The Apple MacBook Air has arguably been one of the most popular slim and light laptop series for both professionals and students for more than a decade. Apple gave it a major design overhaul in 2018 and this year, it has received yet another major update. Announced in June during the WWDC 2022 conference, the new MacBook Air looks like an extension of the current-gen MacBook Pro family and boasts of a brand new Apple-designed processor called M2. This new SoC is said to be faster and more power-efficient than the M1, while still delivering great battery life.

The M2 MacBook Air is also costlier than the previous generation, but Apple is still keeping the M1 Air around, at least for now. The new M2 Air has plenty of little upgrades and couple of big ones over its predecessor, and it’s time to find out whether these changes indeed make it worth the hefty premium it commands.

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) price in India and variants

The new MacBook Air starts at Rs. 1,19,900 in India and this variant gets you the M2 SoC with an eight-core GPU, a 256GB SSD, 8GB of RAM, and a 30W Type-C power brick. Apple sent me the second pre-configured variant, which is priced at Rs. 1,49,900 and features a 10-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage, and a 35W dual-port Type-C power brick.

You can configure the RAM and storage of both these variants if needed, but these aren’t upgradeable later so you’ll need to choose wisely. If you want to go crazy, you can spec the new MacBook Air with 24GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, but it will cost a whopping Rs. 2,49,900. Prices will be slightly lower if you are eligible for a student discount.

The M2 MacBook Air is not available in Gold like the M1 Air, but it gets two new finishes called Midnight and Starlight, in addition to Space Grey and Silver. In the box, you get a USB Type-C power adapter, a Type-C to MagSafe 3 cable, and the laptop.

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) design

The M1 MacBook Air was indistinguishable from the previous Intel-based version, but that’s not the case with the new M2 Air. It looks like a more compact 14-inch MacBook Pro, with fewer ports. The iconic wedge-shape of the MacBook Air is no more but instead, we get this uniformly thick base and flat lid. I think it looks quite nice and is a lot more comfortable to use on the lap since the edges of the body are less sharp. The all-aluminium chassis feels very sturdy and the fit and finish are top-notch, as you’d expect from a Mac. Oddly, Apple has removed the ‘MacBook Air’ inscription from below the display and in fact, there’s no mention of it anywhere on the laptop.

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The new M2 MacBook Air looks like a leaner version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro

 

The M2 MacBook Air has a MagSafe charging port which leaves you with two free Thunderbolt ports. These support the USB 4 standard with a maximum bandwidth of 40Gbps (the same as Thunderbolt 3). The new MacBook Air is able to power up to a 6K external display at 60Hz. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the opposite side of the ports that supports high-impedance headphones.

The bezels on the top and the sides of the display have shrunk, allowing Apple to squeeze in a slightly taller and larger 13.6-inch LED-backlit panel which has a resolution of 2560×1664 pixels. The brightness has also been increased by 100 nits compared to the M1 Air’s 400 nits. The display still has a 60Hz refresh rate and other Apple features such as True Tone and P3 wide-colour gamut coverage.

The M2 MacBook Air’s display also has a notch, just like the MacBook Pro models, to accommodate an improved 1080p FaceTime camera. The notch takes a bit of getting used to at first but thankfully MacOS is better optimised now so items in the menu bar for most apps automatically wrap around the notch and are no longer hidden behind it.

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(1) The M2 MacBook Air has a MagSafe 3 charging port (2) The groove for opening the lid is redesigned (3) Sound is channeled via the multiple vents between the display and the base (4) The notch houses an upgraded 1080p Face ID camera

 

The advantage of the taller display is that there’s more keyboard space on the lower half of the MacBook Air. Apple has gone with full-sized function row keys, including the power/Touch ID button, without having to compromise on the size of the trackpad. In fact, the Force Touch trackpad is a bit wider on the new M2 Air. The perforated speaker grilles on either side of the keyboard are gone and Apple has switched to a four-speaker (vs two-speaker) system that outputs audio through vents between the hinges of the display.

The new MacBook Air has a clean and minimalist design with just four exposed screws on the base. Just like the M1-based Air, this model doesn’t have a fan so you can expect completely silent operation even when running stressful workloads.

