The New 2022 MacBook Air: One Photographer's View After 3 Days

The New 2022 MacBook Air: One Photographer's View After 3 Days

The 2022 MacBook Air is a major departure from models of the past, with a complete redesign, a bigger screen, new color options, and a lot more. Is it the laptop for you? Read on for my review. 

Design

The reveal of the original MacBook Air was one of the most iconic moments in tech history, and as someone whose first Mac was that original design, I can attest to just how thin and portable it was and what a joy it was to use. That wedge design stayed with the line for over a decade. It wasn't until the 2022 release that we received a significant external redesign, but I think Apple has made a lot of good decisions here. 

Gone is the wedge, replaced with a uniform slab that is still extremely thin, only 0.44 inches thick. The screen received a bump in size from 13.3 inches to 13.6 inches, and yet, the new model is 20% smaller in overall volume than its predecessor. New colors are available (Silver, Starlight, Space Gray, and Midnight). I went with Midnight, which is an elegant, very dark blue that looks stunning in person. The 2.7-pound aluminum chassis is solid yet very light, and the shape it cuts is both understated and modern. Along the left side are the MagSafe port and two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, and on the right side is the headphone jack. Altogether, it's a very clean exterior.

What helps that further is the fact that the 2022 MacBook Air is completely passively cooled; that means there's no fan. The machine runs completely silently. More on that later. 

Of course, it is not just the chassis that received a redesign; the 2022 model comes with a variety of new features and specs upgrades. 

Chip and RAM

The 2022 model comes with Apple's new M2 chip, which features an 8-core CPU with 4 performance and 4 efficiency cores, 8- or 10-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine, and 100 GB/s memory bandwidth. The media engine offers hardware-accelerated H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW, and a video decode and encode engine. You can pair that with 8, 16, or 24 GB of RAM. I chose the 10-core GPU chip with 24 GB of RAM to help keep up with some of my more demanding photo and music production tasks.

The Air flies through tasks. For reference, my main workhorse at the moment is a tricked-out 2018 Mac mini, the last generation of that model with an Intel chip. Mine features a 6-core i7-8700b running a 3.2 GHz and 64 GB of RAM, the maximum of both specs. If you like benchmarks, its Cinebench R23 single-core is 1,146, while its multi-core score is 7,969. By comparison, the new Air with the 10-core GPU scores 1,695 on the single-core test and 8,714 on the multi-core, handily competing my not-so-old desktop, which still performs perfectly well, by the way.

In practice, this translates to the ability to keep up with both my daily usage and more power-hungry demands. I normally keep an embarrassingly large number of tabs open (40-60 across three windows), have Photoshop open, along with Outlook, Discord, and a few other miscellaneous apps running in the background. Working on 45-megapixel Canon EOS R5 files in Lightroom, slider movements and other adjustments registered instantly. More complex Photoshop filters worked a treat, handily beating my aforementioned Mac mini. 

Storage

All Air models come with an SSD configurable in four capacities: 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, or 2 TB. I would recommend most people opt for one of the middle two options. I opted for 512 GB. Even though I have a lot of bulky applications, I store most of my documents and files in the cloud, and my hard drive normally has 350-400 GB free. 

Storage speed is plenty quick too, generally giving read and write speeds just a shade under 3,000 MBps. You should note that if you opt for the 256 GB model, the SSD only occupies one NAND chip instead of two, meaning you'll experience read and write speeds about half those quoted above. 

Cooling

As mentioned, the new Air is entirely passively cooled, meaning it's totally silent. It's the sort of thing you don't realize how much you appreciate until you have it. Never hearing a fan spin up is really nice, and it keeps you more focused. I find this particularly important on laptops, where you can't put physical distance between the fans and the speakers, meaning the latter is often competing with the former to be heard. It contributes a lot to the clarity of the computer's audio. Not having a fan also means the case is entirely sealed, meaning it'll never get dust in it. 

The downside to passive cooling is that it is not as effective as active cooling (a fan). This means that despite having the same chip, the M2 MacBook Pro will be faster for sustained heavy tasks. The key point there, though, is "sustained." There's been a lot said about this issue, but in day-to-day usage, I've yet to notice a slowdown. It seems to take the computer 5-6 minutes at maximum demand to begin to throttle. This means that at least for my purposes, throttling will only ever be an issue for something like a video export. Even things like working in Photoshop are generally short bursts of demand that never push it to that point. When the chip does throttle, I've found I lose 10-15% of performance, and to get it to throttle, I have to do things that no one using an ultraportable asks the computer to do on a regular basis. In short, throttling is not an issue.

