15-inch M3 MacBook Air review: Read this before you even think about buying from Mashable

The 15-inch M3 MacBook Air is like the partner who frowns at you for not noticing their new haircut. But upon closer inspection, the new stimulus becomes clear, prompting you to say, “How did I miss that? What a change! You look great, babe!”

Similarly, the new-generation M3 MacBook Air may not seem like a huge upgrade at first. “Alright, so it’s getting a new M3 chip – big whoop!” you may be thinking.

However, once you look under the hood, you’ll understand the hype. As someone who has been using the 15-inch MacBook Air – the one equipped with an M2 chip – it’s long overdue for a performance jump to keep up with increasingly demanding apps.

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

The new MacBook Air comes in two flavors – 13-inch and 15-inch variants – and it’s packed with a zippier M3 chip. “OK, what does that mean for me?” You may be wondering. Long story short, your favorite creator-focused apps, whether it’s Blender or Illustrator, should run faster, smoother, and more seamless.

15-inch M3 MacBook Air price

The 15-inch M3 MacBook Air has a starting price of $1,299 via Apple’s official website, which comes with the following specs:

8-core CPU

10-core GPU

8GB of RAM

256GB of SSD storage

15.3-inch, 2,880 x 1,864-pixel resolution LED display

The review unit I have will set you back $1,699 and comes with the same specs as above, but offers more memory (16GB) and more storage (512GB). If I were you, I’d opt for this configuration because 16GB of memory means you can juggle more apps simultaneously while reducing stress on the M3 MacBook Air.

What I like about the 15-inch M3 MacBook Air

As I hinted in the outset, the M3 MacBook Air’s upgrades are mostly internal. The display, design, keyboard, ports, webcam, weight, and dimensions are the same as its predecessor.

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Still, there’s plenty to praise when it comes to the new 15-inch MacBook Air model.

Faster gen-over-gen performance

Apple boasted that the M3 MacBook Air is up to 60% faster than the M1 variant. But the question is, how does the M3 MacBook Air compare to the M2 MacBook Air?

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

I launched the Blender benchmark, which tests how well systems handle creator-focused tasks, including 3D modeling, animation, and more. According to our results, the M3 MacBook Air is 15% faster compared to the M2 MacBook Air.

According to our Geekbench 6 testing, another benchmark that tests for CPU prowess, the M3 MacBook Air turned out to be nearly 20% faster than the M2 MacBook Air.

What does this mean? Diving into your favorite creator apps should yield a faster workflow on the M3 MacBook Air. Expect zippier editing and rendering across the board, whether you’re using Photoshop, Illustrator, or any other app that appeals to your artsy soul.

Dual-display support

What makes the M3 MacBook Air different from the M2 MacBook Air is the fact that it supports two external monitors now. (Its predecessor only supported one.)

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In other words, you can now hook up two displays to the M3 MacBook Air for a sweet, multi-screen set up in your office. However, as you’ll discover in the “What I dislike about the M3 MacBook Air” section, there’s a catch.

Wi-Fi 6E support

Another perk that you won’t find on the M2 MacBook Air? The M3 MacBook Air now has WiFi 6E support, a step up from its predecessor (WiFi 6 support).

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“What does WiFi 6E mean for me?” you may be wondering. Without diving into verbose nerdom, WiFi 6E enhances speed, reduces latency, and bolsters network security. As such, connectivity with the WiFi 6E-supported M3 MacBook Air should lead to reduced interference and better performance overall while transmitting data wirelessly.

New ‘Midnight Black’ color

Midnight Black gets its inspiration from the Space Black color that graces the current-gen MacBook Pro models. Like Space Black, it features an anodization seal that is designed to reduce fingerprints.

Other colorways for the 15-inch M3 MacBook Air
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

I love onyx hues, so I’m digging Midnight Black (though it could stand to be duskier). However, as you’ll find out in subsequent sections, the chassis won’t be completely devoid of fingerprints.

The M3 MacBook Air also comes in Starlight, Space Gray, and Silver. I’m still crossing my fingers for a rich, dark purple colorway for future-generation models, but something tells me that Apple would say, “Don’t hold your breath!”

Webcam still slaps

As someone who has been testing several Windows laptops recently, including the dual-display Asus Zenbook Duo and the HP Spectre x360 14, I’ve been disappointed in the webcams lately. There’s too much noise, the colors are too muted, and I always look like a silly watercolor painting.

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However, when I fired up the M3 MacBook Air’s 1080p shooter, I breathed a sigh of relief. The colors are relatively accurate and I actually look like myself on the viewfinder. 

Angelic audio

One thing I love the most about Apple is how it pays special attention to features that often get neglected by laptop manufacturers – like audio. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve loved every aspect of a laptop, only to be sorely disappointed with quiet speakers and/or tinny audio.

