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M2 MacBook Air vs. M1 MacBook Air: don’t make a mistake

The Apple MacBook Air M1 has been among our favorite MacBooks for some time now, and it’s even held a place on 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.

Usually, it’s easy to recommend the new model over the old one. But in this case, the M2 MacBook Air feels more like a completely new model rather than a replacement of the old one. And since Apple continues to sell the original M1 MacBook Air at a significantly lower price, the answer to the question of which you should buy isn’t so simple.

Specs

  Apple M1 MacBook Air Apple M2 MacBook Air
Dimensions 11.97 inches x 8.36 inches x 0.16 to 0.63 inches 11.97 inches x 8.46 inches x 0.44 inches
Weight 2.8 pounds 2.7 pounds
Processor Apple M1 Apple M2
Graphics Apple M1 Apple M2
RAM 8GB
16GB
8GB
16GB
24GB
Display 13.3-inch 16:10 IPS 2560 x 1600 13.6-inch 16:10 IPS 2460 x 1664
Storage 256GB SSD
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
2TB SSD
256GB SSD
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
2TB SSD
Touch No No
Ports 2 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
Wireless Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0
Webcam 720p 1080p
Operating system MacOS MacOS
Battery 49.9 watt-hours 52.6 watt-hour
Price $999+ $1,199+
Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Price and configurations

The M1 MacBook Air starts at $999 with the eight-core CPU, seven-core GPU M1 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). It tops out at $1,999 for 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD. Note that you’re likely to find the M1 MacBook Air discounted at various non-Apple retail outlets.

The M2 MacBook Air has an entry-level price of $1,199 for an eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU M2, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The next price jump is to $1,399 for a 512GB SSD, which you’ll want to consider (see the performance section below). The most you’ll spend is $2,499 for an eight-core CPU, 10-core GPU M2, 24GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD.

Design

Right off the bat, the M2 MacBook Air drops the iconic wedge shape that made the Air famous. Instead, the M2 version adopts the same squared-off sides and rounded edges as its bigger brothers, the MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch. While it does lose a bit of flair (and extreme thinness), it does make the MacBook line more consistent.

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

The keyboard on the M2 MacBook Air isn’t that different from the M1 version but does look more in line with the larger MacBook Pro models. This includes the Touch ID button being slightly different than the M1’s, as well as the full-size function keys along the top.

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

Display

The screen of the MacBook Air on a table.

The display has been widened ever so slightly from 13.3 inches on the M1 Air to 13.6 inches on the M2 Air. That change is because of the reduced bezel size, both along the side edges and the top. That means, yes, the new MacBook Air includes a notch, and the old one does not. The screen also has rounded edges along the top corners.

Tucked into the notch is an improved 1080p webcam, bumped up from the 720p option on the M1 MacBook Air. You might be enticed to use Apple’s Continuity Camera with the M1 MacBook Air, which converts your iPhone into a webcam. On the M2 MacBook Air, that probably won’t be necessary.

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

This display does support up to a billion colors and has an increased brightness to 500 nits. That’s compared to the 400 nits possible with the M1 MacBook Air. Both displays have True Tone technology. As we can see in the table below, the M2 MacBook Air’s display is brighter, has wider and more accurate colors, and enjoys deeper contrast. It’s a real improvement over the M1 MacBook Air.

Apple M1 MacBook Air Apple M2 MacBook Air
Brightness
(nits)
389 486
AdobeRGB gamut 79% 90%
 sRGB gamut 100% 100%
Accuracy
(DeltaE, lower is better)
1.39 1.08
Contrast ratio 1,130:1 1,310:1

Ports

A side of the MacBook Air showing the ports.

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

There’s 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.

The one major difference is the inclusion of the MagSafe 3 magnetic charging port on the M2 version. For some, that itself is enough to justify buying a new MacBook Air. The main benefit is that it frees up one of the two USB-C ports for other purposes rather than charging. Don’t worry, though, you can still charge the laptop using the Thunderbolt ports.

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

Performance and battery life

Other than the display and overall design, the M2 chip inside of the newest MacBook Air is what separates it from its predecessor.

Like the M1 version, the M2 MacBook Air is fanless, owing to the power efficiency of the M2 chip. Apple says the M2 chip is up to 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 was significantly longer-lasting. The M2 MacBook Air lasted two and a half hours longer in our web browsing test and almost three hours longer in our video test.

Apple M1 MacBook Air
(Apple M1)
Apple M2 MacBook Air
(Apple M2)
Web browsing 15 hours, 31 minutes 17 hours, 59 minutes
Video 18 hours, 28 minutes 21 hours, 9 minutes

While a 1.4x increase in power is measurable, it’s not that much. In fact, the M2 seems to be more of a refinement of the M1 rather than a true generational leap. Still, the M2 MacBook Air benefits from being manufactured on a “second-generation 5nm” process node.

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

Importantly, the M2 MacBook Air has the same media engine used in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, 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 extra 8GB of RAM for a total of 24GB, whereas the M1 MacBook Air is stuck at a maximum of 16GB. Storage options, though, are the same — both starting at 8GB and maxing out at 2TB.

Our testing bore out 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 / 7,585 1,925 / 8,973
Cinebench R23
(single / multi)
1,479 / 6,680 1,600 / 7,938

We’ll note that there’s been some controversy around the M2 MacBook Air in terms of its storage speed. If you buy the 256GB version, which is the least expensive, then you’ll get about half the storage performance as with the 512GB version. If you work with large files, you’ll certainly notice the difference, and you might even notice it in normal real-world use as 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 still holding on to an Intel-based MacBook Air may want to consider upgrading, as Apple touts a 15x increase in power over the older Intel models. The M2 MacBook Air is the better choice as long as you have the budget to spring for the 512GB version.

Those who don’t already own a MacBook and are interested in buying one should probably just get the M2 model over the M1 if you can swing the extra $400. You’ll have more options when it comes to CPU/GPU/memory and benefit from performance increases.

That said, the M1 MacBook Air is still plenty fast for most people, and that says a lot about Apple’s engineering prowess.

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