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15-inch M3 MacBook Air – first thoughts

A bit of late-night impulse cost me dearly…

15-inch M3 MacBook Air

It’s all changed here for me this morning – I’m writing this on the new 15-inch M3 MacBook Air.

Trust me that sentence is as much of a surprise for me to type it as it is for you to read! If you’ve hung out with me over the past few weeks then you’ll know that my eyes have been firmly set on getting hold of the promised new OLED 13-inch iPad – and nothing on that front has changed.

I’m constantly refreshing Apple’s newsroom feed and keeping my eyes on any new releases – but I’ve been at this long enough to know it’s best to work with a bird-in-the-hand approach – meaning work with actuals rather than promises.

So while it’s likely that we will get a press release this week about iPads I wanted to make sure to bring you the latest news – which meant that late on Saturday I decided to take a drive into my local Apple Store in Battersea, London and pick up a new MacBook Air.

Learning

As you’ll know the MacBook Air was overhauled nearly two years ago when the iconic wedge shape gave way to the more current MacBook stance – all squared off, butch and angular.

I know some say that the taper on the original MacBook Air was more comfortable to type on – but be that as it may, it’s gone. And now it’s gone for good.

Until this launch, you could still bag an M1 MacBook Air. Now though if you check the website the range is only M2 & M3. It’s worth noting though that the price for M2 8-Core CPU/8-Core GPU 8 GB memory & 256 GB storage model has been reduced in price – it’s now only £1099.

That represents great value – and it’s a Mac that you could hand-on-heart recommend to anyone. OK – sure it has its limitations but for light work and probably for 85% of Mac users it would suit them perfectly. I’ve written before that right now we are sitting in the eye of a perfect storm – there is a Mac for everyone and every price point.

At the back end of last year, I bought an M3 iMac and on that occasion, I plumped for the lowest spec’d entry model I could. I wanted to find out what the cheapest M3 Apple silicon was capable of. The answer is that it can handle a surprising amount – but I have found its limits a couple of times.

One of those was recording my podcast using Riverside FM – it struggled and at one point everything froze on me and I had to relaunch Edge (the browser I’ve found Riverside works best on).

The other time was when I was exporting a 15-minute 4K video from Premiere – but the fact that a base M3 chip is handling it all says everything you need to know about the latest range of Apple silicon.

Editing in Lightroom with presets and working in Audition or Photoshop was a breeze on that M3 iMac.

This time though I wanted the MacBook Air to be up to handling more – I wanted to leave the MacBook Pro at home as much as possible and for this to become a mini-workhorse.

Specs for my 15-inch M3 MacBook Air

The colour was my first decision – when I bought my M2 MacBook Air I chose the new (as it was then) Midnight Blue. It did show fingerprints but was not as bad as everyone would have you think – but I found it sat somewhat awkwardly on my desk – the colour just jumped out too much. This time I have kept it simple and gone with the silver so that it matches my MacBook Pro and Studio Display.

Just going back to that Midnight colour though for a moment – in last week’s press release, Apple said that the M3 model had been treated with a breakthrough anodisation seal to reduce fingerprints. Hmmm – well, whilst I was in the store Saturday night I gave the Midnight Blue model a good smudge testing – and it still smudges…

After the colour, I had the important choices to make – size and internals. I had intended to go like-for-like and replace my 13-inch M2 MacBook Air with the newer version – but then the inevitable happened…I began to look at the 15-inch Air.

Bearing in mind that I intend to use this Mac as much as possible I knew I’d want more screen real-estate. So far, sitting working on it this morning it immediately feels like the right choice. The screen feels so much more comfortable to work on than the 13-inch but the major winner for me is the keyboard – it feels way more comfortable to use – it feels like a MacBook and not a notebook.

Because I chose the 15-inch MacBook Air it meant I’d be getting an 8-Core CPU and 10-Core GPU but with 16 GB of unified memory and 512 GB of SSD storage.

The M3 iMac does a fair bit of memory swapping as soon as you have a few apps or Chrome tabs open so I’m hopeful that the 16 GB of memory on the MacBook Air will sort that.

For most of us, storage is not as big of an issue as it used to be with music and photos being cloud-based but at least with 512 GB, I’d have more headroom – and again so far it looks as if I made a smart choice.

