The MacBook Air M2 is so good it's given Apple a problem

 MacBook Air (2022, M2)
MacBook Air (2022, M2)

I’ve been using the MacBook Air M2 13-inch for just over a year, and I'm now completely besotted with this slim-and-light laptop with its custom chip.

This is an unexpected development. The sheer volume of interesting stuff that crosses my path each year is usually enough to ensure that my attention flits about from device to device, rarely settling on one for long. And while I've used a MacBook Air in the past – we’re talking about the venerable 11-inch MacBook Air back in 2016 – I’ve been a Windows PC user for decades and have long felt more comfortable with Microsoft’s operating system than with macOS.

Notably, I've loved using Microsoft Surface laptops – their keyboards are awesome, in my humble opinion – as well as the Dell XPS 13 and various Lenovo ThinkPad machines. But while my interest in those devices always faded, the same hasn’t happened with the MacBook Air M2.

More than the sum of its parts

Screenshots from WWDC 2022
Screenshots from WWDC 2022

Now, I fully appreciate that for a 13-inch laptop, the MacBook Air M2 is pricey and somewhat limited in terms of port selection. And the upgrade in performance offered by the M2 chip isn’t night-and-day apart from the M1 chip; as fellow Managing Editor Matt Hanson pointed out in his MacBook Air M1 review, the older model offers fantastic performance for a great price that can erode the appeal of the M2 model.

However, there are two main factors that have me waxing lyrical over the M2 MacBook Air.

The first is the extra graphics power of the M2 chip in the 13-inch MacBook Air – providing you go for the 10-core GPU only available in the 512GB model. Despite being a laptop that's light enough to pick up with two fingers, the MacBook Air M2 can run the likes of Total War: Warhammer 3, a game that can make my slightly long-in-the-tooth gaming PC splutter. Sure, I’m not getting liquid frame rates but it’s playable. As are a neat selection of superb games including Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Disco Elysium; hardly demanding titles, but great on a lightweight laptop.

And then there's the MacBook Air M2's design. While its predecessor may have impressed on performance, its older looks left me cold; I’m not a fan of large bezels on small laptops. However, the M2 Air has a flatter style that echoes the aesthetic of the latest MacBook Pros. Given that we stated in our MacBook Pro 14-Inch (2023) review that it was "pretty much perfect" on this front, that's no bad thing.

Sure, the display notch can look a bit silly if you really stare at it. But macOS has got good at making it less noticeable, and in general I think it's a decent compromise, given the benefits of the camera it holds. As for the display itself, the increased ‘real-estate’ on offer, backed up by the impressive color calibration of Apple's Retina display, gives me a laptop that is comfortable to use without an external display.

Add in a lengthy battery life, Thunderbolt connectivity, and a neat MagSafe charger, and I feel like the MacBook Air M2 is pretty much the perfect everyday laptop.

So where does Apple go next?

The Apple MacBook Air 2022 laptop on a stand
The Apple MacBook Air 2022 laptop on a stand

But there’s the rub. I’m not sure where Apple can go next with the MacBook Air.

Yes, the Cupertino crew took the 2022 Air and stretched it a bit to make a bigger model earlier this year; read our MacBook Air 15-inch (2023) for our thoughts on that device. But that was hardly a revolution; Dell and Microsoft have been making slim 13-inch and 15-inch laptops for years.

Apple will almost certainly make improvements with its M-series chips to get more power and efficiency out of its slices of silicon. And I'm sure the display notch will shrink down over time. But such incremental upgrades are relatively boring, and it would take more than that to capture my attention.

One obvious - and genuinely exciting - upgrade would be to give the MacBook Air a touch screen. Hardly new in terms of tech, but a real departure for MacBooks, given that Apple has doggedly refused to take that step before. Combined with the ability to use iOS apps in macOS, a touch screen would make sense.

A move to a higher refresh-rate display would also be welcome, but that could see the Air move closer to the Pro MacBooks in terms of price, and in turn weaken the  thinner model's position as a premium ultraportable laptop that’s not too expensive to justify.

One of the problems of the M2 MacBook Air is that it feels laser-focused on being an everyday laptop, taking you from a day of work into an evening of pleasure. But while the Air is capable, it’s not trying to be anything it’s not, such as a 2-in-1 or a machine for creative professionals or gamers. And I think any short-terms upgrades beyond a better processor could chip away at that focus the Air has.

Basically, Apple has made a laptop that’s so good it’ll struggle to beat it. And that could be a problem.

If Cupertino goes down the incremental upgrade route, the Air could stagnate in the way that the XPS 13 line has. That model hasn't had a step change in terms of design in some time, and while the Dell XPS 13 Plus was interesting, it fell short of impressing us.

My hope is that Apple doesn't try to hurry out, say, a MacBook Air M3, and instead gives its current Air models room to breathe. Doing so would give it the time to cook up a new MacBook Air which genuinely pushes ultraportable laptops further, potentially using OLED or mini-LED panels when they become affordable enough, for instance. It's a nice problem to have, but the M2 MacBook Air is simply too good to need replacing any time soon.

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