Announced at WWDC 2022, the latest version of Apple’s consumer macOS laptop is now on sale.
Although this is the second MacBook Air of the Apple Silicon era, you can argue that Apple’s reluctance to innovate on the M1 MacBook Air was a test drive before the true Apple Silicon consumer laptop arrived. The M2-powered MacBook Air shouts out that it has a “new car smell”, but the first reviews of the new laptop suggest Tim Cook and his team should have spent a bit more time refining this laptop.
Apple supplied a number of hand-picked reviewers with MacBook Air models ahead of the public release today. Let’s look over their thoughts to find out more about the M2 MacBook Air.
That new car smell comes in the form of a new design language, or at least a new language for the MacBook Air. The primary cues, from the flat surfaces, slightly boxier corners, and larger screen (and yes, the inclusion of a notch to house the webcam) have all been seen in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models launched last year.
This MacBook Air, at 13 inches, sits comfortably alongside these larger and more powerful machines to create a harmonious family. The three of them clearly show a new macOS mobile in town. Jason Snell on Six Colors:
” Like the MacBook Pros, the top and bottom surfaces of the Air are flat, without the old Air’s familiar pillowy curve at the edges. The MacBook Air’s defining design feature, a wedge shape (it was thinner at the front and thicker at the back), is also gone—this MacBook Air is thin all the way through. It’s a uniform 0.44 inches (1.13 cm) thick, so thinner than the thickest part of the old Air but slightly thicker than the thin end of the wedge. The result is a laptop that’s a little lighter and takes up less volume than the previous Air did. And it just feels thin when you carry it, an effect that’s accentuated by those large flat surfaces with tight curves at the edges.”
Apple has given the MacBook Air screen a significant upgrade. It’ doesn’t feature all of the new technology… the lack of a fast refreshing ProMotion helps put some clear air between the Air and the larger Pro machines, and Apple has stuck with a resolution of 2560×1664. Strictly speaking, that’s 64 pixels taller than the M1 MacBook Air, but with the notch sitting 64 pixels into the screen, you can keep the menu bar on the screen embracing the notch and still have enough pixels left for a true 16:9 ratio visible area.
There are some missing bullet points in terms of modern display technology, but the MacBook Air does enough to justify the inclusion of a new screen; Engadget’s Devindra Hardawar:
“For the most part, the Liquid Retina screen is on par with what we saw on the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros – the only difference is that it doesn’t have ProMotion. I didn’t expect to see that high refresh rate tech on a mainstream laptop, especially after it didn’t arrive on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. But, at this point, it’s one of the only things keeping the Air from being truly perfect. Maybe I’m just being greedy, but my eyes have been spoiled. I need silky smooth scrolling on every machine! I was also a bit disappointed by the new 1080p webcam. It packs in more pixels than the previous 720p cameras, but it still looks pretty drab and grainy.”
The big selling point of the new laptop is the coupling of the ARM-based Apple Silicon paired with a new design of MacBook. The story of the silicon over the last two years has been the ability to offer more performance, for better battery life, at cooler temperatures, compared to the Intel-based competition. Normal day-to-day activities are fine, as you would expect, but it’s a shame that the MacBook Air struggles when asked to deliver on the Apple Silicon promise of performance. Dan Seifert for The Verge:
“But the M2 Air is noticeably slower than the MacBook Pro M2, which has a thicker chassis and a fan to help keep the chip cool under long-running heavy workloads, like a 30-minute Cinebench 23 multi-core benchmark. The Air will quickly throttle back the power it’s sending to the M2 chip and keep its speeds capped in an effort to keep temperatures manageable. Even then, the bottom of the computer gets considerably warm during these tests. The M2 Air’s fanless design is great for normal workloads and makes for a silent computer, but it holds the system back when it comes to more intense workloads.”
