MacBook Air with M2 Review: Should You Buy It or Save Money with M1?
MacBook Air with M2 Review: Should You Buy It or Save Money with M1?

MacBook Air with M2 Review: Should You Buy It or Save Money with M1?

6 october, 202210 minutes to read
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MacBook Air has been my main laptop already for nine years. I've had two classic Airs with 11.6" and 13.3" displays, two Retina 2018 and 2020 models equipped with Intel chips, and the company's firstborn featuring its own M1 chip. I've been using the last one for a year and a half.

And then in the summer of 2022, Apple released the MacBook Air with M2 chipset. On the one hand, it has got virtually no performance boost, but on the other, Apple redesigned it and added some rather useful and pleasant innovations.

I'd like to point out right away that after the presentation I was, perhaps, for the first time in a long while unable to decide: should I personally buy a new model?

As for the M1 version, two years ago it was obvious right after the first performance tests started appearing on the web, that one had to buy it. In case of the Intel-based MacBook Air 2020 I also had no doubt because of the return to the scissor key mechanism. Same story with the 2018 MacBook Air with Retina display, actually because of that very display.

This year, however, all the innovations don't really trigger an obsessive "I want it" thought.

As a result, I first decided to take a test drive and try using the new Air as my main laptop for two or three weeks and only then make a decision whether the upgrade is worth it.

In this article, I'll share my thoughts on the matter and also try to help those who remain undecided about which MacBook Air to opt for - the one with M1 or M2,  as well asthose who are considering upgrading their M1-based machine to a more recent model. Let's go!

New Design and Colour Refreshes the Experience

Despite new design, the new MacBook Air isn't much lighter or more compact, you won't notice much difference when carrying it in a backpack. It has the same width and is only 2.6 mm, and just 50 grams lighter.

Thanks to a new shape, instead of the traditional Air’s wedge, it is uniformly thin from front to backe - just 1.13 cm. The last generation had this parameter ranging from 0.41 cm at the thinnest point to 1.61 cm at the thickest.

Has the new shape had any effect on the ergonomics? In my opinion, almost none. The laptop has stayed as thin and light as it was. The only thing that made it a little more comfortable to work on , is that the lower part of the top case is now less sharp and doesn't dig into my stomach while I'm lying in bed.

Overall, with the new design, the device looks more modern, up-to-date and therefore a little more enjoyable. The previous design had got boring after 4 years. The flat and wide base makes the M2 version more stable when on the table - no dancing or sliding as it was sometimes the case with the previous model.

Also nice is the top row of keys, which are finally at the same height as the rest of the keyboard (previously they were half as high). The trackpad is a little wider, but I can't say that it has made it any more comfortable.

As for the new colour, there has been a lot of talk about it. Yes, it gets dirty, and it is not easy to remove these traces. I tried to do just once and with a dry microfibre cloth, but it had no effect. I have not made any more attempts, as they would have been futile.

Another thing to mention, is the slight fraying of paint around the USB-C ports. Remember the black iPhone 5? This one has something similar. However, I haven't noticed the problem elsewhere. Still, there's no guarantee that the same won't happen to the edges of the case in a year or so.

Putting all these things aside, the colour is cool and I like it so much. I would probably buy one for myself, forgetting about all the drawbacks. The last time I made such an emotional decision, I think, was when I bought the iPhone 7 Plus in Jet Black back in 2016.

But back to practical things. The new design is all about aesthetics, so its influence on the overall impression is negligible. So, I don't consider the new case a strong argument for overpaying for a novelty or upgrading from MacBook Air M1 to M2.

The Display Feels Bigger due to the Space around the Fringes

On paper, the difference in the screen diagonal measurement is minimal - it's grown from 13.3" to 13.6", while the redesigned MacBook Pro's display has grown from 13.3" to 14.2".

But in reality, the increase in diagonal is noticeable. I'm not a fan of full-screen mode, so instead I just stretch windows from the dock to the status bar. And this is when you start noticing the difference - doing this on the MacBook Air with M2 gives you about as much working space as on the MacBook Air with M1 in full-screen mode.

Going back to my MacBook Air with M1, I immediately feel that the display is smaller, and I feel a certain amount of discomfort. So don't underestimate the display in the new one for sure - the difference in diagonal, while not colossal, is palpable. And that's probably the most compelling argument for the upgrade, which will be relevant to owners of all previous MacBook Air Retina display models up to and including the M1.

As for brightness, the new Air's display is 100 nits brighter (500 nits versus 400 nits), but you'll only notice the difference when you compare the laptops turning the brightness to maximum, and still it'll be barely noticeable. Otherwise, the display is as great as it was, the colorurs are rich, the resolution for this diagonal is optimal and comfortable (2K and 224 PPI).

As for the notch, you stop noticing it after a couple of hours, exactly as it was with the iPhone X and all subsequent Apple smartphones. It's not annoying. Besides, all the software I use has already adapted to the fringes - no hidden controls could be found behind them.

As for the disadvantages, the display keeps touching the keyboard when closed, which first results in smudges and then scratches. I recommend to use special microfibre cloths, putting them on the keyboard each time before closing the laptop. I don't recommend films - it's difficult to stick them on accurately, the oleophobic coating is poor, and you'll also suffer from glare.

