Apple MacBook Air 15-inch Review: It’s Not What You Think | Digital Trends

Apple macbook air 15 inch review macbookair15 05

MacBook Air 15 inch

Advised price $1,299.00

“If you’ve always wanted a bigger MacBook Air, this is it and it will make you very happy.”

Professionals

  • More screen!

  • Excellent speakers

  • Long lasting battery

  • Incredibly thin

  • Extra benefits are welcome

Against

  • It only supports one external display

The 15-inch MacBook Air is for exactly one type of person.

It’s not for creative professionals sitting in front of Premiere all day. It’s not for college students lugging a backpack across campus. It might not even be for the remote worker building a home office.

Instead, it appears to have been designed solely for those prospective MacBook buyers who prefer a larger screen, but don’t need the extra performance that comes with a proper MacBook Pro. That’s all. We can argue about how big this demographic is, but if you happen to identify with it, the 15-inch MacBook Air does the job brilliantly.

Project

In terms of design, the 15-inch MacBook Air is identical to the 13-inch MacBook Air M2, which was originally introduced just a year ago. It has the same flat panels, narrow bezels, notches, a wider row of keys, and a slim profile. It’s still a design that feels modern, especially compared to the M1 MacBook Air that Apple still sells.

So, it’s totally the same. Still, it feels quite different to use in practice. The difference between a 13-inch and a 15-inch laptop might look small on paper, but remember, this is a diagonal screen measurement. In terms of both overall size and pixels, it’s a new experience. A larger 16:10 aspect ratio screen allows for a dramatic increase in screen real estate, both in terms of height and width.

It’s significantly larger than even the 14-inch MacBook Pro. To put things into perspective, the 14-inch MacBook Pro screen falls within the 15-inch MacBook Air’s top menu bar. This is more room for your web page, spreadsheet, illustration or video project. And it makes all the difference, especially when using complex software with lots of additional menus.

You can’t get that thin without the insane efficiency of Apple Silicon in a fanless chassis.

If you’ve recently spent a lot of time on a smaller laptop, the difference will be stark. And I guess you’ll prefer the bigger screen.

And it should be noted that at 0.46 inches thick, this is the thinnest 15-inch laptop yet. Apple does this without the body feeling flimsy or pliable, of course, and while it’s slightly thicker than the 13-inch MacBook Air, that profile at this screen size is striking. The 15-inch Surface Laptop 5 is the only laptop that comes close, and it’s 0.57 inches. You can’t get that thin without the insane efficiency of Apple Silicon in a fanless chassis.

But remember, there is still a trade-off in portability. The width of the device, in particular, may be the most noticeable difference, especially when compared to any 13-inch MacBook from Apple. Don’t worry – it will still fit in an average backpack or laptop pocket of a suitcase. It could take up more space on your coffee table or dorm desk.

Performance

The 15-inch MacBook Air comes with only one processor option: M2. This is the M2 configuration with 8 CPU cores and 10 GPU cores, the same you’ll find in other MacBooks, namely the 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. So yeah, this is the third laptop in Apple’s lineup that uses exactly the same chip. The only difference in terms of these processors is that the 13-inch MacBook Air M2 ships with a weaker version of the M2 with just eight GPU cores to allow Apple to sell it for just $1,099.

It’s worth noting, of course, that just $100 separates the 13-inch MacBook Air and 15-inch MacBook Air when configured similarly. Meanwhile, the 15-inch MacBook Air is priced identically to the infamous 13-inch MacBook Pro, which shouldn’t even exist (but that’s for another article). My point is that this is a very complete part of Apple’s MacBook range, all with very similar levels of performance.

In my testing, the 15-inch MacBook Air performs exactly where I expected, lining up well with other M2 MacBooks. The extra size doesn’t increase performance, mostly due to how thin the device is at just 0.45 inches. In short, explosive benchmarks like Geekbench 6, the M2 holds up quite well, especially in single-core performance, where it’s among the fastest laptops you can buy. I measured a score of 2,606, which is the highest score for a laptop we’ve tested that wasn’t a gaming laptop.

No surprise: The 15-inch MacBook Air is incredibly efficient at using battery.

Of course, graphics tests or even longer single-core tests like Cinebench R23 are not so good. This is one of the few fanless 15-inch laptops out there, and in terms of longer-lasting performance, it can’t handle too much heat. As seen on laptops with the M2 chip, Apple lets core temperatures get worrisome before slowing down performance. There’s still a lot of headroom in GPU and CPU performance between the M2 and M2 Pro, for example, or even just a Windows laptop with a discrete GPU like an RTX 4050.

