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As the resident IT guy in my social bubble, I often get asked, "What laptop should I buy?". While my answer has always been Apple's MacBook Air due to its trifecta of portability, performance, and price, and my "clients" have always been satisfied with the recommendation, I've recently been met with more rebuttal.
"That display is too small," I'm often told. "The same laptop, but larger, would be perfect." But that's the problem.
For the longest time, Apple's MacBook lineup was in a bit of disarray. Choosing the right model primarily boiled down to budget and display preference, but if you wanted a larger screen, you'd have to pay up for a Pro model, even if the extra power and ports were unnecessary. For most user applications, it's overkill.
That's why the new 15-inch MacBook Air changes everything and has made my job so much easier. Apple's new large-screen MacBook is ultraportable, will satisfy anyone's content-consuming heart, and somehow costs just $100 more than its smaller, older predecessor.
Some key omissions mean it's not the laptop for me, but it's easily my new "would recommend" option for everyone else.
To keep it simple, besides the larger chassis and some upgrades under the hood, the new 15-inch MacBook Air is the same system as last year's 13-inch model. We named the latter ZDNET's Product of the Year for its competency, portability, and price, and you're getting the same value propositions this time around.
The design of the new MacBook is sleek and modern, with elements like flat edges, the camera notch, and MagSafe charging that have trickled down from Apple's higher-end laptops. What wasn't carried over was the extra ports and slots for HDMI and SD cards.
I get it: This is a MacBook Air, not a MacBook Pro. But something just feels off about having more real estate yet the same amount of ports as the previous, smaller model. For reference, the count is two left-aligned USB-C ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right. An additional USB-C on the right side is all I really ask for. That way, charging the MacBook doesn't always feel like a game of tug-of-war with my outlet.
My review unit came in Starlight, which shimmers in gold and silver hues and doesn't retain fingerprints like the FBI agent that is the Midnight variant. Altogether, this is one of the better-looking 15-inch laptops I've used and is a testament to Apple's maturity when it comes to the MacBook's industrial design.
While the 15-inch MacBook Air is relatively lightweight (2.7 pounds) compared to other big-screen laptops, I wouldn't go as far as to say that it's unnoticeable when tucked in a backpack. That was the case with the 13-inch Air that I lugged around at CES earlier this year, but not with this model.
Still, it's a nice middle ground and induces less back pain than the 16-inch MacBook Pro typically found in my everyday carry. I have no problem recommending this to students, hybrid workers, and coffee shop dwellers, which I don't often say about 15-inch laptops.
To round out the design differences, the 15-inch MacBook Air features a six-speaker sound system compared to last year's four-speaker. Audio still fires up from the keyboard, not the sides, but the upgrade is definitely noticeable. Instead of having to crank up the MacBook's volume to the max, which I often found myself doing with the 13-inch when watching movies or playing music in the kitchen, the 15-inch at 75% volume is adequate.
If we want to get into the nitty-gritty, I still prefer the fuller, more bass-heavy audio produced by the MacBook Pro's speakers, but for a $600-$800 price gap, I can live with the MacBook Air's version.
As far as day-to-day performance goes, the MacBook Air, powered by an M2 chip, 8-core CPU, and now 10-core GPU by default, handled my usual spectrum of multi-window browsing, conference calls, photo and video editing, and constant media streaming gracefully. The lack of cooling fans means the Air is near-silent, even when it's cranking out graphics and uploading/downloading large video files.
The laptop is capable of 4K exports on Adobe Premiere Pro and editing RAW files on Adobe Photoshop, but anything more intense, such as 3D modeling and animating, will likely push the Air to its limit. At that point, the MacBook Pro, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro has your name on it.
What I found myself missing when testing the MacBook Air was the 120Hz ProMotion display from the Pro line. All it took was an hour or two before my eyes adapted to the slower, less smooth 60Hz panel, but the larger 15-inch display didn't make the transition easy. In fact, it made the difference more apparent.
ZDNET's buying advice
All that is to say the 15-inch MacBook Air faces the same criticisms as the 13-inch model, like the lack of utility ports and a slower refresh rate display. And for those reasons, it's not the laptop for me.
But everything else about it is as good as the $1,299 price point gets (even better when it's $300 off). My parents, who favor the larger, more vivid viewing experience, will love it. My partner, a teacher who spends hours a day sifting through spreadsheets, will love it. And my younger cousin, an undergraduate who's always on his feet and writing research papers, will love it. This is the MacBook most people have been waiting for and is the one that most people should buy.