To find out, we did a little test: On a sunny August morning, we set up the new M2 MacBook Air and a comparable 2020 M1 model so I could use them both without knowing which was which . Despite my nerdy bravado, even I can’t consistently spot the difference.
Here’s how it’s faring and everything else you need to know about the new MacBook Air.
Is it really faster than the last one?
We started a series of blind tests that we thought represented that most people are likely to need their computer at some point.
First: web browsing. I have Chrome installed on both machines and jump between the same 10-15 tabs while playing the same 4K YouTube video in the background. They all seem to handle the load just fine, although someone who likes to open dozens of tabs might see any machine struggling. (Pro tip: When looking for any new computer, get the most RAM you can afford.)
Next on the list is video calling — with a twist.
Apps like Snap’s Snap Camera, which filter the silly — and sometimes highly sophisticated — onto your face, It will put a lot of pressure on the machine. This is especially true when you use it while streaming or chatting in a Zoom call. Neither computer seemed to blink as I frantically used the filter, and at one point I announced – purely based on the satisfying jittery physics of my potato face – that I had to use the M2 model. I was wrong.
It wasn’t until we started editing the video that we really started to feel the difference between the two computers.
When it came time to export our 4K video clips at a much lower resolution, the M2 Air did it minutes earlier than last year’s model. That might not sound like much, but when you’re working on bigger projects or a lot of projects back-to-back, these moments add up quickly. Then again, if you find yourself doing this kind of thing a lot, you’re better off with a MacBook Pro anyway.
Further testing—including games like Tomb Raider and a series of traditionally finicky benchmarks—confirmed the M2 Air to be the higher performing machine. It just takes extra work to see that kind of speed — work that a lot of people might not notice right away.
For people who rely primarily on computers for tasks such as Browsing the web and watching movies, the difference on the chip may never feel noticeable. If I’m just describing you, the cheap M1 Mac might be for you.
If it feels a little weird to recommend last year’s model to some people, it’s because Apple’s entire laptop lineup is a little weird right now.
The Air is one of two new laptops to use Apple’s M2 processor, which (as we’ve seen) has some advantages over 2020’s M1 chip. But last year, Apple started making computers with different versions of the M1 (M1 Pro and M1 Max) that actually outperformed the M2.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the M2 was designed to set new standards. Years of iPhone releases have taught us that a model with a new number is a bigger step forward than a model with the same number, plus a modifier. But despite what the new part numbers suggest, the M2 isn’t the fastest and best processor in Apple’s laptops. It’s just the latest.
Even stranger, the next upgrade for this MacBook Air is the M2 MacBook Pro—a faster machine in every way, but it doesn’t feel like an upgrade since it’s still using the old design.
Of course, no one is going to buy a new laptop just for the chip inside. In this case, the rest of the package is arguably as important as the M2 itself.
- Screen. At 13.6 inches diagonally, this “Liquid Retina” display is the largest screen Apple has ever crammed into an ultraportable laptop. (That means it’s easier to squeeze more stuff onto the display at once.) While it’s not as fancy as the screen in last year’s updated MacBook Pro, it’s a little brighter than the screen in previous models.
- Improved webcam. The previous MacBook Air had a notoriously bad webcam, which stings even more because Apple released this laptop when people were accustomed to sheltering in place due to Covid-19. Thankfully, Apple has bumped up the quality significantly this time around, which means your next Zoom call won’t look like a fuzzy, pixelated mess.
- Long battery life. Perhaps the biggest benefit of Apple’s move to its own processors is how long its laptops can run on a single charge. I’ve been able to use the M2 MacBook Air for over 10 hours during a busy workday and still have enough power to last through the next morning. That’s a huge improvement over Apple’s older models — my last Intel MacBook Pro lasted about 7 hours at best — and it’s slightly better than the M1 model’s battery.
- This gap. It’s not only weird to catch a glimpse of it all day. It also takes up space in the macOS menu bar that other applications sometimes use. Other laptop makers have nearly perfected the edge-to-edge screen look without relying on large camera cutouts.
- The new “Midnight” is complete. Apple’s latest MacBook Air comes in a new dark blue finish called “Midnight,” which sounds fun and mysterious until you realize it picks up palms and fingerprints when the hat is dropped. (If this bothers you, Apple pointed us to its cleaning support page.)
- The starting price is higher. The most basic M2 MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage starts at $1,199. That’s $200 more than the M1 MacBook Air (a laptop that’s still worth considering) today.
The M2 MacBook Air is a sleek, powerful machine that’s a great option if you haven’t upgraded your laptop in a few years. But if you rely primarily on your computer for web browsing, office/school work, and Netflix, the $999 M1 MacBook Air is more than enough, and probably will last a while.
So who should pay the $200 premium for the M2 model? Mainly, I’d say people who want a better webcam and a better screen, though the extra horsepower hidden here provides a little room to grow if your needs change.