May 24, 2024


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Why I bought a MacBook Air and not a Pro

Why I bought a MacBook Air and not a Pro

Dhruv Bhutani/Android Authority

I've been using MacBooks for almost 14 years. Call me a creature of habit, but after six devices, when it came time to upgrade my laptop, it was clear that my next device would be another addition to the Apple lineup.

Before, the decision was easy. I'm a power user with professional needs, and only a MacBook Pro will do that. That's not quite the case anymore. Apple's M-series has completely turned the game around and surpassed the competition from Intel and AMD in everything but gaming. The M3-powered MacBook Air piqued my curiosity.

A professional user needs a Pro device. The MacBook Air turns that idea on its head.

However, I burned my fingers on a MacBook Air once. This machine barely lasted weeks before I turned it on and upgraded to a MacBook Pro. But despite my concerns, I decided to try the all-new MacBook Air M3 on the Pro. I don't regret it. this is the reason.

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Why did you choose MacBook Air?

MacBook Air lid open

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My job requires researching, reading, and staying up to date with the latest news. Having dozens of tabs open at once is not uncommon. Additionally, I usually have an instance of Photoshop or Lightroom open and Spotify and Slack running in the background. Add Notion to the mix for note-taking and a few other utilities, and your workload increases.

In the past, this workload alone would make my old MacBook Pro huff and puff. In fact, I can't remember a time when the fan wasn't spinning at full speed. Sure, I can learn how to manage my computational load better, but chaotic goodness tends to be my default working state. I expect my machine to keep up, and I don't mind pushing the laptop to its limits.

My work style is chaotic and good, and I expect my equipment to keep up with the pace.

However, recently I've been feeling the urge to use a different device. As I travel more and more, and keep up with age, I'm starting to appreciate the benefits of a lighter laptop. More importantly, with the pandemic long over, I love working in cafes or while traveling. Long battery life is a must for me. It was clear that I needed to upgrade my massive Intel MacBook Pro, and the new M3-powered MacBook Air seemed like the obvious choice. I was willing to compromise on performance if necessary.

How does the M3-powered MacBook Air perform?

As it turns out, there's no need to worry. The MacBook Air runs circles around my old Pro without breaking a sweat. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has used a recent M-series MacBook. But bear with me.

100 chrome tabs? No sweat. My M3-powered MacBook Air runs circles around it.

I'm a heavier than average laptop user. When I mention opening Chrome tabs, it's not a few or even dozens. I often have 50 or even a hundred tabs split across browsers and macOS desktops. I'm using the 16GB RAM and 512GB storage variant of the MacBook Air, and at no point did I experience any lag at all. He continues to scream like any other day.

Sure, browser-based workflows may not paint the full picture of a laptop's performance, but creative apps can. Between Da Vinci Resolve, Premier Pro, Photoshop, and Lightroom, I run the gamut of creative applications. This is where performance improvements start to appear. Apple knows its audience, and switching to the M-series Silicon gave it the freedom to build media accelerators and NPUs explicitly tuned to meet its customers' needs.

Compared to my old Intel Mac's hour-long thermal meltdown while displaying 4K video, the MacBook Air does it in seconds. The difference is night and day.

The NPU improvements to the M3 silicon do a lot of the heavy lifting to benefit them.

Before considering the M3-powered MacBook Air, I briefly considered purchasing an M1 or M2 unit instead. As great as the M3 Edition is, the signature changes like dual-screen support and the new anodized finish don't seem all that important. However, the thing about building a machine that's so ahead of the curve is that the generational improvements don't seem that great. To be fair, I borrowed a friend's M1 series MacBook Air. While the M1 chip was still far ahead of my Intel MacBook Pro, placing the two next to each other painted a truer picture of the noticeable speed improvements with the M3. In fact, the M3 MacBook proved to be almost twice as fast as the M1 MacBook Air in many of my daily tasks.

One of the biggest upgrades this year was to the Neural Engine. It's optimized for machine learning and AI-based tasks, and is supposed to be up to 60% faster than the one on the M1 Silicon. If there's one thing to be said for the Apple ecosystem, it's the fact that popular developers are quick to create features that push the boundaries of hardware. Apps like Luminar Neo take full advantage of NPU cores to deliver faster adjustments and generative AI-style features. If this is your use case, you will definitely notice year-over-year improvements.