Speaking of heat, the surface temperature of the 15-inch MacBook Air can get quite high, especially around the top of the keyboard and in the space below the hinge. You won’t notice it while browsing the web, but if you’re running some heavy applications, it’s downright inconvenient.

However, raw performance was never the point of the MacBook Air – it’s efficiency. And no surprise: The 15-inch MacBook Air is incredibly efficient. When you’re not running all-core benchmarks or exporting timelines, the laptop remains remarkably cool to the touch. And of course, it’s always completely silent.

Efficiency is especially felt in the battery life. Like every other Apple Silicon MacBook, the 15-inch MacBook Air has amazing battery life. With a light load of web browsing in Chrome, the laptop lasted 18 hours and 48 minutes. This goes beyond the 18 hours Apple promises you. Of course, if you run heavier applications, you will notice that the battery life decreases slightly. But for many of the types of people this laptop was designed for, it’s the kind of laptop that will see you through a full workday and into the next.

Displays, webcams and speakers

The 15-inch MacBook Air obviously uses a new panel, but it has a lot in common with the panel used in the 13-inch MacBook Air. It has a higher resolution of 2880 x 1864, but has exactly the same 224 pixels per inch. So while it’s bigger, it’s just as pixel dense. Of course, this is a standard IPS LED display, so it doesn’t have the same benefits as Apple’s XDR mini-LED panels. Those are still exclusive to the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros. The main thing you’re missing with LED is HDR. Those mini-LED screens hit a peak 1,200 nits of brightness with HDR content, which is exceptionally bright.

The good news, however, is that with SDR content, the 15-inch MacBook Air is just as vibrant and bright. Apple claims 500 nits of brightness and I measured 475 nits with my colorimeter. I also measured 90% AdobeRGB color space (and 100% sRGB, of course) and Delta-E of 1.23. Both are respectable and worthy scores for your photo editing and graphic design projects, especially for a laptop of this price point. It’s among the best IPS laptop displays you’ll find.

The speakers are another highlight of this machine that far outperforms the Windows competition at this price, or at any price, for that matter. The speakers on the 15-inch MacBook Air are really great, even stepping up from the 13-inch. It’s surprising, especially considering how thin it is. Side by side, the 14-inch MacBook Pro sounds slightly beefier, but it’s truly impressive what kind of sound this laptop produces.

The webcam doesn’t have the same pedigree. It’s good, but it doesn’t stand out from other 1080p webcams as much as the speakers. It’s perfectly suited for everyday video calls for work or school, anchored by great speakers and microphones.

You bring

For better or for worse, Apple has made ports one of the main distinguishing factors in its “Pro” line. On the one hand, it makes sense. The SD card slot and extra USB-C are useful for professionals who use more powerful peripherals or need quick access to camera files.

It is the external monitor support that is a moot point. Many people may not need the extra performance that a MacBook Pro provides, but would like to connect a couple of displays to their workstations. The 15-inch MacBook Air, unfortunately, still limits you to just one. This has always been a limitation of Apple Silicon MacBook Airs and it remains so on this newer device.

There are ways around this limitation using a Thunderbolt dock, but ultimately some people will still be convinced to upgrade to the MacBook Pro to get the ports they want. That’s a shame, because it’s much more expensive and worth upgrading just to take advantage of the extra performance.

Also, annoyingly, all the ports are on one side, except for the headphone jack, of course. This isn’t the end of the world, but it can be frustrating when you’re looking for an outlet and have to completely readjust your position. If you work a lot in cafes or coworking spaces, this is unavoidable.

When bigger is better (and when it’s not)

I am not someone who requires the need for multiple large monitors to get my work done. I’m content with a 13-inch device and prefer to stay mobile with my work, even if I only commute around the house. If you’re like me, you should buy one of the 13-inch MacBook Airs, the cheaper M1 model or the nicer looking M2 version. The 15-inch MacBook Air offers that extra screen real estate at the expense of portability and size.

But it’s hard not to consider the 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro as well. After all, the 15-inch MacBook Air is the first Apple to offer a larger version of a laptop without also giving it extra performance. The phenomenon of bigger but less powerful laptops isn’t just about the 15-inch MacBook Air, of course. The same dichotomy exists in laptops like the Surface Laptop 5, Samsung Galaxy Book Pro, and LG Gram. All of these designs feature 13-inch and 15-inch size options, but are otherwise identical machines.

And in all cases, the 13-inch model remains the most popular option, while the 15-inch is reserved for a more niche audience. I have a feeling Apple will find an audience for the 15-inch MacBook Air, though. It doesn’t change the game and, in a way, makes choosing a MacBook all the more dizzying. But those who are looking for exactly this type of laptop will be completely satisfied using this device every day.

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