And unfortunately, they didn't deliver 120Hz - such displays are still exclusive to the 14" and 16" MacBook Pro.

Speakers are amazing!

MacBook Air now features as many as four stereo speakers supporting spatial sound and Dolby Atmos instead of two. To be honest, while watching the presentation, I didn’t really believe that such cool speakers can be built into a centimeter-thick laptop case? But Apple really managed to do something incredible!

Yes, the bass sound is still not very good but the extent to which Apple managed to create such a “detailed” and deep is just beyond my comprehension. I've never heard anything like this in ultrabooks. By the way, the speakers of the previous Air model are also excellent. But Apple managed to improve something that was no longer possible to improve. Amazing!

MagSafe is back after 5 years

I will say right away - I am not a fan of MagSafe and had not been desperately waiting for its return. For me, this is just one of the ways to recharge the battery, absolutely equivalent to charging via USB-C.

However, I still consider it useful, because there are only two USB-C ports in the Air, and when, for example, one is used for charging and the second for an external monitor, you can’t plug in, for example, an external HDD. For such cases, I had to always carry with me a multiport adapter.

Now, both ports are free at the time of charging, which is good - the lack of ports for connecting new devices is not so acute.

The new cable is great. It is more flexible, pleasant to the touch, and does not get tangled in a backpack like a regular one. I even decided to order a similar cable for Baseus for my M1, which features USB-C instead of MagSafe.

However, the new 35W adapter with two USB-C rather disappointed me, since there is very little power to charge a laptop and an iPhone at the same time. Both of them charge slowly, taking 17.5 watts each. For me, the power supply unit turned out to be useless, since I use the Ugreen GaN 100W Charger with four ports that has a total power of 100 W. It charges MacBook Air and iPhone together very quickly, and there is even enough power for one more smartphone.

Performance and autonomy

The M2 chip is not much more efficient than M1 in terms of performance. Most likely will not notice a difference of 15-20% while doing routine tasks. At the same time, working with 3D graphics or editing a 4K video on the M2 is a bad idea, since it does not have a cooler and can heat up to 108 degrees which leads to throttling,

You can do something like this from time to time, but for constant work with advanced software, it is better considering buying a MacBook Pro. Moreover, the MacBook Air with M1 looks even more confident in this regard, as its passive cooling system does a better job. As for the M2 model, it looks like Apple just took the same M1 chip, made it faster but forgot to work on cooling.

Anyway, I did not notice any difference whiledoingmy regular tasks. It seems like the M2 can do the same job as the M1: having 20 tabs in Safari opened at the same time, running a Pixelmator with Spotify music playing in the background, working in office apps and Telegram. Neither faster nor slower.

However, it’s worth noting here that my MacBook Air had a “correct” configuration - 512 GB SSD with two 256 GB NAND chips inside, that work in parallel and are as fast as in the previous generation. But the basic model has just one 256 GB NAND chip, although the basic MacBook Air on the M1 has two 128 GB chips. Because of this, the SSD in the basic configuration of the M2 is up to two times slower than the basic M1, and this is worth bearing in mind.

Personally I cannot say how this difference affects the real life performance, but according to my colleagues , the performance of the 256 GB version drops significantly at those moments when the RAM fills up and the system starts using the SSD as a “swap”. So if possible, it is better to buy the version that features at least 512 GB of internal memory.

As for autonomy, the situation is similar. The new Air can withstand a 8-hour working day without any issues, and you will still be able to watch a couple of episodes of a new series in the evening. Good job!

A decent "webcam"… finally

And the last notable improvement is the FaceTime HD camera, which has been upgraded from 720p to 1080p. The quality has improved significantly, but still remains far from ideal.

However, we have already got used to it, and with the upgrade to macOS Ventura, it will be possible to use iPhone as a webcam. So, there is a way out.

So, M2 or M1?

It's time to summarize the results and answer the questions that I posed at the beginning of this review. But first, let’s compare MacBook Air with the M2 chip with its predecessor.

New case and color. It depends on your personal preferences. I liked the Midnight design and color, despite all its peculiarities. But in general, this does not affect my choice.

A larger display. Given the fact that Apple managed to make the screen larger with little or no increase in laptop dimensions the larger display is a decisive argument in favor of the new model.

Improved speakers. A very nice addition that really delighted me, but the previous Air also has good sound quality. If you haven't experienced the M2 , then the M1 version will please you too.

MagSafe. Having one more free port never hurts. The rest is nothing special.

Performance and autonomy. The characteristcs are roughly the same the ones MacBook Air on the M1 chip has. And there is a caveat: the 256 GB version can be slower than its predecessor.

Webcam. As with the speakers, it's nice, but you can live with a 720p camera in the Air with the M1 too.

In this regard, I would suggest the following reasoning:

If you choose between MacBook Air with M1 and MacBook Air with M2 in the basic configuration (8/256 GB), then you should look towards the first one. While the basic MacBook Air on M2 is more expensive it will be less productive due to the slow SSD.

If you are ready to pay extra money for 512 GB of memory, then I would rather prefer a new version with a larger display, new design and other improvements.

If you already own a MacBook Air on the M1, which is still good in 2022, then you can safely skip the current generation. This is exactly what I decided to do.

6 october, 2022
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