MacBook Air (15-inch) Review: The Big Apple

The speakers are nicer, but otherwise the 15-inch MacBook Air is mostly just the same thing you’d expect, but larger.

MacBook Air (15-inch)
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Tom's Hardware Verdict

The 15-inch MacBook Air is exactly what Apple promised: a larger MacBook Air. It offers better speakers, but otherwise, it's the 13-inch laptop in a bigger body.

Pros

  • +

    Sleek, thin, and indeed bigger!

  • +

    Powerful M2 SOC

  • +

    Long battery life

  • +

    Speakers are powerful and offer bass

  • +

    1080p webcam

  • +

    Display gets very bright

Cons

  • -

    Battery life isn't much longer than 13-inch model

  • -

    No additional ports over 13-inch model

  • -

    Divisive display notch

  • -

    M2 allows for just one external display

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Design of the MacBook Air 15-inch

If you've seen Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air with M2, this is that, but bigger. In fact, from afar, you might confuse the two. The 15-inch MacBook Air is a 13-inch MacBook Air, but bigger. That will be a trend throughout this review.

Ultimately, that's not a bad thing. You still get the sturdy recycled aluminum chassis (we tested it in the "midnight" color, a beautiful dark blue with a tendency to collect fingerprints), and a tone-on-tone Apple logo. It's sparse, but recognizable.

A 15-inch MacBook Air seems obvious. I've been told over and over again by industry insiders that 15-inch laptops are among the most popular on the market, and yet Apple hasn't made a notebook for this group of large-screen lovers that wasn't prohibitively expensive or designed for a pro. The Air was always considered one of the best ultrabooks, but sat at 13 inches.

After years of fans clamoring, that obvious laptop is here. The MacBook Air 15-inch is indeed exactly what Apple has promised: a bigger MacBook Air for most people. It's familiar: The keyboard is the same, the notch is still there, and it's still pretty thin (albeit noticeably heavier). The display is bigger, at 15.3-inches, and the six-speaker system is a noticeable improvement.

But mostly, it's a bigger MacBook Air. It's completely familiar, but aimed at the massive group of people who prioritize a bigger screen and don't want to spend $2,000 on their laptop. That's one way to raise interest among people considering a new machine.

The familiarity continues when you lift the lid. While the 15.3-inch display is a noticeable difference, the gist is the same. That includes the notch, which I still find a tad annoying (including on the MacBook Pro I own). Everything is just a bit bigger. The biggest visual change is the amount of free space on either side of the keyboard. On the MacBook Pro laptops, these have grilles for top-firing speakers, but here they're just metal.

Apple also used the exact same ports — and port placement — as on the 13-inch Air. That means Two Thunderbolt 3 / USB 4 ports on the left side, along with MagSafe 3 for charging. On the right side, there's a lone 3.5 mm headphone jack.

On the one hand, I get it — this means the basic layout of a 15-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air are fundamentally the same. It wouldn't surprise me if Apple was using the same motherboard in both systems. But it's also a shame that with all of the extra space, Apple couldn't add an extra USB-C port on the right side.

The new Air is 3.3 pounds and measures 13.4 x 9.35 x 0.45 inches. It's a noticeable difference, particularly in weight, from the 13-incher, which is 2.7 pounds and is 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches. The thin profile doesn't hide the fact that this computer is indeed bigger. There's no real way to do that.

Microsoft's 15-incher, the Surface Laptop 5, is lighter at 2.86 pounds but is larger in every dimension (13.5 x 9.6 x 0.58 inches). The Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED, another shot at the ultralight crown, is more of a competitor to the 13-inch Air at 2.43 pounds and 0.59 inches thick.