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Matching the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air, the new 15-inch M3 MacBook Air has a six-speaker sound system that sounds absolutely divine. On Spotify, I fired up Tate McRae’s “greedy” tune and the pop song sounded bombastic, loud, punchy, and rich – better than whatever system you’re reading this with (if you don’t own a MacBook).

What’s ‘eh’ about the 15-inch M3 MacBook Air?

The fact that the 15-inch M3 MacBook Air is an incremental upgrade is, for the most part, a positive. Sometimes, it’s better to play it safe than take innovative risks that may throw off consumers. However, there are still some aspects about the Air that could have used a tweak or two with this new refresh.

The notch is still, er, notching

Ah, the controversial notch that dips into the display. Some people love it; some people hate it. Others disliked it initially – and then eventually got used to it. I fell into this camp. I wasn’t a fan of the notch on my 15-inch M2 MacBook Air at first, but eventually, I stopped noticing its presence.

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

That being said, I’m not pressed about the notch, but it would have been a surprise – a pleasant one – if Apple shaved some of it off for a better visual treat. 

It’s also worth noting that the M3 MacBook Air’s 15.3-inch, 2880 x 1864-pixel display, like the M2 MacBook Air, is still eye-catching. I fired up the Deadpool & Wolverine trailer on the display, which emanated the same bright, crisp visuals as its predecessor. It’s no OLED panel with deep blacks and high contrast, but it’s still impressive.

Click-clacky keyboard

I literally said the words “ooh, yeah!” — like I’m the Kool-Aid Man bursting through the wall — when I experienced my first typing session on the new 15-inch M3 MacBook Air. Generation over generation, the keyboard has remained unchanged, but that’s a good thing.

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The keyboard is as click-clacky as I remember, allowing me to prance from key to key like a dexterous pianist.

Stingy with ports

I’m actually OK with the fact that the M3 MacBook Air features just two Thunderbolt 3 / USB 4 ports and MagSafe 3 (a proprietary connector that frees up the aforementioned USB-C ports so you can power your MacBook Air). Plus, there’s a 3.5mm headset jack – a port that I’m surprised that Apple hasn’t nixed yet since it can be quite “kill happy,” especially when it comes to I/O options.

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

However, if I could have it my way, I’d add one extra USB-C port on the right side of the M3 MacBook Air (all the USB-C ports are currently situated on the left).

Temper your expectations with ‘Midnight Black’

My review unit is the Midnight Black variant, and yes, it is less susceptible to smudges and smears – just like Apple claims.

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

But don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s completely fingerprint-proof. However, I can confirm that this colorway holds up better than the “Midnight” hue (not to be confused with Midnight Black) that drapes my 15-inch M2 MacBook Air.

What I dislike about the 15-inch M3 MacBook Air

The new feature I appreciate on the new 15-inch M3 MacBook Air has a “flip side,” too.

Dual-display support only works with a closed lid

The 15-inch M3 MacBook Air now has dual-display support, but it only works when the lid is shut. In other words, yes, you can hook up two displays to the laptop. But you can only interact with the external screens – not the display on the laptop itself.

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

This means you’ll have to rely on external peripherals like the Magic Keyboard, Magic Trackpad, and Magic Mouse to enjoy the multi-screen experience.

If you want to keep the lid open, your next best option (if you want an M3-based chip) is the 14-inch M3 Pro MacBook Pro, which has a starting price tag of $1,999.

15-inch M3 MacBook Air battery life

To test battery life, we looped a 1080p film – Tears of Steel to be exact – until the laptop ran out of juice. It lasted 10 hours and 52 minutes on a single charge.

On the same test, the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air lasted slightly longer: 10 hours and 58 minutes.

15-inch M3 MacBook Air Geekbench score

On Geekbench 6, the 15-inch M3 MacBook Air notched a multi-core score of 12,057. 

As a point of reference, this nearly touches the new Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, a gaming laptop packed with an AMD Ryzen 9 CPU. It delivered a multi-core score of 12,170.

Is the 15-inch M3 MacBook Air worth it?

The 15-inch M3 MacBook Air may seem like a simple refresh, but as someone who owns the M2 MacBook Air, I’d definitely trade it in for the new-generation model.

Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Our testing shows that the M3 MacBook Air is about 20% faster, give or take, than the M2 MacBook Air, particularly when it comes to creator-focused workflows. In other words, expect zippier performance, whether you’re a fledgling video editor or a photo-editing hobbyist.

The 15-inch M3 MacBook Air continues to blur the line of the Air and Pro models, providing ample “oomph” for creatives, professionals, and students who need robust performance that can handle their multifaceted workflows.

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