About two years ago I made a video of the best laptop for most people and I still stand by that assessment. The M1 MacBook Air was the best bang for the buck when it came to performance and quality of materials. Even if it was technically a five-year-old design, I’d even say it still looks better today than almost anything at that price.
The problem, if you could call it that, is that Apple didn’t follow its typical playbook of launching a successor for its price and then dropping the value of the old model. Instead, you can buy that two-year old M1 variant today for that exact same price and features, you then get a separate choice of the old MacBook Pro with Touch Bar running on that M2, and then an extra model in-between that’s kind of confusing.
This is the M2 MacBook Air, what Apple dubs as a product you shouldn’t take lightly, and what I’ll call almost the best laptop for most people. See, even if there is so much that’s cool and kind of overdue for this laptop, there are a couple of elements that make me question the strategy behind it.
I think I’ve been recommending the MacBook Air to everyone asking me for advice on a good laptop since Apple adopted the wedge shape in 2010. I know it’s a common stigma for people to think MacBooks are overpriced, which was true before that launch. Apple’s move to rethink the Air from a premium ideal into a more affordable work horse was genius. I’m still waiting for anyone to provide a single Windows alternative that offers the same elegant design, premium materials, display quality with a resolution above 1080p, powerful performance, and true all-day battery life for anything close to $999, or let alone the price you can find them right now on Amazon.
Even today, the M1 MacBook Air cannot be beat, and that’s mainly the reason this M2 update is so confusing. Surely its design improvements are gorgeous, but at 200 extra dollars, I actually have a theory. See, as opposed to every single MacBook in the past, I think this is the first computer Apple launches where there is no text anywhere that calls out the model. A part of me thinks this was actually the refresh to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and something went wrong in whatever they were planning for the Air. It wouldn’t be the first time Cupertino changes a product’s name over time, as we saw with the 2008 Unibody MacBook that later became the 2009 MacBook Pro.
What we like
I say this because this computer looks nothing like its predecessor and instead looks like a slimmed down MacBook Pro in almost every way. Seriously lay them side by side and notice the same curves at the bottom with pronounced feet and the same flat approach to the top. Of course it could just be that Apple is looking to standardize the design language, but your guess is as good as mine as to how a future 13-inch MacBook Pro could look any different. I’m secretly waiting for the 12-inch MacBook to make a comeback as the Air, but that’s a story for another video.
Obviously an easy way to make the Air look different from the Pro is with more color options. I have zero regrets about going starlight over midnight as my friends have not stopped complaining about fingerprint smudges and dinged ports. This color has handled a months of use well, the two USB-C ports still look like new, and even if this Starlight MagSafe cable doesn’t look much different to the silver one, it’s still nice to see a change. To follow up on my Pro theory, even the headphone jack here is of high impedance.
Maybe what contradicts my theory is that this design is nearly 20mm slimmer than the thickest part of the old Air, and it’s also about 5 grams lighter, all with the expected fan-less design we’ve come to expect. As a result, this computer is a delight to carry on my usual Peak Design 10L sling. It’s that computer you feel confident enough to move around with one hand from one table to another. It’s light enough to bring everywhere, yet not crammed at all for you to feel you can’t get real work done. You get the exact same keyboard from the more-expensive Pro models, and even if I can’t agree to Apple’s claims that the feel is mechanical, I’ll tell you it’s pretty close. This also remains the best trackpad in the market, period, and it’s been that way for as long as Apple adopted gestures more than a decade ago. Seriously it’s only a matter of time before this is the laptop you’ll see in coffee shops everywhere, if not already.
As with every single MacBook, attention to detail is everywhere, from the fact that it opens with one hand, to this new Liquid Retina Display. It follows on the visuals of the more-expensive mini LED Pro, but the bezels here are thicker, though far better than the previous Air. This panel is actually larger than its predecessor at 13.6-inches diagonal. It bumps the pixel density at least by a hair, can get 100 nits brighter than before, and because it supports the P3 color gamut, in typical Apple fashion, colors and viewing angles are fantastic. Yes, I don’t like the notch either, but it’s not like if you could do much with the status bar real-estate anyways. I also know many of you think losing the speaker grills is a problem, but even on the previous model that was just decoration. Sound here is still coming from the keyboard, and I’d say even better in quality than before thanks to a new four speaker system.
What we’re mixed about
But alright, flowers aside, there are reasons I’m mixed with this computer, and it starts with the ports. Sure, you now get MagSafe to free up one Thunderbolt port for charging, but it baffles me to only get two ports, and to have both on the same side with all this real estate.
Second is the silent problems you get with the choice for internals. It’s not just the M2 and the fact that the GPU cores vary based on the model you pick. I’d even say I wouldn’t worry much about RAM because its unified architecture handles it very differently to a conventional PC. The problem is storage, and not just because most people won’t be able to survive with 256GB. The problem is that if you pick that base model, its single design makes this new computer slower than even the old M1. Obviously if you’re just planning to use this for school then you’ll be just fine, but if you plan to use this as a lighter Pro computer, be sure to factor in the extra cost going for the more expensive variant that I got.
In Apple’s defense though, my experience using this higher-specc’ed computer has been more than pleasant. Whether I’m writing this script on Microsoft OneNote, or editing this exact same video on Final Cut Pro, all while being assisted by MotionVFX graphics, motion tracking elements, etc., this computer does not chug. It’s not better than Apple’s M1 Pro or M1 Max, but then again, it’s not supposed to be. I feel it’s good enough to serve as an alternative for anyone looking for a more compact experience, but nothing designed to really replace them as the M1 did with all the Intel variants. I’m not going to bore you with benchmarks, cause even those don’t do a good enough job to describe all the power this little machine has, but yeah, I am mixed in the fact that Apple still doesn’t take gaming seriously, even with all this horsepower.
Third is the fact that even if there’s a lot to like about macOS Ventura, I can’t really say I like it more than Monterrey. It’s funny but I love Stage Manager on the iPad a lot more, but I can’t say that the rest of the enhancements are groundbreaking. It’s definitely a must to upgrade if hey, you’re getting it for free, but if you’re still on Monterrey, there’s no need to rush things.
Fourth is really the price. Once you spec this computer appropriately, it’s so close to the 14-inch base M1 Pro that things get complicated. The 14-inch has more ports, a far better display, double the RAM, more CPU and GPU cores. You have to really want the portability of this Air to not go Pro.
To conclude, I think you understand where I’m going. The M2 MacBook Air has been a great companion for the last couple of months, but it’s sadly not the best laptop for most people, or at least not yet.
Even in 2022, I think that crown still belongs to the M1 MacBook Air. The amount of deals you can find for it on Amazon are just too good to ignore, even with a design that’s more than five years old. I think keeping it and not launching this M2 at the base price of the M1 is what kills its thunder, along with the base-model quirks we’ve discussed.
It’s a good computer for anyone wanting to carry Apple’s latest and greatest, but not necessarily the best bang for the buck we’ve come to expect from this lineup for the past 12 years. If you’re in the market for a Apple’s latest and greatest and you’ve got money to spare, it’s a good buy, but I wouldn’t blame you for considering the rest of the Macs while Apple matures this strategy further.
M2 MacBook Air
The latest MacBook Air is powered by the M2 Apple Silicon, offering even better performance than the M1 series of chips. It has an excellent battery life, and all the performance you need for multitasking, editing, and working on-the-go.
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