MacBook Air M2 review: The Air has changed

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MacBook Air M2 review: The Air has changed

The new Apple MacBook Air is now available in India and it is nothing like the previous one. Well almost. The experience, powered by the MacOS, offers continuity. But in other aspects, there are many changes. The design of the new MacBook Air is different. The screen is bigger. And there are key upgrades in screen technology, speakers, chipset, its webcam and the keyboard.

The changes when put together pushes the Macbook Air in a different segment compared to the previous one. And not all changes, particularly the price, will be welcomed by all users. Yet, it is also true that there is enough goodness in the new MacBook Air M2 to keep it in the company of some of the finest laptops one can buy in India at the moment.

Before everything else, some mundane stuff. Or rather the stuff that highlights what all is new in the MacBook Air 2022.

— The biggest change is the screen size. The new Air M2 has a 13.6-inch screen, complete with a notch. In comparison, the previous Air had a screen size of 13-3-inch with relatively thicker bezels.

— The MacBook Air 2022 comes with Apple M2 chipset. The base variant now gets a 10-core graphics chip. The CPU core is, according to Apple, 18 per cent faster, compared to the M1 chipset.

— There is now a variant with 24GB RAM. Storage is limited to 2TB.

— The MacBook Air M2 comes in four colours: Midnight, Starlight, Silver and Space Grey. In this review you can see Starlight. The new colours are not all that jazzed up. They are okay.

— The new Air has a new sound system with 4 speakers.

— The laptop is available with up to 2TB internal storage.

— There is a new FullHD (1080P) webcam unlike the 720P cam in the previous Air.

— Unlike the previous Air M1, which has a starting price of Rs 99,900 at the moment, the new MacBook Air M2 price in India starts from Rs 119,900.

Slimmer and different

Let’s talk about the design first. Since Steve Jobs took the MacBook Air out of an envelope in 2008, the Air has used a wedge-shaped design. This means at the hinge where the screen meets the shell, the laptop is thicker whereas the part where the screen lid is lifted is slimmer. With the MacBook Air 2022, Apple is getting rid of the wedge. Instead, the new Air has the same thickness all-around. Some people will definitely miss the old wedge design, but most will not. This is because even if the laptop has uniform thickness, it is actually very slim and petite.

Compared to the MacBook Air M1, the overall thickness of the Air M2 is lower at 1.13cm. It is also, despite having similar dimensions, marginally lighter at 1.24 kgs.

In terms of looks, the Air M2 looks like the MacBook Pro 14 and the Pro 16 that were launched last year in October. It has the same rounded edges, and similar large and round rubber feet under its shell.

Like other MacBooks that we are familiar with, the MacBook Air M2 is built exceptionally well. Its brushed aluminium gives it a solidity that few laptops can match. Like other MacBooks, the Air M2 also comes with a huge and excellent trackpad and a keyboard that retains the same goodness we have come to expect from Apple’s machines.

Unlike the small and rectangular Touch ID in the M1, the Touch ID in the Air M2 is a full-size key that we earlier saw in the MacBook Pro. It also has the same hollowed out round spot, which I believe makes it less prone to errors and somewhat more intuitive to use.

There are two more key design changes in the Air M2. It comes with the same MagSafe charging port that we saw on the Pro 14. The benefit of this new charging port, apart from nostalgia, is that it frees up the two Thunderbolt/USB-C slots.

The other big change is the screen: It is now marginally bigger at 13.6-inch. However, by thinning bezels, Apple had managed to slot in this screen in a laptop that has a size almost exactly as that of the Air M1. The screen also comes with a notch that we first saw on the Pro laptops last year. There are some people who don’t like the notch. I don’t mind it. In fact, after using the laptop for a day or two I hardly notice it, which I believe is the entire point. On a large 13-inch screen it is so small that it goes out of the way fairly quickly.

Talking of screen, Apple has given it an upgrade in the Air M2. It is now brighter, as bright as the screen in the MacBook Air 13 with 500 nits, but not as bright as the screens in the last year’s Pro models. In use I do find the screen marginally brighter than the screen in the Air M1 but not dramatically so. Overall, the colours are richer and in HDR content, the highlights glow more on the Air M2.

