To find out, we set up a little test: on a bright August morning, we set up the new M2 MacBook Air and the comparable 2020 M1 so that I could use both without knowing which was which. And despite my nerd bravado, even I couldn’t consistently see the difference.
Here’s how it went and everything you need to know about the new MacBook Air.
Is it really faster than before?
We’ve started a series of blind tests of what we think most people will need on their computer at some point.
First: browsing the web. I installed Chrome on both machines and switched between the same 10-15 tabs while playing the same 4K YouTube videos in the background. Both handled the load equally well, although people who like to keep tabs open with them will probably find both machines struggle. (Pro tip: when looking for any new computer, get the most RAM you can afford.)
Next on the list were video calls – with a twist.
Apps like Snap’s Snap Camera, which filter your face and are sometimes very sophisticated, can overload the machine. This can be especially true when you’re using it while broadcasting or chatting on a Zoom call. When I went wild with the filters, no computer seemed to bat an eyelash at the proverbial, and at one point I stated that based purely on the satisfying physics of my potato face, I was using the M2 model. I was wrong.
When we started editing videos, we really started to feel the difference between these two computers.
When it came time to export our 4K video clips at a lower resolution, the M2 Air finished minutes ahead of last year’s model. It may not sound like much, but when you’re working on larger projects or multiple projects, these moments add up quickly. Again, if you do a lot of this sort of thing, you’ll be better off On a MacBook Pro anyway
Additional tests, including games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and a number of traditionally neat benchmarks, confirm that the M2 Air is a superior performance machine. It just takes extra work to see that speed in action—work that many people won’t immediately notice.
For people who mainly rely on their computer for some tasks When surfing the Internet and watching movies, the difference in the chip may never be noticeable. If I were to describe you just now, the cheaper M1 Mac would probably suit you just fine.
If it seems a bit odd to recommend last year’s model to some people, that’s because Apple’s entire laptop lineup is a bit odd right now.
The Air is one of two new laptops using Apple’s M2 processor, which (as we’ve seen) has some advantages over 2020’s M1 chip. But last year, Apple began building different versions of the M1 — the M1 Pro and M1 Max — that outperformed the M2.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the M2 was meant to set a new standard. For years, the introduction of the iPhone has made it clear to us that a new numbered model is a big step up and a game changer from the same numbered model. But despite what the new part number suggests, the M2 isn’t the fastest, best processor you’ll find in an Apple laptop; it’s just the latest.
Ironically, the next step up from this MacBook Air is the M2 MacBook Pro – by all accounts it’s a faster machine, but because it still uses an older design, it doesn’t exactly feel like an upgrade.
Of course, no one ever buys a new laptop just for the chip in it. And in this case, the rest of the package is as uncontroversial as the M2 itself.
- Screen. At 13.6 inches diagonally, this “Liquid Retina” display is the largest screen Apple has ever packed into an ultraportable laptop. (That means it’s easier to cram more stuff into the screen at once.) And while it’s not quite as beautiful as the screens found on last year’s refreshed MacBook Pro, it’s a bit brighter than the previous model. .
- Improved webcam. The previous MacBook Air had it very bad webcam, it stung even more as Apple released the laptop while people were getting used to sheltering in place due to Covid-19. Thankfully, Apple has upped the quality significantly this time around, meaning you won’t end up looking like a blurry, pixel-y mess on your next Zoom call.
- Great battery life. Perhaps the biggest advantage of Apple’s move to its own processors is how long its laptops can run on a single charge. I was able to get more than 10 hours of use out of the M2 MacBook Air on a busy workday and still have enough power to last until the next morning. That’s a big improvement over Apple’s older models — at best, my last Intel MacBook Pro ran out in about seven hours — and slightly better than the M1 model’s battery.
- The notch. Glancing at it during the day isn’t just weird; it also has a place in macOS’s menu bar that other programs sometimes use. And other laptop makers have almost perfected the edge-to-edge display without relying on big camera cutouts.
- The new “Midnight” ends. Apple’s latest MacBook Air comes in a new dark blue color called Midnight, which sounds fun and mysterious until you realize it picks up palm and fingerprints at the drop of a hat. (Apple pointed us to it cleaning support pageif that bothers you.)
- Higher starting price. The most basic M2 MacBook Air with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage starts at $1,199. That’s $200 more than the M1 MacBook Air — still a laptop worth considering — at today’s price.
The M2 MacBook Air is a sleek, powerful machine, and a great choice if you haven’t upgraded your laptop in a few years. But if you mostly rely on your computer for web browsing, office/school work, and Netflix, the $999 M1 MacBook Air is more than enough, and probably will be for a while.
Who should pay the $200 premium for the M2 model? Mostly, I’d say those who want a better webcam and a nicer screen, though the extra horsepower packed in here offers a little room to grow if your needs change.
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