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The New MacBook Air Might Become Apple's Most Popular Laptop Yet

The New MacBook Air Might Become Apple's Most Popular Laptop Yet
At WWDC 2023, Apple did something fans have been hoping the company would do for years now: they released a 15-inch MacBook Air. It might become their most popular laptop yet. 

Manila Envelopes and Big Screen Wishes 

My first Mac computer was a MacBook Air I got way back in 2010, when it was just a few years from the famous unveiling, when Steve Jobs pulled it out of a manila envelope. I loved that computer and used it for seven years until my photography and music work demanded a bit more horsepower, at which point I upgraded to a 2015 MacBook Pro in 2017. Given the demands of both programs like Photoshop and electronic music production applications, I didn't think I would ever switch out of the Pro line. 

Five years after that, and I was longingly looking at the new Apple Silicon chips, and I pulled the trigger on a 13-inch MacBook Air with the M2 chip, opting for the 10-core GPU, 24 GB of RAM, a 512 GB hard drive, and the Midnight Blue finish (which looks fantastic). As you can read in my review, I loved it almost immediately, and I still love it a year later. I did not think I would ever switch back to an Air model, particularly a fanless one, with all the demands I put on computers, but I had heard so many good things about Apple's chips that I gave it a shot, and it has more than exceeded my wildest expectations, tackling whatever I can throw at it with ease and doing so while still providing all-day battery life. And as someone who uses a computer for almost everything, the increased portability over a Pro model has been just lovely. I don't think twice about carrying my computer everywhere I go. Even the screen quality is an upgrade over my older Pro model, offering 67% higher brightness levels, improved color rendition, TrueTone, and more, indicating just how quickly technology evolves. And the fast-charge capabilities are a huge convenience. The M2 model can charge 50% in 30 minutes, and when battery life is 18 hours, it doesn't take long to get a day's worth of charge. 

There has been only one thing I miss about my older MacBook Pro: the larger screen. I get around fine on a 13-inch screen, but I strongly prefer a 15- or 16-inch screen, especially since I normally have multiple windows open at a time. 13-inch screens are really built for working on a single task: reading a browser window, typing a document, editing an image, etc. Tile two windows side by side, and you start to feel the cramp rather quickly. That's the trade-off with going for extra portability, and it's the experience you'll have on any 13-inch laptop. A 15-inch screen offers enough space for tasks like entering data from a browser window on the left side into a spreadsheet on the right side. 

On the other hand, getting a 15-inch screen (or 16-inch now) has traditionally meant you had to upgrade to a Pro model. This means a sizable jump in cost and decrease in portability. And when Macs used Intel chips, this was generally accepted: you got the Pro model for demanding work and the Air for lighter loads and lower cost but ultimate portability. And the discontinuation of the 12-inch MacBook model in 2019 cleanly split Apple's lineup between the Air and Pro models, making the delineation of cost and performance that much stronger.  

Where things changed was when Apple introduced the M1 chip. Now, we were seeing levels of performance in the MacBook Air that made it a viable alternative for professional work. And I can attest to that: as I mentioned, my M2 MacBook Air breezes through anything I throw at it — Photoshop, Digital Performer, MATLAB, and more. I was not the only person who experienced that. Many users of the M1 and M2 Air models began realizing that they could now have portability and power, still at much lower prices than the Pro line, and that led them to ask: "what if we could keep that power, portability, and lower cost, but get it with a bigger screen?" 

Wishes Answered

WWDC 2023 came, and those wishes were answered: Apple unveiled the 15-inch MacBook Air. The laptop is very much the 13-inch version with a larger screen. It comes with the same chip (though only the 10-core GPU is available), the same RAM tiers, the same SSD options, the same battery life, same connectivity, even the same colors. It is, for all intents and purposes, a larger version of the already impressive 13-inch version (with two additional speakers). After all, why change a winning formula?

Can you tell whether this is the 15-inch or 13-inch model? (It's the 15-inch model.)

So, it keeps the power. In fact, I suspect we may see slight improvements in power. Despite having an identical chip as its smaller sibling, the larger size of the chassis means more passive cooling surface area, which may offer longer sustained maximum performance. What about the portability and cost, though?

In terms of portability, it is the world's thinnest 15-inch laptop, at just 11.5 mm thick. It weighs 3.3 pounds, an increase of a half-pound over the 13-inch model. Of course, it is a bit bigger than the 13-inch model, but it is still highly portable, weighing 1.4 pounds less than the 16-inch model. In fact, it even weighs less than the 14-inch MacBook Pro, despite having a larger screen. 

What about cost? One of the biggest praises of the M1 MacBook Air was its cost-to-performance ratio, and the M2 model continued to offer a great deal for the capabilities you got. Well, the 13-inch MacBook Air now starts at $1,099. The 15-inch model? $1,299. This, I think, is why this model may become Apple's most popular laptop yet. The company has taken everything that reinvigorated the MacBook Air line and given it a larger screen for only $200 more. Unless someone absolutely needs the smallest footprint imaginable, it seems like a no-brainer to opt for the extra screen space for $200, and given the buzz around the laptop, I think many people will opt for that same upgrade. I know I plan to eventually. No longer do you have to upgrade to the Pro line for extra display space. 

How About You?

Do you plan to upgrade to the 15-inch MacBook Air? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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The LG Gram SuperSlim is slightly under 11mm FYI.
It's the real world's thinnest laptop unless you are a sucker for Apple's advertising 😂

Does the LG Gram Superslim run MacOS?

Luckily, no.

It' 2023 not 1990

I commented on your M2 Air review last year, and I have to say, since then, the M2 has now become a more attractive proposition. Previously, there was only around £150 difference between a base model M1 14" MPB and an M2 Air upgraded to similar specs (more cores, 16gb ram and 512gb storage). The gulf has significantly widened closer to a £500 difference compared to the 13" Air and around £350 compared to the new 15" Air.

That's not to be sniffed at. There's a clearer divide between the Air and Pro models now, and I reckon for many people, including professionals, the Air is more than enough computer power.

But, a refurb 14" M1Pro is also worth considering if portability is not the driving factor and can be found for M2 Air prices.

FWIW, I'm still rocking a 2015 15" MPB and a teeny 12" Macbook. For me, I reckon a 13" M2 Air would replace both of them. Power of a big laptop and portability and fanless design of small laptop. Only thing missing is an SD card slot. I use mine mainly for my itunes library. But TBH, this has become more of an archive these days and could probably be kept offline.

I thought this was a great release from Apple. A 15" Air is a great size and the M-series chips from Apple seem to be really well received. I suspect it will be a winner for Apple.

I bought a Air with basic configuration but sold it and bought a 16 inch Pro with Intel cpu and 16 GB ram. I don’t feel I lost out on so much but a gained a lot with much bigger screens and 4 usb ports. We are getting “poor” in Norway due to our kroner dropping a lot in value last years. These new 16 and 16 inch pro models with M cpu feels really expensive. Anyways a second hand 16 inch Pro is a great computer for about same price as the cheapest M1.

I know what you mean. The UK economy isn't doing so well either (thanks Brexit). As I've mentioned above, the current base model M2 MBP is about £500 more expensive than last year's model that it replaced.