The M1 MacBook Air redefined Apple’s notebook line. Suddenly, you could grab their cheapest, lightest, and quietest portable Mac and gain access to Pro-level performance.
However, all of that power and next-generation performance was housed in a rapidly ageing body. As loved as it might be, the wedge-shaped design of the MacBook Air has been due an update for quite some time.
Earlier this week, that update arrived in the form of the M2 MacBook Air.
The wedge has been swapped for a mini MacBook Pro aesthetic, and the return of MagSafe is joined by brand-new Apple silicon, a notched screen, and a higher price tag.
But with the M1 MacBook Air still very much alive and kicking on the Apple Store, who is the M2 MacBook Air for, exactly?
The spec options
The base-level M2 MacBook Air is remarkably similar to that of its predecessor. The 8-core CPU comes with 8GB of unified memory, and 256GB of SSD storage.
However, while the base-spec M1 version comes with a 7-core GPU, the M2 MacBook Air features an 8-core GPU. You also get a slightly larger 13.6-inch display which now carries the ‘Liquid Retina’ moniker, an improved 1080p FaceTime camera, and the return of MagSafe. This configuration will set you back $1,199/£1,249.
The second spec option offered immediately by Apple retains the 8GB of unified memory, but takes the GPU cores up to 10 and increases the SSD storage to 512GB. That lot will set you back an additional $300/£300 on the base price.
Fancy some more unified memory? You’ll pay $200/£200 for 16GB or $400/£400 for 24GB. The latter is a new option and will offer some comfort for those who felt short-changed by the M1 version’s maxed-out 16GB.
Additional storage is as expensive as we’ve come to expect from Apple. Just like its M1-based sibling, the M2 MacBook Air can be configured with up to 2TB of SSD storage, but that’ll add $800/£800 to the price tag.
It doesn’t stop there, though. This time around, we get some rather interesting power adapter options. You can choose to stick with the standard 30W brick or upgrade to either a dual USB-C 35W version or a 67W fast-charger. Both upgrades are priced at a fairly reasonable $20/£30 and the latter will enable you to charge your M2 MacBook Air to 50% in 30 minutes.
If you tick every box during the configuration process, the most you’ll pay for an M2 MacBook Air is a rather troubling $2,499/£2,549.
This is an undeniably powerful yet increasingly expensive MacBook. The purchasing decision, therefore, deserves far more thought than before.
M1 vs M2 MacBook Air
I’m so glad Apple decided to keep the M1 MacBook Air in the lineup. They should have dropped the price, but that laptop still offers so much bang-for-buck, it’s just about excusable.
As I noted earlier this week, the continued presence of the M1 MacBook Air is a real thorn in the side of its shiny new big brother. If you’re after a cost-effective, powerful, portable Mac, there is no better way to spend your hard-earned money than go for the M1 version.
That’s still the case today – even with the M2 MacBook Air vying for your attention.
I can’t emphasise this enough: the M1 MacBook Air is perfect for 95% of users.
We’re living in challenging economic times. For instance, in the UK, we’re battling through a cost of living crisis thanks to soaring energy costs, astronomical prices at the pumps, and the continued economic fallout from the pandemic. The £250 price difference between the base-spec M1 MacBook Air and M2 MacBook Air is a lot of money when most of us are trying to figure out how to keep our personal finances in check.
The same goes for businesses. If I needed to buy a bunch of MacBooks for my team, I wouldn’t hesitate to opt for the M1 MacBook Air; the M2 version wouldn’t even come into consideration.
If you’re trying to figure out which one to buy and you’re watching your pennies at the moment, stop reading this now and go and buy the M1 MacBook Air.
If you’re still reading, I understand. How could I so brazenly swipe aside the M2 MacBook Air when it offers so much more performance than its predecessor?
The reason is simple: everyday use. Trust me, if you placed both laptops side-by-side and got to work on tasks like email, web browsing, YouTube viewing, and spreadsheeting, they would feel identical.
They’ll boot up just as quickly as one another. macOS will feel equally ‘snappy’ on both. Your apps will open with barely any hesitation, regardless of which laptop you’re using.
I occasionally receive comments from people who bemoan the 16GB unified memory limit of the M1 chip, but I receive far more comments from people who have bought the base spec and absolutely love it. This confirms my suspicions; the MacBook Air power users really are in the minority.
If you need the performance afforded by the M2 chip, you’ll know you need it. If you’re not sure, you sit within the majority of MacBook Air users.
Pushing the limits
The M2 is an impressive chip; the percentage increases over the M1 tell their own story.
You get 50% more memory bandwidth, 18% greater CPU performance, and up to 35% more graphics performance. No one knows what the neural engine does, but even that has received a performance increase of 40%.
We should revisit the unified memory situation, too. As noted earlier, if 16GB wasn’t enough for you on the M1 MacBook Air, the presence of a 24GB option will raise a smile. You can get more in a MacBook Pro, sure, but if you do any kind of memory-intensive computing, the M2 MacBook Air should provide the headroom you need during sustained intensive workloads.
However, I’d argue that the biggest opportunity for pushing the M2 MacBook Air to its limits lies within that GPU. The increase to 10-cores of graphical power is joined by a next-generation media engine which is capable of playing back multiple streams of 8K video.
Think about that for a moment. A MacBook Air without a fan that can handle multiple streams of 8K H.264 footage. It is utterly bonkers.
Despite this, I highly doubt that anyone working with 8K footage would make the M2 MacBook Air their default production machine. That’s missing the point, though – the fact it is capable of such feats makes the M2 MacBook Air an incredible backup for a very specific audience.
A case in point: last year, I had to travel to Montreal on business. I landed on the day Apple announced the new MacBook Pro lineup, which meant I had to shoot, edit, and publish a reaction video that evening from my hotel room. The only laptop I had to hand was my base-spec M1 MacBook Air. It saved the day and barely murmured as I edited the 10-bit, 4:2:2, 4K footage I’d hastily shot that evening. It stuttered occasionally, understandably, but imagine how much more headroom I’d have gained with the M2 version.
This isn’t the default role of an M2 MacBook Air, but if your main production machine is, say, a Mac Studio, you could do a lot worse than grabbing one as a mobile backup for when you’re in a pinch.
So, who on earth is the M2 MacBook Air for? I think it comes down to three types of users:
- those who want – and have the budget for – the latest and greatest;
- those who have a specific performance gripe with the M1 MacBook Air that has been addressed by the M2 version; and
- video editors who need an occasional portable production machine but don’t want to splash out on a MacBook Pro.
I’ll be digging into the M1 vs M2 comparison more in due course, but if you fit into one of the categories above, I’m confident you’ll be blown away by the new MacBook Air.