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) specifications and software

Apple says it designed the new MacBook Air around the M2 SoC, which is a generational update over the M1 but still positioned below the M1 Pro, M1 Max and M1 Ultra. While the initial shift from Intel CPUs to in-house ones resulted in massive performance and efficiency upgrades, this new chip offers more modest improvements in comparison.

The M2 is a physically larger SoC with four billion more transistors than the M1 (20 billion in total), but is still built on a 5nm fabrication process. Some of the notable improvements include up to a 10-core GPU, support for up to 24GB of unified memory (RAM) with higher memory bandwidth of 100GB/s, and a hardware-level encode and decode engine for ProRes video at up to 8K. The CPU, GPU and neural engine cores in the M2 have also been upgraded for better performance.

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The M2 MacBook Air gets a full-sized function key row and power/Touch ID button

 

It has been reported that the base model of the M2 MacBook Air with the 256GB SSD has slower read/write speeds compared to the 512GB model and even the 256GB M1 Air. The reason for this has been confirmed to be the use of a single, denser NAND storage chip in the 256GB model of the M2 Air, versus two, resulting in reduced bandwidth. I wasn’t able to verify this myself but it’s something worth keeping in mind.

The M2 MacBook Air features Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, and a slightly larger 52.6Wh battery but with the same claimed runtime of up to 18 hours of video playback. The M2 MacBook Air ships with macOS Monterey which boasts of features such as spatial audio for FaceTime calls, Tab Groups in Safari, and more recently, Universal Control. It will also be eligible for Apple’s upcoming macOS Ventura update in the coming months.

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) performance and battery life

For this review, I used the M2 MacBook Air as my daily driver for a few weeks to see how it copes with a mix of work and leisure activities. My workflow isn’t too demanding – other than using Photoshop, most of my work tasks are carried out in Safari. Transferring all my data (over 200GB) from the M1 MacBook Air to the M2 Air was seamless and quick. Even wirelessly, the transfer was nearly as quick as having a wired connection between the two laptops.

The taller screen of the M2 MacBook Air was the only thing that threw me off a little during my first few days of use, but after that, it was easy to get used to. In fact, I like the increased vertical space when viewing or reading content. The downside however is that there are usually thicker black bars when watching videos, but this isn’t too distracting or noticeable.

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The display on the M2 MacBook Air is crisp and bright, making it great for work and play

 

When using basic apps such as Slack, PDF readers, Safari, Spotify, or even Photoshop, I did not notice much of a performance difference between the M2 MacBook Air and the M1. MacOS was just as speedy to boot up or wake from sleep, apps loaded quickly, and editing photos felt just as fluid as they did on the older M1 Air, which also had 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. The keyboard on the M2 Air is excellent for typing, the trackpad is very precise, and the display produces superb colours and brightness.

The new four-speaker system in the M2 Air sounds a bit warmer and fuller compared to M1, but it’s not drastically different. Low-end frequencies have a decent amount of thump for a laptop this slim, and vocals and the mid-range frequencies are faithfully reproduced, with good clarity. Both laptops have a similar maximum volume level too.

According to Apple, the performance difference between M2 and M1 MacBook Airs should be most visible in heavier tasks such as video editing or transcoding ProRes RAW video files. I tried encoding a one-minute ProRes 4K (422 HQ) clip shot on an iPhone 13 Pro Max (Review) to 1080p (H.264), and the M2 Air completed this in 31.9s while the M1 Air took 47.8s. However, when converting the same file to 4K (H.264), the difference was negligible. The M2 Air’s performance improvement is noticeable in benchmarks, which you can see in the table below.

