MacBook Air M3 13-inch Laptop Review

A Powerhouse in a Portable Package

MacBook Air M3 13-inch Laptop Review
MacBook Air M3 13-inch Laptop Review

MacBook Air M3 13-inch Laptop

Brutalist Review Style (Version 2)

Ever since the MacBook Air first launched, it has always been a laptop I wanted to make work for my lifestyle. It boasted an incredibly light body, solid specs for the size, and featured some great quality-of-life features that made it hard to ignore. Sadly, as someone who needs a range of performance software and loves gaming, it simply could never work as my main travel companion, at least until now.

With the new M3 chip, the 2024 Apple MacBook Air finally hits the sweet spot of performance, weight and style that I have been craving, and while it may not meet everyone’s needs, this is finally a laptop that makes much more sense for professionals, creatives, and even gamers, provided upgradability is not on your wishlist. 

Starting things off with the look, from the moment you lay your eyes on the MacBook Air M3, you’re struck by its sleek and modern design. I got to look at the Midnight colour variation (with the anodized seal to reduce fingerprints), and it looks absolutely stunning and exudes a premium feel that few laptops match. The aluminum unibody construction feels solid while keeping the laptop’s internal components safe while travelling. Even with the power on offer, the 13-inch review unit I tested boasts a 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM, an 8-core CPU, and a 10-core GPU, and managed to weigh just 1.2 kg without the charger.

Macbook Air M3 13-Inch Laptop Review

Even with that clean look and minimalist feel, you will still find the standard array of ports, including the MagSafe 3 charging port, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports that support charging, thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort, and speeds up to 40Gb/s. Oh, and it also has a 3.5mm headphone jack for good measure. The MacBook Air M3 also boasts a 52.6-watt-hour lithium‑polymer battery, which Apple promises delivers 18 hours of Apple TV movie playback or up to 15 hours of web browsing (more on this later).

What really makes this iteration of the MacBook Air so special is what is on the inside of the PC.  Underneath its svelte exterior lies Apple’s custom silicon, the M3 chip, which lets this slim laptop do much more than its size suggests. While previously, Apple relied on Intel for its chips, the move to custom silicon has given them the freedom to build the OS and the internals in conjunction, giving much more ability to optimize everything along the way. Ever since the introduction of the M1 chip, the performance for the size has been fantastic, and the M3 pushes that envelope even further. 

While the Intel chips did offer some level of graphics processing, it felt limited without a dedicated GPU. With the M3, that is no longer the case. Beyond that, the M3 chip has the ability to handle demanding tasks with ease, letting a MacBook Air tackle creative workloads and even gaming while not sacrificing size or battery to do so. Whether you’re editing 4K video, working with complex 3D models, or running games, the MacBook Air M3 takes it all in stride. The seamless integration of the M3 chip with macOS results in a buttery-smooth user experience, with lightning-fast app launches and snappy multitasking capabilities.

Macbook Air M3 13-Inch Laptop Review

Apple’s reputation for stunning displays remains with the MacBook Air M3. The 2560×1664 IPS LED-backlit display is, quite simply, gorgeous. It boasts vibrant, wide (P3) colours, deep blacks, and crisp details that bring content to life. While laptops from brands like ASUS offer fantastic displays, the MacBook Air M3’s panel can hold its own against most competitors.

Whether editing photos, watching movies, or browsing the web, this display is a joy to behold. With True Tone technology, the MacBook Air M3 display automatically adjusts to ambient light, ensuring a comfortable viewing experience in any environment. Even games and HDR content look fantastic, allowing titles to appear as their developers intended, an impressive feat for such a shockingly thin and light laptop.

“With True Tone technology, the MacBook Air M3 display automatically adjusts to ambient light, ensuring a comfortable viewing experience in any environment.”

On the connectivity side of things, the MacBook Air M3 delivers most of the latest standards to keep you connected wherever you go. With Thunderbolt 4 ports, you can connect to high-speed peripherals and external displays and even charge your device, all through a single cable. The inclusion of Wi-Fi 6E ensures lightning-fast wireless connectivity, while Bluetooth 5.0 allows you to seamlessly connect to your favourite accessories. This is also the first time you can connect up to two external displays with the MacBook lid closed, giving you options if you use this at a hot-swap desk at work or just like carrying your main machine to and from the office.

