Apple MacBook Air M2 review: You won't ask for more

A redesigned look and more crunching power makes the new device arguably the best in Apple's stable of laptops

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Apple's much-anticipated MacBook Air with the M2 processor is now available in stores, a week after the company started accepting pre-orders.

The new iteration took quite a while — the M1 MacBook Air was released in November 2020 — but the reputation of Apple's silicon chips has hyped this version even more.

Design-wise, there are a number of noticeable differences between the M1 and M2 versions of the Air, with at least one sure to draw some fire.

What's new in the M2 MacBook Air?

In terms of hardware, the M1 and M2 Airs both max out at 8 cores in its central processing unit (CPU) and 2TB in storage, as well as two USB-C ports. The M2's graphics processing unit (GPU), however, can be configured to up to 10 cores versus the M1's 7-core limit, and you can upgrade up to 24GB of RAM (random access memory).

Apple M2 chipset details

The M2 MacBook Air's display also has minor improvements: it's now slightly bigger at 13.6 inches (compared to the M1's 13.3 inches) and now uses Apple's Liquid Retina display (Retina), has a 2650 x 1664 resolution (2560 x 1660) and brightness of 500 nits (400 nits).

Here's what would draw that fire: The M2 version has a notch, just like in the iPhone and the previous MacBook Pros, and is on equal footing as the menu bar. There is, however, a notch-hiding feature that would make the screen look “whole”, but would then shrink the total screen size. While this is negligible, it will still be a hit-or-miss with users.

And while it's slightly thicker at 1.13cm, the new MacBook Air is lighter at 1.24kg than the previous model's weight of 1.29kg.

One more thing to note is that the M2 MacBook Air got a redesign.

Ports comparison of Apple MacBook Air M1 vs M2

The M2 Air, which is seen below in the image above, has a more geometric finish compared with the previous version's slanted look, which has been a trademark of the series, and the former also has curvier corners. The latter doesn't make the device feel “sharp” when carrying it around, particularly at edges where the screen closes.

Minor detail, but definitely noticeable: the Apple logo is bigger on the M2 Air. But overall, the redesign makes it look more like a MacBook Pro, doesn't it?

Aside from the resident silver and space grey colours, the M2 Air will come in starlight and midnight colours, which are already being used on the iPhone 13.

How does it perform?

There really isn't much to complain about with the M2 Air. Apps remain as smooth as they are, but the real deal is inside the MacBook. While the Neural Engine remains at 16 cores, it's now able to process 15.8 trillion operations per second compared to the M1's 11 trillion.

The M2 Air's FaceTime HD camera has been bumped up to 1080p compared to the previous 720p, while audio now has a four-speaker stereo system — which makes audio sound even more whole — and supports Spatial Audio, dynamic head tracking — when using any compatible AirPods — and Dolby Atmos. The previous model only had dual speakers.

Its 3.5mm audio port now comes with support for high-impedance headphones — also known as sound devices audiophiles would fancy — a feature Apple first used in the 2021 MacBook Pro.

How long does the M2 Air battery last?

Apple has promised up to 18 hours of battery life on the M2 MacBook Air, which is a holdover from its predecessor. It's a decent offering and we were able to get through an entire day without worrying about having to plug it in at the end of the day.

In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the device lost 14 per cent of battery. We tested an M1 MacBook Air for the same, and it lost 11 per cent. However, we could attribute this to the fact that the M2 version has a max brightness of 500 nits, compared to the M1's 400 nits.

Meanwhile, when it comes to charging, you have a number of options: you get a 30W adapter for 8-core models, and the 35W dual USB-C port adapter — which lets you charge two devices at the same time — with a 10-core version with at least 512GB of storage. The USB-C-to-MagSafe cable also has a braided design, similar to that of the main power line of the latest iMacs, so it won't tangle up as much.

Once the M2 Air hit zero per cent, we snapped in the MagSafe line to charge it and a message box appeared saying it would take about three hours to fully charge it. If you do the maths, that's about 8 per cent every 15 minutes or 16 per cent in half an hour.

But in our test, it was up at 15 per cent in 15 minutes, 27 per cent in half an hour and 51 per cent in one hour, which is fair enough. Normally, any device has a charge cycle that goes fast at first and then gradually slows down as it nears full capacity.

The last charging option is the 65W charger, which Apple says can power the M2 Air to up to 50 per cent in just 30 minutes. But you'll have to shell out an additional Dh229 as it's sold separately.

SPEC SHEET

Processor: Apple M2, 8-core CPU, up to 10-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Display: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina, 2560 x 1664, 224ppi, 500 nits, True Tone, wide colour

Memory: 8/16/24GB

Storage: 256/512GB / 1/2TB

I/O: Thunderbolt 3 (2), 3.5mm audio, Touch ID

Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0

Battery: 52.6Wh lithium-polymer, up to 18 hours, MagSafe charging

Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD

Video: Support for Apple ProRes, HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10

Audio: 4-speaker system, wide stereo, support for Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking (with AirPods)

Colours: Silver, space grey, starlight, midnight

In the box: MacBook Air, 30W or 35W dual-port power adapter, USB-C-to-MagSafe cable

Price: From Dh4,999

MagSafe is back, and it frees up one USB slot

We have to point this feature out in particular — Apple brought back MagSafe charging into the M2 MacBook Air — and that's good news because that frees up a USB slot.

The M1 MacBook Air only had two USB-C slots and one of them was used for charging, meaning you only had one more slot available if it was plugged in. A dedicated MagSafe port for charging provides access to this valuable commodity, when required.

It will also be interesting to see whether MacBooks will do away altogether with the 3.5mm audio port in the future, but that would repeat a similar situation before MagSafe was reintroduced. Remember, the latest iPhones already use the Lightning port to connect headphones/headsets, and iPads have USB-C, so that isn't farfetched.

How much does it cost?

The base M2 MacBook Air costs Dh4,999 ($1,361), with 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage and a CPU and GPU both with 8 cores. This compares to the Dh4,199 starting price of the M1 MacBook Air.

That price goes down to Dh4,579 for education purposes; Apple gives special discounts to students and educators on a range of its products.

If you decide to go for maximum specs — upgraded to a 10-core GPU, 24GB of memory and 2TB of storage, plus pre-installed Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro — it will set you back Dh12,348.98.

The verdict

The M2 MacBook Air seems to be another step in raising the computing power and capabilities of portable PCs. We can only imagine what an M3 — or higher versions of the M2, should it come, would look like.

The argument that can be made here is that the specs between Apple's laptop models seem to be increasingly more in line with one another, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The MacBook Pro has its own user base, and if you need additional hours of battery, that one's for you.

But the MacBook Air, value-wise, is a great option. It seems to be coming to a point that it may not matter which Mac device you use. Apple isn't afraid to blur the lines between their products. We're anticipating more Pro features (hello, battery life) in the next Air.

Updated: July 20, 2022, 6:49 AM
SPEC SHEET

Processor: Apple M2, 8-core CPU, up to 10-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Display: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina, 2560 x 1664, 224ppi, 500 nits, True Tone, wide colour

Memory: 8/16/24GB

Storage: 256/512GB / 1/2TB

I/O: Thunderbolt 3 (2), 3.5mm audio, Touch ID

Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0

Battery: 52.6Wh lithium-polymer, up to 18 hours, MagSafe charging

Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD

Video: Support for Apple ProRes, HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10

Audio: 4-speaker system, wide stereo, support for Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking (with AirPods)

Colours: Silver, space grey, starlight, midnight

In the box: MacBook Air, 30W or 35W dual-port power adapter, USB-C-to-MagSafe cable

Price: From Dh4,999

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