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Seeing the MacBook Air M2 convinced me to buy the old M1 instead

A months-long effort to commit to a new Apple laptop came to an end for me this week — in fact, it was the day after WWDC 2022’s keynote presentation. One of the new products announced during the event was the MacBook Air M2, a delightful-looking sliver of aluminum that was new, shiny, powerful and very tempting indeed.

So naturally, immediately after the event, I ordered the old MacBook Air M1. Here’s why.

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What I’m going to do with it

Before I get into the why, let’s talk about what I am planning to do with it, as I’ve been going over it in my mind for some time. It’s not going to be my primary computer. The laptop will replace my old, retired 11-inch MacBook Air and used when I’m not at home, or can’t be bothered to turn on my Mac Mini M1 to do some work. Outside of this, it’ll handle many of the tasks my iPad Pro has coped with over the last couple of years — watching video, online shopping, some light video editing, and the usual online activities. Nothing major, in other words — it’s just a little more capable as a work machine than the iPad Pro.

The M2 MacBook Air sitting on a desk.
Apple MacBook Air M2

The MacBook Air fits the bill, but it made sense to wait and see what Apple was going to announce during WWDC, as rumors of an M2-powered machine had already spread. Going into WWDC 2022, I’d expected to quickly be setting a reminder for the day I could order the new MacBook Air M2, but on the other side of the keynote, I found myself looking over the press release and articles trying to justify it.

The MacBook Air M2 shown off on stage looked excellent, especially the new design and the new dark Midnight color, and for the first few moments I was all starry-eyed and absolutely saying, “this is my new laptop.” Then I found out it starts at $1,199, and it all of a sudden stopped looking like a MacBook Air — Apple’s entry-level laptop that isn’t really designed for power users — and more like a MacBook Pro. My carefully laid plans had been scuppered.

Price is king

Why was it looking like a MacBook Pro to me, when they start at $1,299? It’s because I was planning to buy a refurbished MacBook Air M1 from Apple, saving myself more money in the process. This isn’t my main computer, and the products I’ve purchased through Apple’s refurbished store have been perfect in the past, essentially appearing to be the same as a brand-new version. However, the timing of my quest meant that if the new MacBook Air matched the price of the old one, it would have been worth spending that bit extra to get the latest machine.

Apple MacBook Air M1 open, on a table.
Apple MacBook Air M1 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

In the U.K., where I live, a refurbished entry-level MacBook Pro M1 costs less than the brand-new MacBook Air M2, and the basic refurbished MacBook Air M1 is 350 British pounds (about $430) less than the M2 version. I’d looked at and dismissed the MacBook Pro M1 as an alternative already. I don’t need any more power, and there may not even be much difference between the two laptops anyway, plus I’d heard from other M1 MacBook owners the battery life is stellar regardless of the model. Looked at this way, there was no way a 1080p camera, some more speakers, and 0.3-inch more screen would convince me the MacBook Air M2 was worth the extra cash.

The other consideration is my experience with the Apple M1 processor has been excellent. I’ve used the Mac Mini M1 for about a year as my main computer and it does everything I could want. I’ve also recently reviewed the 2022 iPad Air 5th generation, which has the same chip. While I didn’t find it drastically outperformed my 2020 iPad Pro, there were situations where the chip’s guts and its rock-solid ability to get things done were really noticeable. Both these machines gave me masses of confidence in the M1’s ability.

My needs are met by the MacBook Air M1, and although the tech fan in me vaguely wanted the MacBook Pro because it has Pro in the name, I knew I didn’t need it. I doubt I’m alone in thinking all this. After all, there’s a clear split between the two models, and I think it’s pretty obvious which one will be best for you. After digging into the specs and early impressions, I couldn’t find any compelling reason to pay so much for the MacBook Air M2. It just looked like another MacBook Pro to me, and I imagine it does to a lot of other people too.

It’s not an Air or a Pro

Apple knows that by upping the price for the MacBook Air M2, it still needs to sell the MacBook Air M1 or it’ll miss out on the sub-$1,000 sweet spot that attracts so many people. Sure enough, the M1 version is still available to buy. Compare the specifications between them using Apple’s own tool, and the MacBook Air M2 looks more like a Pro alternative, and perhaps losing the Air name altogether would have been the best plan after all.

A close up of the gold MacBook Air M1's keyboard.
Apple MacBook Air M1 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I had (perhaps naively) hoped Apple would replace the MacBook Air M1 with the MacBook Air M2 and keep the same price. That’s the way it has worked with iPhone models for the last few years, after all. If the MacBook M2 started at $999, or 999 pounds here in the U.K., I would have waited to buy it. Getting the newest piece of tech you can afford is always solid advice. Instead, the line between Air and Pro has been blurred with the Air M2, particularly for those who are buying a computer based primarily on price.

I ended up doing what I’d planned all along and bought a MacBook Air M1. If my 2013 11-inch MacBook Air, which I purchased refurbished in 2015, is anything to go by, it’ll provide many years of strong, reliable use, and all for a sensible price. If you’re weighing your new MacBook purchase in the same way I have been, dig deep into what you’re going to use it for, and don’t get too tempted into spending a lot more just to get the very latest model. Apple’s new MacBook Air M2 may wear the Air name, but it’s more Pro in nature and price.

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