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Apple MacBook Air 13.6in (M3, 2024) review: Not a big upgrade but still a great laptop

Our Rating :
£1,049.97 from
Price when reviewed : £1500
inc VAT

More powerful and less expensive than its predecessor – the M3 MacBook Air is the best laptop money can buy


  • No fan
  • Great battery life
  • Solid performance


  • Could do with more RAM
  • Storage expansion options are expensive

The M3 Apple MacBook Air is my new favourite laptop. I’ve benchmarked it, used it to work on and it’s brilliant. Great battery life, silent, fanless running and a fabulous display all contribute to a machine that’s immensely practical to use. Whether you’re in the office, working out of your local coffee shop or on a business trip – emailing, writing, presenting or video editing – this is the laptop you want in your bag.

If you have the money, I’d urge you to buy one, whether it’s the model I’m reviewing here or the 15in version. Apple has even cut the price this time around, so you can lay your hands on the greatest compact laptop yet for less than you’d have paid for the M2 MacBook Air last year.

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M3 MacBook Air (M3, 2024) review: What you need to know

Outwardly, there aren’t too many reasons to get excited; this is not much of an update on the surface. The body of the laptop is indistinguishable (unless you buy one in the new Midnight colour), and the display is the same, as is the keyboard, the touchpad and the physical connectivity.

Apple has made some changes you cannot see, however. The M3 now supports Wi-Fi 6E; you won’t enjoy the full benefit of that, though, unless you have 6E-compatible wireless networking at home or work.

It’s also the first Apple product that’s made up of 50% recycled materials: you’d be hard-pressed to call this an eco-friendly product, though. It’s pretty much impossible to upgrade after you’ve bought it – forcing you to replace the whole machine when it eventually outlives its usefulness – and it’s difficult to repair, too, thanks to Apple’s parts pairing policy. So, while Apple does deserve some credit here, I wouldn’t get too excited.

The main upgrade is the M3 chip inside, which replaces the M2 of the older model. This makes the M3 MacBook Air faster than the M2, and coupled with battery life that’s still fantastic, pushes it above the M2 as the best laptop on the market.

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Apple MacBook Air (M3, 2024) review: Price and competition

Configuration tested: 13.6in, 2,560 x 1,644 display; 8-core Apple M3 SoC, 10-core Apple M3 GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD; 13.6in display. Price: £1,499

In even better news, the price for the base 13.6in M3 Apple MacBook Air has been cut by a hefty £150, meaning the cheapest M3 is now £1,099. That gets you the model with an 8-core CPU, an 8-core GPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

I was sent the £1,499 model with the 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD to test for this review. The most expensive model has the same CPU and GPU but with 24GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD. That model costs £2,299.

As a slightly cheaper alternative, the Apple M2 MacBook Air is still available (with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD) for £999, but with the price difference a relatively small £100, I’d recommend you invest a little more and purchase the M3 model instead. The M1 MacBook Air has been discontinued but there will still be a handful left at the big retailers at tempting prices.

At around the price of the cheapest M3 MacBook Air, most equivalent Windows machines will have more RAM and storage. However, they won’t be able to match the M3 MacBook Air’s battery life. Take the latest Asus Zenbook 14 OLED as an example. You can pick one up with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for £1,299 and it’s an excellent laptop, with great performance and a lovely 3K OLED touchscreen, but battery life is middling.

Even better value is the Huawei MateBook 16s, which was an astonishing bargain at the time of writing. It comes with 16GB, a generous 1TB SSD and a large 16in display for just £1,100. With a powerful Core i9-13900H CPU, it’s faster than the cheapest M3 MacBook Air for most tasks and it costs about the same. Battery life is respectable at 12hrs but still not a patch on the MacBook.

Apple MacBook Air (M3, 2024) review: Design

There isn’t anything new about the physical appearance of the M3 MacBook Air. The new Midnight colourway is good to look at and resists picking up fingerprints nicely but you shouldn’t be making laptop buying decisions based on looks alone.

Luckily, all-round build quality is as good as ever. The recycled aluminium chassis and lid are stiff and rigid, the device is very slim at 11.3mm thick when closed, and the relatively low weight of 1.24kg means you can slip it into your laptop bag and barely notice it’s there.

Moreover, the keyboard is lovely: there’s plenty of positive feedback and it’s nicely damped, so typing fast on it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. The huge Force Touch touchpad continues to be the best around, its haptic feedback giving the impression of a physical click without there being any kind of physical movement.

There’s no Face ID here, unlike on Apple’s iPads (despite the presence of a rather ugly notch for the 1080p webcam), but you do get a Touch ID fingerprint reader built into the keyboard in the top right corner, which allows you to log in quickly, authorise installs and pay for purchases via Apple Pay.

