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MacBook Air M3 13-inch and 15-inch review (2024): Excellent yet unsurprising

Apple's M3 chip is a decent speed bump, but the M2 MacBook Air remains a great deal.

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

It's hard to expect much from Apple's new M3-equipped MacBook Airs. The 13-inch M2 model, released in 2022, was the first major redesign for Apple's most popular notebook in over a decade. Last year, Apple finally gave its fanatics a big-screen ultraportable notebook with the 15-inch MacBook Air. This week, we've got the same two computers with slightly faster chips. They didn't even get a real launch event from Apple, just a sleepy Monday morning press release. They look the same and are a bit faster than before — what else is there to say?

Now, I'm not saying these aren't great computers. It's just that we've been a bit spoiled by Apple's laptops over the last few years. The M3 MacBook Air marks the inevitable innovation plateau for the company, following the monumental rise of its mobile chips and a complete refresh of its laptops and desktops. It's like hitting cruising altitude after the excitement of takeoff — things are stable and comfortable for Apple and consumers alike.

Apple

Apple's latest MacBook Air takes everything we loved about the M2 redesign — a sleeker and lighter case — and adds more power thanks to an M3 chip.

Pros
  • Sturdy and sleek design
  • Fast performance thanks to M3 chip
  • Excellent 13-inch screen
  • Great keyboard and trackpad
  • Solid quad-speaker array
Cons
  • Charging and USB-C ports are only on one side
$999 at Amazon
Apple

Apple's big-screen MacBook Air still looks and feels great, and it's faster thanks to an M3 chip.

Pros
  • Sturdy and sleek design
  • Fast performance thanks to M3 chip
  • Excellent 15-inch screen
  • Great keyboard and trackpad
  • Solid six-speaker array
Cons
  • Charging and USB-C ports are only on one side
$1,199 at Amazon

M3 MacBook Air vs the M2 MacBook Air

Even though they look exactly the same as before, the M3 MacBook Air models have a few new features under the hood. For one, they support dual external displays, but only when their lids are closed. That was something even the M3-equipped 14-inch MacBook Pro lacked at launch, but Apple says the feature is coming to that device via a future software update. Having dual screen support is particularly useful for office workers who may need to drop their computers onto temporary desks, but it could also be helpful for creatives with multiple monitors at home. (If you absolutely need to have your laptop display on alongside two or more external monitors, you'll have to opt for a MacBook Pro with an M3 Pro or Max chip instead.)

Both new MacBook Air models also support Wi-Fi 6E, an upgrade over the previous Wi-Fi 6 standard with faster speeds and dramatically lower latency. You'll need a Wi-Fi 6E router to actually see those benefits, though. According to Intel, Wi-Fi 6E's ability to tap into seven 160MHz channels helps it avoid congested Wi-Fi 6 spectrum. Basically, you may actually be able to see gigabit speeds more often. (With my AT&T gigabit fiber connection and Wi-Fi 6 gateway, I saw download speeds of around 350 Mbps and uploads ran between 220 Mbps and 320 Mbps on both systems from my basement office. Both upload and download speeds leapt to 700 Mbps when I was on the same floor as the gateway.)

MacBook Air M3 13-inch and 15-inch side angle
MacBook Air M3 13-inch and 15-inch side angle (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

Design and weight

Two years after the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air debuted, the M3 follow-up is just as sleek and attractive. It seems impossibly thin for a notebook, measuring 0.44 inches thick, and is fairly light at 2.7 pounds. We've seen ultraportables like LG's Gram and the ZenBook S13 OLED that are both lighter and thinner than Apple's hardware, but the MacBook Air still manages to feel like a more premium package. Its unibody aluminum case feels as smooth a river stone yet as sturdy as a boulder. It's a computer I simply love to touch.

Holding the MacBook Air M3 13-inch
Holding the MacBook Air M3 13-inch (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

The 15-inch M3 MacBook Air is similarly thin, but clocks in half a pound heavier at 3.2 pounds. It's still relatively light for its size, but the additional bulk makes it feel more unwieldy than the 13-inch model. I can easily slip either MacBook Air model into a tote bag when running out to grab my kids from school, but the larger model’s length makes it more annoying to carry.

For some users, though, that extra heft will be worth it. The bigger MacBook Air sports a 15.3-inch Liquid Retina screen with a sharp 2,880 by 1,864 (224 pixels per inch) resolution, making it better suited for multitasking with multiple windows or working in media editing apps. It's also a better fit for older or visually impaired users, who may have to scale up their displays to make them more readable. (This is something I've noticed while shopping for computers for my parents and other older relatives. 13-inch laptops inevitably become hard to work on, unless you're always wearing bifocals.)

While I'm impressed that Apple finally has a large, consumer-focused laptop in its lineup, I still prefer the 13-inch MacBook Air. I spend most of my day writing, Slacking with colleagues, editing photos and talking with companies over video conferencing apps, all of which are easy to do on a smaller screen. If I was directly editing more episodes of the Engadget Podcast, or chopping up video on my own, though, I'd bump up to the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 Pro chip. Even then, I wouldn't have much need for a significantly larger screen.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch and 15-inch headphone jack
A lonely headphone jack that could use a USB-C companion. (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

It's understandable why Apple wouldn't want to tweak the Air's design too much, given that it was just redone a few years ago. Still, I'd love to see a USB-C port on the right side of the machine, just to make charging easier in every location. But I suppose I should just be happy Apple hasn't removed the headphone jack, something that's happening all too frequently in new 13-inch notebooks, like the XPS 13.

