I purchased an M1 MacBook Air the day it was released in November 2020, so I’m pretty familiar with the model’s strengths and limitations. And the M2 Air behaves so similarly it can be hard to tell them apart.
Whether that’s disappointing or not depends largely on your perspective.
If you’re shopping for a brand-new laptop for the first time in three years, it will be hard not to be wowed by the M2 Air. But, if you’re thinking of upgrading from the M1 Air, you’re likely to be far less impressed with the performance gains.
Consider the stuff you typically do on a laptop: Maybe you spend a few minutes every morning reading your email before shifting to Facebook or Twitter to see what people are saying about the day’s news. Then maybe you throw on a podcast or playlist while wrapping up a couple of documents for work: You’ve got a PowerPoint deck due at noon and a Word document to edit by the end of the day. Add in some video calls, yet more email, and a last-minute request to edit a podcast and you’ve more than earned your nightly YouTube session.
Okay, maybe I’m describing more or less what my day looks like, but I’d wager it’s relatively close to the average person’s in terms of software use and tasking.
So how does the M2 Air handle all of that? Great, actually! Is it any better than it is with the M1? Hope you’ve got a stopwatch handy.
Let’s start with browsing the web. Even taking into account the crazy state of the web, with performance-sapping auto-playing video and ad trackers embedded in every other page, the M2 handles that chore with ease. No slowdowns, stutters, sitting around waiting and wondering if your laptop has crashed while trying to load last night’s baseball scores.
Apple can’t fix what the web has become, but the M2 Air makes browsing about as pleasant as can be.
Now let’s try something a little more challenging: spreadsheets.
For a big project here at CR, I recently found myself buried inside some truly gargantuan spreadsheets. We’re talking thousands upon thousands of rows of data that had to be analyzed and cross-referenced with other sets of data. It’s sorta fun, in a way, but also pretty taxing on your CPU. Even my gaming desktop struggled to load these spreadsheets smoothly.
Not so on the M2, which was able to fly through them with ease, rendering each cell quickly and without error.
I then did a little multimedia work.
Specifically, I wanted to see how long the M2 would take to edit a couple of audio tracks for a personal podcast project and then how long it would take iMovie to spit out a 1080p version of a 4K test video shot on my iPhone.
For podcasts, I typically use Audacity to edit the audio, mainly because a) it’s free; and b) I’m used to it. So how long did it take the M2 to take two separate, 30-minute audio tracks and turn them into a single 192kpbs stereo MP3? A grand total of 10 seconds. That same project with my M1 Air? Try 11 seconds.
So, yeah, faster, but not something to write home about.
The video experiment was a little more interesting.
Using the latest version of iMovie downloaded from the Mac App Store, the M2 Air was able to take a one-minute long, 4K 60-frames-per-second video and turn it into a one-minute long 1080p, 30-frames-per-second video in 22 seconds. That same file on my M1 Air? 26 seconds.
Four seconds may not seem like a lot, but if your life revolves around editing video—perhaps you’re a budding YouTuber or about to enter film school—that may well represent a significant improvement once you start spending hours a day working on video and audio tracks.