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M2 MacBook Air vs. M1 MacBook Air: Making the Right Choice

The M1 MacBook Air from Apple has long been a favorite among MacBook users, even securing a spot on our list of the best laptops out there. Now, Apple has unveiled the new MacBook Air M2, which brings a fresh design and the latest M2 processor.

Typically, it’s an easy decision to recommend the newer model over its predecessor. However, in the case of the M2 MacBook Air, it feels more like an entirely new device rather than a simple replacement for the M1. And with Apple still offering the original M1 MacBook Air at a significantly lower price, choosing between the two is not as straightforward as it seems.

Specs

Price and Configurations

The M1 MacBook Air starts at $999 and comes with an eight-core CPU, seven-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The top-tier configuration costs $1,999, offering 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD. It’s worth noting that you may find discounted prices for the M1 MacBook Air at non-Apple retailers.

On the other hand, the M2 MacBook Air starts at $1,199, featuring an eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The price jumps to $1,399 for a 512GB SSD, which is a consideration for enhanced performance. If you’re looking for the highest specs, you can spend up to $2,499 for an eight-core CPU, ten-core GPU, 24GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD.

Design

M1 MacBook Air VS M2 MacBook Air
Image: Digital Trends

Right off the bat, the M2 MacBook Air ditches the iconic wedge shape that made the Air famous. Instead, it adopts the squared-off sides and rounded edges seen in its larger siblings, the MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch. While it may lose a bit of its distinctive flair and extreme thinness, the new design creates a more cohesive MacBook lineup.

The M2 MacBook Air chassis remains true to its name, weighing only 2.7 pounds and measuring 0.44 inches in thickness. It’s perfect for those who prioritize portability, though it still delivers ample power (as we’ll explore later). It’s worth noting that the M2 MacBook Air is just 0.1 pounds lighter than its M1 counterpart.

The keyboard on the M2 MacBook Air closely resembles that of the M1 version, but it aligns more with the design of the larger MacBook Pro models. This includes slight differences in the Touch ID button and the presence of full-size function keys at the top.

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Unlike the M1 MacBook Air, where the stereo speakers flank the sides of the keyboard, the M2 MacBook Air features a four-speaker setup positioned between the keyboard and the hinge. This new speaker system also supports Spatial Audio, including Dolby Atmos through the built-in speakers and dynamic head tracking with high-end Apple AirPods products.

Display

MacBook Air screen
Image: Digital Trends

The M2 MacBook Air boasts a slightly larger display, expanding from 13.3 inches on the M1 Air to 13.6 inches on the M2. This change is a result of reduced bezel size on the sides and top. As a result, the new MacBook Air features a notch, while the old model does not. The screen also sports rounded corners at the top.

Nestled within the notch is an upgraded 1080p webcam, an improvement over the 720p option found on the M1 MacBook Air. With the M2 MacBook Air, you’ll likely find no need for Apple’s Continuity Camera, which converts your iPhone into a webcam.

The panel itself receives an upgrade, now boasting a 2560 x 1660 Liquid Retina display. According to Apple, this is the largest and brightest display ever featured on a MacBook Air. While it may not deliver the same eye-catching visuals as the Super Retina XDR found on the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro (14-inch and 16-inch), the Liquid Retina display is undoubtedly a step up from the M1 MacBook Air.

With support for up to a billion colors and a brightness increase to 500 nits (compared to the M1 Air’s 400 nits), the M2 MacBook Air’s display offers wider and more accurate colors, along with deeper contrast. It’s a significant improvement over its predecessor.

Ports

MacBook Air ports
Image: Digital Trends

When it comes to ports, both the M1 and M2 MacBook Air models feature the same setup: two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support USB 4 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds. However, both laptops can only accommodate one external display at a time.

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The M2 MacBook Air distinguishes itself with the inclusion of the MagSafe 3 magnetic charging port. For many, this alone is reason enough to opt for the newer model. The primary benefit is that it frees up one of the two USB-C ports for other uses instead of charging. Rest assured, you can still charge the laptop using the Thunderbolt ports.

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

Performance and Battery Life

Aside from the display and overall design, what sets the M2 MacBook Air apart from its predecessor is the M2 chip.

Similar to the M1 version, the M2 MacBook Air operates silently, thanks to the power efficiency of the M2 chip. Apple claims that the M2 chip is up to 1.4 times faster than the previous M1 model, while still providing up to 18 hours of battery life.

Although Apple doesn’t explicitly advertise a significant leap in battery life with the M2 MacBook Air, our testing revealed that the newer model lasted noticeably longer. Compared to the M1 MacBook Air, the M2 model lasted an additional two and a half hours in web browsing and almost three hours longer in video testing.

While the 1.4x increase in power is measurable, it’s not a huge leap. In fact, the M2 seems more like a refinement of the M1 rather than a revolutionary advancement. Nevertheless, the M2 MacBook Air benefits from being manufactured using a “second-generation 5nm” process node.

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

Importantly, the M2 MacBook Air features the same media engine found in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, which is absent from the M1 MacBook Air. This media engine supports hardware-accelerated ProRes encoding and decoding.

Another advantage of the M2 MacBook Air is the option to configure your laptop with an additional 8GB of RAM, bringing the total to 24GB. In contrast, the M1 MacBook Air is limited to a maximum of 16GB of RAM. However, storage options for both models are the same, starting at 8GB and maxing out at 2TB.

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Our testing confirms Apple’s claims, with a 12% increase in the Geekbench single-core test and an 18% increase in multi-core performance on the M2 MacBook Air. In Cinebench R23, the M2 model achieved an 8% boost in single-core and a 19% increase in multi-core performance.

It’s worth noting that there has been some controversy surrounding the M2 MacBook Air’s storage speed. The 256GB version, which is the least expensive, offers roughly half the storage performance of the 512GB version. If you frequently work with large files, you’re likely to notice the difference, even in everyday tasks like booting the laptop and opening apps.

Making the Right Choice

OnSpec Electronic, Inc

The M1 MacBook Air already proved its worth as a capable machine for everyday tasks, productivity, and even video editing. If you already own an M1 Air, upgrading might not be necessary unless you’re particularly drawn to the MagSafe connector. However, those still using an Intel-based MacBook Air might want to consider an upgrade, as Apple promises a staggering 15x increase in power over older Intel models. The M2 MacBook Air is the superior option, provided you have the budget to invest in the 512GB version.

For those looking to buy their first MacBook, opting for the M2 model over the M1 is the way to go, if you can afford the extra $400. With more options for CPU, GPU, and memory, along with performance improvements, the M2 MacBook Air offers greater flexibility and future-proofing.

That being said, the M1 MacBook Air is still more than capable for the majority of users, which is a testament to Apple’s engineering prowess.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • This deal knocks $250 off the 13-inch MacBook Air with M1
  • Best Labor Day MacBook Deals 2023: MacBook Air and MacBook Pro
  • Looking for a MacBook for school? This MacBook Air is $249 off
  • Best MacBook deals: New Apple laptops starting at $750
  • Heading back to school? Save $249 on the MacBook Air (M1)

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