MacBook Air 15-inch Specifications

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CPUApple M2 8-core CPU (4 performance cores, 4 efficiency cores)
Graphics10-core GPU (on M2 chip)
Memory16GB LPDDR5 memory
Storage512GB SSD
Display15.3-inch, Liquid Retina, IPS, 2880 x 1884, True Tone
NetworkingWi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.3
Ports2x Thunderbolt 3 / USB 4 ports, MagSafe 3, 3.5 mm headphone jack
Camera1080p FaceTime HD
Battery66.5 WHr
Power Adapter35W Dual USB-C
Operating SystemmacOS Ventura
Dimensions (WxDxH)13.4 x 9.35 x 0.45 inches (340.4.1 x 237.6 x 11.5 mm)
Weight3.3 pounds (1.5 kg)
Price (as configured)$1,699

Productivity Performance of the MacBook Air 15

With Apple's M2 processor (the same 8-core CPU in the 13-inch model), 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, the 15-inch Air is up for most office work, web browsing, video streaming and other basic tasks. It really only faced issues in prolonged, strenuous workloads. This makes sense — despite its name, the MacBook Air doesn't have any fans. Still, for the average person, this is plenty.

We found that the MacBook Air 15's performance was pretty similar to the 13-incher. That's not much of a surprise, considering they're using the same CPU. We also compared it to the Microsoft Surface Laptop 5, using a 12th Gen Intel Core i7-1265U, the Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED with a more recent Intel Core i7-1355U and a Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra, which has an Intel Core i7-13700H and discrete graphics. (That last one is more of a fair comparison for the MacBook Pro, but let's see how this goes.)

On Geekbench 5, the 15-inch Air achieved a single-core score of 1,902 and a multi-core score of 8,932. These were very similar to the 13-inch Air's scores, and outperformed the U-series Intel chips in the Zenbook and Surface (both actively cooled) in both single and multi-core. The H-series chip in the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra won out only in multi-core, and that chip has 14 cores (6 more than the M2).

There was a surprise on our file transfer test. The 15-inch MacBook Air transferred 25GB of files at a rate of 1,342.38 MBps, beating the 13-inch Air (958.85 MBps) by a fair margin. Both the Zenbook S 13 OLED and Galaxy Book 3 Ultra were even faster.

Both Airs were more aligned on Handbrake, with the 15-inch transcoding a video from 4K to 1080p in 7 minutes and 46 seconds. The 13-incher took 7:52. Both were faster than the Zenbook S 13 (8:16) and Surface Laptop 5 (8:53), but more cores clearly helped the Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra at 5:26.

We tested the 13-inch MacBook Air before we implemented the Xcode benchmark, so this is our first time testing it on the vanilla M2. The 15-inch Air compiled a codebase in 122 seconds. You'll see the lag between the M2 Pro, M2 Max and M2 Ultra in the chart, but jumping up to the MacBook Pro could save you about 40 seconds. Part of the difference may have been cooling. The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros have active fans, which lets the M2 Pro and M2 Max perform at higher speeds for longer.

Additionally, we used our Cinebench R23 stress test to see what happens when the MacBook Air 15 is tasked with a strenuous, constant load. Typically, we run this to see if chips throttle, but in the case of the Air, which doesn't have an active fan, we expect it to throttle. This was the case with the Air 13 as well, and it followed a similar performance code. Though the MacBook Air 15 didn't fall quite as far — perhaps the 15-inch chassis serves as a bigger heatsink.

The 15-inch Air started with a score of 8,675 and slowly dropped through the 8,000's and then 7,000's, ending in the low 7,000's (the lowest score in the test was 7,187, in the last of 20 runs). We can't log the M2's clock speeds (Cinebench estimates 3.5 GHz at single-core and 3.2 GHz at multi-core, but take that with a grain of salt), but we are able to log temperatures using TG Pro. The four efficiency cores ran at an average of 91.82 degrees Celsius, while the performance cores reached 91.2 degrees Celsius. 

The MacBook Air is up for some basic gaming, too. I played No Man's Sky, which uses Apple's native Metal rendering, on the laptop at 1920 x 1200 on the high preset. As I mined for minerals and other resources, the game typically ran between 70 and 80 frames per second, though it occasionally dipped briefly below 60 fps.

Display on the MacBook Air 15-inch

Apple's 15.3-inch "liquid retina" display has a 2880 x 1864 resolution and a 60 Hz refresh rate. It's the biggest display ever on a MacBook Air, even if the notch for the webcam cuts into it (the extra 64 pixels in height mean you're not losing any usable space).