Macbook Air M3 13-Inch Laptop Review

Apple laptops have long been celebrated for their keyboards and touchpads, and thankfully, this is a tradition the MacBook Air M3 is keeping up with.  The keyboard, for instance, is a delight to type on, with responsive keys and satisfying tactile feedback. There is just enough travel to give feedback on keystrokes while not becoming a chore to type on. There are few laptop keyboards I truly enjoy using, and this is one of them. And let’s not forget about the Touch ID sensor, which adds an extra layer of security and convenience to your computing experience.

The trackpad is equally impressive, with a large surface area and precise tracking that makes navigation a breeze, at least until you get to the click. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I know I am in the minority, but I like the ability to physically push in the trackpad. While not a deal breaker by any means, it is something I find hard to get used to, even after working with them for years now. The Force Touch Trackpad is one of those things that is incredibly innovative, and many people love it, but I still reach for my external mouse when I look to get real work or gaming done with the MacBook Air M3.

With the look and specs out of the way, it is time to jump into some real-world testing to see just what the MacBook Air M3 is actually capable of—jumping into a range of creative apps, including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Photo, and DaVinci Resolve, and I was impressed with just how smooth everything was. I loaded a range of files and even attempted some light video editing, and everything ran incredibly smoothly, with the M3 chip tackling even complex tasks with relative ease. 

Macbook Air M3 13-Inch Laptop Review

Realistically, on many of these workflows, you will be limited by the RAM, with the 16GB offering more than enough for most tasks, I would be hesitant to go with 8GB if you do plan to do any creative work, with that memory shared with the GPU, it is important you don’t starve yourself the needed resources, especially if you plan to make the MacBook Air M3 your main travel workhorse. 

Jumping over to standard office tasks, the MacBook Air M3 managed Microsoft Word easily, with it able to run the full range the Microsoft Office suite allows simultaneously without any issues. If you want to get into some AI workflows, the built-in GPU offers a powerful enough processor to even run light LLMs, all locally.

I tested this with the app FreeChat using a 7B Llamma 2 Model, and it ran relatively smoothly. You may find it painfully slow if you look to run anything bigger, but with advancements in the area every day, this could change. It still remains to be seen how useful these local LLMs are for daily use, but it is a nice added bonus, especially for such a small laptop.

Macbook Air M3 13-Inch Laptop Review

Gaming is another area that I never expected to see on a laptop like the MacBook Air, but the M3 chip manages it and, beyond that, excels at it when the games are properly optimized. I tested a range of games, all delivering solid results, provided you can deal with the install sizes. I loaded the MacBook Air M3 with Death Stranding: Directors Cut, Resident Evil 4, Lies of P, Stray, along with Baldur’s Gate 3 to get a feeling for just how the laptop managed in a range of tests.

Right off the bat, games that are optimized for the M3 chip work astonishingly well. Jumping into Death Stranding, I managed a solid 50+ FPS the full time while playing, with everything pushed to high and running at 1080P. While it did fluctuate a bit depending on what was going on the screen, it never dipped more than five or so FPS at a time.

The same is true of Resident Evil 4, Stray and Lies of P, with all games allowing 1080P performance with high settings while maintaining near 60FPS. It was only when I jumped into Baldur’s Gate 3 that I saw the system struggle a bit, and even then, it was not much. During my testing, the game managed an average of around 45 FPS with settings maxed out at 1080P, although it did sit in the 50s for less populated areas.

Macbook Air M3 13-Inch Laptop Review

Thankfully, Apple did not sacrifice battery for performance in the MacBook Air M3, with the new M3 chip offering fantastic battery life even when pushed with intensive applications. Apple has managed to squeeze an astonishing amount of performance out of a chip that sips power like it is rationing for the apocalypse.

