By Jason Snell
June 7, 2022 1:41 PM PT
Hands on with the M2 MacBook Air
The new M2 MacBook Air isn’t going to be on sale until next month, but I was fortunate enough to spend some time with several of them on Monday at Apple Park. Unlike the M1 MacBook Air, which was about providing a comforting shell around the then-new concept of a Mac running an Apple-designed processor, the new Air takes a bold step into modern Mac design without losing what’s great about the MacBook Air.
When I picked one up for the first time, I felt reassured. It was noticeably lighter (a tenth of a pound, or about 50 grams) than the M1 Air I pick up all the time. It’s also quite thin, though instead of the classic wedge design, Apple has kept it a consistent 0.44 inches (1.13cm) thick—thicker than the thin end of the wedge but thinner than the thick edge.
The design is definitely a riff on the 2021 MacBook Pro; the flat, circular feet are taken right from those laptops. (There’s no “MacBook Air” inscription on the bottom, though.) The edges of the laptop are flat, reflecting Apple’s current hardware aesthetic.
When you open it up, you’ll see a bigger trackpad and a full-height function row, again picked up from the MacBook Pro. And, yep, there’s the clincher: the screen has small bezels and wraps around the webcam hardware, creating a telltale notch big enough to tuck a menu bar in. And perhaps most importantly, the MagSafe charging is back on the Air!
4 non colors
Ever since the M1 iMac launched with six bright color options (plus silver), rumors abounded that the next MacBook Air would join the party and embrace color. Many of us daydreamed of toting bright and shiny MacBook Airs around, with color not seen since the days of the original iBook.
Well, about that. Apple has instead chosen to present the MacBook Air in four “colors,” though I’d be hard-pressed to consider them colors. They are, in fact, Apple’s two old choices for boring non-colors and Apple’s two new choices for extremely restrained shades that look colorful from certain angles and in certain lighting conditions.
There’s Silver and Space Gray, who y’all know. And there’s Starlight—it’s basically silver but with a yellow undertone instead of blue—and Midnight. Midnight is black, except when it isn’t. Hold a Midnight MacBook Air and angle it just right at a light source, and the laptop will suddenly look dark blue. But in most circumstances, it just looks black.
I lament the loss of more fun colors for these laptops, but I have to admit that Midnight looks great to me. I miss the days of a truly black Apple laptop, and while Midnight isn’t quite that, it’s very close. It’s a striking look in a way that Space Gray just isn’t—because Space Gray is just Silver dialed back a few notches. Midnight will never be mistaken for Silver or Space Gray.
In better color-related news, Apple is offering color-matched USB-to-MagSafe cables, both in the box and on the Apple online store, so a Midnight MacBook Air can be charged by a Midnight cable. This is in contrast to last year’s MacBook Pro, which shipped with a Silver cable, even if your laptop was of the Space Gray variety.
Presenting the M2
The MacBook Air also represents a major milestone, namely the debut of the second-generation Apple silicon chip, the M2. It’s a major advancement that offers a bunch of improvements from the M1, including next-generation CPU cores, Secure Enclave, Neural Engine, and GPU cores based on the A15.
There are also some M2 features that first debuted in the higher-end M1 family chips but have now rolled down to the base-model M2. The memory bandwidth is much faster, and the memory on the chips is the same LP5 memory used in the M1 Pro and Max, rather than the LP4 memory used in the original M1. That RAM format allows for a higher density RAM die, so Apple can fit more RAM on the M2—a maximum of 24GB, up from 16GB on the M1. Video encodes and decodes are also dramatically faster on the M2 than the M1, thanks to dedicated hardware blocks on the M2 chip that previously appeared on the high-end M1 chips.
Unfortunately, the M2 is still the base-model chip of its generation. And Apple has chosen not to provide it with enough I/O power to drive a second external display. This was a dealbreaker for some multi-display fans back when the M1 Air was released, and it hasn’t been addressed with the M2.
What about the MacBook Pro?
So, there was another laptop announced on Monday: the 13-inch MacBook Pro. To call this a new laptop would not be right. It’s the shell of the old 13-inch MacBook Pro with an M2 instead of an M1. It’s still got the touch bar, lacks MagSafe charging, and doesn’t have the larger 13.6-inch screen of the Air. It feels very much like Apple still has a bunch of Touch Bars and laptop shells laying around and is going to keep selling this thing until they’re all gone.
What do you get if you buy a 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro instead of an M2 MacBook Air? A bigger, heavier computer (with a smaller screen!) that must be charged via one of its two USB-C ports. If you’re a fan of the Touch Bar, it’s for you. Beyond that? Hmm.
It is true that because the MacBook Pro has an active cooling system and the M2 Air does not, the MacBook Pro will be able to sustain very intense activity for longer while the Air will heat up and have to throttle back performance. But if the characteristics of the M1 are any indication, that would only ever happen if you maxed out the GPU for a very long time, perhaps while playing a game or performing a very complicated render.
If you’re planning on doing that a lot, the 14-inch MacBook Pro might be a better buy. For most users, the M2 MacBook Air will be more than powerful enough to handle just about any job. On Monday, Apple claimed that the MacBook Air is the most popular laptop model in the world. After the time I spent with the M2 model, I have no doubt that its winning ways will continue.
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