Review: Apple's M2 MacBook Air outclasses rivals with top-notch performance

Apple's new M2 MacBook Air
It was launched the same time as the more expensive MacBook Pro. How does it stack up? Photo credit: Newshub

In June US tech giant Apple introduced the world to its new M2 processor, the next generation of its own silicon which has won acclaim since it first launched in 2020.

The updated version of the MacBook Pro proved to be a decent device, but was essentially last year's model with the new chip, outdated touch bar and all.

The M2 MacBook Air, however, is a new beast altogether. It's thinner, lighter and has other upgrades to match the faster silicon.

In what may be my final review of an Apple device before leaving this role, could the Air impress or was I destined to farewell the brand on a downer?

I've been reviewing the Apple M2 MacBook Air for a few weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

The M2 MacBook Air is, to all intents and purposes, as good as its specification suggests it should be.

If you're looking for a laptop with a screen size of around 13-inches then you're unlikely to find one quicker or more stylish.

The 13.6-inches on offer here is bright, colourful and an absolute pleasure to use, whether that's for writing your next great novel or catching up on your favourite streaming shows.

The clarity and fidelity of the colours are just stunning. For an older geek like me, it's still almost unbelievable that we have such small screens of such high quality.

It also has a much-improved camera with a beautiful 1080p FaceTime camera housed in the notch. That really should be the current standard for all webcams - both Windows and Macs. If we can't be in the office all the time with our teammates, then the least we can do is show them our faces in HD, flaws and all.

Apple's M2 MacBook Air
Photo credit: Newshub

Of course it's also ridiculously quick and requires some effort to use the full capabilities.

The base model comes with 8-core CPU and GPU and 8GB unified memory, along with a 16-core neural engine.

Sure, maybe it could offer 512GB storage instead of 256GB, but with external drives and cloud storage being so cheap these days it's not as much of an issue as it used to be.

Throw in its sleek design that's both thin and extremely light and you have a highly capable device that you can comfortably carry in one hand.

The force touch trackpad is both big and reliable. The one I used on an old MacBook Pro would glitch a bit if used at the edges, but this one has shown no indication of similar issues.

The keyboard is also great to type on. The keys don't have a big travel on them, certainly compared to my favoured Logitech external keyboards, but it's both accurate and easy to use. 

It also has a handy fingerprint scanner for logging in instead of supplying passwords - although I still can't believe there's no Face ID on the Mac yet.That is virtually standard on Windows devices and I much prefer it to the scanner.

Throw in an impressively long battery life - I managed a whole Saturday from 5am until 9pm without draining it fully - and a surprisingly good quad-speaker setup and you've got a device that's not going to let you down.

Apple's M2 MacBook Air
Photo credit: Newshub

The bad

We know that Apple's products tend to go for a premium and the base M2 MacBook Air model will set you back comfortably more than $2000 in New Zealand.

For me, the overall package - particularly the performance combined with battery life - makes that a price worth paying. But it might not be for everyone.

If you're looking for a device to fit out your home office rather than acting as a laptop on the go, you may find out it comes up a little short.

There are only a couple of USB 4 Thunderbolt ports on the left hand side, alongside the MagSafe charging port. 

The right side has nothing barring the tiny audio port so if you have a few peripherals, you may need to fork out for a powered hub of some kind. 

It also doesn't have the 120Hz ProMotion variable refresh rate for the screen like the more expensive iPad Pro models have - not that most people will be able to tell the difference.

Apple's M2 MacBook Air
Photo credit: Newshub

For the first time in a little while, I noticed a MacBook getting warm when pushing it hard. It makes sense - there are no visible vents on the bottom or around the side and that heat has got to go somewhere, right?

But I'm of the vintage where third degree burns were a real possibility from putting laptops on your bare legs, so I can handle a wee bit of warmth - particularly during Aotearoa's cold winter months.

Finally there's the notch. I've seen much written about it and I'm only adding it here for completeness. Personally, I forget about the notch that houses the camera as soon as I start using it.

Others clearly aren't as chill about it and bemoan the intrusion. A quick trip to your favoured electronics shop to see one on display will tell you whether it's a point of conflict for you or not.

I appreciate the bigger screen the notch offers, the smaller bezels around the edges because of it and the 1080p camera it hosts more than that wee bit of useless black space in the menu bar.

Apple's M2 MacBook Air
Photo credit: Newshub

The verdict

It's not shocking the M2 MacBook Air is such a good device.

It was obvious from the moment it was launched alongside the updated MacBook Pro that it was the more desirable addition to the range.

While the MacBook Pro may sound more impressive, the Air edges it in just about every way - unless you absolutely must have a touch bar. And no-one really needs one that much.

The Air starts at $2149 in Aotearoa, $150 less than the Pro, despite having a better overall specifications. Relatively, it's a bargain.

It also fits my lifestyle. It's thinner and lighter so fits in my backpack better, but doesn't have to give up performance to do so.

I can leave the charger at home safe in the knowledge that I'm getting all-day battery life out of it, whatever I'm doing. That can't be said for a lot of Windows devices of similar specifications.

Apple's M2 MacBook Air
Photo credit: Newshub

Still, it's more expensive than last year's M1 model and I'm not convinced there is anything here that demands you must upgrade. If you're running an old Intel one, however, then you may as well grab the new M2. You'll not regret it.

It's been fun reviewing Apple's amazing and inventive devices during my time at Newshub, and I'm going out on a high.

The Air is a pleasure to look at, a pleasure to use and has a specification that would see me using it for years to come. If you're in the market for the best in the business, you don't have to look far.

Newshub was supplied with an Apple M2 MacBook Air for this review.