M2 MacBook Air vs. M1 MacBook Air: things have changed

The Apple MacBook Air M1 has been one of our favorite MacBooks for quite some time now, and it’s even made its way onto our list of the best laptops overall. The new MacBook Air M2 is a significant redesign, bringing with it a new chassis and Apple’s latest M2 processor.

Sometimes, it is easier to recommend a newer model than an older model, especially when the new model brings significant improvements. The M2 MacBook Air qualifies, as it feels more like an entirely new model than a simple replacement for the older model. While Apple continues to sell the original M1 MacBook Air at a lower price, the M2 MacBook Air can often be purchased for slightly more money. This makes it very easy to choose between them.

Glasses

apple m1 macbook airapple m2 macbook air
DIMENSIONS11.97 inches x 8.36 inches x 0.16 to 0.63 inches11.97 inches x 8.46 inches x 0.44 inches
weight2.8 pounds2.7 pounds
processorapple m1apple m2
GRAPHICSapple m1apple m2
to hit8 GB
16 GB
8 GB
16 GB
24gb
Display13.3-inch 16:10 IPS 2560 x 160013.6-inch 16:10 IPS 2460 x 1664
storage256gb ssd
512gb ssd
1TB SSD
2TB SSD
256gb ssd
512gb ssd
1TB SSD
2TB SSD
touchNoNo
ports2 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
2 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
1 x MagSafe 3
wirelessWi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0
webcam720p1080p
Operating SystemMac OSMac OS
Battery49.9 watt-hours52.6 watt-hour
price$999+$1,199+

Price and configuration

The M1 MacBook Air starts at $999 with an eight-core CPU, seven-core GPU M1 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). Its highest price for 16GB RAM and 2TB SSD is $1,999. Note that you’re likely to find discounts on the M1 MacBook Air at various non-Apple retail stores, sometimes to prices as low as $850.

The M2 MacBook Air has a starting price of $1,099 for an eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU M2, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The next increase in price is $1,299 for a 512GB SSD, which you may want to consider (see performance section below). The most you’ll spend is $2,399 for an eight-core CPU, 10-core GPU M2, 24GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD. However, like the M1 models, the M2 MacBook Air can often be purchased from third parties at a lower price, often less than $950.

This means you’re not necessarily spending a lot of money for the new version.

design

Right off the bat, the M2 MacBook Air abandons the iconic wedge shape that made the Air famous. Instead, the M2 edition adopts the same squared-off sides and rounded edges of its bigger brothers, the MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch. Although it loses a little flair (and excessive thinness on the front), it makes the MacBook line more consistent.

The new M2 MacBook Air chassis also lives up to its name by being just 2.7 pounds and 0.44 inches thin across the entire chassis. It’s perfect for those who value portability over raw power (although it has plenty of that, as we’ll see later). It should be noted: the M2 MacBook Air is only 0.1 pounds lighter than the M1 MacBook Air.

The keyboard of the M2 MacBook Air isn’t that different from the M1 version, but looks more in line with the larger MacBook Pro models. It also includes a Touch ID button slightly different from the M1, as well as full-sized function keys at the top.

While the stereo speakers on the M1 MacBook Air are placed on the sides of the keyboard, the M2 MacBook Air places its four-speaker setup between the keyboard and the hinge. This new speaker setup also includes support for spatial audio through both Dolby Atmos in the built-in speakers and dynamic head tracking using high-end Apple AirPods products.

Display

MacBook Air screen on a table.
digital trends

The display has been slightly wider, from 13.3 inches on the M1 Air to 13.6 inches on the M2 Air. This change is due to a reduction in the size of the bezels on both the side edges and the top. This means, yes, the new MacBook Air includes a notch, and the older one does not. There are also rounded edges on the top corners of the screen.

The notch has a better 1080p webcam, which is better than the 720p option on the M1 MacBook Air. You might be tempted to use Apple’s Continuity Camera with the M1 MacBook Air, which turns your iPhone into a webcam. On an M2 MacBook Air, this probably won’t be necessary.

The panel has also been upgraded to a 2560 x 1660 Liquid Retina display, which Apple says is the largest and brightest display ever seen on a MacBook Air. The Liquid Retina is certainly a bump from the M1 MacBook Air, but don’t expect the same flashy look as the Super Retina XDR, which is a mini-LED panel saved for the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro (14-inch and up). 16-inch).

