Apple Inc.’s MacBook Air M2 is ready for takeoff. It has a new chassis and a new engine, but more optimal choices in the MacBook lineup keep the base model stuck in mid-air.
The MacBook Air M2 is redesigned from the ground up. In fact, it inherits most of its good looks from the MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch models including MagSafe for charging, an updated FaceTime 1080p notch camera, and a full-height function key row.
Unlike the Pro models, it is enclosed in a light and thin chassis that clocks in at just 2.7 pounds and .44-inches in height. The result is super portable workstation with a prime fit and finish like the MacBook Air M1.
The star of the show is the new engine, the M2, which is said to better the CPU and GPU performance of its predecessor, including an 18 percent faster CPU and 35 percent faster GPU.
The M2 base model tested includes an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD. In everyday tasks, the M2 base model is as snappy or faster than the M1 base model. However, the chipset will throttle heavily under a sustained workload to prevent overheating due to the lack of a fan in the chassis.
When exporting two 5-minute 4K/60FPS files back-to-back in Final Cut Pro, the MacBook Air M2 rendered the second file (ProRes 422) in 7 minutes 12 seconds compared to the MacBook Pro M1 at 4 minutes 10 seconds, the latter of which kicked in the fan to speed through the second half of the export. When not under a sustained workload, Air M2 export times remained competitive to the MacBook Pro M1 and the MacBook Air M1.
Another bottleneck for the MacBook Air M2 (and the MacBook Pro M2) base model is the SSD, which includes a single 256GB NAND chip. By comparison, the MacBook Air M1 or MacBook Pro M1 base models both include dual 128GB NAND chips for faster read and write speeds. In our 10GB SSD file transfer test, the MacBook Air M2 took 36.95 seconds to copy the file, while the MacBook Pro M1 clocked in 52 percent faster at 17.68 seconds. MacBook Air M2 512GB SSD and higher configs will utilize the dual NAND chip setup for faster transfer speeds.
An area where the MacBook Air M2 incurs a noticeable improvement over the M1 is the GPU. A test of CS:GO clocked in around 60FPS for a solid shootout. In addition, the new four-speaker system with Spatial Audio sounds fantastic with clear voice, loud volume, and substantial depth.
Minor improvements to the display, front camera, and headphone jack round out a solid package. Battery life is the same as the prior MacBook Air M1 at up to 18 hours.
The $1199 MacBook Air M2 base model finds itself trapped between two of its own. The MacBook Air M1 and discontinued MacBook Pro M1 base models both cost less, have faster storage, and still speed through most demanding tasks. For $100 more, the MacBook Pro M2 base model includes the new M2 chip, old chassis, and the slower single NAND SSD setup. Add $400 to upgrade the Air M2 to 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD and the price nears the MacBook Pro M1 Pro. For now, the MacBook Air M2 base model sits in an unenviable middle seat for the long haul.