MacBook Air 13-inch (M3) review: Seeking portable perfection

The MacBook Air 13-inch M3 is a powerful leap forward

MacBook Air 13 M3 review
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

Laptop Mag Verdict

The MacBook Air 13-inch M3 doesn't tweak the formula, but it manages to level up performance and battery life to a degree that will remain difficult for others to match.


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    Outstanding battery life

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    Strong performance

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    Bright Liquid Retina display

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    Comfortable keyboard

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    Improved SSD speeds


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    Limited ports

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    Display not as colorful as competitors

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Apple's MacBook Air is the most popular laptop in its lineup, so a new addition is always going to grab our attention. Outwardly, not much has changed this year. However, internally, Apple has stepped up its game once again with the M3 chipset and these pint-sized powerhouses can hold up to stiff competition.

The 13-inch MacBook Air M3 thoroughly impressed in my daily usage and in our lab tests. I've spent dozens of hours working on it now and whether photo editing in Photoshop, editing video in Premiere Pro, or juggling a handful of Chrome windows with dozens of tabs each, it is more than equal to the task.

One of the biggest surprises I've encountered is the dramatic battery life improvement, leapfrogging the M2 Air to surpass the battery life of the M1 with over 15 hours of uptime from a single charge! Apple managed to level up performance and efficiency again.

After two weeks of working with the MacBook Air 13 M3 daily, it's clear this laptop has earned its spot at the top of our best college laptops and best laptops overall.

13-inch MacBook Air M3: Specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 MacBook Air 13-inch
Price$1,099 (starting), $1,499 (as reviewed)
ColorsMidnight, Starlight, Space Gray, Silver
CPU8-core CPU
GPU10-core GPU
Display13.6 inches (2560 x 1664)
Unified Memory8GB, 16GB (as reviewed), 24GB
Storage256GB, 512GB (as reviewed), 1TB, 2TB
Ports2x Thunderbolt / USB-4, 1x MagSafe, 1x headphone jack
Charging35W MagSafe; 70W USB-C
Size11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches
Weight2.7 pounds

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Pricing and configurations

The 13-inch MacBook Air M3 slots right into the $1,099 starting price of its predecessor. For that price, you get 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, along with a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display.

That display and CPU will remain the same as you upgrade, but for another $200 you can either upgrade your RAM to 16GB or your storage to 512GB. Need more of both? That'll be an extra $400. The good news is that any of these upgrade options also give you a boost to a 10-core GPU, just like the one found in the new 15-inch MacBook Air M3.

If you want to max out your 13-inch MacBook Air M3 you will end up with 24GB of RAM, 2TB of SSD storage, and a bill for $2,299.

I'd recommend that most buyers opt for 16GB of RAM, it gives you much more reasonable headroom for multitasking, and on the 13-inch Air M3 it also gets you that 10-core GPU, so it's a win-win. If you need extra storage there are always external SSDs, but RAM is forever.

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Design

MacBook Air 13 M3 review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

Apple shook up the MacBook Air design in 2022 with the M2 Air mirroring the modern look that the MacBook Pro lineup adopted the year before. If you were expecting yet another big change in 2024, you haven't been paying attention to Apple's laptop design over the years.

Apple doesn't move quickly with the trends when it comes to laptop design, which is in part how its design achieves iconic status. Simple though they may be, it would be hard to mistake a MacBook for any other laptop even without the shiny Apple logo on the lid. 

The 13-inch MacBook Air M3 doesn't vary in the slightest from the M2 model, I don't have one on hand, but place them side-by-side and I'm not sure that you'd be able to tell the difference without glancing at the details on the bottom. My review unit is the Starlight colorway, which has a very faint gold tint to it. 

You can also choose from old favorites Space Gray, Silver, or the Midnight option introduced on the Air M2. The Midnight Air M3 did get a slight makeover this year with changes to its anodization process that make it more fingerprint-resistant. Another change that you can't see, but may appreciate is that Apple has managed to make the MacBook Air M3 models out of 50% recycled materials, the first time Apple laptops have reached that threshold. 

MacBook Air 15-inch M3 next to MacBook Air 13-inch M3 on a side table

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

The exterior of the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 is almost uniformly anodized aluminum in Starlight, with the reflective Apple logo on the lid and the four black pads on the bottom to hold the laptop in place as the only exceptions.

While thinner and lighter laptops exist, the 13-inch Air M3 is certainly an easy travel companion at just 2.7 pounds and 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches. That comes in thinner and lighter than either of the competitors we are looking at today: the Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 8 (3.09 pounds, 12.5 x 9.06 x 0.6 inches) and Acer Swift X 14 (3.42 pounds, 12.71 x 8.98 x 0.7 inches).

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Ports

MacBook Air 13 M3 review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

It's not exactly "No ports for you," but there isn't a bounty of ports to enjoy here either. The left side of the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 gives you a MagSafe 3 charging port directly above a pair of Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. On the right side is the headset jack.