Hardware

For our testing, Apple sent the "midnight" 13-inch MacBook Air (which is almost jet black and features a fingerprint-resistant coating that actually works), as well as the silver 15-inch model. Both computers were powered by an M3 chip with a 10-core GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. While these MacBooks start at $1,099 and $1,299, respectively, the configurations we tested cost $400 more. Keep that in mind if you're paying attention to our benchmarks, as you'll definitely see lower figures on the base models. (The cheapest 13-inch offering only has 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an 8-core GPU, while the entry-level 15-inch unit has the same RAM and storage, along with a 10-core GPU.)


Geekbench 6 CPU

Geekbench 6 GPU

Cinebench R23

3DMark Wildlife Extreme

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (M3, 2024)

3,190/12,102

30,561

1,894/9,037

8,310

Apple MacBook Air 15-inch (M3, 2024)

3,187/12,033

30,556

1,901/9,733

8,253

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (M2, 2022)

2,570/9,650

25,295

1,576/7,372

6,761

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3, 2023)

3,142/11,902

30,462

1,932/10,159

8,139

M3 chip performance

I didn't expect to see a huge performance boost on either MacBook Air, but our benchmarks ended up surprising me. Both laptops scored around 300 points higher in the Cinebench R23 single-core test, compared to the M2 MacBook Air. And when it came to the more strenuous multi-core CPU test, the 13-inch M3 Air was around 1,700 points faster, while the 15-inch model was around 2,400 points faster. (Since both machines are fan-less, there's a good chance the larger case of the 15-inch Air allows for slightly better performance under load.)

There was a more noticeable difference in Geekbench 6, where the M3 models were around 40 percent faster than before. Apple is touting more middling improvements over the M2 chips — 17 percent faster single-core performance, 21 percent speedier multi-core workloads and 15 percent better GPU workloads — but it's nice to see areas where performance is even better. Really, though, these aren't machines meant to replace M2 systems — the better comparisons are how they measure up to nearly four-year-old M1 Macs or even creakier Intel models. Apple claims the M3 chip is up to 60 percent faster than the M1, but in my testing I saw just a 35 percent speed bump in Cinebench's R23 multi-core test.

MacBook Air M3 15-inch front view
MacBook Air M3 15-inch front view

When it comes to real-world performance, I didn't notice a huge difference between either M3-equipped MacBook Air, compared to the M2 model I've been using for the past few years. Apps load just as quickly, multitasking isn't noticeably faster (thank goodness they have 16GB of RAM), and even photo editing isn't significantly speedier. This is a good time to point out that the M2 MacBook Air is still a fine machine, and it's an even better deal now thanks to a lower $999 starting price. As we've said, the best thing about the existence of the M3 Airs is that they've made the M2 models cheaper. You'll surely find some good deals from stores clearing out older stock and refurbished units, as well as existing owners selling off their M2 machines.

Gaming and productivity work

I'll give the M3 MacBook Airs this: they're noticeably faster for gaming. I was able to run Lies of P in 1080p+ (1,920 by 1,200) with high graphics settings and see a smooth 60fps most of the time. It occasionally dipped into the low-50fps range, but that didn't affect the game's playability much. The director's cut of Death Stranding was also smooth and easy to play at that resolution, so long as I didn't crank up the graphics settings too much. It's nice to have the option for some serious games on Macs for once. And if you want more variety, you can also stream high-end games over Xbox's cloud streaming or NVIDIA's GeForce Now.

In addition to being a bit faster than before, the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Airs are simply nice computers to use. Their 500-nit screens support HDR and are bright to use outdoors in sunlight. While they're not as impressive as the ProMotion MiniLED displays on the MacBook Pros, they'll get the job done for most users. Apple's quad and six-speaker arrays are also best-in-class, and the 1080p webcams on both computers are perfect for video conferencing (especially when paired with Apple's camera tweaks for brightness and background blurring). And I can’t say enough good things about the MacBook Air’s responsive keyboard and smooth trackpad – I wish every laptop used them.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch from the top
MacBook Air M3 13-inch from the top (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

Battery

Unfortunately, the short turn-around time for this review prevented me from running a complete battery test for these computers. At the moment, though, I can say that both machines only used up 40 percent of battery life while playing a 4K fullscreen video at full brightness for over 10 hours. Apple claims they'll play an Apple TV video for up to 18 hours, as well as browse the web wirelessly for up to 15 hours. My testing shows they'll definitely last far more than a typical workday. (I would often go three days without needing to charge the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air. Based on what I've seen so far, I expect similar performance from the M3 models.)

MacBook Air M3 13-inch top down
MacBook Air M3 13-inch top down (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

Wrap-up

There aren’t any major surprises with the 13-inch and 15-inch M3 MacBook Air, but after years of continual upgrades, that’s to be expected. They’re great computers with excellent performance, gorgeous screens and incredible battery life. And best of all, their introduction also pushes down the prices of the still-great M2 models, making them an even better deal.