The M3 MacBook Air has a familiar look

The M3 MacBook Air has a familiar look

The midnight color still smudges, but the M3 processor gives it a speed boost.

Here they are, the 13-inch and 15-inch Apple MacBook Air M3s. And I’ve got one of each. One in starlight and one in midnight. The midnight one is already covered in smudges, while the starlight shines bright, free of visible finger oils. But at least I can tell these two apart.

The chassis of the 13-inch and 15-inch Air M3s are the same as their M2 predecessors: same wedgeless design, same dimensions and weight, same colorway options — same everything. If the two were side by side, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell which ones have an M2 chip and which ones have an M3.

You’d have to fire them up and run some benchmarks to tell the difference from the M2 models. Based on my time with the MacBook Pro 14 M3, I expect the Air M3s to have about a 10 to 15 percent performance increase over the M2 Airs and equivalent (if not identical) performance to the MacBook Pro 14 M3. Both the 13-inch and 15-inch Air M3 review units I received have an eight-core CPU, 10-core GPU, and 16GB of RAM, albeit a 512GB SSD instead of a 1TB SSD.

Focusing on the 13-inch MacBook Air for a minute, the major differences between the M2 and M3 versions are that the M3 supports hardware-accelerated ray tracing, the AV1 decode engine (a newer video codec that reduces bandwidth demands while streaming), and Wi-Fi 6E. From configuration options to battery life, little has changed, except the M3 models can finally power two external displays with the laptop closed. The M1 and M2 Airs could only use one, and the lid had to be open. (The base-model 14-inch MacBook Pro M3 will be able to run two external displays, too, after a software update — no word on the M1 and M2 Airs, though.)

Image of a champagne-colored MacBook overlapping a smudged dark navy MacBook.

Apple says the midnight colorway should be less prone to fingerprints. So far, that does not seem to be the case.
Photo by Joanna Nelius / The Verge

Same goes for the 15-inch MacBook Air, although its six-speaker sound system is noticeably better than the 13-inch’s four-speaker system. I tossed on some of my favorite songs that go hard on the low-end bass (any Combichrist fans here?), and the 15-inch produced noticeably boomier bass lines than the 13-inch, which had as much base as a retro record player spinning vinyl.

But the speakers on the MacBook Pro 14 sound just as good, if not identical, to the 15-inch MacBook Air M3! If you’re considering the 14-inch MacBook Pro M3, the latest MacBook Airs muddle Apple’s lineup even more, leaving fewer reasons to go for the Pro model unless you want something with a fancier display or a couple more ports.

The Pro and Air models are also so close in weight and size that I’m not sure what the MacBook Air even means in an era where every single laptop company has thin and lightweight laptops. The gold standard for thickness and weight has shrunk every year since Apple released its first MacBook Air in 2008. Hell, the MacBook Pro 14 M3 is thinner than the original Air!

And now that its wedge design is officially gone, what makes an Air an Air when it looks the same as a Pro? Although I am a Windows gal, I’ve had a few work MacBooks over the years. The one I have now is a MacBook Air M1, and at least I can put it next to a MacBook Pro, point to it, and say, “That’s a MacBook Air,” because the wedge design was and still is iconic.

I’m far from done testing the new MacBook Air M3s and far from done philosophizing about the Air’s identity crisis. I’m also not done digging into performance and all the other things you can do with these laptops. Stay tuned.

Joanna Nelius

Leave a Reply