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MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Which MacBook should you buy?

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1 composite image
(Image credit: Future)

Update: If your MacBook Air is older than six years, it's time to get a new one.

The MacBook Air M2 is finally here. Like the recently released MacBook Pro M2, this new notebook is the latest to feature the Apple M2 chip – making it one of the most performant and overall best laptops you can buy. Despite its steep $1,199 starting price, it’s arguably worth every penny due to the value it provides.

With that said, the previous MacBook Air M1 shouldn’t be dismissed simply because there’s a new iteration on the market. Though it’s now a generation older, this notebook still delivers exceptional performance and battery life – even eclipsing some of the best Windows laptops. Due to those factors and its relatively affordable $999 cost, it’s not unreasonable that some would believe the MacBook Air M1 is the better deal.

Below, we pit the MacBook Air M2 against the MacBook Air M1 in an attempt to determine which laptop you should buy. Here is how the old and new MacBook Air stack up.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Specs

MacBook Air 2022MacBook Air 2020
Pricefrom $1,199from $999
Display13.6 inches (2560 x 1664)13.3 inches (2560 x 1600)
CPU8 cores (M2)8 cores (M1)
RAM8GB, 16GB, 24GB8GB, 16GB
GPU8-10 cores (M2)7 cores (M1)
Storage256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Camera1080p 720p
Ports2 Thunderbolt 3/USB 4, headphone jack, MagSafe charging2 Thunderbolt 3/USB 4, headphone
Battery life (tested)14 hours, 6 minutes14 hours, 40 minutes
Dimensions11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.7 pounds2.8 pounds

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Price 

The MacBook Air M2 has a starting price of $1,199. Conversely, the MacBook Air M1 costs $999. However, some retailers tend to lower the latter's price during shopping holidays like Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday.

The Air M2 costs more than its predecessor but justifies this price due to its new design and updated components, including the Apple M2 chip. But as we’ll go over below, these updates may not be a big deal for some people.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Design 

True to its moniker, the MacBook Air M2 is an ultra-thin and ultra-light laptop. As we said in our review, it’s so thin that it could be mistaken for an iPad when closed. Measuring 0.44 inches thick with the lid open, even a regular Bic pen looks chunky next to the Air M2.

Despite being 20% smaller than the previous Air in terms of volume, it has a bigger 13.6-inch display thanks to the laptop’s thinner bezels. Like the MacBook Pro 14-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch, the Air M2 has a notch at the top of the screen. This might be distracting to some since the notch breaks the aesthetics by stretching down to the bottom of the Menu bar.

MacBook Air M2 2022

The MacBook Air M2 features an updated design akin to 2021's MacBook Pros. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The 2.7-pound all-aluminum chassis balances durability and light weight. If you want your Air M2 to stand out, you can get it in Starlight (pale gold) or Midnight (dark blue). Silver or Space Gray colors are also available for those who prefer a conservative appearance.

The MacBook Air M1 has the wedge-shaped machined-aluminum chassis that the line had long been known for. Similar to its Intel-powered predecessor, it measures 11.9 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches and weighs 2.8 pounds. It comes in Gold, Silver and Space Gray.

Apple MacBook Air M1 (late 2020) review

The MacBook Air M1 has the tapered design long associated with the Air series. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Unless you’re a big fan of the old tapered design, the Air M2 arguably wins in the design department since it sports a fresh and modern look.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Display 

The MacBook Air M2 has a bright and colorful 13.6-inch (2560 x 1664) Retina panel that’s perfect for watching videos, editing photos and more.

Per our lab tests, the Air M2 averaged 489 nits of brightness and peaked at 495 nits with HDR content. It also registered 107% of the sRGB color gamut and 75.9% of the more demanding DCI-P3 color space.

MacBook Air 2022 display

The MacBook Air M2 features a gorgeous 13.6-inch Retina display. (Image credit: Future)

The MacBook Air M1 features a 13.3-inch (2560 x 1600) pixel Retina display that’s adept at showing fine detail in whatever content you’re watching. According to our colorimeter test, the MacBook Air M1 produces 114.3% of the sRGB spectrum and is capable of producing up to 365.8 nits of brightness.

While the Air M1 produces a tad more of the sRGB color gamut, the Air M2 is decidedly brighter. In addition, the new laptop has a higher pixel count due to its larger screen. The MacBook Air M2 wins this round.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Performance 

The new MacBook Air packs the equally new Apple M2 chip. The M2-powered MacBook Pro impressed us during our testing and we’re happy to report that the Air M2 is another stunner. It’s no surprise that the latest MacBook Air defeats the previous model, performance-wise.

On Geekbench 5.4, which measures overall performance, the MacBook Air M2 scored 8,919 on the multi-core portion of the test. On Geekbench 5.3, the MacBook Air M1 hit 7,575 on multi-core – which is a 17% difference.

