The New M2 MacBook Air Has No Business Being This Powerful

The New M2 MacBook Air Has No Business Being This Powerful
Image: Alice Clarke

The humble MacBook Air used to be a kind of Chromebook competitor on steroids. A touch underpowered for the price, perhaps, but small, light and had enough grunt to allow you to get your work done while being ultra-portable; the Mac you got when you didn’t need to do anything complicated.

Now, however, this new M2 MacBook Air (from $1,899) is ridiculously powerful. A computer this size almost shouldn’t be able to be this powerful, it goes against everything you expect, and is utterly delightful. Sure, it doesn’t have the sustained power of the M2 MacBook Pro, but it does have a redesigned body that makes it better to hold and includes MagSafe, my beloved.

But, with all that said, is it worth somewhere between $1,900-$3,850, depending on the configuration you choose when there are cheaper options available?

M2 MacBook Air power

Most small and light computers are small and light first, and computers second. The M2 MacBook Air has all the internals of the M2 MacBook Pro (from $1,999), but with a bit less room for cooling. That means it has the same power up front, but can’t quite sustain it for long periods of time.

The M2 MacBook Air model I reviewed had an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 16GBs of Unified Memory and a 1TB SSD, which puts the price up to $2,949. That’s not the top spec or the top price, but unless I tried to kick out a big Final Cut project or play The Sims for more than a couple of hours, I really didn’t feel like I was being constrained at all.

In terms of benchmarking, it’s almost exactly the same as the M2 MacBook Pro 13-inch, which makes sense, since it is exactly the same and the Geekbench benchmarking doesn’t do a long-term stress test, which is where the differences would be.

  • Geekbench 5.4.5 Pro single-core score M2 MacBook Pro: 1936. M2 MacBook Air: 1926. M1: 1707.  M1 Max: 1779.
  • Geekbench 5.4.5 Pro multi-core score M2 MacBook Pro: 8820. M2 MacBook Air: 8932. M1: 7395. M1 Max: 12718.
  • Geekbench 5.4.5 Pro OpenCL score M2 MacBook Pro: 26820. M2 MacBook Air: 27498. M1 Max: 61475.

Those numbers are darn good, and Apple’s internal testing shows that the M2 MacBook Air is 5-to-24 times faster than the old Intel MacBook Airs. It’s those MacBook Air owners that Apple is trying to entice with these M2 models, not M1 owners, given it’s such a modest performance improvement over the last generation (generally only around 1.5 times faster).

A new body

Close up side view of a M2 MacBook Air and M2 MacBook Pro
I love you MagSafe. Image: Alice Clarke

The old MacBook Air body was nice. It was thin, wedge-shaped and sorta looked like you could use it to cut a soft cheese if you were in a bind at a party. The new MacBook Air body looks much sleeker, nicer and more contemporary, with the same rounded edges as the 16-inch MacBook Pro range in a smaller package. It no longer looks like it’s trying to prove how thin it is at any cost, and instead is a laptop you can hold and use comfortably at any angle.

Don’t get me wrong, I bought the original MacBook Air and loved it, but its sharp edges were there for looks rather than function.

The redesign brings many benefits:

  • There’s a MagSafe port again, thank Zeus, so now you can at least use both the paltry USB-C ports, even when you need to charge.
  • The screen is a bit brighter (500nits vs 400).
  • 100GB/s memory bandwidth (over 66.4GB/s on the M1 model).
  • Four speaker sound system instead of two (it’s still not great, because it’s a tiny, thin computer, but it is better).
  • Compatibility with high-impedance headphones.
  • Fast charging support.
  • Brings the design in line with the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro range which just looks nicer and better than the old design which hadn’t changed much since 2010.

Basically, it’s just better.

Battery life

It’s long. About 18 hours. That’s two hours less than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and that’s fine. I took mine on a trip to Sydney and used it to charge my iPhone and still didn’t need to charge the MacBook Air until I got home.

M1 MacBook Air vs M2 MacBook Air: Fight

Side view of the M2 MacBook Air
So thin. Image: Alice Clarke

So, with the redesign in mind, is it worth shelling out the extra $400 for the new M2 MacBook Air when the M1 is still available for $1,499?

Maybe. How much you use it and what you use it for?

If you just need it for basic web browsing, emails and Word docs, then you’ll be more than happy with the M1, because that chip is still an absolute beast. But with an M2 MacBook Air, you could comfortably play games, edit movies and get the power of a low-mid range desktop computer in a laptop that weights only 1.24kgs. I carried the MacBook Air in my backpack for a full day and forgot it was in there.

For most people, the M1 will be more than enough. But for those who want a little extra power without the weight, or just want a nicer looking laptop and have room in the budget, it’s impossible to go past the redesign and M2 chip. Plus, it’ll probably get you an extra year or two of use on the other side.

That said, if you already have an M1 that you enjoy, the M2 is not enough of a leap to justify upgrading so soon. 

Should you get an M2 MacBook Pro or the M2 MacBook Air?

M2 MacBook Air stacked on top of an M2 MacBook Pro
The M2 MacBook Pro is a mere 4mm taller than the M2 MacBook Air. It is very hard to notice with their current designs. Image: Alice Clarke

This depends on what you plan on doing with your computer. If you plan on doing long, power hungry tasks like playing games for hours at a time (Sims 4 5Ever) or video editing, then the MacBook Pro is a better bet. The cooling that can fit in the larger body means that the M2 can keep its performance up longer, and it’s only an extra $100.

However, if you’re just doing regular word processing and kicking out the occasional iMovie video, or editing the odd photo here and there, then the M2 MacBook Air has more than enough power. Plus, it’s more portable, has MagSafe (thus freeing up an extra USB-C port), and is just nicer to use.

In terms of weight, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is only an extra 140g, which really isn’t much, but it does add up if you’re carrying it around in a bag while moving around all day.

The thinner and lighter MacBook Air is also a bit easier to pull out and work on during a flight, if that’s something you need to do a lot.

Is the M2 MacBook Air worth it?

The lid of the M2 MacBook Air
Image: Alice Clarke

Yes.

It’s good, and if it fits in your budget and you don’t need to do big video editing projects over a long period of time, this is the MacBook for you. It’s powerful, it’s pretty and it’s the ultimate portable Mac. I wanted to find something I didn’t like about it, but the only thing is the lack of USB-A ports, but that’s not really something you’d expect too much on an ultraportable laptop these days anyway.

If you’ve been waiting to get a MacBook Air, the wait is over.