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It can be hard to choose between the two available MacBook Air models; the processor isn’t the only difference between them. The MacBook Air M2 (2022) has an upgraded display, webcam, aesthetics, and battery life. It’s a strict upgrade over the MacBook Air M1 (2020), but it’s also $200 more expensive. Whether it’s worth the upgrade depends on your priorities in a laptop.
The MacBook Air M1 is a beautiful laptop. Its near-weightless, thin design makes it a no-brainer to toss your MacBook into your bag wherever you go. (The MacBook Air M2 is even thinner!) Both laptops are stunning, but they come in slightly different color configurations. You can’t get a gold MacBook Air M2 or blue-black MacBook Air M1.
While the feel of the keyboard and trackpad are the same on both laptops, there are some slight differences. The MacBook Air M1’s trackpad is already enormous, but the MacBook Air M2’s trackpad is a teensy bit larger. The MacBook Air M2 also ditches the MacBook Air M1’s half-height function row on its keyboard for a full-height row.
The MacBook Air M2’s biggest feature upgrades are its 1080p webcam and its addition of a MagSafe charging port. The lack of a dedicated charging port was one of the MacBook Air M1’s largest annoyances since it only has two Thunderbolt ports and a headphone jack.
With the added charging port, you don’t have to clog up one of your two Thunderbolt ports when charging. Meanwhile, the 1080p webcam on the MacBook Air M2 looks great. It’s a big difference from the MacBook Air M1’s 720p webcam, which is grainier and needs more light to look good.
The MacBook Air M1 pulls ahead in audio performance. For some reason, Apple decided to remove the speaker grille from the MacBook Air M2’s chassis. If the audio sounds like it’s muffled, that’s because it is. That’s disappointing given that the two MacBook Air models have the same speaker drivers.
Our pick: MacBook Air M2
While the MacBook Air M1’s display is impressive, the MacBook Air M2 has a few improvements. The MacBook Air M1 uses the Retina display, which is a 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600p monitor with 400 nits of peak brightness and support for millions of colors on the P3 color gamut. Meanwhile, the MacBook Air M2 uses the Super Retina display, which is a 13.6-inch 2560 x 1664p panel with 500 nits of peak brightness and support for billions of colors on the P3 color gamut.
If you watch a lot of HDR content or use a lot of gradients in your day-to-day life, the MacBook Air M2 holds a slight advantage. While the extra pixels give a slightly larger work area in theory, in practice the horizontal strip of display that lines up with the webcam notch on the MacBook Air M2 is blacked out in many applications. In everyday use, you won’t notice much difference between the two displays. They both support the full sRGB and P3 color gamuts, have basically identical pixel density (technically the M1 model is 1% denser), and get bright enough to use in a well-lit office.
But the MacBook Air M2’s extra brightness and better color gradients are enough to give it the win.
Our pick: MacBook Air M2
The M2 processor is the improved version of the M1 processor. The new processor’s cores are slightly more powerful and notably more efficient than the M1’s cores. With both the M1 and M2 processors on the MacBook Air, you get eight processing cores, four performance and four efficient.
When you’re doing something simple, like browsing a website or writing a paper, your single core performance will matter more than your multicore performance, since there’s no reason to spread your task’s workload over multiple cores when one core can do the job. Tasks with lots of moving parts, like editing a Photoshop file or playing a video game, will make use of the multiple cores (and drain your battery faster, since it needs more power).
The M2’s gains over the M1 are more noticeable in multicore performance than they are in single-core performance. It’s only 11% faster in single-core tasks, and the M1 is already as fast as some high-end processors on Windows laptops. On the MacBook Air M1, Google Chrome only starts to drag after opening fifty tabs, for instance.
Meanwhile, the M2 is 15% to 18% faster in multicore tasks. If you’re a heavy power user or plan on using your MacBook Air to the limit, you would notice slightly better performance. The M2 also has a ProRes decode engine that’s just for handling media, so media creators will benefit from the upgrade more than most. Otherwise, the M1 is plenty powerful already.
Our pick: MacBook Air M2
Storage speed performance
Unfortunately, the MacBook Air M2’s storage read and write speeds are much slower than the MacBook Air M1’s same speeds. In our testing, the MacBook Air M2’s SSD was up to 50% slower than the MacBook Air M1’s SSD.
With such a drastic drop in performance, downloading and installing files will take longer, as will uploading or accessing files. The processor gains are not worth the storage slowdown if you frequently move or reference files, like in gaming or video editing.
Our pick: MacBook Air M1
We still have yet to find a Windows laptop with longer battery life than the MacBook Air M1. It can pull 11 hours and 42 minutes from a full battery before it needs to charge again (the longest-lasting Windows laptop, the Lenovo Yoga 6, lasted a little over ten hours).
But these are rookie numbers compared to the MacBook Air M2, which lasts for 17 hours and 10 minutes. If you somehow need even more battery life than that, your options are the MacBook Pro 13 M2 (19 hours and two minutes) or the MacBook Pro 16 M1 Max (22 hours and 32 minutes).
Our pick: MacBook Air M2
Configurations and price
At base configuration, both models come with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage, but the MacBook Air M2 will cost $200 more. However, any upgrades you make on either model cost the same. On the MacBook Air M1, you can upgrade up to 16GB of memory and 2TB of storage. Meanwhile, the MacBook Air M2 comes with up to 24GB of memory, 2TB of storage, and two extra graphics cores over the base M2 model.
While most people will be satisfied with a base model of either laptop, if you want to future-proof your laptop, you should consider getting at least 16GB of memory and a 512GB storage drive. The memory and storage quantities will affect your day-to-day experience more than your choice of processor when comparing the M1 and M2. That said, the base MacBook Air M1 is a great laptop for $999, and it’s been on sale for as low as $850.
Our pick: Tie
And the winner is…
The MacBook Air M2 is the better laptop, but the MacBook Air M1 is close behind.
If you can afford to spend $200 more, the MacBook Air M2 is the better pick. It has a separate charging port, a brighter screen, a better webcam and keyboard, significantly more battery life, and slightly more performance power.
The MacBook Air M1 is the better choice for those looking to save a bit of money. It’s older, so it’s more likely to go on sale, and you wouldn’t be sacrificing much. The MacBook Air M1 has almost 12 hours of battery life and a bright, color-accurate 2K Retina display. It also sounds better than the MacBook Air M2, and its faster storage speeds close the performance gap between the two laptops’ processors.
When the MacBook Air M1 is already as fast as some of the best Windows laptops, the MacBook Air M2’s upgrades feel more like creature comforts than essential improvements. You can’t go wrong with either laptop.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.