MacBook Air M2 2022

The new MacBook Air is capable of handling demanding workloads thanks to its M2 chip. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

On our Handbrake video editing test, which involves transcoding a 4K video clip, the new MacBook Air M2 took 7 minutes and 52 seconds to complete the task. The previous Air M1 needed 9:15. (For the sake of comparison, Apple's new 13-inch MacBook Pro M2 took a minute less than the new Air at 6:51, though it has active cooling for its M2 chip that affords it better sustained performance.)

The new MacBook Air scored 821 on the PugetBench for Adobe CC Photoshop, whereas the Air M1 clocked a score of 653. On the Blackmagic Disk Speed test, the new Air’s 1TB SSD on our review unit averaged 2,800 MBps for reads and 2,210 for writes. The 1TB SSD in the MacBook Air M1 we tested hit a speed of 2692 MBps for reads and 2897 for writes.

Apple MacBook Air M1 (late 2020) review

The MacBook Air M1 may not be as powerful as the latest model but it's still highly performant. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Despite the negligible difference in disk read/write speeds, the MacBook Air M2 is a more capable machine than the MacBook Air M1. Considering how we deemed the former a computing revolution, we’re extremely impressed by what the new laptop is capable of delivering.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Graphics and gaming

Our MacBook Air M2 came with a 10-core GPU and not the standard 8-core CPU on the $1,199 model. Despite the bump in GPU power, the MacBook Air M2 (like the MacBook Pro M2) disappoints as a gaming machine.

On Rise of the Tomb Raider, the MacBook Air M2 achieved 27 frames per second with the resolution set to 1920 x 1200. That falls short of the 30 fps minimum gamers (like myself) are willing to accept. At 2940 x 1920 that dipped to 15.3 fps. Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm did better by achieving 40.3 fps at 1470 x 956 resolution.

Apple MacBook Air M1 (late 2020) review

Lara Croft stumbling through the desert on the MacBook Air M1 perfectly represents what it's like gaming on both Air laptops. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The M1-powered MacBook Air saw similar results. Rise of the Tomb Raider averaged 29 frames per second at 1440 x 900 while Civilization VI reached 36 fps at the same resolution.

Needless to say that neither Apple laptop is ideal for playing graphically-intensive games.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Battery life 

The MacBook Air M2 is one of the longest-lasting laptops out there. On the Tom’s Guide battery test, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness, the new Air averaged 14 hours and 6 minutes. That’s a bit behind the previous Air M1 (14:41), but this is still superb endurance.

The powerful M2 processor is likely why the new MacBook Air has a shorter battery life than its predecessor. And while the old MacBook Air offers better battery life, the Air M2 still outstrips all but the best Intel laptops in this category.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Webcam and speakers 

The new MacBook Air packs a 1080p webcam whereas the previous model has a 720p camera. Both benefit from additional image processing work done by Apple's M1 and M2 chips. Still, a 1080p resolution is preferable over 720p, even if we think the MacBook Air M2’s webcam quality isn’t the greatest.

MacBook Air M2 webcam

The MacBook Air M2’s 1080p webcam is good but not great. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The MacBook Air M2’s four-speaker sound system delivers clear audio when listening to music or watching videos. The Air M1’s stereo speakers get loud enough to fill a large room. Both laptops have great sound, but the M2’s four speakers provide better overall quality.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Ports 

The MacBook Air M2 features a minimal amount of ports. It has two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports on the left side, along with a MagSafe power adapter. There’s also a headphone jack on the right side for those who prefer wired headphones over wireless devices.

MagSafe charging is one of this laptop’s main selling points. The MagSafe connection makes it easy to attach the cable connector magnetically to the system. It also helps prevent the laptop from falling should someone accidentally tug hard on the cable.

MacBook Air M2 2022

MagSafe charging is one of the MacBook Air M2's best features. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The M1 MacBook Air has two Thunderbolt 3 USB 4 ports and a headphone jack. Unfortunately, it does not have MagSafe charging. Because of that, the new MacBook Air has an extra port that would have otherwise been used for charging on the older model.

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: Which MacBook should you buy? 

The MacBook Air M1 has long been one of our top recommendations here at Tom's Guide, but now it has a successor. The MacBook Air M2 delivers better performance, a large display and a decent 1080p webcam in a slimmer and lighter design. Despite the new Air’s higher price, we think it’ll remain a highly sought-after device. Apple truly delivered the goods with this machine.

With that said, the MacBook Air M1 remains a solid laptop for most people. Its M1 chip makes it more performant than older Intel Mac and many Windows notebooks. Whether you’re using the laptop for work, play or even video or audio editing, it won’t disappoint. It may no longer be revolutionary, but it’s a darn good laptop – especially for $999.

We believe the MacBook Air M2 is currently one of the best laptops on the market. However, if you just want a solid and reliable Apple laptop under $1,000, then you can’t go wrong with the MacBook Air M1. As things stand, both are among the best MacBooks, so either way you'll end up with a great laptop.

Tony Polanco
Tony Polanco

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.