New M2 MacBook Air is terrific

The article below is just one of many enthusiastic reviews of the M2 MacBook Air. Here’s another if you want confirmation:

MacBook Air M2 Review: Apple’s Laptop Upgrade Bests M1 Air on Screen, Processor and Webcam

Apple’s latest MacBook Air has a faster chip, but the real allure is its bigger, brighter screen and improved webcam, plus the return of klutz-proof MagSafe charging

By Nicole Nguyen for the Wall Street Journal

July 14, 2022 9:00 am ET

The word “air” suggests a lightness, a barely there-ness. When the MacBook Air was introduced, it evoked just that, as one of the world’s thinnest computers. It could even slip into a manila folder.

The trade-off for ultra portability back in 2008? Less power and fewer features. No DVD drive, no Ethernet port. Radical!

Nearly a decade and a half later, the newly available M2 MacBook Air is thinner and lighter than past models, and comes with fewer shortcomings in battery life and features.

The MacBook Air gained popularity as a functional basic laptop years ago. A change came in 2020 when Apple AAPL 1.15%▲ released a new version with the company’s first custom chip, the M1. That laptop quickly became one of my top picks, and same for my colleague Joanna. It ran significantly faster, quieter and cooler than older Intel-powered models and had a nearly instantaneous boot time. Since switching to an M1 Air a year ago, I haven’t seen the dreaded spinning beach ball once, and I regularly use it atop my lap without burning my legs.

Apple says the new M2-powered MacBook Air is capable of editing professional-quality 4K and 8K video. Most people in the market for this type of laptop probably don’t edit 8K video, or do anything else with the same processor demands. (Apple has high-powered, high-price MacBook Pro models for those who do.) The outward improvements are the real allure here: a bigger, brighter screen, a larger top row of keys, and the return of klutz-proof MagSafe charging. Hallelujah!

There are two M2 MacBook Air tiers, a base model starting at $1,199 ($200 more than its predecessor) and a model with more storage and better graphics capabilities starting at $1,499. Color options have expanded, too: Along with the classic silver and space gray, buyers can pick deep-blue midnight and champagne-hued starlight, which replaces gold. And like it or not, the classic wedge-shaped body is no more.

People shopping for a new MacBook can pick from fast (the M1 Air, which Apple will continue to sell for $999), faster (this new M2 Air) and fastest (an M2 MacBook Pro that starts at $1,299 and those $1,999-and-up models with the M1 Max and M1 Pro chips).

For lots of buyers, the M2 Air may hit a sweet spot: not too few features, not too many. To see if this Goldilocks option is worth the extra $200 over the M1 Air, I opened dozens of browser tabs with abandon and repeatedly tripped on the charging cable to find out.

The New Style

Here’s what Apple improved in the new model:

• A safer charger: The MagSafe charger returned with last year’s M1 Pro MacBook Pro and has finally come to the Air. The magnetic charger releases if anyone (people or pets) yanks on the cable, making it less likely your computer will topple to the ground. The charging cable matches the finish of the laptop. Very schmancy.Klutzes rejoice: The quick-release, magnetically attached MagSafe charger returns. In testing, multiple trips over the cable brought the laptop no harm. NICOLE NGUYEN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports can now be used for other accessories, though they too provide charging—handy if you have a USB-C monitor that charges your laptop when connected. (I do wish that the ports weren’t all on the left.)

Two new charging upgrades are available at checkout. You can opt for a 35-watt adapter with dual USB-C ports or a 67-watt adapter capable of fast charging (empty to 50% in 30 minutes). Each costs $20 with the lower-price M2 Air; spring for the more expensive laptop and you can choose from these chargers without paying extra.

• A bigger screen with less weight: The display measures 13.6 inches diagonally, up from 13.3 inches in the M1. The extra screen real estate isn’t immediately evident. More noticeable is its improved brightness, so it’s easier to look at outdoors.

Although the Air was redesigned with a beefier, flat-sided look than its predecessor, it’s slightly lighter than the previous version.

• A higher-resolution webcam and better speakers: A 1080p camera replaces the M1’s 720p camera. The picture is sharper and more natural, though I found it looks a little washed out, similar to the effect Apple’s Studio Display casts on its images.

The new 1080p camera in the M2 Air produced a sharper image, right, than the M1’s 720p camera, but the color is slightly more washed out.PHOTO: NICOLE NGUYEN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The laptop’s improved built-in audio system, which now supports media compatible with Spatial Audio or Dolby Atmos, is better than the M1 Air’s, but still inferior to a nice set of Bluetooth headphones or speakers.

• A full-height function-key row: The top row of the keyboard, where the volume controls are, is now full size. The bigger Touch ID sensor is great—unlocking the computer, authorizing payments and authenticating my password manager is faster and easier.

The Tab Test

Video editing on an M2 machine is up to 15 times faster than an Intel-based Air, the company says. This stat might be impressive on paper but may mean little to ordinary computer users. The M2 was, in fact, able to smoothly handle hours of 4K video I recorded on a recent trip, which I turned into an amateur iMovie project. To simulate my day-to-day grind, however, I pushed the new laptop’s limits in the way I know best: with terrible browser-tab and app hygiene.

The new M2 chip handled multiple 4K video clips in iMovie like a champ. It started slowing down at 75 open Chrome tabs.PHOTO: NICOLE NGUYEN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I fired up Messages, Slack, Signal and Photos, then opened Chrome, a notorious memory hog. I didn’t close any tabs until I experienced a slowdown. That happened at around 75 tabs. In my colleague Joanna’s review, the M1 Air showed signs of sluggishness at 65 tabs. The older Intel-powered Air began revving its fans at 35.

As I was opening tabs, I was also assessing the M2’s battery. Its rating is the same as the M1: up to 15 hours of web browsing and 18 hours of Apple TV movie streaming. With a day’s worth of work, including a couple of hours of video calling, many more hours of writing emails and documents, and more time than I’d like to admit joy-scrolling through Instagram, Twitter and Reddit, the battery lasted just over 10 hours.

MacBook Air, iOS 16, iPadOS 16: Top 8 Things Coming Soon From Apple
Apple announced dozens of new features for the next versions of iOS, iPadOS, WatchOS and MacOS in its two-hour WWDC 2022 keynote—plus a redesigned MacBook Air! WSJ’s Joanna Stern headed to Cupertino and boiled down the news for you. Photo Illustration: Adele Morgan/The Wall Street Journal
Should You Upgrade?

Multimedia professionals and software developers should reach for the MacBook Pro models, which have more processing capabilities for intensive workloads. Cost-conscious buyers should consider getting an M1 MacBook Air—Apple is selling refurbished ones for as low as $849.

For most Mac users, if your current computer is feeling slow, and you like being within Apple’s ecosystem because you own an iPhone, iPad or other Apple device, the M2 MacBook Air is a worthy upgrade.

Starlight is a silvery champagne hue that replaces the more opulent gold available in previous MacBook Air models.PHOTO: NICOLE NGUYEN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Unless you’re considering doing any Photoshop or Final Cut Pro work, you don’t have to spring for the higher tier with a 10-core GPU. I would recommend upgrading your storage to 512 GB if you intend to hold on to your computer for more than three years.

No, the latest Air doesn’t tick off every item on my laptop wishlist. It won’t survive a coffee spill. There’s no Face ID. You can’t upgrade memory or storage post-purchase. Touch screens are relegated to iPads. There’s no right-side USB-C port. (A girl can dream!) Still, it’s as trusty a MacBook as you can get right now.

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