18 months after beginning its now nearly-complete transition to Apple Silicon, Apple unveiled its next-generation M2 chips during the annual WWDC keynote on June 6. The new chips are an evolutionary upgrade rather than a revolutionary one, but there are some additions worth noting if you’re in the market for a new MacBook.
The M2 is debuting in both a totally redesigned and exciting 13-inch MacBook Air and a not-at-all redesigned and disappointing 13-inch MacBook Pro, both of which will begin shipping in July.
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With the outgoing M1-powered MacBook Air sticking around at $999 as the base machine in the Apple notebook lineup, the new M2 MacBook Air starts at $1,199 in Silver, Space Gray, Midnight (a dark blue) and Starlight (a light gold).
The new M2 13-inch MacBook Pro has an identical design to the prior one, only seeing an upgrade to the new M2 chip. It starts at $1,299.
The new M2 chip has faster CPU and GPU cores than the M1, and supports up to 24GB of unified memory, up from 16GB in the M1. Apple cited many vague statistics on stage to back this up, but until independent testing is done we have to take Apple at its word. Still, it appears the M2 is a nice advancement, but probably not enough to make M1 owners leap at the upgrade.
Folks doing video editing will see a larger benefit in the M2 thanks to the addition of specialized ProRes encoding and decoding engines on the M2, something that was previously only available in the M1 Pro, M1 Max and M1 Ultra chips.
The MacBook Air gets up to 18 hours of battery life according to Apple, while the MacBook Pro, with a slightly larger battery, rates up to 20 hours.
The Air is just 11.3mm thick, weighing in at 2.7 pounds with a 13.6-inch display capable of 500 nits of brightness. The 13-inch Pro has a 13.3-inch screen, is 15.6mm thick and weighs 3.0 pounds. The 4.3mm difference in thickness might not seem like much, but the Pro is nearly 40 percent thicker than the Air.
At the end of the day, the biggest difference between the two is that the MacBook Air has a fanless design, while the MacBook Pro has a fan. This should, theoretically, allow the Pro to run at peak speeds for longer — however, if you are doing work that requires a fan, you may be better off with one of the higher-end 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro models with the M1 Pro or M1 Max chip.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is a relic of an older era in Mac notebooks, when Apple tried to strip out all the useful ports in the pursuit of a thinner, simpler Mac. It has two Thunderbolt/USB-C ports and a headphone jack. That’s it. It is also the only Mac notebook to still offer the Touch Bar, a love-it-or-hate-it dynamic touchscreen at the top of the keyboard. There is a reason that Apple has discontinued it in almost all of its notebooks, but it remains here.
The new MacBook Air has a similar set of ports, two Thunderbolt/USB-C and a 3.5mm headphone jack, but it also adds the new MagSafe 3 power port. This is more significant than just a new way to charge (including a fast-charging mode that can fill the battery from 0 to 50 percent in just 30 minutes), as it frees up one of the Thunderbolt ports that need to be dedicated to charging on the MacBook Pro.
Who should get it
Given the similarities in pricing, with the MacBook Pro just $100 more than the fancy, new-and-improved MacBook Air, I’m struggling to think of anyone to whom I would recommend the 13-inch Pro.
The new MacBook Air will be perfect for basically anyone who uses their computer for email, web browsing and the basic general-use cases for which the MacBook Air has been ideal for a decade. There’s a reason it’s the best-selling Mac — and the best Mac — around.
The new design looks terrific, as do the new colors, and the return of MagSafe will be welcome. Users won’t have to worry about accidentally dropping their laptop onto the floor by stepping on the power cord, and it frees up both Thunderbolt ports for actual use.
It has a full-height function row with Touch ID, backlit keys, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 and basically everything else that a normal, everyday user needs. If you have to ask the question “do I need more power?”, then the MacBook Air is perfect for you.
Power users, including those who edit video or do power-hungry scientific and computational work, will want to stick with the larger, more powerful MacBook Pro models, which will get their own M2 variants soon enough But for just about everyone else — including, probably, you! — the new MacBook Air will be the perfect notebook for years to come.
The unanswered question now is whether Apple will be able to build enough of them once they start shipping in July.