At Apple’s launch event in Cupertino, we had the chance to get our hands on Apple’s new MacBook Air. It is a completely redesigned model, with a new look and an all new M2 chip. So what does it do, and what sort of upgrade is it over the M1-equipped MacBook Air that’s still on sale?
Look and feel
Starting with looks, it’s 20% smaller in volume than last year’s model. This is thanks to a single-sided motherboard, which is about half. Oddly enough, it’s actually larger in area, though thinner. It’s only 11.3mm thick, but a bit deeper than the old one. Still, it feels great in the hand and carries over the design language of the new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros.
There’s no MacBook Air logo below the display, or anywhere else, which seems to be the new way of doing things. It is available in 4 colors including silver, space gray and two new variants: Starlight and Midnight. Starlight has a sort of champagne look, while Midnight looks black in some lights and dark blue in others. It’s the true color that stands out, in our opinion, however, it does show fingerprints, so you’ll probably need to wipe it down more than others. It’s also worth noting that the gold color option is gone, so those wanting a bit more bling are short-handed and will likely gravitate towards the more understated Starlight or silver color options.
Connections and power
As with the previous MacBook Air, there are two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, each with its own dedicated controller, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. However, the headphone jack is of the high impedance variety, so it should work fine with higher quality headphones.
Otherwise, the new model has Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6, which is the same as last year, and unfortunately doesn’t get Wi-Fi 6E.
Also new is the MagSafe charging port, along with a fancy color-matched cable. You don’t even get that on the top-end 16-inch MacBook Pro model. Although the immediate benefits of the MagSafe are that it will come loose if you trip over the cable rather than pulling your Air off a table, it does take up a lot of room along the edge. It can also max out at 140 watts, however, that’s not a voltage the Air will ever see. You can still charge with a USB-C cable if you want.
As for ports, the two Thunderbolt connectors do not support an external dual monitor setup. Apple says the MacBook Air will only support one external display, however, it can go up to 6K resolution, like the very expensive Apple Pro XDR Display. It seems the only way to get dual-monitor support is to ditch the Air altogether and go for the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro. It looks like the new 13-inch MacBook Pro doesn’t support dual monitors either.
Choice of load
Apple also introduced a few charging options. The first is a new 35-watt dual charger, so you can connect two cables (USB-C on one end) and charge your MacBook Air and an iPhone at the same time, for example. It is a galium nitride (GAN) charger, which means it is quite compact for its total power. It divides the 35 W in half for each device connected to it, or at full power if there is only one. Some have asked if any of the ports can be used for data, and no, they are for power only.
As the new MacBook Air supports fast charging provided you are using a 67 watt charger. This means you can reach half (50%) of a full charge in 30 minutes. Of course, you don’t get the 67-watt charger as standard, or the dual 35-watt charger for that matter. On the entry-level MacBook Air, you get a 30-watt single-cable brick, with no bells and whistles, so expect to add a little more $$ to the bottom line to improve your charging.
Bigger, brighter screen
The 13.6-inch Retina display looks great, thanks both to 13.6 inches instead of 13 on the MacBook Air M1 and a high-brightness 500NIT panel. It’s 25 per cent brighter than the older model and, although there’s a notch at the top for the camera, the extra height adds to the dimensions of the screen, so it doesn’t take nothing away. This new display can handle 1 billion colors and has 4.2 million pixels, so it’s very nice and crisp. Although it’s a 10-bit panel, it doesn’t support high dynamic range (HDR) – you’ll need the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros for that – and it’s powered by a 8-bit signal.
A new 1080P webcam takes up space in the notch and features Center Stage “keeping you in frame” as well as improved low-light performance clarity. Of course, if you want to improve the quality of your webcam even further, you can now connect wirelessly to an iPhone with the new Continuity Camera feature.
Interestingly, there are no speaker grilles on the MacBook Air. The speakers are still there and are positioned under the keyboard, near the display hinges. It’s a 4-speaker system with 2 woofers and 2 tweeters, and there’s also Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos support.
Their keyboard felt solid in testing, and there are now full-height function keys as well as a full-size fingerprint scanner like that of the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Although the new look of the MacBook Air looks fantastic on the outside, the big question is what kind of performance does Apple’s new M2 chip give it compared to the M1 version? Until we get a chance to run benchmarks and do a full review, the short answer is that it’s about 20% faster. However, it’s important to note that the M2 is also more efficient than the M1, so you’ll get extra performance while consuming less power.
We saw a demo of Photoshop, which filters out complexities in large photos and processes up to 70% faster than the MacBook Air M1. Additionally, the new Air is a very capable video editing platform and supports up to 11 simultaneous streams of 4K ProRes video or 2 streams of full quality 8K video, when running Final Cut Pro.
Notable improvements of the M2 chip over the M1 chip include faster performance cores, higher efficiency cores, and the addition of ProRes hardware decoders, in addition to H.264 and H.265. There’s also now 24 gigabytes of unified memory up from 16, so apps have more memory to work with. More details on the new Apple M2 chip.
Thanks also to the M2 chip, the battery life is impressive. The new Air has about the same as last year’s model, which is 18 hours of video playback and 15 hours of web browsing. There’s also a larger battery, which is 52.6 watt-hours versus 49.9, just over 5 per cent larger. keep in mind that since the M2 is more powerful and efficient, it should do more work per battery charge than the previous Air.
Who is the new MacBook Air for?
Given that the M2 chip is quite capable, it’s hard to imagine this as an ‘entry level’ machine. As the M1 model will remain on sale, it would be the entry-level choice, and even then it should handle most day-to-day tasks, from web browsing and office apps to video streaming, photo and video editing.
The M2 can do even more, and there are 8- and 10-core GPU variants to choose from. Additionally, as the M2 chip gains a maximum of 24GB of unified memory, you can choose a 10-core GPU and a 24GB variant that can handle even more intensive content creation and development applications.
Since there is also a 13-inch MacBook Pro equipped with M2, you can go even further. The main technical difference between the new Air and the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is its active, fan-driven internal cooling. MacBook Air is fanless, which means it’s completely silent. However, the 13-inch MacBook Air can keep the M2 chip cooler, which means longer lasting peak performance, so if you have long render queues or large datasets, the 13-inch MBP is the best choice as it will not limit performance due to excess heat. . However, it still has the old case design and is in serious need of a refresh.
From there, the next step is the 14- and 16-inch Mac Pros with the M1 Pro and then M1 Max chips. Apple says the M2 is the starting point for a new family of chips, which happens to be faster than the M1, but pro users should choose the M1 Max, M1 Pro, and M1 Ultra variants. They will also benefit from the high performance advantages offered by high-end laptops and the Mac Studio desktop.
So, is the new MacBook Air with M2 “everyone’s do-it-all”? Given our quick pick-up, we’d say a resounding “yes.” It looks like a supermodel, is light as a feather and portable, with a bright and spacious screen. Plus, it’s packed with power, has Sydney to LA battery life, and peacefully quiet operation. We’d like to think this should satisfy any mainstream laptop user, and more.
Valens Quinn traveled to WWDC in California as a guest of Apple Australia.
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