This translates into extended battery life, allowing you to work, create, and play for hours on end without constantly searching for a power outlet. It’s a liberating experience, especially for those who are always on the go. For casually using the laptop, I would put it close to Apple’s estimates, with it getting close to around 12-13 hours of web browsing and light work. Jumping into games or intensive applications will reduce that, with it getting an estimated 8-9 hours when pushing the system, potentially less depending on your settings. 

“Thankfully, Apple did not sacrifice battery for performance in the MacBook Air M3, with the new M3 chip offering fantastic battery life even when pushed with intensive applications.”

But perhaps the most compelling aspect of the MacBook Air M3 is its seamless integration with Apple’s ecosystem. If you’re already invested in the Apple universe, the MacBook Air M3 feels like a natural extension of your digital life. From the familiar macOS interface to the ability to seamlessly sync your files, photos, and messages across all your Apple devices, the ecosystem experience is unparalleled. It’s a testament to Apple’s holistic approach to technology, where hardware and software work in harmony to deliver a cohesive and intuitive user experience. 

Macbook Air M3 13-Inch Laptop Review

Features like the ability to use an Apple iPad as a second screen are absolute game changers for road warriors looking to get the most out of their portable setup. I am used to my dual screens at work, so getting an experience like that on the road while using gear I already have is fantastic. I also just love the many ways you can customize the OSX setup to meet your needs with features like Stage Manager, giving a system to manage applications in a much more intuitive way that I absolutely love and will miss while on my Windows machine. 

“If you’re already invested in the Apple universe, the MacBook Air M3 feels like a natural extension of your digital life.”

Of course, no product is perfect, and the MacBook Air M3 is no exception. One potential drawback is the price tag, which may be a bit steep for some users. While you can jump in on the MacBook Air M3 starting from only $1,099 USD ($1,449 CAD) to get the machine I reviewed with 16GB RAM and the best GPU, you will be dropping around $1,499 ($1,949 CAD), and that is before you look at potential upgrades.

This leads me to my next issue: the limited upgradability of the MacBook Air M3. While the M3 chip offers plenty of power out of the box, some users may lament the inability to upgrade the RAM or storage down the line. With the top laptop only coming with up to a 512GB standard, you will need to upgrade at the time of purchase should you want 1TB ($250) or 2TB ($750), something that could be vital if you are looking to actually game or do creative work on the laptop since you will fill up that 512GB SSD incredibly quickly. For example, Death Stranding: Directors Cut takes up almost 70GB alone, and that is only one of the games I benchmarked on the system, with the SSD basically completely full once I had everything loaded up for testing.

Macbook Air M3 13-Inch Laptop Review

This is a trade-off that comes with the territory of ultra-portable laptops, and it’s a compromise that many users are willing to make for the sake of portability and sleek design, but something to keep in mind and factor into your purchasing decision. Thankfully, USB-C SSDs are relatively inexpensive now and could be a solution, provided you don’t mind carrying around a bit of extra bulk to save some money, although that takes away some of the portability of the MacBook Air M3. 

Despite these drawbacks, the MacBook Air M3 is a triumph of engineering and design. It’s a machine that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in a portable form factor, delivering surprising levels of performance and efficiency. Whether you’re a creative professional, a student, or simply someone who appreciates the finer things in technology, the MacBook Air M3 is sure to impress.

The MacBook Air M3 stands as a marvel of engineering and innovation, delivering staggering performance in a remarkably svelte package. It shatters expectations by handling gaming and demanding creative workloads with ease, achievements once unimaginable for a MacBook Air. While storage constraints and lack of upgradability are drawbacks, its premium experience justifies the price for those already invested in the Apple ecosystem and seeking a portable workhorse.

Apple has crafted a near-perfect laptop with the MacBook Air M3 that exceeds expectations and excels where it matters most. If expanded storage were standard, the M3 would be an undisputed must-own, but even in its current form, it’s a stunning technological achievement that redefines what’s possible.


CGM got a sneak peek at Apple’s new MacBook Air range, all powered by the M3 Chip! #Apple #mac #macbook #macbookair #macbookairm3 #contentcreator @apple

♬ You’ve Created a Monster – Bohnes

Final Thoughts

Brendan Frye
Brendan Frye

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