When the curtain lifts on a new Apple product, anticipation is often palpable. This time is no different, as the 2023 MacBook Air takes the stage, promising an enticing blend of power and portability. After rigorously testing this device over the past several weeks, we are finally ready to give our take on the new hardware, giving you the lowdown on its performance, design, features, and more.
Design and Build Quality
Right out of the box, the MacBook Air 2023 is positively stunning with its sleek design. Apple’s style of marrying aesthetics with functionality is prominently on display. With a trim, lightweight profile, it’s effortless to handle whether you’re commuting, travelling, or simply lounging at home. The unibody design is masterfully crafted from recycled aluminum, underlining Apple’s eco-friendly efforts while ensuring robust durability.
A Leap to 15 Inches of Vibrant Display
One of the most anticipated upgrades in the MacBook Air 2023 is its move to a larger 15-inch display. This expanded screen size, a leap from the traditional 13.3 inches, offers users more real estate for multitasking and media consumption. The larger display provides an immersive experience, whether editing photos, watching videos, or working on a spreadsheet.
Maintaining Apple’s signature Retina display, the MacBook Air 2023 boasts a 2880 x 1800 resolution, providing crisp and clear images with vibrant colours. It also integrates Apple’s True Tone technology, automatically adjusting the colour temperature based on the ambient lighting for a more comfortable viewing experience.
For users who were hoping for a MacBook Air with a bigger display, the MacBook Air 2023 delivers. It combines size, clarity, and colour accuracy, offering a top-tier display that’s a pleasure to use. This upgrade, coupled with its improved performance and battery life, makes the MacBook Air 2023 a strong contender in the market.
The Powerhouse M2 Chip
At the heart of the MacBook Air 2023 lies the new M2 chip. This iteration of Apple’s in-house silicon promises a quantum leap in processing power and energy efficiency. We threw a wide range of tasks at the Air, including day-to-day productivity tasks, 4K video editing, and demanding 3D rendering. The laptop tackled them all, demonstrating the M2 chip’s raw power and versatility.
The minimalistic design philosophy of Apple brings its share of compromises. With only two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack on board, the 2023 model may disappoint users accustomed to a more diverse array of connections. The lack of ports necessitates extra investment in dongles or docking stations, inflating the overall cost.
In contrast to its MacBook Pro sibling, the Air does away with the touch bar in favour of a full row of function keys. This decision apparently has drawn mixed responses from users, but traditionalists will appreciate the familiar layout. The Magic Keyboard, a fixture of recent MacBooks, offers a rewarding typing experience, balancing tactile feedback with a satisfying travel distance. Likewise, the generously sized trackpad is precise and seamless to operate.
Portability and Longevity
The 2023 MacBook Air runs on macOS Monterey, perfectly tailored to leverage the potential of the M2 chip. Features like Universal Control, Focus modes, and the facility to seamlessly transition between your Mac and iPad all contribute to a streamlined and user-friendly experience.
Battery life is another critical factor for many prospective laptop buyers, and the MacBook Air 2023 does not disappoint. Its 20-hour battery life (as claimed by Apple) is exceptional and can easily last a full workday and beyond. In our testing it consistently lasted for around 18 hours with regular usage, including web browsing, streaming video, and light productivity tasks. This number dropped when we tested the gaming performance (more on that later), with it only managing around 15 hours, but this will vary based on the game and graphical settings.
Users who frequently run power-hungry applications or high-resolution video editing expect the battery life to be shorter. Despite this, the MacBook Air 2023 still provides a significant improvement in battery performance over the previous generations of MacBook Air and surpasses many of its competitors in the ultraportable laptop segment.
The Dell XPS 13, a major competitor in the premium ultraportable space, offers around 12 hours of battery life, while the HP Spectre x360 comes in at about 10 hours. The Acer Swift 3 can manage around 11 hours on the budget side. Apple, with its M2 chip, has a clear advantage in battery life and heat, making it ideal for people who need that longevity while on the go. The new M2 chip is frankly designed to be more energy-efficient, which not only helps the MacBook Air 2023 achieve its impressive battery longevity but also allows for a fan-less design, resulting in silent operation.
Gaming on the MacBook Air
But with that all out of the way, since we love gaming here at CGMagazine, we had to put the new 2023 MacBook Air through its paces and see how it could stack up to today’s latest games. The M2 chip, with its potent CPU and GPU power, can run demanding games like Total War: Warhammer 3 or Layers of Fear and less demanding but brilliant games like Disco Elysium.
However, the lack of compatibility with many games, old and new, is a significant drawback. While the new additions to MacOS are making development easier, the selection of games for Mac users is still limited, especially compared to the vast assortment of options on the PC.
Apple Arcade and iPhone games run smoothly on the MacBook Air, offering a solid selection of titles. Streaming services like Xbox Cloud Gaming bring more games to the platform, with servers doing the heavy lifting. Thankfully, the M2 chip is capable of solid performance, even if a massive PC laptop may deliver more frames simply due to optimization and the raw power and cooling available to bigger machines.
Games like Minecraft run incredibly well, but more demanding games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Metro Exodus can strain the system. The lack of a fan means the machine gets hot, affecting sustained performance. The real issue is while the M2 chips allow much more power even with limited cooling, gaming still makes things hot, and the MacBook Air simply does not have the level of cooling to manage that to the fullest.
It is important to remember the M2 MacBook Air is not a dedicated gaming machine but can serve casual gamers well. It’s a device that could potentially become a true gaming platform if Apple can improve software compatibility and tap into the power of Apple Silicon. However, a dedicated gaming PC or console might be a better choice for those serious about AAA titles, even if Apple has come a long way in the past few years. I will be excited to see how Apple Silicone can fair when more games are built from the ground up to take full advantage of its features.
Value & Price
Thankfully, Apple is relatively competitive with this laptop, especially considering everything is thin and light. The base model, equipped with 8GB of unified memory and 256GB of SSD storage, starts at a considerable $999. The MacBook Air is aimed at those looking for portability without compromising performance, and the new M2 chip certainly justifies the higher starting price when compared to other mainstream options.
For $1,249, you can upgrade to a model with 512GB of SSD storage. This is a worthy investment if your work revolves around heavy multimedia files and software or if you actually want to game. For those needing even more power, there’s a top-tier variant priced at $1,649, offering a whopping 1TB SSD and 16GB of unified memory. This should be sufficient for even the most demanding users and tasks. There are plenty of other upgrade options and external accessories, so keep that in mind before taking the plunge. Things can get expensive fast.
Apple’s MacBook Air 2023 is a testament to the tech giant’s ceaseless pursuit of innovation. The next-gen M2 chip and the gorgeous Liquid Retina XDR display set a high bar in the world of ultraportable laptops. The limited selection of ports and the premium pricing might give potential buyers pause, but for those deeply invested in the Apple ecosystem or seeking high performance in a slim package, the MacBook Air 2023 presents a compelling proposition. It’s not without flaws and still has a bit to go in the gaming department, but it confidently stakes its claim in the highly competitive realm of ultraportable laptops.