MacBook Air M2 hands-on: Bye-bye wedge
Highlights include a new look, TouchID and bigger screen.
At WWDC today, Apple not only unveiled its new M2 chip, but also the first two devices that will be equipped with it: the redesigned MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Though the Pro mostly seems similar to older models, the Air has received a full revamp, including a new, square-ish profile, four color options and a thinner, lighter design that's 20 percent smaller in volume than the last-gen Air. I was able to quickly play with the new Air today at Apple Park, and so far I'm just glad it looks noticeably different, given it's been four years since Apple last redesigned the MacBook Air.
Of the four colors the Air now comes in, my personal favorite is Midnight, which is a deep blue. Our editor-in-chief Dana Wollman, who attended the event with me, says the same. The silver and Space Gray models are very familiar, as is Starlight, a shade introduced on one of the more recent Apple Watches.
If you're a fan of Apple's signature MacBook wedge silhouette, you'll need to warm up to this new, squarer look. I didn't mind it — I actually prefer the refresh since the older aesthetic feels pretty outdated to me at this point. It's similar to the new MacBook Pros, so if you liked those you'll appreciate this. Just like the recent Pros, too, the new Air has a full-size row of physical function keys.
At the right end of this sits the power button with a built-in Touch ID sensor. Unlike previous Mac laptops with a Touch ID button, the button here has a matte finish with a contour for your fingertip. Dana is a fan of the groove here, which makes it easy to tell by touch where you should lay your finger. It also doesn't have the sort of glossy finish of yore that tended to attract fingerprints.
Importantly, the new MacBook Air has a larger 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display, up from the last model's 13.3-inch Retina screen. This made the photo that was being edited one one of the demo units look bright and crisp. Speaking of brightness, the new Air goes up to 500 nits, compared to 400 nits on the last-gen models. The screen is also just about 64 pixels taller.
I also liked the quality of the webcam's feed when I opened up the FaceTime app, though I didn't actually snap a picture or spend too much time scrutinizing my face. Of course, the quality has a lot to do with the improved webcam, which is now 1080p (up from 720p). Again, I didn't actually take a call or get enough time with the device so I can't tell you if it's significantly better than before.
I can tell you that I definitely noticed the new notch that houses the camera. Again, this is similar to the recent MacBook Pros and has been a polarizing feature since its introduction. My colleague Devindra Hardawar, who reviewed the MacBook Pros, did not mind it and I'm inclined to agree with him. Although I thought the notch was oddly tall, it didn't extend beyond macOS' title bar, ending just a hair before its bottom edge.
With the new MacBook Air, Apple is bringing back the MagSafe charging port — just like it did with the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros released last fall. The company also made MagSafe cables that are color-matched to the four new laptop hues, in case that aesthetic is important to you. I plugged one such wire in and out of the socket on a demo unit repeatedly and can tell you it works well and feels secure when connected.
One downside to the port arrangement on the new Air is that the MagSafe and two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports are placed on the left edge, while a solo headphone jack sits on the right. I'd prefer if Apple offered one USB-C per side, so it would work better with more dongles. But perhaps the reason the company wasn't able to make this happen has to do with the new four-speaker audio system, which, by the way, supports Spatial Audio when you're playing music or video with Dolby Atmos.
In spite of the added speakers and larger screen, the new MacBook Air manages to be slightly lighter than the M1 model, weighing 2.7 pounds compared to the latter's 2.8 pounds. It also didn't skimp on things like the keyboard or trackpad, and I enjoyed typing a couple of sentences on the machine, thanks to amply sized buttons with adequate depth.
Of course, one of the biggest highlights of the new MacBook Air is the M2 processor inside it. The most significant upgrade this SoC brings is a hardware-accelerated media engine and 100GB/s memory bandwidth. It also gets 10 graphics cores now, compared to the eight previously, and has a slightly larger 52.6-watt-hour battery that Apple says can last up to 15 hours of web surfing. The new Air can also support fast charging with a 67W adapter that Apple says can get it up to 50 percent in 30 minutes. It's worth noting that the 10-core version of the new Air comes with a 35W adapter with two additional USB-C ports.
The base model comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and goes up to 24GB and 2TB, respectively. The new Air will cost $200 more than before, starting at $1,199, and ships next month. The M1-powered model will still be available from $999, too. Now we just need to get a review unit and put it to the test to see if it's worth the price hike.
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