The issue around slower SSD read and write speeds discovered in the M2 MacBook Pro has carried over to the MacBook Air. The 256 GB models now run a single 256 GB NAND chip, rather than two 128 GB NAND chips used in the M1 MacBook Air. Effectively that halves the throughput on the newer 256 GB MacBook Air. In this specific area, the M2 Air is slower than the M1. That may be of concern to you, if so, you should consider the 512 GB machine as your starting point even if it is more expensive, as Redmond Pie notes:
“… the base 256GB model comes with a single NAND chip for storage, rather than the two 128GB parts that would offer the best performance. That’s the case because two chips can be written to and read from simultaneously, while that obviously isn’t possible when there is just a single chip. Machines with more storage don’t suffer from this because they have a pair of NAND chips, again, just like the MacBook Air.
Apple’s Michelle Del Rio has commented on this issue to The Verge laying out Apple’s justification:
“Thanks to the performance increases of M2, the new MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro are incredibly fast, even compared to Mac laptops with the powerful M1 chip. These new systems use a new higher density NAND that delivers 256GB storage using a single chip. While benchmarks of the 256GB SSD may show a difference compared to the previous generation, the performance of these M2 based systems for real world activities are even faster.”
One of the biggest reasons for buying any Mac is of course, Apple’s own ecosystem of hardware and software. Everything is becoming more tightly bound, and macOS is no exception. If you are already in this environment, it’s one of the biggest reasons to stay in Apple’s domain.
The annual upgrade this year is macOS Ventura. Announced at WWDC it’s not going to be publicly available to much later in the year (probably early Q4) so you’ll get Monterey, the current version of macOS, out of the box. Tom’s Hardware’s Tom Freedman:
“The MacBook Air is using macOS Monterey (version 12), which was released last year (and was on the 16-inch MacBook Pro when we reviewed it.) Some of its standout features include Live Text to highlight text in images; Focus Modes to manage notifications and working conditions; iCloud Private Relay, a beta service that encrypts traffic leaving your device and prevents sites viewed in Safari from seeing your location.”
Power wise, the M2 MacBook Air joins the larger MacBook Pro laptops and switches (back) to a MagSafe charger that will quickly disconnect when pulled on (or the wire is tripped over). You can still charge over USB-C (no doubt this will become widely discussed as Governments around the world continue to work on plans for universal charger mandates), and Apple has included a fast charge system… if you buy a larger adaptor. Out of the box, you’re going to get a more pedestrian experience. Dan Ackerman for Cnet.
“Also note that the $1,199 base model doesn’t use the new 35W adapter, but instead an older 30W design. The upsell version of the Air does include the new charger, which is pleasantly compact and includes two USB-C ports (one for the power cable and one extra). You can add it to the base model for an extra $20, or jump to the big 67W adapter for the same $20. “
Apple’s M1 MacBook Air set new horizons on what Tim Cook and his team could offer in a laptop. The M2 is an iteration of that vision. It offers a long-needed physical redesign of the MacBook, which many will welcome. Apple has refined many small details, and these all lift up this MacBook Air to make it the best MacBook Air yet, although with macOS a single manufacturer platform, there aren’t many comparisons to make
Fashion and looks aside, there is a lingering question over performance. The baseline of the M2 is higher than that of the M1, but this step up is nowhere close to the step up from the Intel platform used before the debut of Apple Silicon. Questions remain on how much the weakened top-end performance will impact those looking to run more demanding apps on their laptop. The first reviews suggest this will concern some, but not all, of the potential audience.
Apple has also stepped up the price. By keeping the M1 MacBook Air on sale at $99, the M2 MacBook Air can start at $1199, adding $200 to the base model, although the slower SSD of this model suggests that many should be looking at the $1499 model.
The MacBook Air has improved and taken a step upward. So has the price. I’m curious to see how the various MacBook Air choices play out in the market and which proves to be the most popular. The M2 MacBook Air delivers a solid consumer experience, with a few issues that must be considered carefully.
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