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One Month With The Apple Macbook Air M3

Published: Sun 19 May 2024 05:55 PM
From the outside, Apple’s latest MacBook Air appears identical to its 2022 counterpart. It has the same ports, a great screen, terrific keyboard and the best trackpad you’ll find on any laptop. It is still thin and light.
Despite two years of hefty inflation, the M3 MacBook Air’s NZ$2050 starting price is unchanged. You could view that as a de facto price cut. Apple still offers the 2022 model with prices starting at NZ$1800.
The main change is the switch from the M2 to M3 chip. This brings a significant bump in power, depending on the application the laptop is anywhere from 15 to 20 per cent faster than its immediate ancestor. It’s a huge leap up from the M1 or Intel MacBooks.Better WiFI
Other changes include a welcome upgrade to WiFi 6E. If your router supports WiFi 6E you’ll notice a huge jump in data speeds. My gigabit connection gives me more than 600 mbps direct to my home office.
Apple has also reconfigured the external monitor hardware so you can run two external screens from the M3 MacBook Air.
Beefing up the processor does not take a toll on the computer’s battery life, you can still get more than 16 hours use before needing a recharge.
You can be forgiven for thinking that a 15 to 20 per cent increase in power does not amount to much. Nothing could be further from the truth. For many years now Intel-based laptops have only managed low single digit increases in computing power between generations. Apple continues to squeeze performance from its chips.
The performance jump is immediately noticeable when moving between MacBook Air models. It is even more noticeable when moving from an Intel Windows laptop to the Air.M3 MacBook Air closes gap with MacBook Pro
In practice it means the new MacBook Air can run apps that might previously have required a MacBook Pro. In the meantime the MacBook Pro has moved up to the point where it outperforms many “workstation class” Windows laptops.
For the past month the 13-inch M3 MacBook Air has been my main computer. During that time, I haven’t heard the fan switch on once. Indeed, I had to check to see if there is a fan in the case.
Apple says you can get 18 hours from a single battery charge. That may be true, but I need to have a brighter screen and find I can work for around 16 hours without needing to use the MagSafe cable. On a recent two-day trip away from home I took the wrong power cable and power anxiety only kicked in late on the second day.Price
Prices for the M3 MacBook Air start at NZ$2050. That buys a computer with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage.
It’s adequate if you never run lots of apps at the same time and mainly use your laptop for the web, basic office applications and video calls.
Otherwise you’d need to look higher up the range. More demanding applications and practical multitasking require 16GB of memory. That takes the price to $2400. There’s also a 24GB option. You need to make the right call when you buy as the memory is not upgradable.Storage
The base model’s 256GB storage is modest by 2024 standards. You could live with this if you don’t store many media files your computer. More likely you will need to buy more storage at the time of purchase. Like memory, this is not upgradable.
There are options with external drives, network drives and cloud services but these are clumsy compared with getting a bigger drive in the first place. I find 512GB is essential.
Adding 16GB memory and 512GB storage to an M3 MacBook Air lifts the price to NZ$2750. Apple sent a review model with 16 GB of memory and a terabyte of storage. This configuration costs NZ$3100.
There is a 15-inch model with prices starting at NZ$2500.Premium laptop
These prices place the M3 MacBook Air firmly in the premium laptop bracket. That’s fine, it is more than competitive with rival premium laptops from the likes of HP or Dell.
People tend to think of Microsoft’s Surface Laptop as a direct competitor to the MacBook Air. Prices are similar. The base model Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is NZ$2000 for a model with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage.
The M3 MacBook Air is considerably more powerful than the Surface Laptop 5 which feels like it is at least a generation behind Apple’s laptop.M3 MacBook Air verdict
For now Apple’s M3 MacBook Air is the best all-round laptop in the world and certainly the best option in its price range. You won’t find a better blend of features, functionality and performance anywhere else. You’ll power through your daily work with ease.
Unless you work for an employer who insists on Windows, this would be a good time to think about jumping ship to MacOS.
Apple either beats or equals every rival when it comes to the laptop’s keyboard, trackpad and the physical case. You won’t find a better screen or better speakers and its webcam is top class.
They don’t get much attention but Apple’s Touch ID and the WiFi 6E modem are also huge plus points. There is an attention to detail that rival laptop makers rarely match.
That said, it’s not cheap and it might be overkill for some readers. If your needs are not demanding and want to spend less, the M2 version costs NZ$250 and has almost everything.
Bill Bennett
Freelance journalist.
Auckland-based Bill Bennett writes technology and business stories that are directly relevant to New Zealand readers.
His emphasis is on telecommunications, but he also covers other aspects of technology and business. You can find his features in the New Zealand Herald and hear him regularly on RNZ Nine to Noon and the NZ Tech Podcast.
Bennett's The Download Weekly newsletter is published every Friday. You can sign up for it here. If you want to support his work, you can make a donation to his PressPatron account.
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