At long last, the caterpillar has shed its skin and transformed into a glorious full-fledged butterfly.
The essence of the machine still remains, as the core MacBook Air has been presented as offering a mix of hardware and design aesthetics that places it below that of the better performing MacBook Pro, just short of greatness.
With the new M2 silicon chip powering the redesigned machine, the 2022 MacBook Air now gets a performance upgrade, with a brighter and bigger 13.6-inch display housed in a smaller and lighter design that is reminiscent of the MacBook Pro, but also superior in looks.
Apple’s M1 chip surprised consumers when the ARM-based System on Chip (SoC) premiered in 2020, offering performance that surpassed the current generation of computer processors in terms of performance and power consumption and since then, fans have waited to see what the new M2 can bring. Rather than falling back on an existing design, which is what Apple did with its M2-powered MacBook Pro last month, the American company went back to the drawing board to present an updated aesthetic of the 14-year-old machine.
The biggest visual change here is the removal of the wedge-shaped chassis that has defined the look of the MacBook Air in the last decade and the 2022 model now offers a uniform, flat unibody that, as you can tell, looks more like the MacBook Pro. The 3mm-thin display opens up with a slim elegance that underscores the sleek aluminium chassis, presenting a machine that measures a mere 30.41 x 21.5 x 1.13cm, and weighing from 1.24kg depending on the components configured without. Compare that to the 0.41 to 1.61cm thickness of the predecessor, due to the tapered design.
On the right edge sits the 3.5mm audio jack, while on the left is the MagSafe 3 port placed alongside two Thunderbolt/USB C ports. Available in four colours – Silver, Starlight, Space Gray and Midnight, it’s easy to simply call them different shades of metallic hue, but the blue-looking Midnight, and rose gold tinted Starlight presents a polished elegance to an already outstanding design. Bring it out into the sun and watch as the reflected sunlight on the metal frame presents a different colour tone that is not loud but easily causes a double take.
The ultrabook only loses out in ports, as the high-end MacBook Pro (16-inch) comes with all the above ports on the left hand side, together with an HDMI, SD card reader and another USB-C port on the right. Nonetheless, it’s obvious why Apple would want to keep accessibility options for its higher end models, but there are enough external adaptors available for those who need it and want the compactness of the MacBook Air.
Where it really matters starts with the display and the 2560 x 1664 resolution, at 224 pixels per inch looks brilliant in comparison, providing sharp details when catching up with the futuristic goodness of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, or the alternate history space race series, For All Mankind. Part of it has to do with the increase of 500 nits for display brightness, up from 400 nits from the previous model.
And for those working from home, Apple has finally done everyone a solid by packing in a 1080p front-facing camera for those who rely on conference calls and video calls. The 720p camera on previous MacBooks has long been a bugbear for Apple users, especially during the pandemic from the last two years, so this upgrade, while not the best performing, will be the most widely used and appreciated. The barely-there weight of this machine means this is now an effective work machine, providing long-lasting performance for those who take their calls outside of the confines of a building, without the constant need for a power point.
For audio fans, the new machine comes with four speakers – two tweeters and two woofers, along with support for Apple’s Spatial Audio technology. As with most laptop speakers of this size and type, it offers the best of what it can – sharp audio that can be heard, but slightly lacking in richness and details. Those around you can get annoyed because they can hear the music, but it is unlikely to be detailed enough to impress those in the room.
But what of the M2? You’ve seen Apple present the M2-powered MacBook cut through several simultaneous streams of video content on Final Cut Pro, which has become the de facto standard of comparison between Apple’s processors and those of its competitors, and the numbers do not lie.
The 1895 single core performance and multi-core score of 8808 of the MacBook Air closely matches that of the MacBook Pro M2, and trumps it with its S$1,199 base price. The review unit, which comes with 8-Core CPU and 10-Core GPU with 16GB of memory and 1TB of storage is priced at S$1,899, which is equal to the MacBook Pro M2 we reviewed. That one has a cooling fan and Touchbar, and this has the smaller and lighter chassis, and a better Liquid Retina display. If price is an issue, the base model for the MacBook Air M1 is now at a low of $999, which is great for entry level use for students, while still offering a powerful processor that is the best of class.
The new MacBook Air also comes with a new 35W Dual USB-C Port Compact Power Adapter, though this is only available as a $20 upgrade from the 30W USB-C Power Adapter that comes with a base model. While $20 is not a lot, especially for a faster charger than can power a laptop and an iPhone, it’s rather dingy for the company to place a $20 tag for base models (from S$1,199), and provide it free for models starting from S$1,499.
Surprisingly, those on the $1,499 models have the option of upgrading to the 67W USB-C Power Adapter for free, though the flipside of this is a larger power brick that can charge the device to 50% capacity in just 30 minutes.
And since Apple rates the new machine with 18 hours of video playback and 15 hours of surfing, 50% of this is more than what other laptops can’t even reach. Battery performance continues to be extremely impressive, though it averages about 10 to 12 hours of actual use, for web surfing and watching videos, and this will vary depending on factors such as screen brightness and audio levels. Regardless, this still allows users the convenience of portability, without the need to constantly have a charger on hand.
The one thing that we cannot test now though, is the upcoming macOS Ventura, which is dropping later this year. The new highlight is the ability to switch between open apps, as well as the Continuity Camera feature, which allows users to seamlessly use their iPhone as a webcam look and sound like game changers, and while it might work on previous MacBook models, we cannot wait to try them out with the new M2 processor.
As it stands, the MacBook Air M2 stands as one of the best ultrabooks, with the promise of so much more. With the boosted battery life of an upgraded processor, sharper camera and better display, the new MacBook Air feels and acts Pro enough to stand on its own, and should no longer be considered as the entry-level machine for those looking to adopt Apple’s ecosystem.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Apple offered us a simple upgrade with the MacBook Pro M2, but it’s the combination of hardware upgrades with the new MacBook Air that the new chip truly shines, offering value for money with an improved experience that is hard to beat.
Aesthetics - 8.5/10
Build Quality - 9/10
Performance - 9.5/10
Value - 9/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10