Display

Though the new M2 chip gets most of the attention, the display really deserves a close look. As mentioned, it's now bigger, and the difference between 13.3 inches and 13.6 inches is both noticeable and appreciated. The Liquid Retina panel, with 2,560 by 1,664 resolution and 224 pixels per inch, supports 1 billion colors and wide color (P3). It received a bump in brightness to 500 nits maximum, making it easier to work in direct light. Also featured is Apple's True Tone technology, which automatically measures ambient color and light to adjust the white balance and brightness of the display. You can turn this off for things like editing photos, but otherwise, it's a nice feature. I've had it on my iPad Pro for several years, and it does a good job of ensuring a consistent experience regardless of the ambient conditions. Altogether, the display is a joy to look at, with vibrant, accurate colors and plenty of brightness for whatever situation you're working in, excellent uniformity, and wide viewing angles. I felt perfectly comfortable doing professional-level work on the computer. 

Webcam and Notch

The webcam has been updated to 1080p, and the difference is noticeable. On the other hand, the Air model has gained the notch for the first time. As someone who is overly sensitive to things in their visual field, I was worried it would bother me, but since it is surrounded by the menu bar on either side and not in the active working area, it disappeared from my mind after a few minutes of usage. If you are worried about it, it's worth noting that the space below the notch is the traditional 16:10 aspect ratio, so, in essence, you have a normal Mac screen with a bit extra for the menu bar up top. 

Battery and Charging

One of the biggest benefits of Apple Silicon is the insane battery life, and that is in abundance here. The battery gets a slight bump in capacity to 52.6 watt-hours, which Apple rates for up to 18 hours of video playback or 15 hours or web browsing. In practice, I found those figures to be in line with normal usage, which is fantastic. In the three hours I spent setting up my Air, installing programs, browsing the web while apps unpacked and data transferred, watching YouTube, and the like, I dropped from 100% to 78%. That's mightily impressive, and it's nice to know I can leave the charger at home.

That being said, the new Air comes with three charging options: a 30-watt USB-C adapter, 35-watt dual USB-C compact adapter, and 67-watt fast-charge USB-C adapter. I opted for the fast-charge option, and it has been nice to have. Being able to add 50% battery in 30 minutes is great, especially when that translates to 8-9 hours of usage. This is really a laptop you don't need to constantly worry about charging. 

And, of course, you can rejoice, because MagSafe is back! The Air comes with MagSafe 3, and as someone who lives in a house with two dogs and two cats who all like to create a metric ton of ruckus, it's a welcome addition. Apple matches the color of the cable to your laptop, which is a nice touch. That being said, if you are traveling light, the Air can still be charged over USB-C as well. 

Ports and Connectivity

The 2022 MacBook Air comes with two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports on the left side, offering up to 40 Gbps of throughput per port. On the right side is a 3.5mm headphone jack. Being that Thunderbolt is a relatively versatile port that allows for plenty of expansion and this is an ultraportable computer, I don't mind having only two options. I do wish, however, that there was one on each side of the laptop instead of placing them right next to each other on the left side. Unfortunately, there is only support for one external display (used simultaneously with the built-in display) at 6K and 60 Hz, so if you plan to work in clamshell mode with multiple monitors, you'll need to upgrade to the MacBook Pro. For wireless connectivity, you have Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 available, both of which are speedy and reliable. I had no problem maxing out my 1 Gbps symmetrical fiber connection.

Keyboard and Trackpad

Coming from my 15.6-inch 2015 MacBook Pro, I was blown away just by the size of the Air's trackpad. I expected it to be smaller simply because this is a smaller computer, but it's bigger — notably so. There's plenty of room to work here, and tracking, multi-touch recognition, pressure-sensing, and palm rejection are all excellent. 

The 2022 model gains full-height function keys, which are nice to have. On top of that, the ambient light sensor does a great job of controlling keyboard backlight brightness automatically. And lastly, Touch ID is available. It isn't something I thought I would ever care that much about in a laptop, but being able to just quickly press my finger to the button for anything from logging in to purchases is actually really nice. Key travel is good, and typing for extended periods is quite comfortable.

Audio

The 2022 Air comes with four speakers, but you won't see any of them. They're all hidden between the display and the keyboard. I was quite impressed by how good they still sound and just how loud they can get. Being a musician, I'll still opt for purpose-built speakers or headphones, but that's not a knock on the Air; I wouldn't use any laptop's speakers for critical listening. That being said, bass, mids, and trebles are all present and well articulated, and stereo separation is good. This means in practice that Zoom calls have clear, easily understood voices, watching videos on YouTube is fun and immersive, and you can easily fill a room with audio if you're watching a movie with friends. Much like camera sensors, when it comes to speakers, bigger is always better, so don't expect miracles, but for normal usage, the Air's speakers do impressively well. The speaker system also brings support for Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos, as well as dynamic head tracking when using AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max. If you decide to use wired headphones, the headphone jack supports high-impedance options.

For speaking, the 2022 Air features a three-microphone array with directional beamforming. In practice, this translates to the ability to be heard clearly, even in loud environments. It's a nice system that handles well, particularly in the age of the video call. 

