Apple MacBook Air: Lighter, Faster, Fingerprintless

We test out Apple's latest MacBook Air
Published: 30 March 2024

I have an aunt, who relocated to Hong Kong when I was born. I always had an idea of what she looked like thanks to whatever scant photos there are of her. But when I accidentally bumped into her at the local hawker centre (she was in town, incognito as they say), I did a double-take. She looked like how I imagined her in my mind's eye and yet, before me, this was another person. But, of course, she'd look different. She now sported a different haircut and said that she started running a few years ago. Despite the change in appearance, she was still the same person- no, this was a person who has a better grasp of living. This is what the latest Apple MacBook Air feels like to me: same-same but differently better.

The Wonderful World of Miniaturisation

Known for its announcements, there's nothing like Macworld 2008 when Steve Jobs abracadabra that first 13-inch MacBook Air out of a manila envelope, it highlighted the possibilities of miniaturisation. No one wants to lug a laptop that's the weight of a baby with a 30 BMI. Laptops could be scaled down but there are challenges to miniaturisation. First of all, production has to start from scratch—you need new parts; you need new machines to fabricate said new parts. There's also the pesky issue of thermal management. A decrease in feature size means there is less space for effective heat dissipation so you'll need to formulate cooling systems for that, all the while, trying to Tetris all these pieces into a smaller frame.

But this is Apple that we are talking about. They overcame this and more; giving us that tada moment in 2008. For the MacBook Air, the only way forward is to make it lighter and still amp up its processing power. Which brings us to now with the MacBook Air M3 chip.

A New Player Has Entered the Game

I own a MacBook Air 13-inch, circa 2020. It has an M1 chip and, at the time, it. Was. The. Shit. The advent of the M1 chip was another step in Apple's switch from Intel to Apple silicon and the M1 chip was reportedly "leagues ahead of Intel and AMD" according to a USA Today review. Apple's processors would level up, integrating the CPU, GPU, Neural Engine and others for better performances. For the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), it has an 8-core CPU with four perform­ance cores and four efficiency cores. It was as fast as it could be. I had two browsers with over 30 tabs opened each and it has yet to slow my roll.

But while the M1 delivers, when you compare its M1 chip to the MacBook Air M3 model, it's like watching a child go up against Usain Bolt in a 400m sprint.

With the M1, whenever I edit a large photo file (anything above 1Gb) on the Preview app, it just hangs. Eventually, it gets around to the edit but the duration of the app not responding is too long for me to harbour any hope that it would work out. The M3 chip (first introduced in the MacBook Pro in 2023) performs said task with no lag at all; it runs faster with less power. In fact, it's scary fast. It's a smidgen faster in operation when I'm on the MacBook Air M3 and while you might think a "smidgen" isn't that quick in the grand scheme of time, it is a weird imperceivable chronal improvement.

According to the press release, the MacBook Air M3 is up to 60 per cent quicker than the M1. I was switching among apps and bingeing Silo on Apple TV+ (for research!) while writing this. I didn't experience any slack.

The Look

Even as the MacBook Air M3 design is similar to 2022's MacBook Pro, it's still a new design to me (remember, owner of the MacBook Air 2020?). I dig the "flat" aesthetic; it's sleek and looks like a singular unit until it's opened. The fanless body that's made from recycled aluminium, now comes in four colourways: Starlight, Silver, Space Grey and Midnight. Because as a self-described "cool dude", I, of course, opted for the Midnight hue.

Aside from the design, the MacBook Air M3 also adopted the anodisation fingerprint-resistant feature from last year's MacBook Pro. It's a Godsend. I, uh, perspire a lot and it leaves odd prints on my M1. With this, nothing. I can type a salty confession in church with impunity and now leave... less fingerprints. Guess, I'll have to put off committing crimes with the MacBook Air M3 for now... but still, it's a huge improvement.

There's a backlit Magic Keyboard with full-heigh function keys; Touch ID; touchpad. The Liquid Retina display boasts up to a billion colours and up to twice the resolution; there's a 1080p FaceTime camera. Apple claims that battery life is up to 18 hours. If there's a quibble, the laptop ports aren't quite up to snuff. Two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports and a MagSafe 3 charging port on the left, a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right... and that's it. There isn't much option for additional peripherals.

As a MacBook Air M1 user, the M3 model is like early man discovering fire. It's the sort of innovation that feels like magic—it's fluidly fast and there is nary a fingerprint on the surface. The MacBook Pro can meet these requirements and more but, I'm a simple man, who values good posture. A laptop that beats in weight, ranks high in my books.

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