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?"
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?
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.