The display supports up to one billion colors and has a peak brightness of up to 500 nits. This compares to 400 nits possible with the M1 MacBook Air. Both displays have True Tone technology. As we can see in the table below, the display on the M2 MacBook Air is brighter, has wider and more accurate colors, and enjoys deeper contrast. This is a real improvement over the M1 MacBook Air.

apple m1 macbook airapple m2 macbook air
Glow
(nits)
389486
AdobeRGB gamut79%90%
srgb gamut100%100%
accuracy
(Delta, lower is better)
1.391.08
Contrast Ratio1,130:11,310:1

ports

One side of a MacBook Air showing ports.
digital trends

When it comes to ports, both the M1 and M2 MacBook Airs have the same arrangement: two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support USB 4 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds. However, both devices are only capable of supporting one external display.

There is also a combo headphone mic jack on the M2 MacBook Air that Apple says supports high-impedance headphones, which the M1 MacBook Air does not.

One major difference is the inclusion of the MagSafe 3 magnetic charging port in the M2 version. For some people, this is enough in itself to justify buying a new MacBook Air. The main advantage is that it frees up one of the two USB-C ports for other purposes instead of charging. However, don’t worry, you can still charge the laptop using the Thunderbolt port.

Both laptops also support the same Wi-Fi 6 wireless standard and Bluetooth 5.0.

Performance and battery life

Aside from the display and overall design, the M2 chip inside the latest MacBook Air sets it apart from its predecessor.

Like the M1 version, the M2 MacBook Air is fanless due to the power efficiency of the M2 chip. Apple says the M2 chip is 1.4 times faster than the previous M1 model, while still getting up to 18 hours of battery life.

While Apple doesn’t advertise a huge jump in battery life with the M2 MacBook Air, in our testing, the latest model lasted significantly longer. The M2 MacBook Air lasted two and a half hours in our web browsing test and nearly three hours longer in our video test.

apple m1 macbook air
(Apple M1)
apple m2 macbook air
(Apple M2)
Web browsing15 hours 31 minutes17 hours, 59 minutes
Video18 hours, 28 minutes21 hours, 9 minutes

Although a 1.4-fold increase in power can be measured, it is not He excess. In fact, the M2 appears to be a more refined version of the M1 rather than a true generational leap. Still, the M2 MacBook Air benefits from being built on a “second-generation 5nm” process node.

This means an overall 18% faster CPU, 35% faster GPU and 50% more memory bandwidth compared to the M1, now up to 100GB per second.

Importantly, the M2 MacBook Air features the same media engine used in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, which the M1 MacBook Air lacks. The media engine supports hardware-accelerated ProRes encoding and decoding.

The M2 MacBook Air allows you to configure your laptop with an additional 8GB of RAM for a total of 24GB, while the M1 MacBook Air is stuck at a maximum of 16GB. However, the storage options are the same – both start at 8GB and max out at 2TB.

Our testing refuted Apple’s claims, with a 12% increase in the Geekbench single-core test and an 18% increase in multi-core. In Cinebench R23, the M2 MacBook Air was 8% faster in single-core and 19% faster in multi-core.

apple m1 macbook air
(Apple M1)
apple m2 macbook air
(Apple M2)
geekbench 5
(single/multi)
1,727/7,5851,925 / 8,973
Cinebench R23
(single/multi)
1,479/6,6801,600 / 7,938

We’ll note that there has been some controversy regarding the storage speed of the M2 MacBook Air. If you buy the 256GB version, which is the least expensive, you’ll get about half the storage performance compared to the 512GB version. If you work with larger files, you’ll definitely notice the difference, and you may even notice it in normal real-world usage when you’re booting the laptop and opening apps.

The M2 is better, but the M1 offers amazing value

The M1 MacBook Air was already a capable machine for everyday computing, productivity, and even video editing. Those who already have an M1 Air probably don’t need to upgrade unless you really want the MagSafe connector. However, those who still have an Intel-based MacBook Air may want to consider upgrading. The M2 MacBook Air is the better choice, especially if you have the budget for the 512GB version.

Those who don’t already have a MacBook and are interested in purchasing one should probably get the M2 model instead of the M1, especially if you can find it for around $950. You’ll have more options when it comes to CPU/GPU/memory and benefit from increased performance, and you’ll only spend $100 more.






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