Apple has finally redesigned its MacBook Air, and it's a better machine in every way.
MacBook Air is arguably the most important Mac Apple produces. Why? Well, because it's arguably the one that appeals to the widest audience by far, and also the one you're most likely to bump into out in the wild. No, it's not the Mac that leads the way, but it is, besides the Mac Mini, the most consumer-oriented product in that line-up. Therefore, one could easily argue that it is also the most important.
So when the Air gets its first real redesign in years you have to wonder how it improves such an influential device? Well, let's just say that it's worth sitting up in your chair. First of all, this all-new version takes its cue from the also relatively new MacBook Pro machines. That means the old "doorstop" shape is gone in favour of a uniform thickness across the machine, and with the slightly rounded but still industrial corners, this looks more like a slim MacBook Pro 14 than its predecessor. That's praise, by the way, in case you were wondering, because the new MacBook Air is unbelievably beautiful.
Functionally, there's not much difference. It's still slim, at around 11 millimetres, which is incidentally quite a bit thinner than its predecessor. It's also just a tad lighter, at about 1.2 kilos. You basically get one more Thunderbolt/USB-4 port, as there are two here, and a MagSafe port for charging, which then combines with a standard headphone jack.
Inside, though, there are a ton of upgrades. Yes, it's the same scissor keyboard, the same giant trackpad, the same WIFI 6 model and Bluetooth 5.0 support, but now the new webcam is 1080p, there are four separate units in the speaker system you can seriously hear, the headphone jack supports high-impedance headphones, and the battery has grown from 49.9Wh to 52.6Wh - that's about 15 hours of mixed use. Plus, the new Air charges at 67 watts via a MagSafe cable that's colour-coordinated for each model.
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It sounds trivial, but MacBook Air now feels immensely modern to use, and it's not just purely aesthetic as the machine fits better with the rest of Apple's design philosophy. It's just... well, better. As it should be.
We're upgrading from standard 13.3-inch Retina to 13.6-inch Liquid Retina, and that means a little more light slipping through the panel, which emits light at about 550 NITS peak. It's still an excellent panel by any measure, miles ahead of most others, but most people fixate pretty directly on the new "notch". It has arisen because Apple has gained 0.3 inches by removing some of the otherwise quite thick screen edge, but has left the now distinctive webcam in a small notch. It doesn't bother me much, nor do I consider it a key part of Apple's design language. It is, in other words, an acceptable way to gain more active screen space without cutting back on the quality of the web cam.
And then there's M2. First of all, the Air still starts at 8GB of RAM, though it can be configured up to 24GB this time, and both the old and the new start at 256GB storage with versions up to 2TB. It's the SoC that's actually new, as this time there are eight CPU cores instead of seven, and 10 GPU cores instead of eight. That's an upgrade in itself, but probably not the quantum leap we've seen from the M1 to the M1 Pro and Max, for example. But again; the cores are also clocked differently, so in a CPU test like Cinebench R23 the eight CPU cores set at 3.50GHz come into their own more, and we saw a difference of about 15%, or more specifically 8903 on Multi-Core versus 7560 on the old MacBook Air with M1. The GPU advantage is more substantial, of course, and here the difference was 20% in Geekbench 5 on Multi-Core.
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It might sound like we're skating over the M2 a bit quickly, but the truth is just that this is a true sequential upgrade to Apple's M-based innards. Everything is a little better all the time, and it didn't result in real thermal throttling or other thermal challenges during regular use. There are still the same theoretical challenges if the applications you use have to run through a Rosetta-based translation layer, and the same benefits if they are optimised to run on Apple Silicon.
It's makes short work of the heat, though, because remember that Apple has launched a new MacBook Pro that has the same design as the decidedly old Pro, with touch bar and all, but has the key difference that it runs M2 with a fan installed. This basically means it's better suited to a workflow that lasts longer than 10-15 minutes under pressure, such as video editing through the Adobe suite with a myriad of plugins, for example. The new MacBook Air has only passive cooling, and while it's not as such designed to wrestle with gargantuan applications for long periods at a time, that might be worth noting in the long run.
Great design, solid additions, great battery life and a pretty nice SoC upgrade? What's not to like? Well, Apple has made it a little more confusing than it needs to be, because the price of this version is not the same. You see, Apple keeps the old MacBook Air in their active line-up, and you get it for £999 versus the starting price of the new one at £1,249. That's a difference of £250, and with the old one you still get the better keyboard, a thin slim computer with 15 hours of battery life and an M1 SoC that's certainly not sluggish.
So are these upgrades worth £250? Yes, I'd say so, although the price increase is slightly annoying.