Apple MacBook Air (2022) review: Truly, the MacBook for everyone
Introduction, design, and features
Note: This review was first published on 14 July 2022.
At long last, an all-new MacBook Air
Only Apple will know why it waited this long to give us a completely redesigned MacBook Air. Even now, I’m certain that the introduction of the M1 chip back in 2020 was the perfect time to do it. Anyhow, it's finally here.
After it was unveiled last month at WWDC 2022, I had the chance to play around with it briefly after the announcement and my first impressions were good. Apple seemed to have nailed the fundamentals. And after spending some time with the updated MacBook Pro with the new M2 chip, I’m even surer now that it’s unlikely that this new MacBook Air will stink. But just to be sure, I ran the usual tests and used it intensively for the past couple of days. Does it hold up? And is this the MacBook most people should get? Let me tell you.
Design & features
This MacBook Air looks unlike any other MacBook Air before it. Gone is the iconic wedge design and in its place is a more slab-like design with flat sides. You could say it looks like a thinner 14-inch MacBook Pro. From the sides, it looks to me like two iPads stuck together.
The important numbers are 11.3 and 1.24. The first is the MacBook Air’s thickness in millimetres. Interestingly, that’s actually almost thick as two 11-inch iPad Pros. At any rate, it lives up to the reputation of the Air name by being remarkably thin.
The second number is its weight in kilograms. It’s worth expounding on this because 1.24kg is no longer considered light in today’s context. Of course, I’m not saying that the MacBook Air is cumbersome, but it doesn’t incite wonder when you lift it up for the first time. You just think, “Oh, yep, it’s pretty light.” This, to me, a long-time Mac user, is a little disappointing because the Air used to be one of the lightest notebooks you could buy. This was the reputation on which the Air name was built.
Through a blend of various alloys of magnesium and carbon fibre, there’s a bevy of PC notebooks today that are lighter. Apple’s decision to stick with heavier aluminium (recycled, of course) has come at the cost of being heavier than some of its PC rivals. But it pays off in other ways. Unlike these ultra-light PC notebooks, the new MacBook Air has heft and feels solid. The upside to this is that it feels like an expensive, well-made item – which is something you can’t say for many of these ultra-light PC notebooks.
Though there are four colours to choose from, I suspect most people won’t care because they’ll just go straight for Midnight, which is, arguably, the star colour of the launch. I like it too because it appears mostly black but every once in a while, depending on how light falls on it, it can appear very slightly blue. One thing to note, however, is that Midnight appears to be an absolute fingerprint magnet. The other new colour is Starlight, which is best described as champagne or pale gold. And there are your safe colours Space Grey and Silver.
You can open the lid with one hand and when you do, you are greeted by a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display. There’s an increasing number of PC notebooks that have OLED displays but sadly the new MacBook Air isn't one of them. It still has an LCD display and it obviously can’t hold a candle to an OLED display. But as far as LCD displays go, it still looks pretty fantastic. 500 nits of brightness means it gets sufficiently bright, a resolution of 2560 x 1664 pixels means it’s sharp, and P3 colour support means vivid colours.
There is also a notch in the middle of the top of the display. I wrote about my thoughts on this at length in my review of the 14-inch MacBook Pro review so I’m not going to do it again. What I’ll say is that, for most people, it’s less of an issue than you might think it is. You will get over it. It’s annoying only if you use menu bar apps (iStat Menu and Music Bar, in case you were wondering) like me. But even I got over it after a few days too.
Crucially, the webcam is a new 1080p unit. The hardware is identical to the one in the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pros except that it benefits from having the more advanced ISP (image signal processor) of the M2 chip (more on this chip later). The images you see are a big step up in improvement over the last MacBook Air. It won't blow your mind but it'll definitely suffice for online meetings.
What’s more important are the ports. Unlike the updated 13-inch MacBook Pro which still only has two USB-C ports, the MacBook Air has two USB-C ports (supports Thunderbolt 3 and USB4) and a MagSafe port. The MagSafe port has gotten some flack for being too strong and not detaching when the cable is tugged on, and I agree that’s a problem. But what’s more pertinent to me is that having a MagSafe port means I don’t have to sacrifice my USB-C ports when I need to charge it. Sadly, there’s no HDMI port or SD card reader, which I suppose is understandable given how thin the notebook is.
The MacBook Air also gets a new keyboard with a full-height row of function keys, Touch ID in the top right corner, and no Touch Bar. Visually, it looks similar to the keyboard on the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro, but as someone who is extremely picky about his keyboards, I can tell that the key feel isn’t the same.
The drop-off in damping is fairly abrupt which gives the keyboard a snappier feel. This reminds me of the dreaded butterfly-switch keyboards on older MacBooks, which isn't necessarily a good thing. The MacBook Pros keyboards feel more rounded and plush. Still, a full-height row of function keys is much welcomed and so is the prominent Touch ID button. I’m also glad that there’s no Touch Bar. Apple makes fabulous trackpads and the MacBook Air’s no different. It’s large, responsive, accurate – everything you’d want from a trackpad.
The speakers are new too. There’s a four-speaker system that supports Spatial Audio when you play compatible content. Considering how thin the MacBook Air is and how there are no visible speaker grilles or cut-outs, the speaker system is a triumph. They get sufficiently loud and the stage that it projects is surprisingly wide and vivid (just play Charlie Puth and Jung Kook’s Left and Right to know). Crucially, there’s little distortion in the sound even at high volumes. Now, while the speakers are good, they are not perfect. There’s some haziness to the sound and the bass, while relatively clean, could be stronger.
Powered by M2
The new MacBook Air is powered by Apple’s newest M2 chip. I’d written about it in greater detail in my M2 13-inch MacBook Pro review so I suggest heading over if you want to find out more. But in a nutshell, here are the high-level highlights of the M2 chip.
- Built using a second-generation 5nm process
- Over 20 billion transistors (25% more than M1)
- Faster unified memory subsystem (up to 100GB/s)
- Support for up to 24GB of memory (up from 16GB)
- 18% faster multi-thread performance at the same power level
- 35% faster graphics thanks to 10 GPU cores (up from 8)
- Improved Neural Engine (15.8 TOPS vs 11 TOPS)
- Media engine with ProRes encode/decode
The MacBook Air comes with two variants of the M2 chip – one with an 8-core GPU and another with a 10-core GPU. Both variants have 8-core CPUs.
The unit I received for testing is the one with 10 GPU cores. It also has 16GB of memory and a 1TB SSD. If you spec your system similarly, it will set you back S$2,749. Yikes.
What’s also interesting and worth mentioning are the bundled chargers. The 8-core GPU version will come with a standard 30W USB-C charger while the buyers of the 10-core GPU versions will be able to choose between a 35W dual USB-C charger or a 67W USB-C charger.
While the dual USB-C charger lets you juice up two devices simultaneously, the more powerful 67W charger lets you fast charge the MacBook Air from 0 to 50% battery capacity in just 30 minutes. Of course, you could also use any third-party charger that’s greater than 67W like Belkin’s new 108W Boost Charge Pro 4-port GaN Charger to fast charge the MacBook Air.