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Review: Apple’s MacBook Air M2 is the best laptop around but costs a fortune

If you have the money, Apple’s MacBook Air M2 is the best laptop you can buy for under €2,000. It has only one downside: a relatively high price.

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Apple MacBook Air M2 in 'Starlight' colour

Apple MacBook Air M2 in 'Starlight' colour

Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

Apple MacBook Air M2 comes with more powerful engine

Apple MacBook Air M2 comes with more powerful engine

Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

Apple MacBook Air M2 now has MagSafe charging

Apple MacBook Air M2 now has MagSafe charging

Apple MacBook Air M2: lighter colours deflect fingerprints better

Apple MacBook Air M2: lighter colours deflect fingerprints better

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Apple MacBook Air M2 in 'Starlight' colour

In summary: if you have the money, Apple’s MacBook Air M2 is the best laptop you can buy for under €2,000. I’d recommend it over Apple’s recently-updated 13-inch MacBook Pro M2 for almost everyone. It has only one downside: a relatively high price.

Price: from €1,529 to €3,029

Pros: nice updated design, new larger screen, killer battery life, improved webcam, superb engine power

Cons: very expensive

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The MacBook Air has been the best-selling laptop in the world for some time. Its appeal has generally been a combination of design and affordability. This is also the reason that it’s the most copied laptop in the world.

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Apple MacBook Air M2 now has MagSafe charging

Apple MacBook Air M2 now has MagSafe charging

Apple MacBook Air M2 now has MagSafe charging

In the week I’ve spent testing the new MacBook Air M2, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in its core appeal. Whereas a MacBook Air traditionally appealed as much to students as to business travellers, the new laptop’s high pricing makes it more of a ‘premium’ laptop than one for the masses. It is now almost indistinguishable from a high-end MacBook Pro for the vast majority of users. That makes it an absolute joy to use. But it now hits your wallet in a way no previous MacBook Air did: it costs €400 more than the last MacBook Air M1 at launch.

You can certainly see where the money is being spent. The laptop’s new design, screen, power, webcam, charging abilities and overall offering are absolutely top of the range. Other than professional developers, videographers or hard-core gamers, I can’t think of a single person who would benefit from using, say, a MacBook Pro over this device. It’s the best overall laptop you can currently buy for under €2,000.

Here’s why.

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Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

1. New design

Of the main upgrades over the MacBook Air M1 (which Apple is keeping in its lineup at €1,229), the redesigned body is the most initially obvious. Gone is the iconic ‘wedged’ MacBook Air shape, instantly recognisable among laptops since Steve Jobs first launched the laptop in 2008. Replacing it is something akin to a super-slim version of the high-end 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. It feels a little more well-balanced and solid, especially when using it on your lap. Despite being a fraction of centimetre bigger than the M1 model, it’s 4pc lighter. So you’re getting proportionately more laptop, with less weight, for your money.

You’re also getting something that’s very quiet. The MacBook Air M2 is fanless, which means considerably less noise than most laptops (although the M1 model also has no fan). There is a marginal engine-power cost to this, but it only kicks in for the most intense of purposes, which most MacBook Air users will rarely engage in.

There’s a new ‘notch’ on the top of the screen, which appears to be there just as a design statement; there’s no Face ID with the MacBook Air M2 and it simply houses the single (upgraded) 1080p webcam. It’s not jarring in any way, though.

The ‘Magic’ keyboard is mostly the same excellent experience as the previous model, although it now has larger function keys and a slightly more tactile TouchID fingerprint reader.

There are new colours, too. My test model was a light grey-gold ‘Starlight’, which has one big advantage over the ‘Midnight’ colour most people are talking about: fingerprints. I barely detected any fingerprint residue on my MacBook Air M2’s Starlight casing. By contrast, when I had a hands-on session with the ‘Midnight’-cased model at the launch last month, it took just a minute for fingerprints to start showing up on it. The MacBook Air M2 also comes in the usual silver and space grey colours.

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Apple MacBook Air M2 comes with more powerful engine

Apple MacBook Air M2 comes with more powerful engine

Apple MacBook Air M2 comes with more powerful engine

2. New brighter screen

Other than the shape change, the most significant design tweak is probably the enlarged screen. You now get a 13.6-inch display rather than the 13.3-inch screen on the older M1 model, thanks mainly to thinner bezels. In real life, this is actually a little more noticeable than the incremental figures would suggest. It’s accentuated by a decent upgrade in the actual quality of the display, too, which is now 25pc brighter than before (up to 500 nits). This is a big deal to me, as I often work outside. The extra brightness is crucial for visibility on a sunny day. The resolution on the new model’s ‘Liquid Retina’ display, 2560x1664, is the same as the M1. For off-duty things like movie streaming, it’s also a very satisfactory, vivid display: the colours look great.

3. A much better webcam

This won’t be crucial to some, but it remains a big deal for those of us who need video calls as an important working tool. The MacBook Air M2’s upgraded 1080p webcam is much, much better than the mediocre 720p lens of its predecessor or the upgraded MacBook Pro M2. It lets in about twice as much light as the version used in the older MacBook designs and the resolution really, really shows. It doesn’t quite have the fancy ultrawide lens that allows the iPad Pro and iPad Air to use the snazzy ‘Centre Stage’ feature, but it’s a big enough improvement over the last webcam to rank as one of the two or three key features that will justify the extra €300 over the M1 model for certain professionals.

