surface Laptop 3, that's for sure, as that screen is duller and has some flicker issues I've just started to notice. Indeed, I'm very likely to buy a MacBook Air M2 of my own, that's how impressed I've been.
Not that the M2 Air has super fluid refresh: this is a 60Hz LCD panel, not a 120Hz one. Yes, I'd prefer a faster refresh rate option for greater visual fluidity, but I think Apple has been quite savvy here (in terms of positioning anyway): the Liquid Retina panel here isn't the Liquid Retina XDR you'll find in the pricier MacBook Pro 14- and 16-inch models. So if you're willing to pay more for those and their Mini LED panels then you'll receive added brightness and higher refresh rate in return. But most people don't really need that for on-the-go work and would rather save the cash, I suspect.
In this section (solely because of the alliteration of 'screen' and 'speakers') I also want to talk about the new speakers. Because the MacBook Air M2 brings things more up to date with a four-speaker system that not only sounds decent and nicely wide-staged to my ears, but also supports Apple's Spatial Audio when playing Dolby Atmos supported video/music. Sweet!
MacBook Air M2 review: Performance and spec
As I said in my earlier MacBook Pro M2 review: the new innards really do step things up a notch. The 2022 Air gets the same benefit, being the second Apple product to benefit from M2 silicon, giving it even more performance clout than previous. Indeed, from what I've assessed, many will be able to do MacBook Pro-level tasks on the new Air, it's that high-powered.
However, point of note, my review may be marginally skewed by the simple fact I have the Air with 10 core GPU, not the standard 8 core one that you'll get with the entry-level spec. From a technical standpoint that puts my review model Air on a level playing field with the 13-inch Pro, really, except for the difference between fans/cooling.
Interestingly that's one of the Air's minor downsides: it does certainly run hotter than the Pro, partly as it's a slimmer and more compact design, partly as there's no fan to cool things down in the Air's design. But, if anything, the heat I've been feeling on the chassis is a sign of the cooling system's heat dissipation in full effect. And I'm not talking painfully hot, just enough temperature that you notice it (additional caveat: we're having a heatwave in the UK so it's bloody hot everywhere at all times, which will have added to this experience).
Anyway, just how much better is the M2 over the M1? As one assessment I've run Geekbench tests and the M2 MacBook Air has chalked up an 1880 single-core score and 8535 multi-core result. What's particularly interesting here is that it's benchmarked higher in the multi-core result than the M1 Pro model (repeat testing confirms this consistency).
Compared to T3's 2020 M1 MacBook Air test (1732 and 7590 equivalents, respectively), that puts the M2 Air a healthy eight-to-12 per cent up in overall power. As I said in my previous M2 MacBook review, that may not sound like a lot, but this newer architecture is also more power efficient, so you can get the same or more but with less power consumption. So it's a win-win.
GPU results are even higher, at 26,993 (or 30,132 using Apple Metal – something that'll become even more relevant as there's more compatibility in the future). Again: note that I'm testing the 10 core GPU model Air, so it's like-for-like against the Pro, but most people will attain lower power from the 8 core GPU model Air (but not by a dramatic amount I suspect). Oddly, again, that benchmarks the M2 Air higher than the 13-inch Pro M2.
Anyway, I can call out various numbers until the cows come home, but performance really comes down to real-world use. In that regard I've been blown away with how much better M2 is in use compared to the M1. I don't have specific anecdotes, but I know M1 users have suffered with various video editing tasks, and I've found it could just freeze up when in heavy loading Photoshop tasks for no reason. But I've found the M2 so much better, near instant in its ability to load large files. It's perfectly capable in 4K video editing too, even if you're running multiple streams.
Overall, then, the M2 MacBook Air is knocking on the door of the current MacBook Pro line-ups. You can include the M1 Pro 14-inch model in that too, based on benchmarks. The new Air is a very powerful machine that, if anything, is blurring the line between Air and Pro models. Which is just fine by me!
MacBook Air M2 review: Battery life and charger
If you go to buy a new MacBook Air M2 you'll see a whole variety of plug types that come with it. I believe what you get will vary based on region, but in the UK it goes as so: the base model comes with a USB-C-to-MagSafe 30W charger; the upgraded 10 core GPU model comes with a dual-USB-C 35W charger so you can plug in two devices at once (the Air is still via MagSafe conversion of course); or there's an optional 67W charger that you can buy separately.
I really wish the fast-charger was just in the box, as that'd be a big bonus: the 67W charger can rejuice half the battery here in just 30 minutes, supposedly, although without the plug in hand I cannot verify this. The dual USB plug I have is interesting, but doesn't really add all the much, and its charging speed is less than half the optional one.
Everyone also has their views on charging cable types and, I must say, I'm surprised that Apple is sticking to MagSafe 3 here. A third USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 socket would be more welcome for me, using one of those as a charger instead. Ho hum, MagSafe is still here. Also a point of note: the new material/braided cable isn't as non-tangle as I'd hoped, although in theory it should be better for the planet in production terms (and hopefully is more durable over time, but one week in is far too soon for me to say).
So what of battery life overall? I've been sat here writing this review on the MacBook Air M2 over the last five hours and in that time the battery has only dropped 30 per cent. I've edited the pictures. I've got 25 tabs open across two browsers. Five or so additional apps are running in the background. And I'm Bluetooth connected to a soundbar outputting some tunes as I type. That, I'm sure you'll agree, bodes well.
Tot it up and, realistically, I could do 15 or more hours of pretty normal work across browsers, word processors, with a touch of more demanding work in editing applications. In short: the M2's power and consumption balance is pretty mind-blowing. Tweak things and you can get even longer too, especially if you're ok with less screen brightness for example.
Sure, crank things up to the max, hit the 4K editing hard, and you're going to get nothing like that kind of time without being served by a wall socket. But I'll daresay you'll get greater longevity in that scenario than you'd find from a Windows machine running Intel. And, in terms of this Mac, all in wonderful silence thanks to no fans in this build.
MacBook Air M2 review: Verdict
The all-new MacBook Air with M2 silicon is a revelation: redesigned, reinvigorated, revolutionary. It's super powerful, has excellent battery life, and aside from some heat due to no fan cooling, plus the inclusion of a notch on that new 13.6-inch screen, it's a laptop that's truly hard to fault.
Indeed, the M2 MacBook Air is knocking on the door of the MacBook Pro series to such a degree that unless you're desperate for the Touch Bar of the 13-inch Pro (and I doubt that) or need the superpowers of the larger 16-inch Pro with M1 Max (bye bye bank balance), then there's no better alternative.
The MacBook Air M2 is 2022's best Mac for most people and a laptop that's a notch above the competition right across the board. It's just a shame it also includes a notch on the screen, eh?
Chances are that if you're already in MacLand, you're not really going to be looking for a Windows laptop. If you are, however, then a Dell XPS 13 OLED would be my go-to from a compact design and decent spec point of view.
Otherwise your MacBook decision is likely to be split as such: buy the M2 Air as reviewed here (you may have to wait based on demand); buy the older-design M2 Pro 13-inch solely because you want the Touch Bar and fan cooling; or opt for even more power with a top-tier MacBook Pro 14-inch, which will deliver a better screen, theoretically even better performance (despite M1 derivatives, hence the Pro/Max), and certainly a greater dent in your bank account.
Reflecting upon all of that, however, I think the M2 MacBook Air is going to be the 2022 Mac to suit most people. It crosses boundaries and might be the machine that sees Apple users cease to seek out other MacBook options because it's that good.