Review | We blindly tested the new MacBook Air. It looked a lot like the old one.

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The new MacBook Air has a lot to offer: a new design, a larger screen, MagSafe charging, and a new Apple M2 chipset.

Among other things, Apple says the chipset includes a CPU (central processing unit) that’s 18 percent faster than the M1 chip you can still buy in a MacBook Air today. And that got us thinking: how likely is it that you can actually tell the difference?

To find out, we set up a little test: On a bright August morning, we set up the new M2 MacBook Air and the comparable 2020 model M1 in such a way that you could use both without knowing which was which. And despite my nerd bravery, even I couldn’t tell the difference consistently.

Here’s how it worked and everything you need to know about the new MacBook Air.

Is it really faster than the old one?

We embarked on a series of blind tests that we thought represented what most people would probably need their computer for at some point.

First: web browsing. I installed Chrome on both machines and jumped between the same 10-15 tabs while playing the same 4K YouTube videos in the background. Both seemed to handle the load equally well, though people who like to keep dozens of tabs open would probably see either machine struggle. (Pro tip: When looking for a new computer, get as much RAM as you can afford.)

Next on the list was video calls, with a twist.

Apps like Snap Camera by Snap, which layers silly (and sometimes very fancy) filters on your face, can put a lot of pressure on a machine. That can be especially true when you’re using it while you’re streaming or chatting on a Zoom call. None of the computers seemed to proverbially bat an eyelid when I went crazy with the filters, and at one point I proclaimed that, based solely on my satisfying potato head physics, I must be using the M2 model. I was wrong.

It wasn’t until we started editing videos that we really started to feel the difference between these two computers.

When it came time to export our 4K video clips at a much lower resolution, the M2 Air finished a few minutes earlier than last year’s model. It may not seem like much, but those moments add up quickly when you’re working on larger projects or many projects in a row. On the other hand, if that’s the kind of thing you do a lot, you’d be better off with a MacBook Pro anyway.

Additional tests, including games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and a host of traditionally finicky benchmarks, confirm that the M2 Air is the top performing machine. It just takes some extra work to see that speed in action, work that many people might not immediately notice.

For people who rely primarily on their computer for tasks like surfing the web and watching movies, the difference in the chip may never feel apparent. If I just described it to you, a cheaper Mac M1 would probably suit you.

If recommending last year’s model for some people feels a little weird, that’s because Apple’s entire line of laptops is a little weird right now.

Air is one of two new laptops using Apple’s M2 processor, which (as we’ve seen) has some advantages over 2020’s M1 chip. But last year, Apple started building computers with different versions of the M1. , the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, which actually outperform the M2.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the M2 was meant to set a new standard. Years of iPhone launches have taught us that the model with a new number is a bigger step up than the model with the same number, plus a modifier. But despite what the new part number suggests, the M2 isn’t the best, fastest processor you’ll find in an Apple laptop; it’s just the newest.

Even stranger, the next step up from this MacBook Air is the M2 MacBook Pro: By all accounts, it’s the fastest machine, but because it’s still using an older design, it doesn’t exactly feel like an upgrade.

Of course, no one buys a new laptop just because of the chip inside it. And in this case, the rest of the package is arguably just as important as the M2 itself.

  • The screen. At 13.6 inches diagonal, this “Liquid Retina” display is the largest screen Apple has ever crammed into an ultraportable laptop. (That means it’s easier to fit even more stuff on the screen at once.) And while it’s not as sleek as the displays found on last year’s refreshed MacBook Pros, this one is a bit brighter than the one found on the previous model. .
  • An improved webcam. The previous MacBook Air had a notoriously lousy webcam, which hurt even more because Apple released the laptop when people were getting used to sheltering in place due to Covid-19. Thankfully, Apple upped the quality significantly this time around, meaning you won’t look like a blurry, pixelated mess on your next Zoom call.
  • Great battery life. Perhaps the biggest benefit of Apple’s switch to its own processors is how much longer its laptops can run on a single charge. I have been able to use the MacBook Air M2 for over 10 hours during busy work days and still have enough power to last until the next morning. That’s a big improvement over older Apple models (at best, my last Intel MacBook Pro maxed out in around seven hours) and it’s a bit better than the M1 model’s battery.
  • the notch. Not only is it rare to glance at it throughout the day; it also takes up space in the macOS menu bar that is sometimes used by other applications. And other laptop makers have almost perfected the look of the screen from edge to edge without having to rely on big camera cutouts.
  • The new “Midnight” finish. Apple’s latest MacBook Air is available in a new dark blue finish called “Midnight,” which sounds fun and mysterious until you realize it picks up palm and fingerprints in the blink of an eye. (Apple pointed us to their cleanup support page, if this bothers you.)
  • The highest starting price. The most basic MacBook Air M2, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, starts at $1,199. That’s $200 more than the MacBook Air M1 costs today, a laptop still worth considering.

The MacBook Air M2 is a sleek and powerful machine, and a great option if you haven’t upgraded your laptop in a few years. But if you primarily rely on your computer for web surfing, office/school work, and Netflix, the $999 MacBook Air M1 is more than enough, and probably will be for a while.

So who should pay the $200 premium for the M2 model? Mainly I’d say people who want a better webcam and a nicer display, though the extra power tucked away here offers a bit of room to grow if your needs change.

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