I find the notch a bit annoying (I say this as the owner of a 14-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro). On the bright side, it basically goes away when you watch video, which typically doesn't take up the whole screen. Some free apps like TopNotch black out the menu bar to attempt to hide it. I highly recommend dark mode.

That being said, the panel itself is pretty great. It's very bright and looks quite nice, but it can't match Windows-based competitors with OLED screens when it comes to color.

I used the MacBook Air 15 to watch the trailer for Oppenheimer. That trailer has plenty of dark shots of a bomb, as well as black and white high-contrast scenes. Both looked excellent on the Air, which has a very bright panel. The multiple red and orange explosion effects, though perhaps gratuitous on director Christopher Nolan's part, were striking compared to a number of blander desert scenes.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The 15-inch MacBook Air covers 111% of the sRGB color gamut and 78.9% of the wider DCI-P3 gamut. That's roughly on par with the 13-inch MacBook Air and just ahead of Microsoft's "PixelSense" screen on the Surface Laptop 5. Both the Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED and Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra, both with OLED panels, covered more of each gamut.

But the MacBooks won in brightness. The 15-incher reached 473 nits, a little short of the 489 nits on the 13-incher (it can get a bit brighter with HDR content). That's far  more luminous than the Zenbook, Surface, and Galaxy Book, none of which broke 400 nits (the Zenbook, in particular, lost out at 321 nits).

The MacBook Air comes with True Tone turned on in macOS, which uses sensors to adjust the screen to look more natural based on ambient light. (For our brightness and color testing, we turn that off.) In general, I think it works well, and that most people should leave it on, though if you're doing any photo editing or other work that involves exact colors, you’ll probably want to temporarily disable it.

If your setup uses external displays beyond the MacBook Air, you'll have to consider some limitations. The Air, according to Apple's website, can run both the laptop's screen at full resolution and "one external display with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz". This was also a concern on the M1-based MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. I suspect that most people won't have an issue with this, but power users may be disappointed.

Keyboard and Touchpad on the MacBook Air 15-inch

While I wish the MacBook Air's keyboard offered slightly more than 1 mm of travel, this keyboard is generally pretty great. It's effectively copied and pasted from the smaller model. That means you get the same full-height function keys, inverted T arrow keys, and Touch ID on the power button.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

On the monkeytype typing test, I hit 120 words per minute on the MacBook Air, which is about as good as I do, with a 2% error rate. It was comfortable enough, but a little extra travel wouldn't have hurt.

The 5.9 x 3.6-inch touchpad is even bigger than on the 13-inch Air, and just as good. I've long said Apple's touchpads are the envy of the laptop industry. The touchpad here is smooth, feels premium, and the haptics are extremely convincing. Gestures in macOS, like using three fingers to show all my apps, or side swiping between virtual desktops always worked on the first try. I prefer to turn off "natural" scrolling in settings, but at least that's still an option.

Audio on the MacBook Air 15-Inch

One area where Apple did take more advantage of the bigger chassis is in the 15-inch MacBook Air's sound system. It has six speakers and a force-cancelling woofer, as opposed to just four speakers in the 13-inch Air.

For a laptop this thin, Apple has engineered something impressive. Maybe not as incredible as the MacBook Pro, but the 15-inch Air has bass. When I listened to Chvrches' "Over," the drums thumped on the low-end. There are gaming laptops more than an inch thick that barely accomplish that. It also produced what sounded like louder volume to my ear than the 13-incher, all with clear vocals and an even mix with lots of synths.

If you're fully entrenched in Apple's ecosystem and wear AirPods, the MacBook Air supports spatial audio, including dynamic head tracking on certain AirPods models.

Upgradeability of the MacBook Air 15-inch

Just because Apple has four screws on the bottom of the MacBook Air doesn't mean there's much you can do if you were to open the lid. First of all, these are pentalobe screws, and most people don't have those kinds of screwdrivers. If anything, that may be a warning sign.

