MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Which notebook is for you?

The new $1,199 MacBook Air M2 is a near-perfect MacBook. It delivers record-breaking power and a wealth of smart quality-of-life upgrades, all packed into a completely new (and gorgeous) design that’s somehow lighter than before. There’s a reason it’s our new best laptop pick for Apple users.

That said, it also doesn’t render the older $999 MacBook Air M1 obsolete. Our favorite laptop for almost two years running, the M1-powered MacBook Air is still one of the best-performing notebooks for the price, and while you won’t get all those fancy modern touches , it’s still a beautiful and highly portable machine. Plus, it’s a whole $200 cheaper than the M2 Air — oftentimes less during sales.

Still having a tough time choosing between the M1 and M2 MacBook Air models? Fret not — we can help make that decision easy. Here’s how Apple’s current lineup of MacBook Air models stack up, and how to find the right one for your needs.

Display

13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display

13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600 Retina display

processor

Apple M2

Apple M1

memory

8GB / 16GB / 24GB

8GB / 16GB

Storage

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

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

camera

1080p FaceTime HD

720p FaceTime HD camera

Ports

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

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), headphone jack

Battery life (rated)

Up to 18 hours

Up to 18 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

Color options

Silver, Space Gray, Midnight, Starlight

Silver, Space Gray, Gold

price

$1,199

$999

Mike Andronico/CNN

The MacBook Air M2 isn’t just the most powerful MacBook Air — it’s one of the fastest laptops we’ve ever tested. The latest MacBook Air performed about 16% better than the M1 model on our benchmark tests, which isn’t a night-and-day leap, but still significant. That means even more speed for multitasking between browser tabs, Slack chats and video calls, and even doing some light gaming and video editing. What’s even more impressive is that the MacBook Air M2 largely matched the more expensive $1,299 MacBook Pro M2 on our benchmarks (though it does get warm more easily due to the lack of a fan). So, if future-proofing with high performance is a priority, the MacBook Air M2 is the most powerful laptop for the price.

Despite its upgrades, the new MacBook Air also managed to get sleeker. The MacBook Air M2 adopts an all-new design that’s essentially a shrunken down version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro — which means attractive, uniform edges that take the place of the tapered wedge design that the MacBook Air was famous for. And while it might not be quite as slim in the front as the M1 Air (and has a taller display), it still has less volume overall, and weighs a bit less.

You want the best possible display, webcam and speakers

Mike Andronico/CNN

While the MacBook Air M2 is notably faster than its predecessor, it’s the variety of quality-of-life improvements that make this model a true leap forward. The display is bigger and more seamless than before, ditching the thick black borders of the previous model for much-thinner borders that give you a total of 13.6 inches of real estate. It’s a small bump in size, but one that you’ll definitely notice.

You’ll also enjoy a sharper 1080p webcam for video calls (up from 720p), which again, delivered small but noticeable improvements in our tests. Same goes for the four-speaker sound system, which gets you fuller audio than the stereo speakers in the M1 model. Another small touch we love is the larger physical function keys, which make it even easier to quickly adjust things like brightness, volume and music playback on the fly.

Mike Andronico/CNN

I’d argue that the MacBook Air M2’s biggest advantage over its predecessor is the MagSafe charging port, which, like on the MacBooks of old, can be easily snapped on and off with a quick magnetic connection. It just makes attaching and detaching your charger easier, and helps avoid complete disaster in the event someone trips on your cable.

On top of being more convenient, the MagSafe port also keeps the MacBook Air’s two USB-C ports free for accessories, like storage drives or external monitors. You’ll still likely need a USB-C hub for any heavy-duty work, but having an extra free port always helps. I also like that the new MacBook Air can be configured with a 35W Dual USB-C Port Compact Power Adapter, which sports an extra USB-C connection for charging your phone.

Jacob Krol/CNN

If you’re looking to spend less than $1,000, the MacBook Air M1 is the way to go. The cheaper MacBook Air still runs circles around similarly-priced competitors when it comes to everyday speed, and has roughly the same all-day battery life as the new M2 model.

And while the MacBook Air M1 is already one of the best laptop values ​​out there at $999, it’s often discounted (you can currently snag one for $899 at Best Buy as of this writing). No MacBook truly comes “cheap,” but the M1 is the perfect entry-level Mac.

Jacob Krol/CNN

While the MacBook Air M2 sports a modernized design and is technically lighter, plenty of people may still be drawn to the iconic wedged look that’s been synonymous with the Air for more than a decade. It still looks slimmer thanks to those tapered, thin edges up front, and isn’t quite as tall as the M2 model. And if you’re in the market for a true gold laptop, the M1 model is your best bet — the Starlight MacBook Air M2 is more of a gold/silver hybrid, and doesn’t scream “I’m fancy” in quite the same way.

If asked about the best MacBook to buy, I’d say the MacBook Air M2 in almost every scenario. It’s super powerful, has a gorgeously lightweight design and brings a wealth of small improvements that make working and playing more enjoyable.

That said, if you’re on a budget below $1,000, the MacBook Air M1 is a fantastic purchase that doesn’t sacrifice what matters most. You’ll still get some of the best performance available in a laptop, complete with a great keyboard, long battery life and a perfectly reliable display. And if you already own an M1, there’s no reason to rush out for the new M2 model.

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