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Apple MacBook Air 15 inch, Mac Studio 2023 review: Performance comes in all sizes

A closer look at the big-screen MacBook Air 15 and the pro-grade Mac Studio with the latest M2 Chips

Like the 13-inch Air, the 15-inch takes design cues from the pricier Pros, with a flat, uniform 11.5mm-thickness chassis with flat edges.
Like the 13-inch Air, the 15-inch takes design cues from the pricier Pros, with a flat, uniform 11.5mm-thickness chassis with flat edges. (Apple)

If Apple’s recent updates to the Mac line-up are any indication, it appears you can please everyone. From a long requested big-screen MacBook Air to bringing the latest M2 chips to the pro-grade Mac Studio, Apple has given both entry-level Mac users and serious professionals reason for cheer.

MacBook Air 15 inch (starting from 1,34,900)

This addresses a need yet unfulfilled in Apple’s portable Mac portfolio—a large- screen laptop for the masses. Till now, if you wanted an everyday-use Mac with a larger display, your only option was a significantly costlier, thicker and heavier MacBook Pro. Now we have the 15-inch Air—the MacBook Air you are used to, only bigger.

A simplistic assessment, one that needs a bit more nuance, as I will explain.

Like the 13-inch Air, the 15-inch takes design cues from the pricier Pros, with a flat, uniform 11.5mm-thickness chassis with flat edges, with only a larger screen and footprint differentiating the two Airs. Compared to the 11.3mm 13-inch, the larger case appears even thinner in the hand—Apple says this is the thinnest 15-inch laptop out there—and the well-distributed 1.51kg weight meant that one had no issue in carrying it around. The machined aluminium chassis is as durable and sturdy as ever, with no sign of warping or bending on the base or the lid.

It truly earns its Air moniker—sure, the 13-inch still remains the more portable of the two but when you get all that extra screen real estate without compromising the carry-everywhere nature of the device, one would imagine many would opt for the 15-inch variant every single time. I know I would.

One caveat—the selection of ports. One would have expected the larger chassis to accommodate at least another USB-C port on the right edge; instead, you get the 13-inch Air’s two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, a MagSafe charging port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Opening the lid, you are greeted by a similar-sized keyboard as the smaller Air. The key travel and responsiveness are sublime. The trackpad gets a size increase, which makes macOS gestures even easier to perform, while the palm rejection that prevents accidental cursor movement remains as good as ever.

Of course, the big selling point is the 15.3-inch, 2,880x1,864-pixel, LED-backlit display that has all the hallmarks and limitations of a 13-inch Air display—the same 224ppi pixel density, 500 nits brightness and the same attention to colour accuracy, the same 60Hz refresh rate, and the same notch that houses the 1080p camera but no Face ID authentication.

The roominess afforded by the bigger display is great for packing in more on the screen, be it extra toolbars in Photomator, two side-by-side Safari windows or more rows in an Excel spreadsheet. Movies are a treat, with the six-speaker sound system blowing away anything I have heard on thin-and-light laptops, despite the speakers being hidden in the hinge.

Performance is familiar territory, with the 15-inch packing in the same M2 chip with an 8-core CPU and a slightly bumped-up 10-core GPU as standard—there’s no 8-core option, as with the Air 13 base variant. The M2, while not offering as big a generational leap as the M1 did when it launched, is a great performer for consumer tasks, even handling scrubbing through multiple 4K videos on iMovie with ease, and, bearing in mind that this is a fanless model, without overheating.

Gaming has never been the Mac’s strength but new optimised for M-series games like Stray work well, and the new game porting toolkit announced at WWDC (Apple Worldwide Developers Conference) 2023 could well change the game. On the base 8GB/256GB 15-inch model I tested, there’s the issue with the slower storage, with Apple using a single 256GB SSD chip instead of a pair of 128GB SSD chips that can be accessed simultaneously. For speedier storage, you will want to pay a little more for the 512GB storage variant. The 15-inch Air battery life is on a par with the 13-inch, with the 66.5-watt-hour battery comfortably lasting a day.

A question one asked repeatedly while testing the Air 15-inch for a week: Why didn’t Apple launch this earlier? It just makes so much sense and I wager this will be an incredibly popular laptop in the days to come.

Those of you who can justify the outlay can pick up the Mac Studio with an M2 Max ( <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>2,09,900) or an M2 Ultra chip ( <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>4,19,900).
Those of you who can justify the outlay can pick up the Mac Studio with an M2 Max ( 2,09,900) or an M2 Ultra chip ( 4,19,900). (Apple)

Mac Studio 2023 (starting from 2,09,900)

Launched last year, the Mac Studio landed in a sweet spot for professionals and developers, one that—with the Max and Ultra variants of the regular M-series chips—had more processing/graphics grunt than the iMac or the Mac Mini but wasn’t as prohibitively priced as the Mac Pro.

With the upgrade to the M2 series chips, those of you who can justify the outlay can pick up the Mac Studio with an M2 Max ( 2,09,900) or an M2 Ultra chip ( 4,19,900)—the latter an insanely performant chip which is essentially two M2 Max chips fused together with a 24-core CPU and 60- or 76-core GPU and up to 192GB of memory.

We reviewed the M2 Max (38-core GPU) variant with 96GB of memory and 4TB of storage, a configuration that will set you back by 4,29,900, plus the cost of a keyboard, a mouse and a monitor.

The design still looks like someone stacked two Mac mini units on top of each other and doesn’t take up too much room despite the power it packs. Not surprisingly, it matches the aesthetic of the Mac Studio display ( 1,59,900), which can plug into one of the four Thunderbolt 4 ports on the rear. That leaves two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, 10Gb Ethernet and a headphone jack on the rear, and two USB-C ports and a SDXC card slot on the front. No dongles needed. Bluetooth 5.3, Wi-Fi 6E and HDMI 2.1 round out the connectivity standards.

You will need a pair of speakers for any audio playback, though, since the built-in speakers are just about fine for system notifications.

Now, for a Mac targeted at professionals looking to make money off their computing output, the Mac Studio had to nail performance. It flies through everyday computing tasks, switching rapidly between heavy video/photo editing apps and browser windows with too many tabs. It’s the tasks where the M1 iMac and the M2 Mac mini start to lag that the Mac Studio really comes into its own: for instance, loading a batch of around 3,000 Canon RAW files into Adobe Lightroom and moving from file to file to select files to process and export. Fractions of a second can really add up when you are working with thousands of images. Moreover, the final export to a file format like JPEG happened more than twice as quick as it did on the mini.

Moving over to Final Cut Pro for video editing—importing Apple ProRes footage shot on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, adding tracks and transitions, scrubbing through previews and rendering the final videos— is noticeably faster than even the M2 Pro MacBook Pro I had for reference.

Performance-wise, if there is a pro user still on Apple’s Intel models, this is a no-brainer upgrade. You could build a more powerful Windows PC for less money but there is nothing like the Mac Studio in the world of Windows tower PCs, nothing that delivers as much in a form factor this compact and desk-friendly.

As a creative professional, you will want to pick wisely—the M2 Ultra variant of the Mac Studio is needed only for the most demanding of graphics and visual effects workflows; an M2 Max Mac Studio should serve your needs for most workflows. You could also look at the M2 Pro Mac mini—both the M2 Max Mac Studio and the M2 Pro Mac mini will offer similar CPU performance when you upgrade the mini to a 12-core CPU. But graphics-intensive tasks will perform far better on the base Mac Studio, plus you are also limited by the 32GB memory limit on the mini.

Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.

Also read: Apple WWDC highlights: what is the new Vision Pro headset?

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