I have mixed feelings on the new 13-inch MacBook Air with Apple’s M2 silicon. At first glance, this is a lovely laptop — fast, powerful, great design, long battery — but once I started actually using it, Apple’s latest hardware began to show more than a few smudges.
Yes, I’m talking about fingerprints in all the wrong places.
Fingerprints are a common theme here on Pizza Emoji, either as an aesthetic choice or a shortcoming of the hardware. Unfortunately for the MacBook Air, it’s the latter, multiplied.
I have the MacBook Air in Apple’s new Midnight color. It’s a very dark blue that looks black at an angle but when light reflects straight off the aluminium it turns a nice shade of blue. It’s a beautiful color, except it’s a magnet for fingerprints. It’s a serious enough issue that I’d argue it’s a design flaw.
Yeah, I’m the guy who wrote, “Fingerprints are part of the aesthetic” in his iPhone 12 Pro review and yet here I am, warning you about the fingerprints on the MacBook Air.
As soon as I took the wrapper off it, my knuckle grazed the lid and a little smudge appeared on the Midnight aluminum. I used Apple’s $19 Polishing Cloth to wipe off the smudge, but it only made it bigger. I dabbed a little bit of water on it and wiped harder, but this only angered the smudge and it somehow grew larger! Eventually, with enough polishing, the smudge was finally gone, but a dozen new fingerprints had appeared on the lid. (I only have ten fingers!) I actually heard the $19 Polishing Cloth sob — or maybe that was just me?
Over the next few days, the fingerprints continued to multiply. Spending time polishing the laptop gets it clean for an hour or so, but just typing for five minutes undoes all the work.
Look, I don’t know about the interactions between aluminums and metals and finger oils, but I would assume someone at Apple has some sort of experience with this, right? Were they out sick the week Apple decided on laptop colors, or were they simply ignored when they tried to warn the designers about fingerprints on dark aluminum?
Online, the number one question about the new M2 Air seems to be the issue of fingerprints on the Midnight laptops. Some people will tell you, yes, fingerprints show up, but it’s no big deal, the laptop still looks great. Well, I’m here to tell you, no, it absolutely does not. It looks cheap. If you drop $1200+ on an Apple laptop, part of the price you’re paying is for that Apple logo on the lid, and if that lid is covered in your greasy little finger oils, the whole thing just looks cheap.
Let’s put the fingerprints and colors aside for a brief minute and talk SoC — that M2 chip is fast. I’m running Final Cut Pro, Pixelmator Pro, opening a few dozen Safari tabs, I even sometimes accidentally open Xcode when I want to open BBEdit, but it doesn’t bother me — it opens so fast I don’t have time to get annoyed. Is it faster than the M1 MacBook Air I was using last week? Probably? But the work I’m doing, I can’t notice a difference. For prosperity, I ordered the M2 with 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD. The liquid retina display is bright and sharp, and keyboard is responsive with just the right amount of travel creating a hushed tick-tick-tick when typing, and MagSafe is back. Who doesn’t love magnets? If the MacBook Air a perfect laptop? No: it could use an SD slot, maybe an HDMI slot, and — oh yeah, a touchscreen.
Why is the only thing on this laptop lacking my fingerprints the most useful, natural, obvious place to be touching it? A touchscreen MacBook isn’t meant to be used 100% from the screen, but when I’m typing and see a word underlined in red, it’s a lot easier to poke my finger at the word on the screen then it is to first touch the trackpad, find the cursor, and then move to the word, tap with two fingers... My eyes are already on the word, my finger can be there in a fraction of the time it takes the cursor to get there. The advantages of touchscreens on a MacBook are obvious. Here’s another example: the notification that just slid onto my screen can be swiped away with a flick of my finger, instead of looking for the stupidly ridiculous little X in the corner.
Apple has more experience designing for touchscreens than probably any other company in human history — most of our touch screen gestures like pinch and zoom and swiping to unlock and even just using a finger instead of a stylus were introduced to the world by Apple and the iPhone — and yet Apple laptops do not have touchscreens, even in 2022. What — exactly — is the difference between an iPad Pro and a MacBook Air today? Internally they are identical, with Mx Apple silicon processors, memory, SSD storage, and huge batteries, and externally they both support keyboards, mice, trackpads, and webcams. Is there just one guy at Apple saying “Mac’s don’t have touch screens because I say they don’t,” and that’s the end of the conversation? And everyone who is platform agnostic — those lucky fools — take their business to some sort of ridiculous flipping ASUS laptop running Windows or ChromeOS.