Now, there are plenty of people who won't need more than that. But, if (like me) you occasionally need an SD card reader or to connect an HDMI monitor, then one of the best USB-C hubs or best docking stations may be a necessity. 

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Display

The MacBook Air M3 features the same 13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display as its predecessor, which has its plusses and minuses. The color accuracy and brightness are still on point, but we would love to see Apple let its displays get a little more vibrant.

I rewatched the trailer for "Deadpool & Wolverine" and while I can concede the colors don't pop off the display as I've seen on some other laptops, it is still delivering an outstanding image. Deadpool's pouch-laden red suit is sharply detailed, as are the claws appearing in shadow on either side of him. 

MacBook Air 13 M3 review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

Bringing the Air M3 into our labs and measuring for color reproduction, it registered 77.8% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. That is a slight improvement over the 75.9% we saw on the Air M2, but it is below the mainstream laptop average of 87.2% and drastically behind the Acer Swift X 14 (138.1%) and the Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 8 (142.1%).

Apple looks to win back some points by shining a little light in its competitors' eyes with an average brightness of 476 nits in our testing. That's well beyond the 382 nits for the average mainstream laptop, which also beats both the Swift X 14 (359 nits) and the Yoga 9i Gen 8 (353 nits).

Color accuracy scores some additional points for MacBook Air 13 with a Delta-E score of 0.21 (closer to 0 is better). That's enough to beat the mainstream laptop average (0.24) and the Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 8 (0.39), but the Acer Swift X 14 (0.09) delivered one of the best results we've ever seen on this test.

Apple also touts its built-in True Tone technology that helps to ensure that the colors on your panel stay accurate based on your ambient lighting conditions.

While again I would love to see Apple up its game when it comes to supporting the full color gamut, it is something you only really notice when viewing two laptops side-by-side. The Air M3's display doesn't look washed out or drab in person, it's merely not as colorful as some of its competitors.

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MacBook Air 13 M3 vs Competition: Display benchmarks
LaptopDCI-P3 color gamutDisplay brightness averageDelta-E
MacBook Air 13 M377.8%476 nits0.21
Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 8142.1%353 nits0.39
Acer Swift X 14138.1%359 nits 0.09

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Audio

The 13-inch MacBook Air's quad-speaker array is thoroughly impressive for a laptop of its size. Once Apple figures out how to create pocket dimensions I'm sure it'll fit the six-speaker and force-cancelling woofers setup from its larger laptops into this model, but for now, we'll have to make do with four.

Volume isn't an issue for the Air M3's speakers, but they lack the bass and depth that the larger 15-inch Air M3 and the MacBook Pros can deliver. To my soundtrack playlist! I listened to "Can't Fight City Halloween" by Michael Giacchino off "The Batman" soundtrack and it perfectly captured the Air's weakness. The soaring symphonic melody filled my smallish office, but it just lacked the punch that I'm accustomed to as it can't hit those rumbling low tones.

Depending on the content you listen to, that may not matter. You do get some other great sound features on the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 though, with Spatial Audio support through the built-in speakers or or when connecting to AirPods (3rd gen or higher), AirPods Pro, or AirPods Max

MacBook Air 15-inch M3 next to MacBook Air 13-inch M3 on a side table

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Keyboard and trackpad

The Magic Keyboard in the 13-inch MacBook Air doesn't manage to eclipse the ThinkPad keyboard for me, but it does put up an impressive fight. The evenly backlit and wide flat keys offer excellent bounce that allows you to comfortably write for hours in any lighting conditions.

I landed at 85 word-per-minute on the 10fastfingers typing test, which is hovering right at my typical 86wpm on my mechanical keyboard. At my desk, I can't give up a full-size keyboard with a number pad, but I have spent the last couple of months using a MacBook Air 15 M2 with the same keyboard and after thousands of words typed, I'm still loving it.

MacBook Air 13 M3 review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

MacBooks kicked off the massive trackpad trend, but it remains arguably the best. I'm easily able to navigate around the OS with quick multi-finger gestures and the trackpad remains firmly clicky at just about every extreme.

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Performance

While I've certainly used more powerful laptops, the fact that I can get this kind of performance from a laptop in a chassis this small is mind-bending. Maybe Apple did crack the pocket dimension problem and is just being clever about how it uses it.

The MacBook Air 13 M3 can match its larger sibling step-for-step, so the instantaneous Photoshop and Premiere Pro launch that I found impressive on the 15-inch Air, seems all the more ridiculous on the 13-inch. 

As far as my more common productivity work goes, I loaded the 13-inch M3 Air up with my standard clown car of Google Chrome windows and tabs including Google Docs, Sheets, YouTube, and of course Slack was running in the background. I never caught a slowdown of any kind. I'll be curious to see if this shifts over time, but right now this 16GB model is more than equal to my workflow.

Looking at how it performed in our lab tests, none of the above should come as a surprise. The 13-inch M3 Air delivered an outstanding Geekbench 6 score of 12,087, wildly outperforming the mainstream laptop average of 9,595 and besting the Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 8 (10,828). Only the Swift X 14 (12,118) managed to eke past Air 13 M3, but as you'll see in the battery section, the  Acer pays for that performance.

