Review | We blind tested the new MacBook Air. It looked a lot like the old one.

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The new MacBook Air has a lot to offer: a new design, a bigger screen, MagSafe charging and a new Apple M2 chipset.

Among other things, Apple says the chipset includes a processor (central processing unit) that’s 18% faster than the M1 chip you can still buy in a MacBook Air today. And it got us thinking: how likely are you to actually make a difference?

To find out, we concocted a little test: On a beautiful August morning, we configured the new MacBook Air M2 and the comparable 2020 model M1 so that I could use them both without knowing which one was which. And despite my nerd bravado, even I couldn’t spot the difference consistently.

Here’s how it happened and everything you need to know about the new MacBook Air.

Is it really faster than the previous one?

We embarked on a series of blind tests that we felt represented what most people would likely need their computer for at some point.

First step: browsing the web. I installed Chrome on both machines and hopped between the same 10-15 tabs while playing the same 4K YouTube videos in the background. They both seemed to handle the load similarly, although people who like to keep dozens of tabs open would probably struggle with either machine. (Pro tip: When shopping for a new computer, get as much RAM as you can afford.)

Next on the list was video calls – with a twist.

Apps like Snap Camera, which superimpose silly – and sometimes very sophisticated – filters on your face, can put a lot of strain on a machine. This can be especially true when you use it while streaming or chatting in a Zoom call. None of the computers seemed to bat a proverbial eyelash when I went wild with the filters, and at one point I proclaimed that – based solely on the satisfying physics of my potato face – I should use the M2 model . I was wrong.

It wasn’t until we started editing videos that we really started to feel the difference between these two computers.

When it was time to export our 4K video clips at a much lower resolution, the M2 Air finished a few minutes ahead of last year’s model. It may not seem like much, but those moments add up quickly when you’re working on bigger projects or many projects in a row. Then again, if that’s the kind of stuff you do a lot, you better have a MacBook Pro anyway.

Other tests – including games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and a host of traditionally picky benchmarks – confirm the M2 Air as the better performing machine. It just takes some extra work to see this speed in action – work that many people might not immediately notice.

People who rely primarily on their computer for things like while browsing the web and watching movies, the chip difference may never seem apparent. If I just described it to you, a cheaper Mac M1 would probably be just fine for you.

If recommending last year’s model to some people seems a little odd, that’s because Apple’s entire laptop lineup is a little odd right now.

The Air is one of two new laptops that uses Apple’s M2 processor, which (as we’ve seen) has some advantages over 2020’s M1 chip. started building computers with different versions of the M1 – the M1 Pro and M1 Max – which actually outperform the M2.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the M2 was meant to set a new standard. Years of iPhone launches have taught us that the model with a new number is a bigger step up than the model with the same number plus a modifier. But despite what the new part number suggests, the M2 isn’t the fastest, best processor you’ll find in an Apple laptop; it’s just the most recent.

Stranger still, the next step up from this MacBook Air is the M2 MacBook Pro – obviously it’s the faster machine, but since it’s still using an older design, it doesn’t exactly look like an upgrade.

Of course, no one ever buys a new laptop just for the chip inside. And in that case, the rest of the package is arguably just as important as the M2 itself.

  • The screen. At 13.6 inches diagonally, this “Liquid Retina” display is the largest display Apple has ever crammed into an ultra-portable laptop. (That means it’s easier to squeeze even more things onto the screen at once.) And while it’s not quite as fancy as the screens found in last year’s updated MacBook Pros , this one is a bit brighter than that found in the previous model.
  • An improved webcam. The previous MacBook Air had a notoriously ugly webcam, which stung even more because Apple released the laptop as people got used to sheltering in place due to Covid-19. Thankfully, Apple has upped the quality considerably this time around, which means you won’t look like a blurry, pixelated mess on your next Zoom call.
  • Great battery life. Perhaps the biggest benefit of Apple switching to its own processors is the length of time its laptops can run on a single charge. I was able to use the MacBook Air M2 for over 10 hours during busy workdays and still have enough power to last until the next morning. It’s a huge improvement over Apple’s older models – at its best, my latest Intel MacBook Pro topped around seven hours – and it’s slightly better than the M1 model’s battery.
  • The notch. It’s not just weird seeing him all day long; it also takes up space in the macOS menu bar that other apps sometimes use. And other laptop makers have nearly perfected the edge-to-edge screen look without having to rely on large camera cutouts.
  • The new “Midnight” finish. Apple’s latest MacBook Air comes in a new dark blue finish called “Midnight,” which looks fun and mysterious until you realize it picks up palm and fingerprints in a heartbeat. (Apple pointed us to its cleanup support page, if you mind.)
  • The higher starting price. The most basic MacBook Air M2, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, starts at $1,199. That’s $200 more than the M1 MacBook Air – a laptop still worth considering – costs today.

The M2 MacBook Air is a sleek and powerful machine, and a great option if you haven’t upgraded your laptop in a few years. But if you primarily rely on your computer for web browsing, office/school work, and Netflix, the $999 MacBook Air M1 is more than enough and probably will be for a while.

So who should pay the $200 premium for the M2 model? Primarily I’d say people who want a better webcam and a nicer screen, although the extra power hidden here does provide a bit of room to grow if your needs change.

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