MacBook Air M3 — 3 reasons to buy and 1 big reason to skip

MacBook Air M3 buy or skip
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The new 13- and 15-inch MacBook Air laptops have arrived, but are they for you? These updates feature the same design as the MacBook Air M2 models but pack the latest Apple M3 processor. Not only are these notebooks the most powerful MacBook Airs yet, they’re also the most affordable M3 MacBooks.

As before, each laptop has bright and colorful displays, a thin and light ultraportable design, exceptional battery life and blazing-fast performance. The M3 chip enhances video games' visual effects, while the updated Neural Engine facilitates on-device AI tasks. You can read our MacBook Air 13-inch M3 review and MacBook Air 15-inch review for our impressions and test results, and I think both laptops will inevitably find places in our best laptops and best MacBook lists.

The MacBook Air M3 laptops are undoubtedly impressive and are easy to recommend to folks new to MacBooks or who need to upgrade from an older Apple laptop. As great as these devices are, however, you might not need one — especially if you own the previous M2 models. Let’s look at 3 reasons to buy the MacBook Air M3 and 1 reason to skip.

MacBook Air M3: Reasons to buy

Stellar M3 performance

MacBook Air 15-inch M3 on desk

(Image credit: Future)

The first main reason to get a MacBook Air M3 is for its impressive performance.

The MacBook Air 13-inch M3 has improved performance across the board compared to its predecessor. It did better in Geekbench’s CPU test, compressed a 4K video faster in Handbrake, and sped ahead on Photoshop and Premiere Pro. During my qualitative testing of the 13-inch Air M3, I had over 30 windows open with YouTube running in the background. The tiny notebook never even flinched.

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Performance results
Header Cell - Column 0 MacBook Air 13-inch M3MacBook Air 15-inch M2Dell XPS 14 (2024)
Geekbench 6 (single-core)3,0822,6132,398
Geekbench 6 (multi-core)12,0879,99312,939
Handbrake6:327:466:20
Photoshop8,550 / 12.4 mins7,465 / 13.9 mins6,045 / 21.6 mins
Premiere Pro3,603 / 7.8 mins3,170 / 8.7 mins4,918 / 7.3 mins

Like the MacBook Pro 14-inch M3 and other M3 MacBooks, the Air M3 supports hardware-accelerated mesh shading and ray tracing. This offers more accurate lighting, reflections, and shadows in video games. Dynamic Caching allocates the use of local memory in hardware in real time and only uses the exact amount of memory needed for specific tasks. All of this makes games look and run better on MacBooks with M3.

I tested Lies of P on the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 and was impressed by the game’s performance. Lies of P has an option to enable/disable MetalFX, which is Apple’s answer to Nvidia and AMD’s upscaling technologies. With MetalFX set on “Highest Performance,” the game ran at a consistent 60 frames per second (fps) at 1,200p resolution. Frame rates fluctuated between 45 to 50 fps with MetalFX disabled, which isn’t great but better than 30 fps.

For everyday work and even some gaming, the MacBook Air M3 won’t let you down.

MacBook Air 13 (M3/256GB): was $1,099 now $1,049 @ Best Buy

MacBook Air 13 (M3/256GB): <a href="https://shop-links.co/link?skuId=6565837&publisher_slug=future&exclusive=1&u1=hawk-custom-tracking&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bestbuy.com%2Fsite%2Fmacbook-air-13-inch-laptop-apple-m3-chip-8gb-memory-256gb-ssd-latest-model-midnight%2F6565837.p%3FskuId%3D6565837&article_name=hawk-article-name&article_url=hawk-article-url" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">was $1,099 now $1,049 @ Best Buy
If you're a My Best Buy Plus ($49/year) or My Best Buy Total ($179/year) member, you can score Apple's new MacBook Air M3 for $50 off. (<a href="https://shop-links.co/link?id=pcmcat1679668833285&publisher_slug=future&exclusive=1&u1=hawk-custom-tracking&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bestbuy.com%2Fsite%2Felectronics%2Fbest-buy-membership%2Fpcmcat1679668833285.c%3Fid%3Dpcmcat1679668833285&article_name=hawk-article-name&article_url=hawk-article-url" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"" data-link-merchant="bestbuy.com"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Sign up at Best Buy). The 13-inch MacBook Air now sports an M3 chipset with an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU. It also features a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display (2560 x 1664), 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and support for up to two external displays (when the laptop lid is closed). Apple claims its 60% faster than the M1-based MacBook Air and boasts up to 18 hours of battery life.

Astonishing battery life 

MacBook Air 13-inch M3

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple M-series laptops have amazing battery life compared to the best Windows laptops and the MacBook Air M3 is no exception. While the Air M3 doesn’t last 18 hours like Apple claims, you’ll still get a notebook with insane endurance.

In our battery test, the MacBook Air 13-inch M3 lasted for an epic 15 hours and 13 minutes. That’s 40 minutes longer than the Air M2, which lasted 14:33. 40 extra minutes might not be much, but it could be crucial if you’re trying to complete a project or another important task.

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Battery life results
Header Cell - Column 0 Time (min:secs)
MacBook Air 13-inch M315:13
Acer Swift Go 149:50
Dell XPS 146:26

The new Air M3 crushes Windows laptops like the Acer Swift Go 14 (9:50) and Dell XPS 14 (6:26) in terms of battery life. This is true for most M-series MacBooks, but comparing the Air M3’s battery life to a Windows laptop is almost unfair. Except it's not. 

Most affordable M3 MacBook 

MacBook Air 15-inch M3 next to MacBook Air 13-inch

(Image credit: Future)

The 13-inch MacBook Air M3 starts at $1,099. That’s more expensive than its M1- and M2-powered predecessors, but it’s still the cheapest M3 MacBook you can now buy.

Going up the line, the 15-inch MacBook Air M3 starts at $1,299 while the MacBook Pro 14-inch M3 costs $1,599 to start. At the higher end, there’s the MacBook Pro 14-inch M3 Pro at $1,999 and the MacBook Pro 16-inch M3 Max at $2,499.

If you want the power and features of M3 without destroying your bank account, the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 is a phenomenal option. The $1,299 MacBook Air 15-inch M3 is also a pretty good deal for what it offers, including a larger screen and better speakers than its smaller sibling.

MacBook Air M3: Reason to skip

MacBook Air M2 2022

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The MacBook Air M2 exists

The MacBook Air M3 is a great laptop but the 13-inch MacBook Air M2 could arguably be the better option for those on a budget. In fact, it’s now the MacBook I recommend to most people.

The MacBook Air M1 used to be the cheapest MacBook at $999. Now that Apple no longer sells this laptop in its online store, the Air M2 has inherited that price and is the most affordable MacBook. $999 is an excellent value for students or casual users who just want a dependable laptop for work or watching videos.

While the M3 chip is more powerful than the M2, it doesn’t offer that much more performance. Unless you need more power for video editing and better gaming performance, the Air M2 will suit your everyday computing needs just fine. Of course, if you really must have the most powerful MacBook, you can opt for the beefy 14- and 16-inch M3 Pro/Max MacBook Pros.

The main differences between the Air M3 and Air M2 other than the chip is the addition of faster Wi-Fi 6E, which is a plus for downloading large files, and the ability to support two external displays at once. The Air M2 can do only one. 

Lastly, the MacBook Air M2 has the same design as its M3 successor. That means you’ll own a sleek and elegant ultraportable that’s easy to carry around. And like the latest model, the Air M2 also comes in four different colors — though Midnight doesn’t have the same fingerprint resistance. Regardless, the Air M2 still looks great thanks to its modern design.

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Tony Polanco