Which Apple MacBook Air Is Right for You?

Which Apple MacBook Air Is Right for You?

Now that the M3 MacBook Airs are out and available in stores and online, it might be time to take a moment and truly consider what you’re getting before you jam down on that “Purchase” button. It’s easy to recommend Apple’s lightest laptop with either a 13-inch or 15-inch screen. However, even though they’ll perform identically, you still have a fair few options for RAM and memory storage, not to mention the vast difference in price between the cheapest MacBook Air and the most expensive, 15-inch version.

First, you should know what you will or won’t be doing with your laptop. The MacBook Airs are renowned because they’re so damn thin and light, yet they still manage to pack a punch. The new Airs pack an M3 processor, Apple’s latest APU-type chip equivalent to other upper-mid range CPUs like the 14th-gen Intel Core i7 series. It’s a fanless design, meaning it’s dead silent even under stress, yet the designers at Apple have managed to keep the laptop relatively cool regardless of the strain.

Of course, if you plan on doing anything more intense with your MacBook, you might want to look instead at the M3 MacBook Pros with either M3 Pro or M3 Max chip. I would caution about picking up the cheaper versions of the MacBook Pro 14, as in every way save for better speakers and to the M3 MacBook Air. Your best bet is to opt for the M3 Pro and M3 Max to use the bigger chassis instead.

If I’m a Creative, Should I Get the 13- or 15-inch MacBook Air?

Photo: Kyle Barr / Gizmodo

Two models are on offer, the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Air. The Air 13 has a 13.6-inch IPS LCD Liquid Retina display (at 2560 by 1664 resolution), while the Air 15 sports a 15.3-inch display (2880 by 1864 resolution). Both only have two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, a MagSafe Charging port, and a headphone jack. It has the same keyboard, trackpad, and 1080p webcam, no matter which model you buy. The 15-inch does have a slightly bigger battery at 66.5 Whr compared to the 52.6 Whr on the 13. Even still, you can expect the same battery life from either, which is more than 12 and closer to 15, though that will depend on how hard you push the processor.

Knowing that you should first know that the cheapest, $1,699 MacBook Air 13 is also the least future-proof of the bunch. It has an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU. All other versions have a 10-core GPU, meaning it will perform slightly better if you do any graphics, encoding, rendering, or AI-based tasks. It will also be limited if you want to do any gaming. All the 15-inch models come with a 10-core CPU, so if you’re doing anything that requires a little bit more juice and more screen real estate, then it’s easy to recommend the MacBook Air 15.

The other thing to pay attention to is RAM. Most base models for the 15- and 13-inch MacBook Airs only come with 8GB of unified memory. That’s perfectly fine for simple browsing tasks, but even if Apple-brand unified memory is nice and fast, it is still small when the growing standard quickly becomes 16 GB. Anybody who expects to push loading speeds will want fast loading and will want to go for the $2,799 MacBook Air 15 with 16 GB of RAM.

Should I Get the M3 MacBook Air 13?

Photo: Kyle Barr / Gizmodo

The 13-inch MacBook Air is easily the best for folks needing an ultra-light, portable PC. The smaller size means it weighs 2.7 pounds compared to the 3.3 pounds on the 15. That might not sound like much, but any backer will tell you that weight always compounds when you’re on the move.

As we mentioned before, the 13 and 15 are equivalent on benchmarks if they use the same M3 chip and RAM. Unfortunately, you’ll need to pony up $2,399 for the 16 GB of RAM at the 13-inch. It’s best to make sure you don’t have any plans to run any programs or perform any heavy lifting work on your Air because, at that point, you might want to look at the 15 instead.

All MacBook Airs come with a 35W charging brick save for the cheapest $1,799 MacBook Air 13, which comes with a 30W brick. The laptop does support up to 70W of charging, but to save on weight, the 35W is perfectly good for bringing the Air to 100% overnight. You can also power it with a USB-C, in case you’re looking to save on weight by taking only one charger for your laptop and phone.

Instead of the M3 MacBook, Should I Buy the M2?

Photo: Kyle Barr / Gizmodo

So, let’s say you only have $1,600 to spend, and you’re determined to get an Apple-brand new laptop directly from Apple. In that case, your lone choice would be the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air. It starts at $1,599, making it the lowest-cost MacBook available directly from Apple, but its specs also limit you. It only comes with 8 GB of RAM, and your only option other than color choice is the base 256 GB SSD, or else pay an additional $300 for 512 GB storage. It’s a shame Apple’s removed the choice to get a 15-inch M2 MacBook Air, so if you want the bigger screen, you’ll need to source from another supplier or opt for M3.

That being said, the M2 MacBook Air is still a very good laptop. It was two years ago, which remains true even though the M3 might beat it on benchmarks. Still, if you don’t think you’ll be doing anything beyond browsing and video tasks, then the M2 and M3 would perform practically identically. If the M1 MacBook still feels solid for these kinds of tasks four years after its original debut, then the M2 should remain a sleek experience for several years.

Read our review of the 15-inch MacBook Air.

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