The MacBook Air M2 is an outstanding laptop, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars and our coveted Editor's Choice designation, but I can't help but be disappointed by its battery life results.
Don't get me wrong. It will land on our list of laptops with the best battery life, and at just over 14 hours, it also easily surpasses the category average of 10 hours and 15 minutes. This is a matter of expectations, and in that regard, the MacBook Air M2 falls short — and I'm left a little confused as to why.
When I wrote about the incredible MacBook Pro M2 battery life results last month, I noted that if the MacBook Air M2 saw a similar increase, it should deliver about 16 hours and 16 minutes of battery life. That was based on the MacBook Pro M2's roughly 11% jump to 18 hours and 20 minutes in our testing, up from 16 hours and 32 minutes in the M1 model. Now you can probably understand why I was surprised to see the MacBook Air M2 battery life test results come back at 14 hours and 6 minutes, a 4% decrease from its M1-powered predecessor (14:41).
The MacBook Pro 2022 seemed to support Apple's claims of improved performance and efficiency for the M2. After all, the hardware is virtually identical to the MacBook Pro 2020, other than swapping the M1 for the M2 processor. That lack of upgrades was one reason I said people should skip the Pro M2, despite its strong performance and battery life. These results with the MacBook Air M2 put the efficiency of the new chip somewhat into question, which, in turn, has us wondering about the possible impact on the future M2 Pro and M2 Max processors that are destined to arrive in MacBooks next year.
A tale of two designs
The obvious challenge for this comparison is that the Air M2 had a substantial design change from the Air M1, while the Pro M2 is merely the 2020 model with a new chip inside. That leads me to believe that the Pro is the more accurate reflection of the performance and efficiency gains from the chip itself, but it opens up a lot of questions about what piece of the Air M2 design is causing such a substantial added drain on the battery.
The move to a 13.6-inch display up from 13.3 inches can't possibly account for the roughly 15% shortfall from the anticipated battery life for the Air M2. Could the thinner design be the culprit? The new Air is roughly 20% smaller than the old model, but our heat tests showed that it stayed well below our 95-degree threshold and it remained within 1-2 degrees of the results on the M1 Air on the bottom, touchpad and keyboard.
The most confounding piece of the puzzle is that while the MacBook Pro M2 has an identical battery to the Pro M1 (58.2WHr), the Air M2 has a 52.6WHr battery that is slightly larger than the 49.9WHr battery in the M1 model.
For the time being, I'm afraid there aren't any definitive answers regarding why the MacBook Air M2 doesn't have better battery life. The optimist in me wonders if we'll see software updates improve the battery life as from a hardware standpoint it seems clear it should outlast the M1 Air. My pessimistic side can only speculate about some flaw in the new design that is causing the problem.
The good news for those of you, like myself, that are contemplating purchasing the new MacBook Air M2 is that the battery life is still excellent at over 14 hours. As I said at the outset, this is a monster of Apple's own creation that we were led to expect even more from this featherlight powerhouse. Whether it lasts for 16 hours or 14, the MacBook Air M2 is one of the best laptops available currently and the best MacBook for most people.
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Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.