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Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022) review: Sleeker, faster - and more expensive

The power-efficient M2 processor allows Apple to produce one of the slimmest and lightest laptops we've seen.
Written by Cliff Joseph, Contributing Writer on
Pros
  • Remarkably slim and light
  • Larger, brighter Retina display
  • 1080p webcam (at last)
Cons
  • More expensive than its predecessor
  • Battery life takes a modest hit
  • Pricey purchase-time upgrades

The original 13.3-inch MacBook Air was a landmark product, not just for Apple, but for the entire PC industry. Its slimline, lightweight design, and distinctive 'tear drop' profile effectively created the ultrabook category years before Intel's marketing department came up with that name. 

It was such a successful design that Apple stuck with it for more than a decade, even after the 2020 model was updated with Apple's new M1 processor. But with the next-generation M2 processors on the horizon, there were rumours that the 2022 MacBook Air would receive a major revamp. 

The new design didn't disappoint, reducing the laptop's size and weight even further, while also providing a slightly larger 13.6-inch display as well. There were other welcome improvements too, including the return of the popular MagSafe power connector, and a new webcam and speaker system.  

However, the new slimline design also came with a chunky price increase of $200/£250, so the M2 MacBook Air needs to provide more than just a cosmetic makeover to persuade existing owners to upgrade. 

Price & options 

The design of the new MacBook Air is certainly striking -- but so is that price increase. To preserve the MacBook Air's position as 'Apple's most affordable laptop', the M1 model from 2020 remains on sale at its original price point, starting at $999/£999 with 8GB of unified memory and 256GB of solid-state storage.  

The new 2022 model starts at $1199/£1249, with an 8-core M2 processor running at 3.5GHz, an 8-core integrated GPU, 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD. There's also a second model, reviewed here, which steps up to a 10-core GPU and doubles the SSD storage to 512GB for $1499/£1549. That model still has a moderate 8GB of memory, though, and Apple's upgrade options remain as expensive as ever, costing an extra $200/£200 for 16GB or $400/£400 for the maximum 24GB. 

Storage upgrades are equally expensive, costing an additional $200/£200 for 1TB, or $600/£600 for 2TB. There's one other option available too, as the standard 30W power adapter can be upgraded to a fast-charging 67W unit, or to a 35W adapter with two USB-C ports, with both options costing $20/£30. 

Design & features 

The M2 MacBook Air now measures just 11.3mm thick and weighs 1.24kg, compared to 16.1mm thick and 1.29kg for its predecessor. Apple states that the overall volume of the laptop has been reduced by 20%, yet it has also increased the size of the screen slightly, from 13.3 inches (2560x1664 resolution) to 13.6 inches (2560x1600), which makes that reduction in size and weight seem even more impressive. Perhaps I'm a bit conservative, but I somehow prefer the elegant, tapered tear-drop profile of previous models to the more rigidly rectangular design of this M2 update. But you do at least get a choice of colours to spice things up a bit, with Midnight (dark grey), Space Gray (light grey), Starlight (a light pastel pink) and the traditional Silver. 

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022): keyboard

The backlit Magic Keyboard includes 12 full-height Function keys and Touch ID sensor integrated into the power button (top right).

Image: Cliff Joseph / ZDNET

Constructed out of aluminium, the new design still feels very sturdy and solid, and the larger display means that there's now room for a full-size row of Function keys, and a larger Enter key as well. The keys still feel a little lifeless, as the slimline design simply doesn't provide much room for the keys to travel when typing at speed. 

Apple did include some crowd-pleasing features with this new design, though. The magnetic MagSafe connector has returned, which not only helps to avoid accidents, but also frees up one of the MacBook's two USB-C ports. The FaceTime webcam has -- finally -- been upgraded to 1080p resolution, and there's a very respectable quad-driver stereo speaker system that will work well for video calls, presentations or streaming video. 

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022): ports

The magnetic MagSafe power connector has returned to the MacBook Air, alongside two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. The opposite side has a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Image: Cliff Joseph / ZDNET

Performance & battery life 

Along with the updated design, the new MacBook Air also introduced Apple's second-generation M2 processor, which proves to be a clear improvement over the previous M1, even if it still lags behind the M1 Pro, Max and Ultra variants used in the high-end MacBook Pro. 

Apple M2: key features
Image: Apple

Like the M1, the M2 has a similar 8-core CPU, and this only provides modest improvements in CPU performance, with Geekbench 5 showing an increase in single-core performance from 1,730 to 1,920. Multi core performance is a little better, stepping up from 7,590 to 8,950. However, the 10-core GPU of our review unit proved much faster than the 7-core GPU of the M1 MacBook Air, breezing ahead from 18,620 to 30,200 -- an improvement of just over 60%. That's confirmed by the 3DMark Wildlife Extreme graphics benchmark, where the M1 just about scraped 29 frames per second, while the M2 pulls comfortably ahead to 40.5fps. 

You are paying for that extra performance, of course, so the M1 version of the MacBook Air remains the more affordable option for web browsing and other routine productivity tasks. One other thing to note is that the larger, brighter display of the M2 MacBook Air does affect battery life. The 2020 M1 model lasted for a full 17 hours and 20 minutes of streaming video, but the new M2 model dips to 15 hours and 50 minutes. Even so, that's effectively two days of work on a single charge, which is still far ahead of most of the MacBook Air's ultraportable competition. 

Conclusions 

The new sleek design and improved performance of the M2 MacBook Air would make it a must-have upgrade if it had the same price as the 2020 edition with M1 chip. However, the higher price means that many users may prefer to stick with the M1 version for now -- especially if battery life is a top priority. However, if you've got the budget, the M2 MacBook Air is one of the lightest and most elegant ultraportable laptops we've seen, and once more throws down the gauntlet to its Windows-based rivals. 

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022): features
Image: Apple

Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022) specifications

ProcessorApple M2
- CPU8 cores (4 performance, 4 efficiency)
- GPU8 or 10 cores
- Neural Engine16 cores
- Media Enginehardware-accelerated H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW • video decode/encode engines • ProRes encode/decode engine
OSMacOS Monterey
Unified Memory8GB, 16GB, 24GB
Storage (SSD)256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Display13.6-inch LED-backlit Liquid Retina (IPS)
- Resolution2560 x 1664 (224ppi)
- Colours1.07 billion (10-bit colour)
- Brightness500 nits
- Colour gamutDCI-P3
- Image adjustmentTrue Tone
Ports2x Thunderbolt/USB 4 • 3.5mm headphone jack • MagSafe 3 (charging)
Wi-FiWi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)
Bluetooth5
Camera1080p FaceTime HD camera
Audio4x speakers • 3x mics
Battery capacity52.6Wh
Battery charging67W USB-C power adapter • 30W USB-C power adapter (8-core GPU model) • 35W dual-USB-C compact power adapter • USB-C to MagSafe 3 cable
Dimensions304mm x 215mm x 11.3mm (11.97in. x 8.46in. x 0.44in.) 
Weight1.24kg (2.7lbs) 
In the boxMacBook Air, 30W USB-C Power Adapter (M2 with 8-core GPU) or 35W Dual USB-C Port Compact Power Adapter (M2 with 10-core GPU and 512GB storage) USB-C to MagSafe 3 cable (2m)
Price$1199 (8-core GPU/256GB SSD) / $1499 (10-core GPU/512GB SSD)

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