When the MacBook Air premiered in 2008, the name affix promised a lightness that had not yet existed in the laptop world. Now Apple changes the design: fundamentally and without compromise.
Even people who are less or not at all concerned with notebooks could recognize Apple’s MacBook Air at first glance until now. The wedge-shaped case, which is less than half a centimeter thick at its thinnest point, has been considered a design icon since its premiere in 2008. But the new MacBook Air M2 puts an end to that. A first test.
The presentation by Steve Jobs was already legendary. The Apple co-founder casually pulled the ultraportable laptop out of an envelope on stage. But almost one and a half decades ago, the lightness was bought with painful compromises: no DVD drive, no socket for an Ethernet cable and only room for a USB plug.
With the new MacBook Air M2, Apple is now saying goodbye to the wedge design and putting the latest technology into a super slim and flat aluminum case – and not having to make any compromises. Apple has adopted design elements from the new MacBook Pro models: with rounded edges and a recess for the webcam.
Balanced for mobile use
The device is 11.3 millimeters thick and weighs 1.24 kilograms. That is only 50 grams less than the wedge-shaped predecessor with the M1 chip. In practical tests, however, the MacBook Air M2 proved to be much better balanced and easier to hold on the lap. The new MacBook Air is available in four colors: In addition to the usual shades of gray and silver, there is now also a light gold shade (“Polar Star”) and a very dark blue (“Midnight”).
While the original from 2008 was stingy with external ports, the MacBook Air now has all the essential sockets. One for the headphone jack on the right and two USB-C ports (Thunderbolt, USB 4) on the left. In addition, Apple corrects a wrong decision from 2017 with the charging port Magsafe. At that time, Apple design chief Jony Ive had unceremoniously abolished the popular magnetic connection in the MacBook Air. Now, users can once again rely on the charging plug on the MacBook to disconnect if people or pets accidentally pull on the cable.
There are several options for the Magsafe – and Apple has unfortunately made the choice unnecessarily complicated. The basic version comes with a comparatively weak 30-watt power supply. For an extra 20 Euros, you can either get a charger (35 Watts) that has two charging jacks, so you can charge an iPhone or iPad on the side.
Or you can get a 67-watt power adapter with fast charging function for it. This only has one socket, but can charge an empty battery to 50 percent in 28 minutes. The surcharge of 20 Euros does not apply to the better MacBook Air M2 models. However, the fast charger is recommendable. If you also want to charge an iPhone or iPad on the go, you can connect these devices directly to the MacBook Air M2 – and also benefit from the better charging times of the fast charger.
Slightly larger display, webcam now in Full HD
The display of the MacBook Air M2 measures 13.6 inches diagonally, compared to 13.3 inches in the M1 variant, because the bezel has become a bit slimmer. However, a black indentation (notch) now appears at the upper edge of the display, where the camera and a brightness sensor are located. However, you will no longer notice it after a few hours.
Compared to the M1, you immediately notice the improved brightness of the MacBook Air M2, which makes working outdoors easier. A peak of 500 nits is reached, instead of 400 nits on the M1. Unlike the new MacBook Pro models, however, the M2 does not offer HDR and dynamic refresh up to 120 Hz (“ProMotion”). That is the difference between a very good and an excellent screen.
Overdue was the upgrade of the webcam. The camera now offers 1080p resolution and replaces the 720p camera of the M1. The picture does turn out sharper and more natural. However, the colors still appear a bit washed out.
The improved integrated audio system of the MacBook Air M2 not only provides good sound in video conferences, but can also reproduce the sound as 3D surround sound (Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos) in suitable applications like the TV app. This does not sound as lush as via AirPods Max-style headphones. However, the four speakers sound very good for a laptop.
The processor is missing the fan
The second generation of Apple’s main chips now works on the circuit board inside the MacBook Air M2. The difference to the predecessor architecture from Intel is enormous. For example, video editing runs up to 15 times faster on an M2 device than on a MacBook Air with an Intel chip. However, the difference to the M1 then turns out to be much smaller. The base model of the MacBook Air M2 is equipped with eight graphics cores, the more expensive models have ten such cores.
In practice, this means that you can not only have 50 or more tabs open in your browser without having to accept performance losses. The MacBook Air M2 is also capable of smoothly processing hours of 4K videos. However, with a continuous load like exporting a complex 8K project in Final Cut, you can still bring the MacBook Air M2 to its knees a bit. Since the device does not have a fan, the system throttles the performance down a lot here when needed to prevent overheating.
MacBook Air M2 – a first conclusion
Apple has brought a very successful laptop onto the market with the MacBook Air M2. The design looks fresh, you don’t miss any ports anymore. The display and the sound are convincing. And a battery life of around twelve hours is enough for even the longest mobile workday.
You only start to wonder when you look at the price list. The most basic model with 8 GB working memory and 256 GB SSD storage starts at just under 1500 Euros. The model in our test with twice as much SSD storage will cost the buyer almost 1730 Euros. Fully equipped with 24 GB of RAM, ten graphics cores and a 2 terabyte (2048 GB) SSD, you will even have to pay just under 3000 Euros.
However, Apple has left the predecessor model with the M1 chip in the lineup to appeal to buyers with a smaller budget. It is available from just under 1200 Euros upwards. This will be sufficient for many users because the M1 model benefits from the basic advantages of Apple’s chips. However, the MacBook Air M2’s screen and webcam are noticeably better. Furthermore, the M2 again has two USB ports with Thunderbolt and the Magsafe port.