The new MacBack Air is one of Apple’s most important computers since Steve Jobs pulled the original Air out of an envelope. It shows what’s possible when Apple builds a superportable device entirely based on mobile chips, rather than cramming them into legacy laptop designs like the recent 13-inch MacBook Pro. The Air is impressively thin and light, but it also has a bigger and better screen, a good set of speakers, and a nifty MagSafe power adapter. And thanks to Apple’s M2 chip, it’s also much faster than the last model, a PC from just a year and a half ago. Once again, Apple has set a new standard for ultraportable devices.
Before we dive into what’s under the hood, I’ll just say what we’re all thinking: This is one beautiful computer! Gone is the signature wedge design of the Air; now, it is evenly thin from front to back. Apple essentially replicated the PowerBook design for the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro (rounded edges, a notch for the webcam), but stuffed it into a case that’s just 11.3mm thick and weighs 2.7mm. pounds. While it’s only a tenth of a pound lighter than the last Air, it’s more balanced, making it easier to hold.
- Much thinner than before
- Nice 13.6-inch screen.
- Great quad speaker setup
- The performance of the M2 is excellent.
- More expensive than before
- Some speed limits for extended tasks
- No promotion
When I first picked up the MacBook Air, it felt more like an iPad with a built-in keyboard than a laptop. The funny thing is that it’s actually more portable than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which weighs around 1.5kg when combined with the Smart Keyboard. The iPad Pro has long been positioned as the ideal future of truly portable computing, but it appears to weigh about the same as the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Once again, the humble air wins.
It’s also nice to see that Apple offers a wide range of finishes. In addition to the typical space gray and silver, there’s a box with a brighter starlight and a sleek dark black option. I’ve been testing a shiny model and the way the color pops off the aluminum always gives me a bit of joy.
To be honest, that feeling of joy can be found everywhere on the MacBook Air, like the new 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display. It’s only a third of an inch wider than before, but it looks much roomier and more captivating. This helps Apple to trim down the bezel a bit and also boost the brightness up to 500 nits, making the Air much easier to use outdoors.
For the most part, the Liquid Retina display is on par with what we’ve seen on the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro; the only difference is that it does not have Promotion. I didn’t expect to see this high refresh rate technology in a regular laptop, especially since it didn’t make it to the 13-inch MacBook Pro. But for now, that’s one of the only things keeping the Air from being truly perfect. Maybe I’m just greedy, but my eyes are spoiled. I need silky smooth scrolling on all devices! The new 1080p webcam disappointed me a bit. It has more pixels than previous 720p cameras, but it still looks washed out and grainy.
Apple has at least managed to bring the improved speaker technology from the larger MacBook Pros. The Air has a four-speaker system with support for Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos. And while I didn’t expect much from such a slim system, the new sound setup sounds surprisingly good. It’s enough to fill a small room with full volume sound without any distortion. There’s also a three-microphone array to improve video chat audio quality, as well as a standard 3.5mm jack. (I’m sure there are some die-hard Apple designers who would like to remove the headphone jack to make the Air’s case slimmer, just like they did with the iPad Pro. So enjoy it while you can!)
All of these upgrades would be impressive in their own right, but what really makes the MacBook Air shine is Apple’s new M2 chip. It doesn’t completely remake the PC world, like the M1 did, but it’s a decent sequel. The M2 has 8 CPU cores and up to 10 GPU cores, and Apple says it’s 18% faster for multithreaded performance. If you’re looking for the fastest GPU model, you can expect graphics speeds around 35% faster than the M1. Apple has also doubled the memory bandwidth of the M2 and increased the maximum RAM to 24GB. Maybe that’s overkill for the Air, but it’s fine all the same. There’s also hardware support for ProRes encoding and decoding, but I’d imagine most video editors will go with the more powerful MacBook Pros.
Our test unit was equipped with a 10-core GPU, 16 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB SSD hard drive, just like our 13-inch MacBook Pro test machine. And unsurprisingly, scores between the two systems were almost identical in benchmarks like GeekBench 5 and 3DMark Wild Life Extreme. There was a significant difference in the Cinebench R21 multi-threaded test, but that wasn’t much of a surprise. The MacBook Air is a fanless system, so its CPU must be overclocked to keep things cool. On the other hand, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has more powerful fans and cooling settings, so it can handle extended workloads.
All of my tests have shown that the MacBook Air is just as fast as the 13-inch Pro for most tasks. It even averaged 30fps on the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark, meaning the game could be played on an ultra-slim mobile device. But you’ll have to live with a slight slowdown if you’re doing more complex work like video editing or 3D rendering. For most people, I think it’s a decent compromise considering everything the MacBook Air has to offer. And if you’re a media professional, you’re still better off with a 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro than the older 13-inch model.
I’m not hitting this computer hard, but now that I’ve seen the Air in action, I’m even more taken aback by the 13-inch Pro. The Air has the same great keyboard and ultra-smooth trackpad. There’s no annoying TouchBar, just reliable function keys. It even has more doors! There are two USB-C ports, but it also has a MagSafe connector for power. This means you can charge your MacBook Air without using one of your precious USB-C connections! Maybe Apple should have changed the name of this MacBook Air Pro.
The 13-inch Pro has a larger battery, which helped it last 17 hours and five minutes in our benchmark. And the air, in turn, came at 16 hours 30 minutes. Still, there’s plenty of time to get going after a full day’s work, and it’s on par with other ultraportable like the Dell XPS 13. Apple also has a range of power adapters to choose from: one with two USB- C (for charging other devices) and a 67W adapter for fast charging.
The only downside to the redesigned MacBook Air is that it now costs $1,199, $200 more than the M1 model. This older machine is still a decent option if you find it on sale or refurbished, but otherwise the M2 is totally worth the extra cost. Just be prepared for the price to skyrocket as additional hardware starts being added. If you want to bump up the specs on our test unit, you’ll need to shell out $1,899. Personally I would say prioritize putting as much RAM and SSD storage as possible. The M2 chip will still be very capable without a $100 upgrade to a more powerful GPU.
It’s cool to think about how far the MacBook Air has come since 2008. Overpriced and underpowered, it’s a testament to Apple’s penchant for style over substance. Since then, the entire PC industry has jumped on the superportable bandwagon, and Apple found a way to pack a ton of power into an ultra-slim case. Now the MacBook Air is arguably Apple’s best laptop yet.
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