What I Liked

  • Sleek, attractive design
  • Very light 
  • Easily able to tackle even demanding tasks
  • Completely silent
  • Vibrant, impressive display
  • Good audio
  • 1080p webcam
  • Great keyboard and trackpad
  • All-day battery life

What I Didn't Like

  • Both Thunderbolt ports are on one side
  • Support for only one external display

Conclusion

Simply put: the 2022 MacBook Air is a top-notch laptop in a very portable design. Whereas ultraportables used to sacrifice the ability to tackle power-hungry tasks for the sake of portability, the 2022 MacBook Air can handle even heavy-duty tasks typical of a creative's work. You can get yours here.

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7 Comments
Greg Edwards's picture

I'm still rocking a 15" 2015 MBP as well and thinking about upgrading. However, I'd like to know what made you choose the M2 Air over the 14" M1 MBP?

By the time you've upgraded the M2 ram, GPU and storage, I'm finding it difficult to reconcile the cost compared to the base 14" M1 Pro.

For example, the M2 with the 10 Core GPU, 16GB ram, 512GB SSD comes to £1,749 (yours with 24GB ram is £1,949)
The base model 14" M1 MPB has 14 Core GPU, 16GB ram, 512 GB SSD is £1,899.

For £150 more you get a better GPU, better screen, better audio, more ports (inc SD card slot), better multiple monitor support and no thermal throttling. And it's less than 1lb heavier.

I really am drawn to the M2 Air for my uses (photography and graphic design) but I just feel it's ever so slightly overpriced compared to the 14" M1 pro which other than a slight portability difference, seems to be an all round superior machine.

Alex Herbert's picture

This seems to be the conscensus amonst most tech review sites. The M1 MBP is being called the better choice.

Greg Edwards's picture

Indeed. I've noticed this elsewhere too. Not to say the M2 Air is a bad machine. It's not at all. But there used to be a clearer divide between the hardware and pricing of Macbooks, Macbook Airs and Macbook Pros. The distinction is getting increasingly blurred. The only way the M2 Air seems to be worth it is if you stick with the base model configurations.

Tony Clark's picture

I too am still using a Mid'15 MBP and will be interested in the next MBP specs, I bought mine refurbished in '16 and think I've got my money out of it.

Greg Edwards's picture

Indeed. I bought mine used but in great condition sometime around 2016. It's been a great machine but it's showing its age now. I had the battery replaced a year or so ago by a local apple repair business, but the new battery isn't great and is already telling me to get it serviced after only 50 or so cycles. I've replaced the thermal paste to try and help the ridiculous high fan usage and was tempted to install a new SSD. But quite frankly, it's really not worth throwing any more money at it. I think I might hold off until new M2 MBPs are released then try and pick up a discounted M1 Pro.

Jacob H.'s picture

I've been using Macs and MacBook since 1995, but todays line-up seems the best ever. Also comparing this to other brands. One of our tech support colleagues uses the new Air M2 for on-site tethered shooting almost all day and travels by train back and forth between Zurich and Luzern. She claims she can do this without charging during the day and she leaves the charger at home.

I think the use case for the Air is the typical road warrior who needs to travel light. The MBP 14 is for more universal/mixed use and the MBP 16 for those predominantly looking to replace a desktop machine.

The spacing is typical Apple: when you spec-up the 'lower-end' machine you end up with a $150-200 stepping-stone to the next level. That way there's always a choice, but whatever you decide you're in camp Apple. Clever marketing.

I guess I've spent well over $45k on iMacs and MBPs over the past two-and-half decades (I'm only counting my gear, not that of my colleagues) and I've found out that I always over-spec my stuff. With the Intel-based machines that was fine as there wasn't that much headroom, but with these new M-lines you can save a lot of money by just buying what you need now. Remember, a lot of these YouTubers perform a lot of crazy multitask performance benchmarks to determine the limit that regular users hardly ever encounter in daily practice.

Greg Edwards's picture

I've been using them a long time too. My introduction to macs was a Centris 650, and various models of Power PC, G3, G4 etc along the way, but it wan't until around 2006 that I was in a position to actually own my own mac and got an Core2Duo imac.

I've noticed there's always been a clear distinction between macbook and mabook pro, in terms of spec, price and build. But I guess the Air came along and blurred the lines, especially now that the lowly MacBook doesn't exist in their line up - it appear the iPad has taken its place.

I've never paid full, brand new price for a mac. Always a refurb or used, and I'm quite usually quite happy being a generation behind. However, the 14" Pro is the first machine that appears to be a real replacement for my old 2015 15" pro, that was long regarded as the best MBP Apple produced.

I'm not really in a position to buy right now anyway, so I'll likely hold off until maybe next year, or when the M2 Pro's are released and pick up a discounted M1 Pro.