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The M2 MacBook Air versus…

Since the release of the M2 MacBook Air, there have been countless comparisons, but are we barking up the wrong tree?

M2 MacBook Air
image courtesy of author

Horses for courses

It’s very nearly been a week now since my midnight M2 MacBook Air arrived. I have pretty much used it exclusively over that period, to get a good feel of what it is like to use day-to-day.

You may have read some of my blogs this week about my first impressions, and unlike many, they are all positive. It’s reasonably affordable, lightweight, with a wonderful screen and decent webcam & keyboard. This M2 MacBook Air is a Mac for all seasons & reasons.

It may have a small footprint, and be ultraportable, but don’t let that give you the misguided impression that this M2 MacBook Air is not proficient – actually, highly proficient.

Since it arrived, The M2 MBA has edited all my videos, and even rendered & exported them as well. Did it get a little warm? Yeah, sure, but it was far from hot, and actually much less hot than other Macs I have used – both desktop and laptop variants.

I have the beast of all beasts in the way of my pimped out 16-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro. It spoils you for pretty much anything else you’ll use. It’s lightning fast, never lags, and quiet. It will go down as one of the all-time best Macs, of that I am pretty confident. But, all that comes at a price…and that price, in my instance, was over £3500. That clearly makes this machine a Mac for some and not for all. You need the workflow to necessitate such a purchase, and in turn make it value for money.

Spending most of my day in one of three apps (Ulysses, Photoshop, or Premiere Pro), means I am giving it a decent run for its money most days.

For me to come on here, and compare the M2 MacBook Air to this M1 Mac, would be a folly. They are not in the same ballpark, although, if represented in a Venn diagram, there would be some overlap. But, I do have a comparison in mind…

Remember Intel?

I count myself lucky. This year, I have been ever so fortunate and bought two Apple Silicon Mac’s. That means, I rarely use Intel machines any longer. The only one I am keeping, is the glorious 2015 27-inch iMac, but that is more for sentimental reasons.

About to be placed on eBay is my other Intel Mac – a 2019 15-inch, 6 Core, Intel i7 laptop. I had one before this, which got stolen – long story for another time, so actually, in truth, this is my second Intel MacBook. At the time, it seemed to do everything pretty well…at the time!

But, today, as others see fit to find negative comments to make about the M2 MacBook Air, I thought, I’d reflect on how far we have come in the last three years.

Fair to compare?

I think so. Not from a fiscal perspective; I gave around £2500 for that Intel Mac a few years back, which puts it at about £2000 more expensive than my new M2 MacBook Air. But, it is more than fair when you compare what they are capable of.

I bought that Mac with a view to it carrying out the majority of my podcast audio editing work and Photoshop projects. Later on in its life, I then threw video editing at it as well.

Even before that last curveball, it struggled. I got it out the other day, and used it for a bit, alongside the M2 MacBook Air. There were a couple of very noticeable differences, or improvements, right out of the gate.

I thought I was quite the fan of the Touchbar, until I had the row of full height function keys back. I think the Touchbar will be looked back on much like flares, or the mullet haircut…fine at the time! It sort of achieved its goal and I did get used to using it. A case of using what’s in front of you, I guess.

The other notable change was from the butterfly keyboard to the M2’s Magic keyboard. Again, much like the Touchbar, you find yourself adapting, but now, back on the balanced, responsive Magic keyboard, I am wondering how on earth I put up with that butterfly keyboard for so long? This keyboard on the M2 MacBook Air, feels, responsive, quick and nimble. By comparison, the good old butterfly variant, feels sluggish and ‘flat’.

The screens are actually very similar – both with 500 nits of brightness, P3 wide colour and True Tone technology.

As for the battery, it’s not even a close run battle. My Intel Mac would be asking for the battery after 2 or 3 hours of moderate use. On the other hand, the M2 MacBook Air runs on and on, giving you 7 or 8 hours of meaningful, unplugged life.

Talking turkey

Of course, the real reason for looking at the M2 versus the Intel machines is performance – as you know, we all have that need for speed!

I mentioned I got the Intel MacBook out this past week. How quickly we forget…NOISE! There was fan noise. Pretty much as soon as it was opened, the fans would spark off! How did we think that was normal and acceptable from a laptop? And this was before we get on to the heavy lifting apps. That was just Pages, Mac Mail & Safari, nothing taxing at all. Turns out, that was simply the warm-up act (sorry about the pun!) though!

Open up and use Photoshop, Premiere Pro or Audition, and the fans get a whole heap louder. In fact, let me wind it back a step, to the launching of the apps. Man alive, they take so long! On a video, I posted yesterday, I mentioned that the apps took a fraction longer than I’d have thought on the M2 MacBook Air. Yet again – how soon we forget!

Starting work on a multi-layered Photoshop document with blend modes, filters & blurs truly begins to mark out the differences between this £2500 Intel MacBook Pro and the £1500 M2 MacBook Air. The Intel Mac has the name Pro on it, so we should have thought it was capable of pro level work. And at the time, we did…and we thought it was as good, pretty much, as good as it could be.

Forget video…

If I thought Photoshop paled in comparison between Intel & M2, then video & audio work takes it to a whole other dimension. Again, let’s just focus on the fact that this is a notebook we are talking about here. The light as a feather M2 MacBook Air trounced the bloated, heavy MacBook Pro on video render and export.

We are only going back three years here, on a Mac that was two-thirds more expensive, with active cooling. I put the identical, simple 10 minute, 4K video project on both Macs, and used the same export settings in Premiere.

  • M2 MacBook Air, render and export – 13 minutes
  • Intel i7 MacBook Pro, render and export – 39 minutes

No other apps were open, both laptops were plugged in, so the playing fields were as even as possible, yet the figures speak for themselves.

Living for today

Sure, the base model M2 MacBook Air, with 256GB storage, may have its issues. The Air may get warm when exporting video. There may be a small memory swap issue too, but…

For a moment, can we all just take a breath and think back to pre-Apple Silicon for a moment?

Computing on a Mac jumped forward way more than we could ever have dreamt off with the advent of Apple Silicon. If, a few years back, I had thought to write an article comparing a MacBook Pro, to any notebook, I would have been laughed out of court.

But, in 2022, it is a very different story. Not only is the comparison fair to make between a consumer Mac and a ‘pro-sumer’ Mac, but the outcome should make us grateful.

When you are browsing over the next few days, and read some negative comments about the M2 MacBook Air, just remember this blog. For £2000 less, no active cooling, no noise and super lightweight, this new laptop can, more-or-less, handle anything you choose to throw at it. Power-user or content browser, the M2 MacBook Air will take care of your needs.

Live for now – turns out now is pretty neat!

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