Apple MacBook Air with M2 processor review

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I bought a MacBook Air M1 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 that it can be hard to tell them apart.

Whether that’s disappointing or not largely depends on your perspective.

If you’re buying a brand-new laptop for the first time in three years, it’ll be hard not to be wowed by the M2 Air. But, if you’re considering upgrading from the M1 Air, you’re likely to be far less impressed with the performance gains.

Consider what you usually do on a laptop: maybe you spend a few minutes each morning reading your emails before switching to Facebook or Twitter to see what people are saying about the day’s news. Then, maybe you start a podcast or a playlist while summarizing some documents for work: you have a PowerPoint presentation to turn in at noon and a Word document to edit by the end of the day. Add in a few video calls, even more emails, and a last-minute request to edit a podcast, and you’ve more than earned your nightly YouTube session.

Ok, so maybe I’m more or less describing what my day is like, but I’d bet it’s relatively close to that of the average person in terms of software and task usage.

So how does the M2 Air handle all of this? Great, actually! Is it better than with the M1? Hope you have a stopwatch handy.

Let’s start by browsing the web. Even considering the crazy state of the web, with auto-playing videos and ad trackers embedded in every other page, the M2 handles this chore with ease. No lags, stutters, waiting and wondering if your laptop crashed trying to load last night’s baseball scores.

Apple can’t fix what the web has become, but the M2 Air makes browsing as enjoyable as possible.

Now let’s try something a little more difficult: spreadsheets.

For a big project here at CR, I recently found myself buried in some truly gargantuan spreadsheets. We’re talking thousands and thousands of rows of data that had to be parsed and cross-referenced with other data sets. It’s kind of fun, in a way, but also quite taxing on your CPU. Even my gaming desktop struggled to load these spreadsheets smoothly.

This is not the case on the M2, which was able to cycle through them easily, rendering each cell quickly and error-free.

I then did a little multimedia work.

Specifically, I wanted to see how long the M2 would take to edit a few 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 generally use Audacity to edit 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 192kbps stereo MP3? A grand total of 10 seconds. This same project with my M1 Air? Try 11 seconds.

So yes, faster, but not something to get excited about.

The video experience was a bit more interesting.

Using the latest version of iMovie downloaded from the Mac App Store, the M2 Air was able to take a one-minute 4K video at 60fps and turn it into a one-minute 1080p video at 30fps. video per second in 22 seconds. This same file on my M1 Air? 26 seconds.

Hmm!

Four seconds might not sound like a lot, but if your life revolves around video editing (perhaps you’re an aspiring YouTuber or about to enter film school), it might just be a significant improvement once you’ll start spending hours a day working on video and audio tracks.

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