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MacBook Air 13 M3 vs the competition: Overall Performance benchmarks
LaptopGeekbench 6 Handbrake timeSSD Read/Write speed
MacBook Air 15 M312,0876:323,030.7MBps/3,058.8MBps
Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 810,8289:45n/a (unable to do same test)
Acer Swift X 1412,1187:46n/a (unable to do same test)

On the Handbrake test, the Air M3 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 6 minutes and 32 seconds. That was more than enough to beat the Yoga 9i Gen 8 (9:45), the mainstream laptop average (8:23), and the Acer Swift X 14 (7:46).

The M3 Air's SSD speed manages to correct the errors of its predecessor with a Write speed of 3,058.8MBps and a Read speed of 3,030.7MBps, easily eclipsing both previous Apple Silicon Airs. Unfortunately, Apple laptops can't run our typical file transfer test, so we can't compare this evenly with the Windows competition.

MacBook Air 15-inch M3 next to MacBook Air 13-inch M3 on a side table

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Battery life

Another bit of evidence in favor of the pocket dimension, after the MacBook Air M2 dropped some battery life from the Air M1, the 13-inch Air M3 reclaims it back and more. It lasted a total of 15 hours and 13 minutes in our Laptop Mag battery test which involves continuous web surfing over WiFi with the display set at 150 nits. That is 1 hour and 7 minutes longer than the M2 and 32 minutes longer than the M1 Air.

The mainstream laptop average (10:09), Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 8 (10:24), and the Acer Swift X 14 (7:26) never stood a chance.

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MacBook Air 13 M3 vs the Competition: Battery life benchmark
LaptopBattery life test result (hours and minutes)
MacBook Air 15 M315:13
Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 810:24
Acer Swift X 147:26

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Heat

The MacBook Air 13-inch M3 is as cool as they come when it comes to heat dissipation. Despite its fanless design it managed to stay well below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees after running a video for 15 minues.

The hottest point on the laptop was above the F1 key where it reached a modest 83.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The touchpad and G/H keys at the center of the keyboard only hit 77.5 and 79.5 degrees, respectively. Even the underside of the laptop kept its cool at 81 degrees.

This isn't a feature that is going to grab a lot of headlines, but it is nothing short of amazing that Apple is delivering this kind of performance in a fanless chassis this thin and light while keeping the laptop cool as a cucumber.

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Webcam

While the best webcams are still better, I feel comfortable saying that bringing an external webcam along when traveling isn't necessary if you are using one of the latest MacBooks with a 1080p webcam.

The combination of my pale complexion and red plaid shirt hold up about as well as could be hoped for in the sample shot I captured in my home office. Looking at the background of my image I can pick out details in the objects on the shelf behind me, which are also color-accurate.

MacBook Air 13-inch (M3): Software and warranty

The MacBook Air 13-inch (M3) ships with macOS Sonoma, the latest and greatest from Apple. While I am still trying to regain my macOS mastery after having spent 5 years exclusively on Windows, some of the old tricks are coming back to me now and I'm picking up others along the way.

Useful new features like Widgets are a welcome addition to the OS and I'm as interested as anyone to see how Apple leans into AI as we get deeper into 2024. Apple's Neural Engine is its version of the NPU that we are now seeing appear in Windows laptops, so it was early to adopt the hardware necessary to boost AI performance, but we still need to see Apple do more to leverage that hardware.

One of the new additions for the MacBook Air M3 models is support for dual-monitors when the laptop is closed. That last bit is slightly disappointing as it would be nice to still use the Air display alongside my monitors, but it's a welcome upgrade regardless. For those that prefer the dual-monitor experience over a ultra-wide, this is a game-changing upgrade. If you have an M3 MacBook Pro this update is coming later in the year for you as well.

The MacBook Air 13 M3 ships with a one-year limited warranty. See how Apple fared during our Tech Support Showdown annual report. 

MacBook Air 13 M3 review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

Bottom line

While competition from Intel and AMD are challenging Apple when it comes to raw performance, the MacBook Air 13 M3 shows Apple still has a clear lead when it comes to the balance between performance and efficiency. 

This is particularly valuable in a thin-and-light form factor like the 13-inch Air M3, as it manages to offer sufficient performance to handle any productivity task and at least light creative work in an easily portable chassis. Not only that, but you don't need to be on a perpetual search for an outlet oasis, as you have enough battery life to last through a full day for most people.

While the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 isn't cheap at a starting price of $1,099 ($1,299 for the model I'd recommend with 16GB of RAM), the reality is that this aligns closely with its Windows counterparts that offer anywhere near the same quality hardware.

For college students, frequent travelers, or anyone who wants an easily portable laptop without skimping on performance, the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 is an easy recommendation.

The interesting challenge ahead for the 13-inch MacBook Air will be Windows 11 laptops running on Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite chipset. Qualcomm appears to be directly targeting the M3's performance and efficiency crown, but for now that heavy burden remains on Apple's head.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.