The only thing that irks me about the physical design of the MacBook Air is the lack of ports. As before, you get a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports on the left edge, which sit next to the MagSafe power connector, but aside from the 3.5mm headset socket on the right edge, that’s your lot. If you want the luxury of an SD card slot you’ll have to move up to the much more expensive M3 MacBook Pro 14in.

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Apple MacBook Air (M3, 2024) review: Display

As with the M2 MacBook Air, the M3 model has what Apple calls a Liquid Retina display. Beyond the fancy marketing terms, this is a decent IPS screen. It measures 13.6in across the diagonal, supports P3 colour reproduction and resolution is a sharp 2,560 x 1,664. That may sound impressive but it’s nothing special in terms of the spec, especially as it’s restricted to 60Hz when most Windows rivals are either at 90Hz or 120Hz and many are using more vibrant OLED panels.

My testing backs that up. Brightness peaks at 522cd/m2 with a contrast ratio of 1,422:1, which is great, and colour reproduction is up to 96.5% of the P3 gamut, which means you can get eye-catching visuals across a variety of material, including HDR video. It looks great but the simple fact is that rivals have surpassed it.

And something rather confusing is happening with the laptop’s colour profile management, too. In the default, out-of-box “Colour LCD” mode, which is normally the do-everything profile Apple uses to show off the screen in all its glory, the gamut is restricted to displaying sRGB colours, which means it’s duller than it should be. Switch to the sRGB profile in the Display settings, however, and the situation is reversed, with the full spread of colours being employed.

That’s a rather weird quirk that will most likely be cleared up in a future update, and it isn’t a deal-breaker given that, otherwise, the screen is perfectly competent. But, for now, it means that early adopters will experience slightly worse colour performance with the M3 out of the box than with the M2 – unless you know what’s what and switch colour profiles to get the widest colour reproduction.

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Apple MacBook Air (M3, 2024) review: Performance and battery life

The main upgrade with this year’s MacBook Air is the new M3 chip that powers it. It’s an upgrade in raw performance, which the benchmarks below show clearly, with a slight advantage over the M2 in the 2022 MacBook Air 13.6in.

This new chip is built on Apple’s new 3nm manufacturing process, has eight CPU cores (four each for efficiency and performance tasks) running at up to 4.1GHz and either eight or ten GPU cores, depending on the model you choose.

The new GPU is particularly potent, supporting both mesh shading and ray tracing, and it supports the connection of two external monitors, whereas the M2 MacBook Air was limited to just one. Oddly enough, though, you have to shut the lid of the laptop to enable this.

Apple MacBook Air (M3 2024) review. Bar chart comparing the 4K media benchmarks of four different models

Apple MacBook Air (M3, 2024) Geekbench 6 chart

Apple MacBook Air (M3 2024) review. Bar chart comparing the Geekbench 6 GPU results of four different models

Apple MacBook Air (M3 2024) review. Bar chart comparing the GFXBench Car Chase results of four different models

Despite the upgrade, the benchmarks show that Intel is more than keeping up. In performance terms at least. The latest Windows machines are easily a match for the M3 MacBook across most tasks, and despite the new GPU in the M3 just about beating Intel’s embedded Arc Graphics, there isn’t much in it.

Where the M3 MacBook Air does still hold a significant advantage, however, is its efficiency and its battery life. In our simple video playback benchmark, where we play a video on loop until the battery runs dead – with the display set to 170cd/m2 and the laptop in Airplane mode – it lasted 15hrs 2mins. That’s two hours short of the M2 MacBook Air and not quite a match for Apple’s numbers, but note that Apple’s tests are carried out at a lower brightness level.

Also don’t forget that the MacBook Air achieves all of its feats without needing a fan. It runs silently and, despite that, rarely overheats. Windows machines, on the other hand, typically need to fire up the fans to audible levels to achieve their best performance figures.

Apple MacBook Air (M3 2024) review. Bar chart comparing the battery life results of four different models

Apple MacBook Air 13.6in (M3, 2024) review: Verdict

All of which brings me back around to the advice I gave at the very top of this review. If you have £1,099 to spend on your main laptop, and if you need something reliable, speedy, long-lasting and compact, there’s nothing better than the M3 MacBook Air.

Yes, you can buy Windows laptops that are faster and cheaper and, yes, they will probably have more RAM and storage. However, they will also be louder and less efficient and they will have worse battery life. You could also opt for the M2 MacBook Air – it’s cheaper, after all – but with only a £100 price gap, I think you’d be doing yourself a disservice.

The M3 Apple MacBook Air is for me, therefore, the new king of laptops. If you want the best portable computer on the market, save yourself a lot of messing around and just go out and buy one.

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