MacBook Air M2 review 9

If you need a new Apple laptop, it’s a really good time to buy one. Thanks to the company’s powerful new processors, MacBooks are faster and longer-lasting than ever, and offer a range of options depending on how much power you need. The latest MacBook Air models offer class-leading speed and battery life for relatively attainable prices, while the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros provide lots of ports, more advanced displays and even more power for creative professionals thanks to their M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. After testing all of Apple’s current MacBooks, here are our picks for the ones you should buy right now.

The best MacBooks

The best overall MacBook

The MacBook Air M2 is the ideal MacBook for most people, packing the best performance you can get for the price into a slim, modern design with lots of practical upgrades over the previous generation.

The new MacBook Air M2 offers some of the best laptop performance within a slick, practical design for a reasonable price, making it the best overall MacBook for most people.

A bold refresh from the long-standing Air design we last saw in 2020, the latest MacBook Air mixes things up with more uniform edges, larger physical function keys and a more seamless display that lets you see more at once (as long as you’re cool with a notch). It’s basically a miniature version of the excellent 14-inch MacBook Pro chassis, but without the added power and ports that serious creatives might need. It also remains true to its namesake, with a 2.7-pound, 11.3mm thin design that’s a breeze to pick up and take to work.

The MacBook Air’s shaved-down bezels give the display itself a noticeable bump in real estate (13.6 versus 13.3 inches), and images and videos pop a bit more, thanks to the jump from Apple’s Retina to its Liquid Retina technology. And the Magic Keyboard feels as great as it does on any modern MacBook, with enough travel and feedback to keep us typing away comfortably for hours on end.

Old-school Mac fans will be happy to see the return of the MagSafe charger, which attaches and detaches with a quick magnetic snap to make charging a little easier — and prevent your MacBook Air from hitting the ground if someone trips over the charging cable. The MagSafe connection also keeps the Air’s Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports free for accessories, which is good considering you get only two.

MacBook Air M2 review 1

The MacBook Air M2 offers a wealth of smaller quality-of-life upgrades over its predecessor, including a sharper 1080p webcam and a richer quad-speaker system. But for many folks, the real selling point will be the performance.

The Apple M2 processor that powers the latest Air delivered some of the best speeds we’ve ever tested on a laptop. On top of handling our usual workload (including video calls, messaging apps and countless Chrome tabs) and some light music production without a hiccup, the MacBook Air M2 toppled virtually all competitors on our benchmarks. Apple’s latest laptop produced the highest single-core result we’ve ever gotten from Geekbench 5, and came very close to the pricier MacBook Pro M2 on the multi-core and graphics tests. It also performed about 16% better than the MacBook Air M1 on general performance tests. The M2 Air can even handle some light gaming, though it ran a bit hot and produced some relatively low frame rates when trying to run demanding titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider at higher settings. Still, when it comes to everyday productivity — and some light creative work — this is a machine you can rely on.

The MacBook Air M2 delivered fairly strong battery life in day-to-day use, often going an entire day before needing a recharge. That said, it drained in a pretty quick five hours and 21 minutes during our more demanding 4K video playback test, falling behind the MacBook Pro M2 by roughly 45 minutes. If you plan on doing anything beyond light web surfing and emailing, you’ll want to keep the charger handy.

The new MacBook Air’s improved design and performance does come at the expense of a higher base price: $1,199, a whole $200 more than the MacBook Air M1. We’d recommend going with the 512GB storage configuration (a 256GB solid-state drive will fill up fast), which bumps the machine up to $1,499. You may also want to consider upgrading to 16GB of memory for serious multitasking and general future-proofing, which would bring the total cost to $1,699. But even with those added expenses, we think the MacBook Air M2 is worth the investment for those upgrading for the first time in a while — or getting their first MacBook.

Other MacBooks we recommend

The best budget MacBook

If you're looking to spend less than $1,000 on a MacBook, the older MacBook Air M1 remains a great option. You'll be sacrificing the newer model's larger screen, better webcam and useful MagSafe charger, but you'll still be getting a sleek and powerful laptop that's faster than virtually anything at this price.

The upgrade pick

The 14-inch MacBook Pro's M1 Pro and M1 Max processors offer superb graphics performance for those doing lots of photo, video or animation work, and its healthy port selection — including three USB-C ports, an SD card slot and an HDMI port — let you get right to work without any extra adapters.