    MacBook Air (M2)

(10-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD)

MacBook Air (M1)

(8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD)

Blackmagic Disk Speed Test
(higher is better)
     
5GB Read 2,703.7MB/s 2,853.7MB/s
Write 2,405.7MB/s 2,655.3MB/s
1GB Read 2,824.3MB/s 2,847.4MB/s
Write 3,032.7MB/s 2,875.3MB/s
Cinebench R23 (higher is better)      
Single-core   1,584 pts 1,500 pts
Multi-core   8,242 pts 7,686 pts
Geekbench 5 (higher is better)      
CPU (Apple silicon) Single-core 1,787 pts 1,749 pts
Multi-core 8,356 pts 7,728 pts
       
Compute Metal 29,953 pts 20,798 pts
OpenCL 27,620 pts 18,712 pts
Browser benchmarks (higher is better)      
WebXprt 4   201 pts 190
Basemark Web 3.0   1,179.2 pts 1,126.2 pts
Jetstream 2   222.8 pts 201.8 pts
Final Cut Pro (lower is better)      
ProRes 4K (422 HQ) to 1080p (H.264) 31.9 sec 47.8 sec
to 4K (H.264) 42.1 sec 41.85 sec

Casual games from Apple Arcade ran quite well on the M2 MacBook Air. I tried a couple such as Asphalt 9: Legends and Jetpack Joyride 2, which were fun to play. The Mac is not the best platform for AAA titles but a few big names such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Metro Exodus are available. I tried the Steam version of Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the M2 MacBook Air, to see it was at least playable. With the resolution set to 1920×1200 and using the ‘High’ graphics preset, the built-in benchmark averaged 29fps, which is surprisingly decent. The M1 Pro SoC in the MacBook Pro 14-inch is still a lot more powerful, managing 48fps at the same settings.

The M2 MacBook Air has an upgraded 1080p FaceTime HD camera compared to the M1 Air, but with the same three-mic array. With enough natural light in the room, the M2 Air’s webcam produced better facial textures, and highlights were exposed better. In low light, the video feed was a lot less grainy compared to what the M1 can produce, but still nowhere near as good as the front camera of an iPhone 13 Pro.

I have a feeling this was a deliberate move. When iOS 16 and macOS Ventura arrive, you’ll be able to use your iPhone’s camera as a webcam wirelessly with a MacBook, and also take advantage of other features such as Centre Stage, Portrait Lighting, etc in video calls. It’s also an opportunity for Apple to sell you special mounts to clip your iPhone to your MacBook.

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The M2 MacBook Air with the 10-core GPU ships with a dual-port 35W power adapter

 

Battery life has been one of the hallmark advantages of using a MacBook, even in the Intel days, and this has only gotten better since Apple shifted to its own silicon. The new M2 MacBook Air promises similar battery life as the M1 Air and it definitely delivers on this. Using it for work for about seven to eight hours on a typical day, the battery would usually have about 40 percent still remaining. This was enough for some light gaming or movie-watching after work, plus I usually had some power left for the next day too, as there’s minimal battery drain in standby.

The dual-port 35W power brick sold in India looks similar to the previous 30W brick, unlike the more compact version bundled with units sold in the US. With the battery at 10 percent, I managed to charge the M2 MacBook Air up to 39 percent in half an hour and up to 66 percent in an hour using the MagSafe cable. Apple also sells a 67W power adapter for Rs. 5,800 which is said to be able to charge the M2 Air from 0-50 percent in about half an hour. This adapter, oddly, has just a single Type-C port.

Verdict

The new M2 MacBook Air is a class act and a good upgrade over the older M1 MacBook Air in pretty much every way. It is more expensive by about Rs. 20,000 which is on the steeper side for sure, but it might be worth it if you want the latest MacBook design, a better webcam, MagSafe charging, and a newer processor. I would suggest choosing at least a 512GB SSD in order to avoid any potential bottlenecks. If your budget permits, spring for the 10-core GPU variant which automatically gets you that much storage plus the higher-wattage power adapter.

Apple’s new M2 SoC is a decent incremental update over the M1 but if you’re expecting a dramatic improvement like we got going from Intel to Apple silicon, then that’s not the case. Depending on your video editing or transcoding workflow, you may or may not see an improvement going from M1 to M2.

If you’re getting a MacBook Air strictly for casual use or lighter workloads, then 2020’s M1-based model is still more than capable. In fact, it’s far better value for money.

The M2 MacBook Air is a superb laptop if you want something that looks like a MacBook Pro, but don’t necessarily need the extra pressing power or want to pay the higher price. For everyone else, the M1 MacBook Air is still a great value option that shouldn’t be ignored.




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