Is the new MacBook Air for me? A MacBook buying guide
Is the new MacBook Air for me? A MacBook buying guide
Note: This feature was first published on 8 June 2022. It's republished now because the new MacBook Air is now available in retail.
Is the new MacBook Air for me?
Unless you have been living under a rock, you’d know that Apple has released a new MacBook Air. Not just any new MacBook Air, mind you. It’s completely new, designed from the ground up, and sporting a fresh look and more powerful internals. I had the chance to get up close with it yesterday and wrote about my first impressions here.
Prices start at S$1,699, which, sounds rather affordable for a MacBook. So at this point, you are wondering, should I buy one? But the 13-inch MacBook Pro has been updated too. Although it’s physically identical to the model it replaces, it too has Apple’s spanking new M2 chip. Should I get that instead? Oh, but the MacBook Air with the M1 chip is still available and is more affordable than ever at S$1,449. If you can’t make up your mind, fret not, here’s a handy guide to help guide your purchasing decision.
Note: The 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro are omitted from this guide because those are considerably pricier devices targeted at power users and professionals.
Compared to the M1 MacBook Air, the new M2-powered MacBook Air, according to Apple, has 18% faster CPU performance, 35% better GPU performance, and a 40% faster Neural Engine. It also has built-in engines for video decoding and encoding, which will speed up video-editing. Double-digit improvements in performance are nothing to scoff at, and although we haven’t tested the new MacBook Air yet, I think it’s safe to say at this point that it will be faster than the old model, the only question is by how much.
However, the new MacBook Air has a fanless design and this does mean it isn’t as adept as sustaining high workloads as the 13-inch MacBook Pro which has the benefit of an active cooling system. The MacBook Air will no doubt suffice for daily scenarios like emails, spreadsheets, documents, presentations, browsing the web, and watching videos, but for any sustained high workload, like video editing or editing large batches of images, you might encounter performance throttling issues. And if that’s the kind of work you do, you should consider the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
There’s no question the new M2 MacBook Air is the most portable MacBook Air ever. It measures just 11.3mm thick and weighs 1.24kg. The number that’s most telling, however, is that Apple says it’s 20% smaller in terms of overall volume. It’s been a long while since I handled a MacBook Air but this new MacBook Air is certainly really easy to carry around.
Sure, you can find lighter notebooks around but Apple is sticking with an all-aluminium construction here, and it’s hard to deny that aluminium feels more like a premium material compared to lighter notebooks which may use a mix of carbon fibre and magnesium alloy.
As for the updated 13-inch MacBook Pro, it’s physically identical to the model it replaces. Surprisingly, it’s roughly the same size as the MacBook Air, but it does feel oh-so-slightly heavier. However, it is appreciably thicker. So, if portability is a priority, the new MacBook Air is by far the most compact out of the trio.
Along with a new processor, the latest MacBook Air also gets a new Liquid Retina display. This new display is not only slightly larger, it’s also brighter, and supports up to a billion colours. Based on brief first impressions, it looks like a fantastic display and should be a step-up over the old M1 MacBook Air’s.
The new MacBook Air also gets notable improvements elsewhere too. The speakers have improved and sounded quite good when I heard them during a demo session after the main event. Audiophiles will also appreciate the fact that the headphone jack also works better with high impedance headphones.
The ports situation is also better on the new MacBook Air. The inclusion of a MagSafe port means you don’t have to sacrifice a USB-C ports if you need to juice up the notebook.
Despite the improved performance and brighter display, Apple says the new MacBook Air has the same 18-hour battery life as the M1 MacBook Air. Scouring the specs list, that can be partly attributed to the slightly larger battery – 52.6Wh vs. 49.9Wh. As for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, that has a claimed battery life of up to 20 hours.
Fact is, Apple Silicon is incredibly efficient and these notebooks will easily last a day on battery in normal use scenarios. That said, the new MacBook Air has a fast charge capability that can charge up to 50% in 30 minutes. This could be a handy feature for users who are always out and about. Furthermore, it has lower power requirements than the 13-inch MacBook Pro so you can charge it faster with a greater variety of chargers. Coupled with its more compact size, I think the new MacBook Air is the ideal choice for users who are always on the move.
Price is likely going to be a big factor in many people’s purchasing decisions. And even though a lot is going to depend on how the new MacBook Air performs in the real world, we can make some preliminary conclusions based on what we know now.
Based on first impressions, the new MacBook Air looks like it’s quite attractively priced. S$1,699 seems like a reasonable amount of money for an extremely well-built notebook with one of the most cutting-edge processors in the market today.
If you ask me, I see little reason to get the older M1 MacBook Air over the new one. Yes, it’s S$250 less, but the fresh design, new processor, and improved features of the new MacBook Air easily justify its higher asking price. Even if I was on a tight budget, I'd save up more or find ways to get the extra money and acquire the newer MacBook Air.
Likewise, the updated 13-inch MacBook Pro. The extra S$180 gets you an active cooling system, a slightly larger battery, and that’s about it. I won’t consider it at all unless my work consists of a lot of sustained workloads. The new MacBook Air is more portable and has newer features like the MagSafe port, improved speakers, and a larger screen.
For people who mainly use their notebooks to browse the web, write emails, work on spreadsheets, prepare presentations, and edit the odd videos now and then, I cannot think of a better MacBook from Apple’s current lineup for the money. Unless it is somehow completely hopeless in the real world, I think the new MacBook Air is going to be a runaway success.