Faster and wee bit hot

Apart from the design and screen, the next big bit about the new MacBook Air is the M2 chipset. However, if the M1 was a revolution, the M2 is an evolution. The chipset brings some big gains in the graphics performance thanks to its 10 graphics cores — in base variant the Air M1 had 7 cores — but CPU cores are only marginally faster.

Like we have seen with the iPhone where each year the phone gets a faster chipset, and yet almost all of them launched in the last 5 years are fast enough, with the M series chipsets we are beginning to notice the diminishing return on the speed boost. In other words, the Air M1 was an incredibly fast laptop. And so is the MacBook Air M2. The benchmarks reveal big numbers, placing the M2 ahead of the M1. Obviously. But how much difference does it make in the real world performance, at a time when you are using the laptop? Not all that noticeable.

In most use cases, you will feel no difference between the speed in the Air M1 and the Air M2. During this review I used the M2 for browsing the web, watching videos, writing some articles, and to push it a bit edited some hundreds of photos in the Adobe Lightroom. The Air M2 handled it all without any hiccups, except generating some heat when Lightroom was hard at work. About this heat in a while.

In practical terms, the superior experience of the Air M2 over the Air M1 comes not from the chipset but from its brighter and more engaging screen. Similarly, the new sound system with four speakers sounds meatier and the new webcam is a big improvement over the 720P cam. I also like that the new Air has full-size Touch ID and full-size function keys.

In the grand scheme of things, pure performance-wise, there is little difference between the M1 Air and M2 Air. Given that these two are fanless laptops, they are also prone to heating when pushed. This is more so in the case of Air M2 because of its faster chipset, and possibly — like iFixit found — because of its bare-bones cooling system. Apple clearly expects people who run video editing or apps like Lightroom to buy a Pro laptop, which comes with cooling fan(s).

In my case, I found that the M2 Air does heat up a little, and then gets sluggish, with prolonged use of Lightroom. In particular this was an issue when “hardware acceleration” was turned on in the photo editing. In this mode, the app engages graphics cores more aggressively.

It is worth noting that the laptop I am reviewing has 512GB internal storage. While I did not notice any sluggishness from storage (whether in reading data or in writing), it has been confirmed in reports that the 256GB variant of the M2 has slower storage due to its single chip configuration. The write storage speed for the 256GB variant, again based on reports, reaches around 1500 MBps. This is around 30 to 50 per cent slower compared to the read and write speed on 512GB Air M2. Now, such storage speeds are unlikely to have an impact on regular use but it is worth noting that if you are copying large blocks of data — say 10-20GB — it is going to be a bit slow. The slow speed could also be an issue on the 8GB variant of the Air M2 because the laptop uses SSD for swap if it runs out of unified memory. The use cases where there could be issues are going to be rare — extremely rare — but there are possibilities.

The battery life of the Air M2 is stellar. For most people who aren’t using the laptop as their office machine, working on it for 10-hours straight, or who do not edit photos for 6 hours a day, the Air M2 will easily last 2-3 days once its battery is full. Apple bundles different chargers with different variants of the Air M2. The laptop supports fast charging but for that users will have to buy a separate 67W charger and will have to use the USB-C port for charging.

MacBook Air M2: Worth the price?

For long the MacBook Air has been a go-to laptop for most people. Reason: it is arguably the best value for money laptop ever created. With the Air M2, however, Apple is pushing the Air series upwards, both in terms of its feature set and its price. The laptop now gains a display that is closer to the screens of MacBook Pro laptops. It also gains a design — those full-size function keys — and a sound system that is more upmarket. All of these are welcome additions to the Air. But they come at a cost. Literally. The price of the Air M2 starts at Rs 119,900 and that I believe is on the higher side compared to what it offers. I feel the Air M2 is a fantastic laptop but it no longer carries the kind of value that the previous Air offered.

Instead, for most people I recommend the Air M1 which continues to be on sale in India in its base variant (256GB storage + 7-core GPU). Combined with the discounts that Air M1 often gets, it is a much better purchase than the Air M2. And if Air M1 is too underpowered for your usage, I would recommend you bite the bullet and step up to get the MacBook Pro 14. The MacBook Air M2 at the moment, as good as it is, looks like the odd one out in the MacBook lineup.

— ENDS —

MacBook Air M2 review 8/10

Pros

  • Good display
  • Superb battery life
  • Performance

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