Note: This review was first published on 12 June 2023.
Supersizing the MBA
It’s easy to view Apple’s new 15-inch MacBook Air as nothing more than just a MacBook Air with a larger display. But this is Apple’s largest MacBook Air ever. In other words, it’s the first affordable MacBook with a large screen. That’s a big deal because users who wanted a MacBook with a display larger than 13-inches have had to cough up for a far more expensive MacBook Pro. So what do you gain apart from the larger display, and is it really light and portable? Answers to all these and more below.
The TL;DR version:The 15-inch MacBook Air’s combination of performance and portability makes it the ideal 15-inch notebook for most people. It might even tempt owners of the 13-inch MacBook Air to make a switch.
Physically and aesthetically, the new 15-inch MacBook Air is best described as mostly a blown up version of the 13-inch MacBook Air. That’s no bad thing. It means it looks sleek and build quality is top notch – it feels rock solid. It retains the 13-inch version’s slim profile. At just 11.5mm thick, it’s remarkably svelte and Apple claims this is the slimmest 15-inch notebook in the world. I can’t think of a thinner 15-inch notebook. Colour options are unchanged so you have Midnight, Starlight, Space Grey, and Silver.
Weight is up slightly from 1.24kg to 1.51kg. I immediately noticed the extra heft, but then I spend a lot of time working on the 13-inch MacBook Air. Even so, it’s remarkably light for a 15-inch notebook and I believe most people will no problems shrugging off the difference in weight in favour of the larger display.
The display now measures 15.3 inches diagonally. There's a notch at the top which houses a 1080p webcam, but it's honestly a non-issue at this point. You won't notice it after a couple of days. The increase in display size, however, is immediately palpable. You can see much more of a webpage or document. It’s also a Liquid Retina display, which means it uses a regular IPS LCD panel – not OLED. Resolution is 2880 x 1864 pixels which gives it the same 224 pixels per inch pixel density count as the smaller 13-inch model. You could nitpick and say it isn’t quite as vivid as a notebook with an OLED display, but I doubt the type of people who buys these notebooks will care too much.This is still, by most accounts, a great display.
The other noteworthy upgrade you can’t see: it’s the speakers. It has a six-speaker sound system that consists of tweeters and force-cancelling woofers – just like the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pros – and supports Spatial Audio when you play compatible content. Unsurprisingly, it sounds beefier than the 13-inch model. There’s more body to the sound and the bass is stronger.In addition, the sound stage is wider and it gets louder. MacBooks have always had good speakers and this new 15-inch MacBook Air is no different. It’s easily one of the best-sounding notebooks.
I’ve been told the keyboard is identical to the 13-inch model. Apple doesn’t believe in number pads, which I think is the right move. I rather have a perfectly centralised keyboard than a number pad that I may only use once or twice a year. The keys don’t feel quite as well-damped as the MacBook Pros’ keyboard, but it’s still a pleasant keyboard to work on. Like the 13-inch model, the 15-inch model also gets a row of full-height function keys. To the top right corner is the Touch ID button that doubles as the power button. The trackpad is massive, responsive, accurate, and an utter joy to use.
Ports are unchanged, so you have a MagSafe port for power and you get two USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 and a 3.5mm headphone jack that Apple says works well even with high-impedance headphones. It’s a pity that Apple didn’t add any ports or memory card reader given the vast amount of space by the sides. An SD card reader would have really knocked this MacBook out of the park.
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