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But three weeks later, what's truly mind-boggling is this laptop's ability to deliver amazing performance without sacrificing battery life. It's a bit difficult to gauge Apple's 18-hour claims because I'm not sitting at my computer with a stopwatch in my hand. However, I have been using this laptop for the past three days without recharging. In the meantime, I wrote this entire feature, thought up and wrote two videos, edited them, and watched a movie on Netflix. this is crazy!

Beautifully flawed

MacBook Air cables attached

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But despite all these positives, it is very clear to me that as far as the M silicon series is concerned, it is not perfect yet. For example, while the MacBook Air is getting dual-screen support with the M3 update, you have to close the lid to enable it.

While this isn't a deal breaker, it's ridiculous to me because I'm used to keeping my laptop screen open as a third monitor. Plus, you're not just losing screen real estate. The MacBook Air uses its own keyboard to dissipate heat. With the screen off and the laptop doing computationally intensive work across the dual displays, there is a noticeable drop in performance due to reduced heat dissipation. For example, video playback time nearly doubled for me in a quick test. It was still very fast, but the difference is noticeable and negates some of the advantages of the faster chip.

Even Apple has to see how ridiculous it is to ship a $1,100 laptop with 8GB of RAM.

Elsewhere, Apple's policy remains painful. Shipping 8GB of RAM as the default in a 2024 laptop is funny but not as ridiculously funny as Apple's RAM upgrade prices. Here's the thing: I can see Apple's reasoning about the default amount of RAM. Tight software and hardware integration and fast RAM mean you'll likely never run out of RAM in common use cases. I borrowed an M2 MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM, and was surprised by how well it managed an above-average workload. The system seamlessly manages memory swaps, making any RAM limitations clear to users.

In fact, it takes deliberate effort and very extensive usage to access the page swapping area on my 16GB device. There's also a point to be made that someone who buys an entry-level MacBook Air probably won't be an enthusiastic user anyway. But Apple's choice to stick with 8GB as the default is sheer stubbornness. It would cost the company a little money to upgrade the basic amount of RAM and at the same time eliminate all the bad compressions resulting from it. At a time when phones ship with more RAM than your laptop, charging the bare minimum and charging an arm and a leg to upgrade only reeks of capitalism.

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The dire port situation is made worse by unstable backward compatibility.

Finally, I've had my fair share of legacy hardware issues with my new MacBook. For example, my mechanical keyboard tends to lag when plugged into the air. My OWC Thunderbolt device refuses to work with my MacBook Air. My guitar amplifier also doesn't work with my laptop. If there's one device running unstable, I'll blame it on the peripheral. However, a series of devices not working properly indicates compatibility issues with Mac devices.

MacBook Air M3: The laptop is perfect

Choose a MacBook Air port

Dhruv Bhutani/Android Authority

It's hard not to be impressed by the MacBook Air. Apple seems to have done magic to deliver performance that resembles a high-end laptop from a device that has the shape of a great Chromebook. It also represents a whole new era of mobile computing. When it comes to Apple laptops, in my experience, the distinction between user demographics has never been clearer.

The MacBook Air has clearly transcended its Ultra HD origins and is the obvious choice for all but professionals and big spenders.

The MacBook Air isn't just Apple's battery life-focused laptop anymore. It's got enough power to satisfy enthusiasts. Meanwhile, the Pro lineup is truly for professionals. If you're a pro whose livelihood depends on lightning-fast edits, slick music production, or compiling large codebases, by all means choose Pro. Or maybe you want to splurge and have the best. There is no harm in that either. But, overall, the average amateur YouTuber, Soundcloud music producer, and weekend photographer will have a hard time stressing over the limitations of the current MacBook Air lineup.

Early adopters of the Silicon M series might laugh at me enjoying Apple's latest laptop. However, I'm just one of the thousands, if not millions, of users who will finally upgrade to a new MacBook five years after the last Intel MacBook Air's life cycle. With the M3 range, Apple has perfected the formula and released a laptop that meets the needs of 90% of users. I would go so far as to say that given the sheer amount of power on offer, this is the most value-for-money machine Apple has ever released.