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Hands On: Apple’s M2 MacBook Air Ditches the Wedge

Photo: Brian Westover

With an Apple M2 chip and a redesigned, slimmer chassis, the new MacBook Air is more than just a simple upgrade. Check out our first impressions.

By Brian Westover

The biggest product news out of Apple’s WWDC keynote wasn’t related to iPhones or the Apple Watch. Instead, it was the debut of the M2 processor and the all-new, all-different MacBook Air. In addition to the latest processor, the Air is getting its biggest redesign in years, bringing it alongside the latest entries in the Mac family, like the MacBook Pro and the Mac Studio.

Apple invited us to head out to California for the event, giving us our first opportunity to test out the slimmer-than-ever laptop. Here’s what we saw and what we think about it.

Wedge No More

It’s hard to pin down any one change as the most important in a redesign that’s so comprehensive, but there’s one change that’s certainly the most obvious: The tapered wedge profile that the Air made iconic is gone. Shrunk from an already-slim 16mm down to a svelte 11.6mm thick, the new Air drops the taper for a rectangular profile that has a consistent thickness from front to back.

Photo: Brian Westover

But it still manages to be one of the slimmest laptops around, shaving 20% of the volume of the previous model, and cramming more power than ever into the 13-inch design. Which raises the obvious question: How does it feel?

Lifting, opening, and typing on the MacBook Air felt surprisingly solid. The aluminum chassis is just as rigid as on past models, and the smooth action of the hinge made one-handed opening a breeze. The 2.7-pound weight is also crazy lightweight—this is one laptop you’ll hardly know you’re carrying when it’s in a bag.

Shades of Gray (and Black)

The new Air is also available in different colors. But, if you were expecting the candy-colored rainbow of hues seen on the iPhone or the iMac, think again. The new MacBook Air starts with bare aluminum and offers four successively darker shades: silver, Starlight, Space Gray, and Midnight.

Photo: Brian Westover

In addition to finally being available in black (Midnight), the MacBook Air also comes with color-matched charging accessories, so your power connector will match whatever color tone your Air has. But the charging block, which now has a compact design with two Thunderbolt connections, doesn’t match. It’s only offered in white.

Return of the MagSafe

The port selection of the MacBook Air follows the template set by the previous model, with one major change. In addition to a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports for connecting accessories and external displays, and a lone headphone jack on the right for sound, Apple has brought back a fan favorite: the super-convenient MagSafe connector.

Photo: Brian Westover

The magnetically attached power connector is more than just a convenience, lining up whenever you bring the power plug close enough. It’s also a safety enhancement, reducing the catastrophic aspects of tripping over a laptop power cable, and reducing the damage that older barrel plugs and newer USB-C chargers can experience when bumped.

Bigger Screen, a Billion Colors

The MacBook Air comes in just one size, but the sleek laptop is closer to the old 12-inch MacBook than the previous 13-inch Air, despite offering a larger 13.6-inch display. With ultra-slim bezels, it puts more visible screen in front of users, while still paring down the overall dimensions of the laptop.

And it’s colorful, too. The Liquid Retina display looks amazing, with 500 nits of brightness that makes the 1-billion-color panel really pop. The new Air also gets a sharper 2,560-by-1,664-pixel panel that looks suitably premium.

Photo: Brian Westover

Above the display is a 1080p webcam, which looks better than any of the 720p cameras used on past MacBook Air models.

Under the Hood: Apple M2 Inside

Finally, the new MacBok Air benefits from major upgrades to the computing hardware, and it’s all about the M2 chip. The first of the second-generation Apple Silicon CPUs, the M2 promises speedier performance, better graphics capability, and more energy efficiency than the previous M1 chips and possibly than equivalent Intel processors. We’ll have to wait until we can run some tests to actually speak to these claims, but there was no denying that the MacBook Air models we saw were snappy and smooth, offering the sort of notably nimble responsiveness that comes with a big step up in capability.

Photo: Brian Westover

But for our hands on, a different aspect of the hardware was especially notable. Like past MacBook Air models, the new Air cuts down on thickness by using a fanless design, letting the processor keep cool through a simple heat sink and passive airflow. No fans means that this is a silent machine as well as a slim one.

The Air Apparent

We’ve long considered the MacBook Air to be one of the most influential designs in laptops. It helped usher in the ultraportable laptop category, and has set the tone for great machines that are still super-efficient.

That’s just as true today as ever, with the new MacBook Air rethinking several facets of the MacBook Air without betraying the core ethos of the machine. It’s always been light; this one is lighter. It’s always been thin; this one is thinner. And it does it all while adding function and capability that the previous MacBook Air just didn’t have.

Photo: Brian Westover

But this is also the first time in years that we’ve looked at the Air as something other than Apple’s entry-level laptop. That’s now changed. It may not be as expensive as the MacBook Pro—the new M2-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro is $100 more than the Air’s $1,199 base price—but it’s been a long time since the MacBook Air felt as premium as its Pro siblings. And that’s an impressive feat.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.

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