I also don’t understand — if the SoC and internals are generally the same but lack a touchscreen, then why does the Air cost significantly more than an iPad? Let’s compare Apples to Apples:
An iPad Air with the M1 SoC, 8GB RAM and 256GB of internal storage — the max available for an iPad Air — is $749 on apple.com as of 7/22/2022. A MacBook Air with the M1 SoC, 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage is $999. The MacBook’s additions are minor: the MacBook has a keyboard, an extra 2-inches of screen, and a 49.9 watt‐hour battery (sightly less than double the iPad’s 28.6 watt-hour battery, a difference of 21.3 watt-hours.) That seems like a lot, but remember, the iPad has the touchscreen included in that $749 price tag. The MacBook has everything else, but no touchscreen at $999. If Apple can get a touchscreen on an 11-inch screen for $749, why am I paying $999 (and more than $999 for the M2 Air) for a MacBook without a touchscreen?
Either the iPad is an incredible value, or the MacBook Air is severely overpriced by comparison.
I want to go back, just for a moment, and talk about that 49.9 watt-hour battery. Apple states “up to 15 hours wireless web” and “18 hours” of movie playback, and from my testing, that’s about right, with the screen at about 50% brightness. Over the last couple of years, thanks to Apple silicon in the iPhone and MacBook, my battery anxiety has been cured. Working for days off the battery on my MacBook Air is amazing, and while I think reviewers give Apple the credit they deserve, they tend to make excuses and justify a similar Windows laptop with a six-hour battery. “Well, it’s almost enough for the day, and as long as you don’t use it during lunch—” No! Simply because Apple has — again — set the bar ridiculously high, that doesn’t excuse other laptops of dying after half a day on a battery.
For comparison, the company I work for supplied me with an Intel-based Windows laptop that runs for about two hours on battery before the low battery warnings begin. When the laptop is unplugged, Windows degrades the performance of the CPU so the battery lasts longer. Windows actually slows down the laptop — macOS don’t do this! Yes, it’s ridiculous, and no, I almost never use the worthless battery. Apple’s advantage in power-per-watt on their line of SoCs is nothing short of incredible.
Seventy-two hours after I received delivery of the Midnight colored MacBook Air, I returned it to the Apple Store. I told the employee handeling the return, that if he needs to put a reason, put “fingerprints.” He understand, telling me that the previous night he was closing and had to wipe down all of the MacBooks, and the Midnight Air took significantly longer to remove all the fingerprints. It’s not just that the color causes the fingerprints and smudges to stand out, but that they’re also significantly harder to clean from the aluminum.
I started writing this review on the Midnight MacBook Air, and I’m finishing it on the Starlight MacBook Air. I’m definitely disappointed in the quality of the Midnight color, and I’m sad I had to return it. I’m not completely sold on the Starlight color, but after nearly two years of Space Gray (never again!) I’m willing to give it a try. For what it’s worth, the color seems to attract and shift to other colors in the room — yellow light streaming in from outside in the evenings casts a golden glow on the laptop, but early mornings with a blue smart light cools it off to silver. It’s a neat effect, and over time the golden tint that Starlight tends to carry seems to fade into a pleasent light silver. (Pro tip: Buy an Apple rainbow sticker from Etsy and slap that over the white Apple logo on the lid for a bold retro look that is really eye catching on the light silver.) The best part, however, is that fingerprints don’t tend to show up, except from the dirtiest of hands. Wash your hands regularly and fingerprints just don’t happen on the Starlight MacBook Air.
After buying both the M1 and M2 MacBook Airs, I told myself I would’t upgrade my MacBook again until at least the M5 — we’ll see if I can stick to my self-imposed buying restriction, but if I can, I have no doubt the MacBook Air M2 will serve me well over the next several years. Fast, fanless, and fingerprints-free — and with a 15+ hour battery, too! — why are people buying any other laptops?