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MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Biggest upgrades we expect

MacBook Air 2020 next to a render of what the MacBook Air 2022 could look like
(Image credit: Future/Jon Prosser/RendersByIan)

A MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020 preview will help you figure out how the new Air could truly stand out. The MacBook Air 2020 was one of the first laptops to ship with Apple's M1 chip, and it showed us that Apple silicon can deliver remarkable performance and power efficiency. 

But it's been over a year since its debut, and now that Apple has proven the M1 wasn't a one-hit wonder by shipping new MacBook Pro 14-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch laptops packing the even more impressive M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, we're eager to see what Apple can do with its upcoming MacBook Air 2022. 

We may see the new Air launch as soon as spring 2022, and that means those of us who are considering buying a new MacBook Air might want to hold off if we can afford to, because everything we've heard about the MacBook Air 2022 suggests it will be worth waiting for. 

Here's what we know so far about how the next MacBook Air will compare to the current M1-powered model. While much of this is based on leaks and rumors, the sources have proven trustworthy often enough to merit paying attention to.

MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Specs

The MacBook Air 2020's specs are still beefy enough to be competitive with many of the best Windows laptops, thanks chiefly to the power of the M1 chip. The 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD that it ships with by default is still pretty performant, though at this point you should seriously consider paying extra for more (you can get up to 16 GB of RAM and up to a 2 TB SSD) if you want your Air to stay competitive for years to come.   

Apple MacBook Air M1 (late 2020) review

The M1-powered MacBook Air 2020 is still one of the most powerful and power-efficient ultraportables on the market (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Looking ahead, the MacBook Air 2022 is tipped to ship with the Apple M2 chip. Rumored to use a 4-nanometer process node, rather than the 5nm process used in fabricating the M1, this chip is predicted to favor efficiency over the raw performance offered by the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. While that's great news for folks who prize battery life over performance, we still expect it to tackle most daily tasks with blazing-fast speeds exceeding those of the current Air.

It's possible that the MacBook Air 2022's RAM and storage options will be the same as the current Air, starting at 8 GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD with options to upgrade both.

However, those numbers are starting to feel a little paltry, and we won't be surprised if the MacBook Air 2022 hits the market with 16 GB of RAM to start and a 512 GB SSD. That's exactly what the 2021 MacBook Pros start with, and while they're admittedly marketed to performance-minded professionals, there's no obvious reason why Apple couldn't ship a new Air with the same starting specs. After all, the remarkable power and efficiency of Apple silicon has already blurred the line between Air and Pro performance.

MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Design

As much as we loved the slim design of the MacBook Air 2020, we were a bit put off by the thick bezels around the screen and the dearth of port options. If you have similar feelings, the rumored redesign coming to the Air in 2022 is one of the better reasons to hold off on buying one right now.

We expect the MacBook Air 2022 to ship with thinner bezels than its predecessor, as well as a new Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED display like the one we loved in the iPad Pro 2021 and the 2021 MacBook Pros. However that could also mean the next Air will, like the new MacBook Pros, feature a notch that extends down below the top bezel to hold the camera, as suggested by proven leaker Jon Prosser earlier this year.

MacBook Air 2021 concept render of a TouchID sensor in the keyboard

(Image credit: Devam Jangra)

Below the display, we predict the MacBook Air 2022 will augment its keyboard with a TouchID sensor. Apple added one to the 2021 MacBook Pros (while ditching the controversial Touch Bar) and it proved so handy it's hard to imagine the Cupertino-based company not adding one to the next Air.

MacBook Air 2021 concept renders in a variety of colors

More colorful MacBook Airs could be in the cards for 2022 (Image credit: Devam Jangra/YouTube)

We also expect (and hope) that the next MacBook Air will debut with more color options than just Silver or Space Gray. Off-white has been tipped along with other colors that draw inspiration from the pastel hues of the iMac 2021, and that would be a welcome change.

MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Display

As mentioned earlier, we're almost positive the next MacBook Air will ship with a Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED display. That would be a huge improvement over the MacBook Air 2020's Retina (2,560 x 1,600 pixels) display, which is still great to look at but a far cry from what could be.

The MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch)

The 2021 MacBook Pro's mini-LED display is bright and vibrant, especially when viewing HDR content (Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

We expect the MacBook Air 2022 to ship with a Liquid Retina XDR display similar to those seen in the 2021 MacBook Pros, with a similar narrowing of the bezels surrounding it. These displays have been critically lauded ever since Apple put one in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021, and it would be a big disappointment if Air fans didn't get to enjoy the brightness and clarity of a mini-LED display in the MacBook Air 2022.

MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Ports

If you need more than a pair of Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports and a headphone/mic jack, you probably want to hold off on buying a new MacBook Air because that's all you'll get with the 2020 model. That lack of port options was one of our biggest criticisms of Apple's otherwise outstanding ultraportable MacBook, and we hope the company addresses those complaints with the next Air.

MacBook Air 2021 concept MagSafe

(Image credit: Devam Jangra)

Regrettably, as of now we've heard nothing to suggest that Apple will ship the MacBook Air 2022 with more than USB-C ports. In fact, we've seen one detailed leak that claims Apple will continue to offer only USB-C ports on the next Air; if that proves true, it would be a big disappointment to those of us who hate buying and carrying extra dongles just to make our legacy accessories compatible with USB-C.

However, despite rumors to the contrary we remain hopeful Apple will expand the port selection on the MacBook Air 2022 as it did with the 2021 MacBook Pros, which expanded their port array to include an HDMI out, a microSD card reader, and a new MagSafe 3 charging port (though you can still charge them via USB-C, if you want). Speaking of MagSafe, we expect Apple to ship the MacBook Air 2022 with a MagSafe charging port now that the feature has been so widely welcomed back to the 2021 MacBook Pros.

MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Performance

It's safe to expect that the next MacBook Air will be more powerful and more power-efficient than the 2020 MacBook Air, which is saying something since the M1-powered Air already impresses with incredible performance and battery life.

MacBook Air 2021 concept

Expect more power and efficiency from the MacBook Air 2022, likely driven by a new M2 chip (Image credit: Devam Jangra)

However, it's still hard to quantify exactly how powerful the next generation of MacBook Air might be. The M2 chip we expect to see in the 2021 MacBook Airs is tipped to come with 12 CPU cores, four more than the M1, with eight cores assigned to handle high-performance work and four efficiency cores for less demanding tasks. Plus, we've heard it will ship with up to a 16-core GPU, which is double the 7-core and 8-core GPU options of the M1. And the seven to eight core GPU of the M1 chip will be increased to a hefty 16 cores on the M2. 

If that all bears out, it means we can expect big boosts in both performance and battery life for the MacBook Air 2022. These predictions are pretty reasonable, too, given that the baseline M1 Pro chip in the entry-level 14-inch MacBook Pro 2021 now ships with an 8-core CPU and a 14-core GPU, with options to upgrade up to a 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU. 

MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Webcam

The MacBook Air 2020 shipped with a 720p HD FaceTime camera that benefits from some image signal processing on the part of the M1 chip. It delivers image and video quality that's good enough for hopping on calls with friends, family and colleagues, but now that Zoom calls have become commonplace we'd love to see Apple deliver something better in the next model.

The MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch) displaying an image captured via the 1080p webcam

The 1080p camera in the 2021 MacBook Pros is a welcome upgrade that does a great job of capturing detail and contrast (Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

Lucky for us, rumors suggest that the company will do exactly that by shipping the MacBook Air 2022 with a 1080p HD FaceTime camera like those seen in the 2021 MacBook Pros. These new and improved cameras do a lot to help you look your best on video calls, and it's a safe bet we'll see one built into the next MacBook Air.

MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Battery life

The MacBook Air 2020 already delivers best-in-class battery life, lasting nearly 15 hours (14:41) in our Tom's Guide battery test, which tasks the laptop with browsing the web via Wi-Fi with its display brightness set to 150 nits.

MacBook Air 2021 concept

Hopefully the next MacBook Air will improve upon its predecessor's already fantastic battery life (Image credit: Devam Jangra)

But we believe Apple can do better. It already has, as the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 lasted over 16 hours in the same battery test. Of course, neither the 14-inch MacBook Pro 2021 (14:09) nor the 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 (15:31) could top that, so perhaps the MacBook Air 2022 will have a hard time beating its predecessor's nearly 15-hour battery life. But since everything we've heard suggests it will ship with an M2 chip optimized for battery efficiency, there's pretty good odds we'll see it break the 15-hour mark in our battery life test. 

MacBook Air 2022 vs MacBook Air 2020: Outlook

If you've made it this far, you know that all the leaks and rumors we've seen so far suggest the MacBook Air 2022 will be a major improvement over the already impressive 2020 model. 

Apple has already proven the M1 chip was not a one-hit wonder with the 2021 release of the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, so we have every reason to believe an M2 chip in a new MacBook Air will deliver big upgrades in performance and power efficiency. And given all the big improvements the company delivered with its 2021 MacBook Pros, it's reasonable to expect we'll see similar upgrades in the next MacBook Air. 

We're especially excited about the prospect of a slimmer, more stylish Air with a mini-LED display and an improved 1080p webcam. We'd also dearly love to see more than just a pair of USB-C ports, but we're keeping our hopes in check based on recent leaks. 

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. He currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.