In that config, this MacBook Air ended up costing me £1699 – a lot of money for sure (particularly if the iPad does get released this week/month) but working on it today it feels like I ticked the right boxes.

Trade-in

I have never been one of those reviewers who buys a Mac and then returns it after 14 days. There are plenty of those folks out there but I don’t want to follow that path.

But one thing I did take advantage of was Apple’s Trade-In option – and that was partly why I chose to buy in-store rather than order online.

They make it super simple to trade in. You just pop in your serial number and answer a few condition-based questions and they give you the figure – in my case, the 2022 13-inch M2 MacBook Air in Midnight Blue with 8GB of memory and 512 GB storage fetched me a £675 trade-in which I thought was fair enough.

The difference though of trading in at the store as opposed to online is that you get the credit straight away. If you do it online you’ll have to wait until you’ve returned it for the credit to be refunded to you.

So, my advice is that if you live close enough to an Apple Store go and do it in person. They flatten the device for you there and then – and you get to keep the charger which is part of their environmental push.

I asked what happens with the old Macs – they are fully recycled. The MacBook Air I am working on today is the first Apple product to be made with 50 per cent recycled content, including 100 per cent recycled aluminium in the enclosure, 100 per cent recycled rare earth elements in all magnets and, in another first for Apple, 100 per cent recycled copper in the main logic board.

Set-up

I swear the setup of a new Mac gets easier and quicker every time I do it.

Setting up the M3 MacBook Air last night was a breeze – I reckon 2 hours from start to finish – being in Apple’s ecosystem at times like this does have its benefits.

With the headroom I mentioned I wasn’t scared or at all concerned to load everything I need to work on here.

My essentials include Dropbox (using Smart Sync which is genius), Adobe Creative Cloud, Audition, Photoshop, Lightroom, In Design and Premiere. I’ve also got Audio Hijack on here and Ulysses (of course). I have three email accounts active in Mac Mail on here and with all that I’ve only used nearly 100 GB of storage.

This is never going to be my main workstation. My MacBook Pro has 4 TB of storage – but as a second string to my bow, the specs on this MacBook Air seem to be perfect. And if I should choose to edit any chunky video work on here I can always use the Samsung T7 SSD so I reckon I’m covered on all bases.

So far I’ve set this MacBook Air up and been working on it for 3 or 4 hours today and it has done all that with the charge that it came out of the box with. I think it’s pretty safe to assume then that battery life is going to be ok.

Display gate

A lot has been said since the MBA was released on Friday about the fact that this new machine will support up to two external displays with the lid closed.

I don’t see what the beef with that is – this MacBook Air will spend nearly all its life working standalone. I don’t think I ever hooked up my M2 MacBook Air to my Studio Display. To me it’s just one of those things for people to moan about – but this machine was never aimed at pros sitting in a multi-screen environment. It has its own unique USP.

It is still the same 1080p FaceTime camera as before but voice clarity has been added to the mic software.

I was just listening to some music on here and the speakers are surprisingly good – certainly better than the 13-inch M2 model I had – the rules of physics will always apply on that front. I’d honestly say that for the majority of users, these speakers will be just fine.

First day thoughts

I am over the moon with this M3 MacBook Air so far.

This is far from being a review, but first impressions are that M3 with a little bit more grunt makes huge difference. I know I have not come anywhere close to pushing this thing yet but the 15-inch MacBook Air feels way more ‘me’.

The keyboard space in particular feels so good to work on.

Now there is a line of argument that for the same money, I could have bought a base 14-inch MacBook Pro. Yes, you get a better display, HDMI and SD card slots but it only has 8 GB of memory and that would soon prove a problem on that MacBook.

The 14-inch MacBook Pro is smaller and slightly heavier as well and you still only get the same two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports.

In my eyes, it’s a no-brainer – for the money the 15-inch MacBook Air is the better bit of kit. Just one thing to bear in mind though, at this size the MacBook Air starts to feel much more laptop than a notebook.

If ultra portability is important to you I’d go for the 13-inch as it’s about 1 pound lighter – but for someone like myself who will be using it mostly at a desk, this larger size suits me perfectly.

The 15-inch MacBook Air is more of the same – just bigger, faster and better.

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