The MacBook Air has been an iconic laptop design since Steve Jobs slid it out of a manila envelope in 2008. This year’s model, which Apple just announced at WWDC and is also the first Apple laptop to come with an M2 chip, abandons the famous wedge shape but also improves almost everything else about the Air.
The first thing you notice? Colors! The new design is 11mm thick and weighs 2.7 pounds, and while it is now a more traditional slab-shaped design, it comes in a very handsome dark blue called “midnight” and a light gold called “starlight” in addition to the familiar silver and space gray.
They’re not quite as colorful as, say, the new iMacs, but the midnight color is a particularly cool dark option in the lineup.
The display is now larger at 13.6 inches and gets closer to the edge of the lid because the 1080p camera has been hidden in a notch. On this smaller unit, the notch seems a little bigger than the one on the MacBook Pro, but over time, it seems likely to fade out of notice like every other display notch.
The display is also able to hit 500 nits of brightness and supports the P3 wide color gamut for a billion colors, both nice improvements. We played with the camera a little bit, and it looked great in Apple’s brightly lit hands-on area, but we’ll have to test the company’s claims of 2x low light improvement over the old Air when we get a review unit.
Ports-wise, it’s not a lot, but the notable addition is MagSafe charging, which allows both Thunderbolt ports to stay available while charging. The audio jack supports high-impedance headphones, which is nice. The full-size Touch ID button is also a nice addition since it’ll be a lot harder to miss when you’re trying to turn the computer on.
Of course, the biggest change to the Air is inside the case, with the new M2 chip that Apple says offers 1.4x the performance of the M1 model depending on the task, assuming you pick the one with an eight-core CPU and a 10-core GPU.
That’s a $100 upsell over the standard M2, which has only eight GPU cores; the laptop also comes with only 8GB of unified memory by default, with the 16GB and 24GB configurations costing $200 and $400 more, respectively. During the keynote, Apple said the M2 MacBook Air offered 38 percent faster “video editing performance” and 20 percent faster “image filters and effects performance” but didn’t specify which apps it used for that benchmark.
Apple’s also quoting “18 hours” of battery life, but that number is for video playback with all the radios off. I’d assume the M2 gets the same stellar all-day battery life as the M1 Air, but 18 hours is definitely not realistic.
In addition to the color-matched MagSafe charging cables that come with each laptop, you may get to pick from up to three different chargers. We got a peek at the brand-new dual-port 35W USB-C charger above, and there’s also a 67W USB-C fast charger, both of which are upsells from the 30W charger that comes with the base model. You can get either of the upgrade chargers for an extra $20 with your purchase or your pick of one free with the pricier $1,499 model.
The new iteration of MagSafe for Mac is officially known as MagSafe 3, and it works exactly like the previous MagSafe implementation. There’s a small rectangular magnet-topped charging connector that fits into the five-pin charging slot, with the magnets securing the fit.
There’s a USB-C port at the other end of the charging cable that is meant to plug into a power adapter to power the Mac. Apple transitioned to MagSafe largely for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is now able to charge at up to 140W, a charging speed not supported by USB-C cables.
When a MagSafe to USB-C cable is paired with the 140W USB-C Power Adapter that comes with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the MacBook Pro can be charged at up to 140W, and it powers up quicker than it would with a USB-C based charging solution limited to 100W.
It’s only 16-inch MacBook Pro models that max out at 140W, but the 14-inch machines also use MagSafe charging for cohesiveness. The lower-end 14-inch machines ship with a 67W power adapter but can take advantage of a 96W power adapter, while the higher-end 14-inch machines ship with the 96W adapter.
Apple also has MagSafe technology for the iPhone, but it works differently. Rather than magnets built into a specific charging area, Apple added a ring of magnets around the Qi-based wireless charging coils, which allows for a close fit and faster charging speeds. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models use the magnet ring to connect to accessories that also have magnets built inside, so it’s not limited to just charging technology.
Cases are the same way, snapping onto the magnet ring built into the iPhone. The design of the magnet ring allows the iPhone 12 models to be compatible with a whole range of accessories that rely on magnets, from chargers to mounts to cases.
iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models have a ring of 18 rectangular magnets arranged in a circular shape located underneath the wireless charging coil in each device, which is what allows the MagSafe magic to happen.
The MagSafe Charger looks something like a larger Apple Watch Charging Puck with an aluminum body and a soft white material at the top of the charger. The charger snaps onto an iPhone with magnets inside, perfectly aligning the charging coil in the MagSafe Charger with the charging coil in the iPhone.
Repair site iFixit took apart a MagSafe Charger and did an x-ray to show us the charger’s internal design. As with the iPhone, there are a series of magnets inside that are compatible with the magnets in the iPhone that surround an internal charging coil and a circuit board that manages the charging process.
Apple has also designed the MagSafe Duo Charger, which combines a MagSafe charger with an Apple Watch charging puck. The charger is foldable, making it ideal for travel, and costs $129.
The MagSafe Duo Charger is not able to charge an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 at the full 15W. With Apple’s 20W charger, the MagSafe Duo chargers at a maximum of 11W, and with a 27W or higher USB-C power adapter, it charges at up to 14W. The MagSafe Duo does not come with a power adapter and a charger must be purchased separately. Note that the 29W charger from Apple is not compatible, but the 30W version is.
In general, the new Air definitely feels less like an iconic and unique device and more like the rest of Apple’s lineup; that boxy shape and keyboard setup are remarkably similar to the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard combo. But it’s still a good-looking, cleanly made computer, and I have to say: the bezels on my M1 Air suddenly look gigantic.