Not one to take complete redesigns lightly, Apple has taken its sweet time to refresh the beloved MacBook Air. From its Manila envelope days to its big-brother MacBook Pro hangover, it’s been a journey that has made it probably the most popular of Apple computers. So, gone is the iconic wedge-shaped silhouette and instead, you now get a softer, flatter and generally more modern aesthetic that is in line with the recently refreshed MacBook Pro line. In fact, with Apple’s penchant for deleting branding from its products, there is no way of knowing what computer you’re using between the MacBook Pro 14in and this new MacBook Air 13.6in, which measures in at almost the same screen size.
Apple MacBook Air (M2) review
As always, new colourways denote a new model and the Starlight and Midnight will be the poster boys. While both look stunning, the Midnight is more prone to showing fingerprints and scuffing caused by using the MagSafe power connector. Yes, you heard that right..the magnetic charging cable is back for reasons only Apple will defend, but we aren’t complaining! It’s snappy, protects your laptop from being flung around (if yanked) and the power cable is braided in a similar finish as the main unit, which is typical Apple attention to detail. Additionally, it now allows you to have both the Thunderbolt ports to be available for peripherals or even just use the USB-C port itself for charging if you don’t have the MagSafe cable on you. But in typical Apple fashion, some stinginess can be felt when it comes to power adapters and by default, you get a lowly 30W. You have to pony up for a dual USB-C equipped 35W or for the 67W brick if you value time over money.
All-new kinda air
After breaking away from the shackles of Intel, Apple’s own silicon has been blazing through benchmarks. But the M2 in this Air is more of a subtle evolution of the M1 rather than a radical departure in CPU architecture. Tangible performance enhancements hence, are harder to notice if you’re coming from an M1-based Mac. Things are just a tad bit zippier, depending on what configuration you opt for. The base version that we had on test was the 8GB/256GB variant that has already received some heat for not having the same read/write speeds as the M1 with 256GB of storage. The simple reason is because Apple has chosen to put all of that 256GB on a single NAND chip as opposed to splitting it across two 128GB halves. Theoretically, yes, this might show up as slower read/write speeds than the 512GB variant or even the older M1 version of MacBook Air. But since I had the M1 MacBook Air as my daily driver close at hand, I chose to open a huge batch of TIFF image files in Photoshop across both laptops and the difference was less than a second. Yes, the M2 was the hare in this case…faster overall but slower to the finish line. In real-world terms, this won’t matter much and in daily tasks, without an A/B comparison, certainly the M2 smokes everything else you can see from the Windows. The memory swap from RAM to ROM in our usage never once fell victim to the rainbow wheel.
One crucial difference between the Air and the Pro models is thermal management. The fanless design of the Air means extreme tasks such as 4K video exporting, RAW batch file processing etc will throttle back the performance to keep temperatures in check and your thighs from melting. Again, unless you’re using the MacBook Air as your primary machine in a production environment, this is a non-issue and in an everyday scenario, I much prefer the quieter and cooler design, even if it means I have to wait for a couple of seconds longer for my edits to get baked.
Notch a big deal
The MacBook Air crucially improves on features that regular people use everyday, Screen and camera for instance. You’ll be hardpressed to find anyone impressed with the 720p camera on the earlier gen Air. Thankfully, the new 1080p cam on the M2 variant is a big step up with highlight detail, better contrast, less noise and overall resolution. Just make sure you don’t skip your skincare routine because the new image processing manages to show details you couldn’t earlier. Why Apple chose to omit its brilliant CentreStage feature where the camera can track small shifts in movement and track your face is beyond me. Also, with this sort of a notch housing, Face ID seems like a no-brainer, no? But again, it’s Apple’s way of doing things. For some, the notch will bring its own set of issues too. Exceed a certain number of items on the menu bar and the notch will swallow them up. You could use third-party apps, but...why?
Screen and Typing experience
Apple’s been peddling the Retina screen for years, but this Liquid Retina comes with a higher resolution that really shows off its additional pixels Covering more than 100% of the RGB colour space. Colours are super accurate and the 500nits of brightness allows it to be used outdoors too. It doesn’t get the ProMotion 120Hz but you don’t really miss it much. Video is obviously free of stutter and the only time you may miss it is while scrolling through multiple pages of documents at unreadable speeds. Both the trackpad and the keyboard have increased in size and for the better. The keys have a satisfying click and travel while the trackpads haptics are just untouchable by any other make/model. For daily messaging, writing or browsing through the vast expanse of the internet, this is the best keyboard+trackpad combo on a Mac in years. And Touch ID works as well as on an iPhone, so no complaints there either.
An air of power
If you’re a performance user expecting miracles from the M2 processor, you might be left wanting. It’s blazingly quick with apps that normal people use like video calling, messaging, browsing, music, and anything that helps you stay socially connected. For my personal use, which included a healthy dose of using the Adobe CC suite of apps along with mild video editing, it never faced a power crunch. But importing a large batch of TIFF files into Photoshop did take a second longer than on the M1 MacBook Air, perhaps a sign of that single NAND storage. Having said that, With more than 15 apps open simultaneously, it never skipped a beat and unless you’re comparing it to another config in a head-to-head, it always impresses with its ability to slice through tough tasks. An amazing feat given its power and size ratio, especially for a fanless design.
Averaging 12-14 hours of battery life, regardless of workload, the M2 MacBook Air is still a champ that follows in the footsteps of the Air legacy of all-day power. The power efficiency of the M2 is clearly more of a hero here than the outright CPU performance in benchmark tests.
Performance improvements come at a price and in this case, it’s about Rs. 20,000 over the last-gen M1 Air. Apple has chosen to continue selling that and honestly, if you already own an M1 Air, you’ll struggle to see a performance boost. But for everyday use, its cam, keyboard, speakers and screen make it worth the outlay if you must buy a new laptop.
Apple has just made the world’s best ultrabook even better. But again, it’s a “want” over “need” sort of upgrade over M1.
|13.6in 2560 x 1664 LCD 500nits
|2 x tweeter, 2 x woofers
|2 x Thunderbolt, MagSafe charging, high-impedance headphone out
|0.4 x 11.9 x .8.4in, 1.2kg