How our picks compare

Display

13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display

13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600 Retina display

14.2-inch, 3024 x 1964 Liquid Retina XDR display

Processor

Apple M2

Apple M1

Apple M1 Pro / M1 Max

Memory

8GB / 16GB / 24GB

8GB / 16GB

16GB / 32GB / 64GB (M1 Max only)

Storage

256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD

256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD

512GB / 1TB / 2TB / 4TB / 8TB SSD

Camera

1080p FaceTime HD camera

720p FaceTime HD camera

1080p FaceTime HD camera

Ports

Thunderbolt 4 (2), MagSafe charging port, headphone jack

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), headphone jack

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (3), SDXC card slot, HDMI port, headphone jack, MagSafe charging port

Battery life (rated)

Up to 18 hours

Up to 18 hours

Up to 17 hours

Size and weight

11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches, 2.7 pounds

11.97 x 8.36 x 0.16-0.63 inches, 2.8 pounds

12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches, 3.5 pounds

Color options

Silver, Space Gray, Midnight, Starlight

Silver, Space Gray, Gold

Silver, Space Gray

Price $1,199 $999 $1,999

How we tested

Once we had all the models on hand, we began the unboxing process and charging them up to 100%. (Many laptops come with some power out of the box, but very rarely do they ship topped up.)

As with every CNN Underscored review, we rigorously test devices both quantitatively and qualitatively. For laptops, we made the decision to benchmark first to get a standard for quantitative performance. If you’ve read our standalone laptop, tablet or mobile phone reviews, these tests will be familiar.

We performed GeekBench 5 tests. These run the laptops through a series of workflows and application processes, many of which you’d find yourselves (and we found ourselves) completing on a daily basis.
Regardless of operating system, we put each laptop through our standard battery test, which involves charging the laptop to 100%, setting brightness to 50% and engaging airplane mode to ensure connectivity is off. We then loop a 4K video file with the sound set to 15% until the battery dies and the machine turns off. These tests are monitored in person as well as via two cameras to ensure accuracy.
The combination of battery and benchmark testing gives us a quantitative feel for the devices and a hard number for each that can be used for comparisons. We then used each laptop as our daily driver for work, play and entertainment tasks, testing the battery to see if it could last through a full day of tasks, watching a movie to get a feel for the display and, of course, running a bunch of different applications.

Others we tested

MacBook Pro M2

From $1,299 at Apple

The MacBook Pro M2 offers some of the fastest performance of any laptop we’ve tested, but its design is frustratingly dated. You still get an older Retina display with thick bezels, a 720p webcam and the Touch Bar, which we don’t find nearly as useful as a good set of physical function keys. Unless you specifically want a machine with an internal fan for especially grueling tasks, the cheaper MacBook Air M2 offers virtually the same level of performance — plus a more modern chassis — for a lower price.

MacBook Pro 13-Inch (2020)

$1,149 at Amazon

The M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro was our previous upgrade pick for Apple users, thanks to a slight bump in maximum graphics performance over the M1 MacBook Air. However, it has since been replaced by the new 14-inch MacBook Pro, which offers a much bigger leap in overall performance, has far better ports and ditches the annoying Touch Bar for a more practical set of physical function keys. And if you do want this specific MacBook Pro design, you’re better off getting the more powerful M2 model.

MacBook Pro 16-Inch (2021)

$2,499 $2,199 at Amazon; From $2,499 at Apple

The 16-inch MacBook Pro has everything we love about our upgrade pick in the 14-inch model, just with a larger screen and a few more configuration options for really maxing out the processor. It’s a great choice if those two things matter to you (and if you have the cash to spare), but we think the 14-inch MacBook Pro’s lower starting price and more portable design make it the better pick for most power users.

Now, with the M1 Macs fully available, the performance of these models are a bit dated. If you’re in the market right now, we’d suggest an M1 MacBook Air for most people. That said, if you see a good deal on the Intel 13-inch, it could be worth the plunge.

MacBook Pro 16-Inch (Intel)

$2,399 at Amazon

The 16-inch MacBook Pro from 2019 was previously our video editing and creative laptop of choice, thanks to its strong performance and connectivity options. However, it’s since been phased out by the 2021 16-inch model, which offers far more ports, a more advanced Liquid Retina XDR display and significantly better performance, thanks to your choice of Apple’s M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.