If you were to get in, you wouldn't be able to fix much, anyway. Apple's M2 is a system on a chip, with the RAM on the package. Apple solders its SSDs to the motherboard, so what you configure the laptop with at purchase is what you'll have forever. Whatever specs you buy the MacBook Air with, you are locked into until it's time to replace it.

As of this writing, the 15-inch MacBook Air isn't on the Self Service Repair site, but by the time you're reading this that may change, as other Apple Silicon Macs have made their way there. I imagine most people will go to the Genius Bar for any hardware issues.

Battery Life on the MacBook Air 15-inch

The M2 chip's efficiency is on full-display when it comes to battery life. On our test, the 15-inch MacBook Air lasted 14 hours and 48 minutes while streaming video, browsing websites, and running simple OpenGL tests.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

It's hard to complain about just under 15 hours of battery life, but considering Apple packed a 66.5 watt-hour battery into this chassis, which is an upgrade from the 52.6 WHr cell in the 13-inch Air that ran for 14:06 on our test, I would have loved to see a bit more improvement.

Still, the bigger Air beats Windows laptops down the chart. The closest was the Zenbook S 13 OLED at 11:02, while the Surface Laptop 5 and Galaxy Book 3 Ultra both lasted just over 9 hours.

Heat on the MacBook Air 15-inch

To see how hot laptops get while under a stressful load, we take skin temperatures on ultrabooks while running our Cinebench R23 stress test. The MacBook Air 15 got quite warm by the end of this test, though not unusably so. This laptop is an interesting candidate for this test because it's not actively cooled like the MacBook Pro line (or most Windows laptops).

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

During the test, the center of the keyboard, between the G and H keys, reached 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.42 degrees Fahrenheit), which is noticeably toasty. The touchpad, however, was far cooler.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

On the bottom of the laptop, the hottest point reached 47.9 Celsius (118.22 F). While it won't get this hot if you're just listening to music or checking your email, if you push your MacBook Air, you may want to use it on a desk.

Webcam on the MacBook Air 15-inch

The benefit to the Apple's notch is that it houses a really good 1080p webcam. At my desk, my eyes appeared the perfect shade of blue, in contrast to the navy shirt I was wearing. I could see every hair on my head, and the camera wasn't phased by some fluorescent lighting in our office, nor some nearby open windows.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

What Apple doesn't offer in its camera is facial recognition. Many high-end Windows PCs use infrared cameras to let you log in with your face. And while Apple has Face ID on its phones, that hasn't come to the laptops yet, despite the notch.

Software and Warranty on the MacBook Air 15-inch

We tested the 15-inch MacBook Air running macOS Ventura (version 13), which launched in October 2022. This is the same OS we tested on the Mac Studio and on the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pros. The laptop will be eligible for an update to macOS Sonoma in the fall.

Apple's macOS comes with lots of software, but little bloat. You get a mail client, Messages (great for sharing your texts and iMessages with a phone or iPad), Safari web browser, Maps, FaceTime, Notes, Reminders, and more. Apple has its own services preinstalled, with apps for Apple TV, Apple News, Apple Music, and podcasts. A basic productivity suite, including Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, and Pages also comes free.

At this point in Apple Silicon's life cycle, a significant number of apps now offer native versions for M1 and M2 chips, or use universal binaries to work on both Apple SIlicon and Intel processors. If you try to run something that doesn't use one of those two solutions, you'll be prompted to install Rosetta 2, which can translate Intel x86 instructions.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The MacBook Air comes with a 1-year warranty. AppleCare+ costs $79.99 annually until cancelled, or $229 for a 3-year plan.

MacBook Air 15-inch Configurations

Our review unit of the 15-inch MacBook Air came with an M2 system on a chip boasting 8 CPU cores and 10 GPU cores, 16GB of unified memory, a 512GB SSD and the "midnight" dark blue colorway. This configuration is available by customizing the Mac on Apple's website.

The base model has the same M2 chip (Apple doesn't cut CPU or GPU cores on the base model 15-inch), with 256GB of SSD storage and 8GB of memory for $1,299. The other retail model is $1,499 with 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM.

