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Apple MacBook Air M3 review: Heavy metal from the light edition laptop

The M3-powered Apple MacBook Air shows the laptop is no longer a lightweight when it comes to serious performance

The new Apple MacBook Air M3 starts at 1.15 lakh for the 13-inch variant.(Apple)

By Shouvik Das

LAST PUBLISHED 08.04.2024  |  12:00 PM IST

The MacBook Air has never been the flagship of Apple’s laptop range—that title rests solely with the MacBook Pro. It has missed Apple’s design innovation, such as the edge-to-edge keyboard of the “MacBook", or the touch bar of the Pro. Yet, it is Apple’s best-selling laptop of all time.

Today, the Air bears the same design language and keyboard layout as Apple’s top-drawer MacBook Pro models. Added to that, it is powered by the base spec of Apple’s newest custom processors, the M3, and is being marketed as “the world’s best consumer AI laptop."

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Also read: The Apple MacBook Air conundrum: M1 or M2?

So far, the Pro was not just the “professional" laptop in Apple’s lineup—it was also the creator’s laptop. There are filmmakers and designers who use the Pro as a mobile workstation to create graphic, resource-heavy content.

Yet, truth be told, film editing and graphic designing seldom have scenarios where one must sit at an airport and edit a fight sequence recorded through RED’s 8K cinema cameras. For the most part, the Pro would be a workstation device that remains tethered to a desk. This is where the Air comes in.

In a pre-review press demo, Apple showcased how the Air can smoothly edit a 4K video workflow on the default iMovie app on macOS, while managing background processes efficiently to ensure that the overall usage experience remains as smooth as this lineup could accommodate. The Air is no longer a lightweight when it comes to more serious performance credentials.

Straight off the bat, multi-tab heavy browser loads work very smoothly on the new Air. It lacks the fast refresh rate of the MacBook Pro screen, even at a time when you can find Windows laptops from various brands that offer smooth displays at significantly lower prices.

Even with that, the M3-powered Air succeeds as an ideal work laptop for corporate leaders, journalists, sales and marketing professionals, semi-pro creative professionals and students. Apple appears to have used a faster storage drive on this new laptop, after the M2-powered Air drew criticism. Comparably, copying a 60GB 4K RAW video workload took less than two minutes longer on the Air, than it did on an M3 Max-powered MacBook Pro.

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This helps, especially if you are a creator who shoots video content and uses an iPhone. For instance, shooting clips totalling five minutes at 4K 60fps video on an iPhone, transferring them to the Air, ingesting, editing, rendering and exporting them on iMovie work smoothly. There were, however, visible stutters in switching between open apps when the video was being rendered for export—something that isn’t unexpected.

As the Air gets older, there may be more such stutters. But, Apple has the longest lifespans for consumer gadgets, and this Air should last you (and with software updates) for at least six years.

So far, any semi-professional creator looking for a Mac capable of sustainably smooth video editing will have considered the Pro variants. They, however, are considerably more expensive, and are likely always more powerful than what a user needs. The Air makes itself proficient in this very guise.

The Air lasts longer than the full work-day on a heavy browser workload, plus multiple video calls. However, it is important to note that no depleting battery life data becomes apparent in just two weeks.

There are, however, two concerns. One, even the 16GB memory variant does appear to produce stutters upon increased multi-browser workloads, which suggests that such stutters may be recurring in the long run. Most stutters are visual only in the first two weeks, and do not hinder performance—but is something worth keeping track of in the long run.

The second concern is the notch. Apple still doesn’t offer Face ID on any Mac, and such a wide blank space for just a front-facing camera is unlike Apple’s traditional design philosophy. Designers, though, suggest that a smaller notch would look even worse—and the front camera isn’t negotiable either.

Overall, the Air justifies itself as a good laptop to buy. Starting at 1.15 lakh for the 13-inch variant and going up to 1.75 lakh for the 15-inch, 512GB one, the 2024, M3-powered Apple MacBook Air provides the kind of comprehensive value that Microsoft’s fellow sub-flagship laptop, the Surface Laptop Go 3, just fails to offer.

Also read: A two-month durability test of the M3 Max MacBook Pro