We went hands-on with the new M2 MacBook Air at WWDC: Here's a first look

Our new Editor-in-Chief takes you hands-on with Apple’s all-new MacBook Air.

How do you improve upon perfection? For Apple, it’s with the brand new M2 MacBook Air, which made its debut at this summer’s WWDC 2022 event.

For more than a decade, the MacBook Air form factor has held steady as the ultimate ultraportable laptop, giving rise to a wave of imitators and kickstarting the “ultrabook” laptop craze. Light and powerful, it pushed the boundaries of what people thought could be achieved from such a small package.

But, in aesthetic terms at least, the MacBook Air has hardly changed since Steve Jobs first removed its super-slim frame from a manila envelope all those years ago at Macworld 2008. What wowed in 2008 is now the norm even from lesser manufacturers. And, as we’ve seen during our MacBook Pro 13-inch with M2 chip review, Apple has no problem with newly-launched hardware retaining awfully familiar external designs, when that design has proved successful. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – and for years that’s been the fate of the MacBook Air.

Jump from 2008 forward to WWDC 2022, however, and Apple has finally seen it fit to fully update the MacBook Air line. Not only does it now sport the freshly-unveiled M2 chipset, but it comes in a revised (and still super-slim) form factor — as well as a range of new colors. Does the new MacBook Air have what it takes to wow the crowds once again?

We had the M2 MacBook Air in our hands at Apple Park. Here are our first impressions ahead of our full 2022 MacBook Air review.

Design

Need a lightweight powerhouse? The M2 MacBook Air may have a new chassis design, but it’s still as light and sleek as ever, with Apple retaining the slimline stylings that has made the range so popular in the past. Gone is the tapered shell that gave previous generations of the Air their razor-sharp profiles; now there is a flatter design that more closely resembles the MacBook Pro lineup. Measuring just 11.3mm thin, it weighs a mere 2.7 pounds, making it just ever so slightly lighter than the most recent model. You’ll be able to sling this thing in a rucksack and forget it’s there — and easily balance it with one hand.

As previously leaked, there are a few additional color options to choose from, but not quite the iMac rainbow that many had hoped for. While you don’t get greens, yellows and lilac shades as previously suggested, you will still have a choice between silver, space grey, Midnight, and Starlight colors. And though the options are fewer in number than anticipated, they’re very attractive in the flesh — the Starlight option has a slight, almost iridescent quality as it moves in the light, while the Midnight is as close to a black laptop as you’re likely to see Apple ever make.

A returning feature is one of the most welcome in the new 2022 MacBook Air design. MagSafe fans will be pleased to hear that the snap-on, snap-off charging method has made its long-awaited comeback, meaning that the two onboard Thunderbolt ports are thankfully free just for accessory use. The MagSafe charging cord will also come color-matched to your chosen MacBook Air colorway. Those looking to listen to, or create music on the M2 MacBook Air will also appreciate the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack with support for high-impedance headphones — handy for all that high-resolution Apple Music streaming.

Jump over to the screen and you’ll find a 13.6-inch, 2560×1664 Liquid Retina Display. It was always a long shot, but the premium mini-LED display hasn’t made the cut this time out – unsurprising given the price impact it would likely have had on what remains essentially Apple’s starter-level portable computing device. Boasting 500 nits of brightness, with thinner borders than on previous generations (camera notch notwithstanding) the new MacBook Air with M2 chip gives the impression of greater screen real estate than on earlier models. It’s beautifully colorful, supporting up to 1 billion different colors now, with brightness that allowed it to be very legible even in the harsh Apple Park showroom lighting. You’ll also find a 1080p FaceTime webcam embedded up top, which we’re hoping will offer more clarity than the often-criticised one found on the Studio Display

Hitting the keyboard, Apple seems to be continuing to answer to fan criticism. There’s a good amount of travel above the large Force Touch trackpad, with keys satisfyingly clicky. A full-height set of function row keys is also now in the mix, along with a handy Touch ID sensor in the top right for password-free log-in and payment authentication. Four speakers, capable of Dolby Atmos spatial audio playback, sit between the keys and screen, too (though we’ve yet to hear them in action).

M2 chip and internal specs

But it’s the M2 chip that is arguably the most exciting element of the new MacBook Air for 2022. Apple’s second-generation bespoke silicon sounds like a beast — not quite as powerful as the M1 Max and M1 Pro revisions of the first generation, but not far off them, either.

Using a new 5nm manufacturing process and squeezing in 20 billion transistors, Apple says to expect performance 8% faster on the CPU, a 35% more powerful GPU, and a 40% faster Neural Engine than on the M1. That additional transistor count also allows for a memory controller delivering 100GB/s of unified memory bandwidth, a 50% jump over the M1.

The M2 is split between an 8-core CPU (four high performance, four efficiency) sporting a larger cache, and an 8-or-10 core GPU. With the 8-core GPU option, you’ll get 18% better graphics performance vs. power compared to the M1, while the 10 GPU option doubles that. This is more than capable of playing high-end games (such as the soon-to-be-ported Resident Evil Village, showcased at WWDC 2022) and multiple high-res video streams at resolutions up to 8K.

Power efficiency remains top-notch too – you’ll get up to 18 hours of video playback on the Apple TV app, and 15 hours of wireless web browsing per charge. Fast charging with a compatible charger is also supported now over a 67W USB-C plug, getting you to 50% capacity in just 30 minutes of charge time.

In terms of configuration options, you’ll be able to soup up the standard 8-core GPU to a 10-core GPU, choose between 8GB / 16GB /24GB of RAM, and either a 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSD.

Price and availability

The 2022 M2 MacBook Air will hit Apple Stores next month, with prices starting at $1,119 / £1249. And you can knock $100 / £100 off for education pricing discounts too.

That makes it a tad more expensive than the still-going-strong M1 MacBook Air, which will remain on sale at $999. But a new design and generation chipset were never going to come cheap. It also means the MacBook Air is now rubbing up against the cost of the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, meaning prospective buyers will have to weigh up whether ultraportability or additional ports are the most important points on their laptop buying wishlist.

Hands-on review: Early verdict

The inclusion of the new M2 chipset would have been enough to lure in those tempted by the MacBook Air’s slim frame. But a new set of colorful design options and a reimagined chassis will make those looking at an entry-level MacBook Pro think hard before throwing down their cash.

We’ll need more time to put the M2 through its paces in the Air (it’s already proved astonishing in the new 13-inch MacBook Pro) — and to see if the new design remains as trustworthy a travel companion as the last MacBook Air was — but, considering the MacBook Air is supposed to be Apple’s entry level laptop, it’s hard to imagine a more impressive first look; even if the price hike does make it a bit more difficult to afford.

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