The MacBook Air tops out at 24GB of memory ($400 on top of the base price) and 2TB of storage ($600 on top of the base price, which is egregious with the price of SSDs these days.)

By default, Apple ships the MacBook Air with a 35W USB-C power adapter with two ports. If you use both ports, however, the devices split the wattage, so your Mac will charge more slowly. For example, with a Mac and either an iPhone or iPad connected, both devices get up to 17.5 watts. With a Mac and AirPods, the Mac will get up to 27.5W while the headphones go up to 7.5W. In the configurator, you can opt for a 70W USB-C adapter with one port that will let you fast-charge your Mac.

Bottom Line

If you want a MacBook Air, want a bigger machine than its traditional 13-inch offering, and don't need the power of a MacBook Pro, Apple is aiming the 15-inch MacBook Air squarely at you. It feels just like using the smaller machine, except with a bigger display, some more weight, and better speakers.

I do wish that Apple took a bit more advantage of the extra room and added an extra port or two. That seems like a missed opportunity. And while I wish the bigger battery added even more longevity than it does, it's hard to complain when your machine is running over 14 hours on a charge. 

Many 15-inch Windows laptops in this price range tend to add discrete GPUs, like the Dell XPS 15 or Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra. That sometimes makes for thicker chassis than what Apple is going for here. And those machines definitely aren't fanless. For a similar price, you can get a 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 and put it under a fan, but you won't get the design made for Apple Silicon.

So for those who want something simple, quiet, and with a big screen, the MacBook Air 15-inch is exactly what Apple promised: the MacBook Air, but bigger. It’s not likely to win over many new converts, but will likely make a lot previous Air owners very happy.

MORE: How to Buy a Gaming Laptop

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Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Threads @FreedmanAE and Mastodon @FreedmanAE.mastodon.social.

  • Amdlova
    1699 for 13.8" says 15" lol
    Reply
  • Sippincider
    Dear Apple,

    A 15" laptop is NOT a tablet or phone! For God's sake know the design and use-model differences!

    If this keeps up, the rumored 32" iMac will have a notch and one USB port...
    Reply
  • Ravestein NL
    Just another Apple "extremely expensive" laptop! May better to call it a barebone laptop!
    Reply
  • palladin9479
    Wow, the freedom from choice totally allows maximum creativity and productivity! <sarc>

    I could maybe understand soldering the memory, but they even soldered the SDD lol. They really want to maximum revenue by eliminating the ability to upgrade or replace components with aftermarket versions. I'm sure the usual favorites will insist on how "forward thinking" and awesome this design is, while begging Apple to take their money.
    Reply
  • newtechldtech
    Cons-
    Battery life isn't much longer than 13-inch model

    The notebook already has the best battery life , no need to add battery weight to it , it is already heavier because of the 15 inch body. Actually Apple made a smart choice here .
    Reply
  • newtechldtech
    palladin9479 said:
    Wow, the freedom from choice totally allows maximum creativity and productivity! <sarc>

    I could maybe understand soldering the memory, but they even soldered the SDD lol. They really want to maximum revenue by elimination the ability to upgrade or replace components with aftermarket versions. I'm sure the usual favorites will insist on how "forward thinking" and awesome this design is, while begging Apple to take their money.

    While I agree with you that Apple is overpricing their upgrade path ... I disagree about not buying one if you can afford it ... because simply it is the only notebook in the market that does not throttle while using batteries and lasts Hours rendering on batteries and with a flagship performance per watt in notebooks ...
    you get what you pay for. this is the TRUE portable PC ...
    Reply
  • newtechldtech
    Sippincider said:
    Dear Apple,

    A 15" laptop is NOT a tablet or phone! For God's sake know the design and use-model differences!

    If this keeps up, the rumored 32" iMac will have a notch and one USB port...

    I think that Apple wants to keep the notch for face ID ... and is aiming at zero bezels laptops in the near future thats why they are "standardizing" the notch for the devs.
    Reply
  • palladin9479
    Point proven.

    People be like "Apple take my money" no matter what they release.

    9BnLbv6QYcAView: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BnLbv6QYcA
    Reply