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Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

Apple MacBook Air M2: comes in four colours

4. A faster, more powerful engine

Other than the external design, the big technical upgrade here is the M2 chip. Even though it’s only around 18pc faster (for CPU; GPU is about a third faster) than the M1 chip, it has other advantages that make it a more powerful, more functional overall engine core. The M2 chip makes a lot more of the Ram memory within the laptop than the M1 equivalent, meaning most people definitely won’t need to choose the more expensive 16GB version over the standard 8GB model, a choice I would usually advise of any new laptop purchase these days. Specifically, the M2 chip has 50pc more ‘memory bandwidth’, for things like multitasking, than the M1 chip.

That means you can fairly easily do things up to, and including, high-end video-editing processes without seeing any real lag, even with the basic 8GB configuration. That could save you €230 if you thought you might need to upgrade to 16GB. Certainly, ordinary things such as having 20 browser tabs open simply won’t be an issue.

It’s worth mentioning that Apple offers other engine and power boosts for a few extra quid. Other than the choice of 16GB, you can spring an extra €120 if you want a 10-core GPU instead of the basic 8-core GPU, which can be useful if you’re really going to push it for graphics purposes. You can also pay an additional €20 for your choice of a fast 67-watt charger or a dual-port 35-watt charger, instead of the basic 30-watt single-port charger that comes as standard.

As it happens, my test model had a fairly high-end configuration (€2,339 compared to the €1,529 entry-level model), with 16GB of Ram, 1TB of storage, a 10-core GPU and a dual-port 35-watt charger.

So I was able to destroy the 4K video-editing tasks I set it. But from my experience with the 8GB updated MacBook Pro M2 (€1,629), which has almost the same architecture (other than a higher-core GPU and a fan) as the 8GB MacBook Air M2, I know that fewer people will need the 16GB version of this laptop than would for the M1 equivalent because of the M2 chip’s new capabilities.

Ironically, the M2 chip also has a Ram memory advantage at the other end of the scale, too: you can now configure this MacBook Pro model up to 24GB, rather than just 16GB with M1 versions. I’m not sure that this is quite as compelling a proposition as the Ram dividend at the other end of the spectrum, though: if you want that much muscle power, you’re more likely to opt for one of the larger MacBook Pro devices with genuinely ‘pro’-level chips.

Some have pointed out in recent weeks that because the M2 model has no fan, it slows down after a few minutes of intensive tasks. This is true, but the slowdown is very, very marginal – well under 10pc. And you’d have to be doing something really heavy, like intense graphics rendering or processing huge video-editing files.

In general, it’s worth repeating that Apple is now so far ahead of Intel chips in terms of power and efficiency that it’s a mismatch. The M2 is between three and eight times more powerful than a top-end Intel i7 processor for things like intensive editing, high-resolution streaming or coding. It’s little things, as well. The M2 chip system supports better sound, including Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking when using newer AirPods models.

5. Battery life to beat all others

I haven’t put this at the top of the review because it’s not a key change to the MacBook Air M2 over the M1 model. But for anyone switching to an M-chip MacBook for the first time, battery life is still one of the absolute killer features. I’ve been using the MacBook Air M2 every day for around seven hours of work (writing, web searches, some light photo-editing and video-streaming) and it rarely fell below 50pc battery life by the end of the day. By comparison, I would normally dip below 50pc of a regular laptop’s (or even an iPad Pro’s) battery in three to four hours. Or even more quickly if sitting in the summer sun with the screen on full brightness. Officially, it lasts up to 18 hours. It’s hard to overstate what an advantage this is when your workday can be in flux, moving from location to location.

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Apple MacBook Air M2: lighter colours deflect fingerprints better

Apple MacBook Air M2: lighter colours deflect fingerprints better

Apple MacBook Air M2: lighter colours deflect fingerprints better

6. Other features worth mentioning

The MacBook Air M2 comes with a MagSafe charging port, in addition to the two USB-C ports. This is very handy, as it frees up an extra port while you’re charging it. The laptop supports one external display and there’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the side.

There’s an interesting speaker redesign on the MacBook Air M2. Instead of visible speakers on the keyboard, it’s build into the screen-hinge area. The result is fine, if not stellar. I’ve heard better speakers on a laptop, but it’s still better than average.

7. The downside: pricing

It’s unfortunate that for geopolitical and currency instability reasons, the euro pricing of the MacBook Air M2 has seen a much higher jump over the last model – €300 to €400 – than the US dollar price rise ($200). €1,529 for the entry-level 256GB MacBook Air M2 is certainly steep. Overall, it’s arguably still worth it: this is effectively a junior MacBook Pro and should last most users many years at something close to full pelt. But if you want more than 256GB of storage, you’re plain out of luck; the 512GB version starts at €1,879, which is ultra-premium laptop market territory. Yes, you get the better GPU (€120) and choice of superior charger (€20 extra, otherwise) as part of that. But it’s still significantly more expensive than other laptops with similar storage specifications, whatever your view on the MacBook Air M2’s advantages on battery life and engine power.

8. Conclusion

Technically, this is a near-flawless laptop. From a usability standpoint, It’s almost impossible to find a downside. It crushes every (non-Apple) rival on battery life. It destroys most rivals on speed and power, too.

The only lingering negative is the price: this is not the kind of cash you might normally expect to pay for what is traditionally positioned as a MacBook Air. For some people, that won’t be a dealbreaker. But if you’re a student or someone who’s looking for a decent, powerful MacBook to work off, but you simply don’t have €1,529, it’s an issue. For such folks, I’d advise getting the MacBook Air M1. It costs over €300 less (or even less if you nab one on sale from the big box retailers) and is still an excellent laptop, especially when it comes to its power (which also means fresh MacOS updates for years) and battery life.

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You can also listen to a special edition of The Big Tech Show podcast we recorded on reviewing the MacBook Air M2 at independent.ie/podcasts.
 


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