MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs MacBook Air (M1, 2020): which is best for you?

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
(Image credit: Apple)

The newly-announced MacBook Air (M2, 2022) has some big shoes to fill, as its predecessor, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), is so good, it’s sat at the top of our best laptops list since it launched two years ago.

Two years is a long time in laptops, however, so it was high time for a follow-up. At WWDC 2022, Apple lifted the lid on the MacBook Air (M2, 2022), which brings some big changes, both inside with the new M2 chip, and on the outside, with a radical redesign.

However, with the older MacBook Air being just so good, is the new model worth buying? Making the choice more difficult is that Apple isn’t retiring the M1 MacBook Air, as it usually does with its devices when a new model comes out. Instead, it will continue to sell the M1 MacBook Air alongside the M2 model, which means consumers are going to be faced with a choice: MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs MacBook Air (M1, 2020): which one should you buy?

Let us help.

Apple MacBook Air (M1,2020)

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs MacBook Air (M1, 2020): Price and configurations 

One of the best things about the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) was its price. It launched at $999 / £999 / AU$1,499 for the base model, which was phenomenally good value compared to similar Windows laptops, like the Dell XPS 13, which were quite a bit more expensive.

Since then, it’s stayed around that price, mainly due to its popularity, but it has dipped in price now and then with price cuts on days like Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday. At WWDC 2022, Apple revealed it will continue to sell the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) at this price.

This is a shame, as we’d have liked to see the older MacBook Air get an official price cut. It also dashes the hopes of anyone who expected the new MacBook Air M2 to launch at the same price as the M1 model did. While Apple has done that in the past, the MacBook Air (M2, 2022) starts at the higher price of $1,199 / £1,249 / AU$1,899. That’s quite a leap, especially in the UK and Australia.

This means the M2 MacBook Air doesn’t feel quite as good value as the M1 model, as it’s venturing into MacBook Pro territory.

If value for money is the most important consideration, then the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) remains unbeatable.

However, the M2 model does come with performance upgrades and can be configured to have up to 24GB of unified memory, which means it’s more future-proof, and you won’t feel the need to upgrade it for a while. In the long run, it could save you money.

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) in Apple Park, Cupertino

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs MacBook Air (M1, 2020): Design

When the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) came out, Apple kept the biggest changes to the inside of the device, which meant its design was pretty much unchanged from previous MacBook Airs.

While that was fine – the design was iconic for a reason, after all – laptop design has come a long way recently, so that look was starting to feel dated.

Apple MacBook Air (M1,2020) Rear Lid

(Image credit: Future)

The good news is that the MacBook Air (M2, 2022) comes with a big redesign. It’s no longer a wedge shape, with a thicker back that tapers into a thin front. Instead, it now has a more square design that takes elements of the MacBook Pro and iPhone redesigns. 

We also get four color options: Space Gray, Silver, Starlight, and Midnight Blue. Apple also claims that the MacBook Air 2022 has a 20% smaller footprint than the previous MacBook Air, measuring in at 11mm thick and weighing just 2.7 pounds.

So, it feels much easier to carry around. The bezels around the screen have been slimmed down, and not only does it make the new MacBook Air feel a lot more modern than the old model, but it means the screen is now larger, at 13.6-inches, compared to the 13.3-inch screen of the previous model. The resolution has also been upped from 2,560 x 1,600 to 2,560 x 1,664. This means the larger screen doesn't lose sharpness, though the older MacBook Air has a slightly higher pixel density.

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) in Apple Park, Cupertino

(Image credit: Future)

However, the MacBook Air (M2, 2022)’s screen blows the older model out of the water with support for one billion colors, many times more than the "millions" supported in the older MacBook Air, and with a higher brightness of 500 nits, compared to 400 nits of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020)’s screen. This makes the screen much more vivid and accurate and is a clear improvement over the older MacBook Air.

When it comes to design, then, the new MacBook Air (M2, 2022) is the clear winner, with a more modern look that’s thinner and lighter than the M1 model, while offering a larger, brighter screen as well.

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) in Apple Park, Cupertino

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs MacBook Air (M1, 2020): Performance 

We’ve not had a chance to properly test the MacBook Air (M2, 2022) yet, so we can only go by the specs and claims Apple has provided. On paper, they look excellent, with the M2-powered laptop offering an 18% faster CPU, 35% faster GPU (now with 10 cores), and a 40% faster neural engine, all while using a similar amount of power, so the jump in performance won’t come at a cost to battery life.

Thanks to the M2 chip, the new MacBook Air will benefit from 50% faster memory bandwidth and up to 24GB of unified memory. The MacBook Air with an M1 maxed out at 16GB. That extra memory could make a big difference to people who want to do some heavy graphics editing and multitasking.

The webcam has also been boosted from 720p to 1080p with the MacBook Air (M2, 2022). Plus, the M2 chip improves image quality and low-light performance. 

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) in Apple Park, Cupertino

(Image credit: Future)

However, the more powerful webcam and thinner bezels mean that there’s a visible "notch" that surrounds the webcam, and drops down into the menu bar. This is the same as the notch found in the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) and MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021), and when it debuted with those MacBooks, it proved divisive.

Overall, while we’ll reserve judgment until we get in the MacBook Air (M2, 2022) in for review, where we’ll really put it through its paces, it seems like it’s going to offer a big improvement over the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), which was no slouch in the performance stakes.

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) in Apple Park, Cupertino

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs MacBook Air (M1, 2020): Which is right for you? 

The choice between the MacBook Air (M2, 2022) and MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is quite tricky, which is a testament to just how good the older laptop is.

If you want a modern experience and upgraded performance, the MacBook Air (M2, 2022) is the way to go. The new design is great, it’s more portable, and the screen is a big step up. The M2 could also prove to be a big upgrade.

However, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is a lot cheaper, which makes it incredibly tempting. If you don’t want to spend a fortune on a laptop, then the older model is the one to go for, as it offers excellent value for money, while also being a great all-around performer. Hopefully, we’ll see some decent price drops for the M1 MacBook Air in the future, as well.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.