The MacBook Air 15 looks like Apple designers did nothing more than pinch to zoom on the MacBook Air 13, and yet I still find myself drawn to the newest MacBook.
I can hear the cries of “Apple fanboy!” already, but it’s been four years since I last owned a MacBook. After going through three replacement 15-inch MacBook Pros during the miserable Butterfly Keyboard and Touch Bar years I swore off Apple laptops and have been all Windows and Chrome OS since.
Obviously, quite a lot has changed since then, Apple rightly went back to a traditional keyboard, and (mostly) killed the Touch Bar, while also dramatically improving performance and battery life thanks to the move to Apple Silicon. I’ve been tempted to dip my toe back in Cupertino’s waters at times, but nothing has been quite the right blend of features and crucially affordability, I was not going to spend over $2,000 on a MacBook again!
Enter the MacBook Air 15, possibly the most boring new Apple laptop in years, and yet it might just be my next laptop.
What makes the MacBook Air 15 so boring?
I’m willing to entertain the argument that the MacBook Pro M2 deserves the title of “Most boring Apple laptop,” after all, it still features the old MacBook design and the accursed Touch Bar (apologies to my co-worker that owns one). However, the freakish battery life and performance of that laptop, combined with its reasonable pricing prevent me from giving it the honor.
So why then is the MacBook Air 15 incurring my wrath? In part, it is the result of writing up our MacBook Air 15 vs. MacBook Air 13 face-off. Beyond the display size, there are no meaningful differences between these two laptops. The fact that Apple didn’t add so much as an extra port or little more battery life was just infuriating to me. The latter in particular rankles as this seemed such an obvious win for the super-sized Air.
(Image credit: Future)
The MacBook Air 13 M2 delivered 14 hours and 6 minutes in our Laptop Mag battery test, a strong result, but the MacBook Pro 13 M2 hit an improbable 18 hours and 20 minutes. Prior to its announcement, I was sure the Air 15 was destined for a spot atop our laptops with the best battery life, but Apple claims the same 18 hours of battery life it did with the Air 13. Now perhaps Apple is underselling things, it is one of the only companies occasionally guilty of that with battery life claims, we’ll have to wait for it to make its way through our labs to find out, but I’m not counting on it.
The port situation is a close second, Apple has plenty of room to give the Air 15 at least a partial port makeover akin to the MacBook Pro 14 and Pro 16, but no still just a pair of Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, MagSafe, and a 3.5mm headphone/mic jack. Give me an SDXC card reader, HDMI, heck even one more Thunderbolt/USB 4 port would be something. There’s just no reason a laptop this size should have just a pair of ports.
I’m not averse to the squared-off design that Apple moved to a few years ago, but as it permeates the entire lineup from the iPhone, to the iPad, and the MacBooks it begins to cross over from a shared design language to a bland uniformity. Maybe give us a hint of that old Air wedge shape on this one? What about something other than the same four neutral colors? The iPhone 14 gets a couple of fun colors to go with the safe and mundane options, why not the Air?
Last, but not least, rumors of an M3 MacBook Air are churning through the rumor mill. Larger display or not, who wants to buy an M2 Air at full price when an M3 may be just around the corner?
Didn’t you say you were going to buy one?
You got me. For all of my complaints about the MacBook Air 15 being the yawn-inducing laptop equivalent of tryptophan, I find myself hovering over the pre-order button. Here’s why.
It’s affordable, at least by Apple standards. At $1,299 it is actually a bit cheaper than some of our favorite thin-and-light Windows laptops like the LG Gram 16 and the LG SuperSlim, while also (presumably) offering better battery life and superior performance for some tasks like photo and video editing. Again our lab results will tell the final tale there.
I was also sorely tempted to buy the M2 Air when it was released last year, but that 13.6-inch display just didn’t cut it. I appreciate the portability, but not as much as I appreciate the productivity of a larger display on my laptop considering I am almost always working in a split screen. Prior to the MacBook Air 15, meeting this requirement would have meant spending $2,499 or more for the MacBook Pro 16. It’s an amazing laptop, but not only is it more than I want to spend, but I don’t relish the idea of lugging a nearly 5-pound laptop around convention floors or on flights, I’m already weighed down with camera gear.
(Image credit: Future)
While another port or two would have been great to see, I made my peace with carrying a USB-C hub years ago, and no matter what Apple might have added, my trusty DockCase USB-C hub wouldn’t have been leaving my bag.
As for the lack of color options, I’ll be taking a look at some skins and cases, because honestly getting lost in the sea of sameness with silver or space gray does eat at me a little. And yes I know there is also Starlight and Moonlight, but *yawn*.
The one thing that does give me pause is the promise of M3. This will be the jump from a 5nm to a 3nm process, delivering potentially a 15% speed boost and a 30% reduction to power draw. Some think it’s coming this fall, which would make purchasing a MacBook Air 15 with M2 roughly 4 months prior seem pretty silly, but it’s hard not to see the Air 15 release as confirmation that we won’t see an Air M3 until 2024. Maybe it’s early in 2024 but given that we know there are considerable limitations on the supply of TSMC’s 3nm chips, we may not see them until WWDC 2024.
(Image credit: Future)Bottom line
I love new tech and unique designs in laptops and the MacBook Air 15 fails utterly on both counts. Sure it’s the thinnest 15-inch laptop, but that’s at least in part because almost everyone stopped making 15-inch laptops. Otherwise, this is the MacBook Air 13 + 1.7 display inches and nothing more.
However, the MacBook Air 13 M2 is not just any other laptop. It’s our current pick for the best laptop overall and graces probably a dozen other best pages thanks to its blend of performance and battery life. So if you are telling me I can have that exact laptop with a larger display…it may not be groundbreaking, but that still sounds pretty great.
So is your current laptop running great? Then hold off, it could be almost a year away, but Apple will release an M3 version of the MacBook Air 15 and it’s a lock to be a more significant update than we saw from M1 to M2. However, if your current laptop is giving your fits and slowing down your workflows (as mine is), the M2 processor in the MacBook Air 15 is outstanding today and will remain so for years to come. So I find myself stifling my yawn and picking up what I expect to be one of the best laptops of 2023.
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