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The 15-inch MacBook Air offers superb battery life and portability at an aggressive price

Kif Leswing/CNBC

Apple announced a 15-inch MacBook Air last week. It hits store shelves on Tuesday and costs $1,299 for the base model or as much as $2,499 with upgraded RAM and storage.

The MacBook Air has come in 11-inch and 13-inch versions in the past, but this is the first time it’s had a 15-inch screen, which is the most popular laptop size. It could seriously boost Mac sales, which have been falling for the past two quarters. 

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If you upgraded your laptop or PC in the past two years — like hundreds of millions of people did during the pandemic — this new model isn’t worth an upgrade. But if you held out and need a new laptop, the 15-inch MacBook Air hits the sweet spot for most people in terms of price, capability, and portability. 

It’s probably the best laptop for most people if you like the MacOS operating system and plan to use it for everyday tasks like writing documents and spreadsheets, going to school, or using the internet. 

My quick takeaways:

Like:

  • Battery life is great. 
  • The big screen is better for doing work on the road. 
  • It’s thin and light enough to barely be noticeable in a backpack, despite the larger size. 

Don’t like:

  • The midnight finish is a fingerprint and smudge magnet.
  • The speakers are mounted in the computer’s hinge near the screen, and are only OK. 
  • Many people don’t mind Apple’s notch. I always notice it on a laptop. 

Worth upgrading to 512GB hard drive

The 15-inch MacBook Air is a very capable and powerful-feeling computer with battery life so long you won’t need to think about it: It lasts an entire day and only needs overnight charging. 

It’s fast, can handle what feels like infinite windows and apps at the same time, and has nearly all of the software I need to use. Some apps, like the FactSet financial database I use at work, don’t have Mac versions. But Mac does support native Microsoft Office and Google Chrome, as well as Apple’s own built-in alternatives, iWork and Safari, which covers many people’s primary needs.

The extra screen size makes a difference versus the 13-inch MacBook Air. It’s easier to put two documents side-by-side at the same time. The physical screen is not only bigger, but it has a 2880×1864 resolution, higher than the 13-inch model, which means you can fit more on the screen. 

The 13-inch M2 MacBook Air (silver) versus the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air (dark blue.)

Kif Leswing/CNBC

There isn’t much of a portability tradeoff from the extra screen size in my experience, either, mainly because it’s so thin. The 15-inch MacBook Air fits easily into a backpack or briefcase, and I didn’t really notice the extra 3.3 pounds while I was commuting with it on public transportation. 

While $1,299 is fairly expensive for a laptop, it does represent value in Apple’s lineup, especially for people who want a bigger screen. The 15-inch screen is now the second largest display Apple offers in a laptop, behind the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at $2,499 and has a lot of features most people don’t need, like a more powerful processor, fans, and ports for external camera cards. 

However, I believe that most people will want more storage and should upgrade to 512GB of hard drive space, which brings the price to $1,499. 

Even gaming, which isn’t a primary focus for Apple, is pretty good on the Mac. While new titles like Diablo 4 aren’t yet available, a huge portion of my Steam library runs on the computer, including titles like Civilization 6 and Stardew Valley. 

Kif Leswing/CNBC

On the 15-inch MacBook Air, there are only two USB-C ports, but I don’t mind — recently, I’ve found myself using USB-A accessories much less. The more expensive MacBook Pro models come with HDMI ports to directly plug into TVs and monitors.

Meanwhile, the 13-inch MacBook Air got a price cut to $1,099, which makes it a good deal for people who don’t care about the larger screen, or people who plan to primarily use it while plugged into a monitor. However, I don’t think the smaller laptop is significantly more portable — they’re both light enough to stick in your bag and forget about.

Kif Leswing/CNBC

The two MacBook Air sizes have most of the same components, including similar M2 processors, which is currently Apple’s state-of-the-art offering for low-power laptops and tablets. Apple has now transitioned from Intel processors completely.

Apple also fixed the keyboards, and now they come with deep, clicky keys that are a joy to type on. There’s no more “Touch Bar,” which has been replaced by handy physical function keys that give one-button access to brightness, volume, and play/pause. Apple’s screens and webcams look great, and are usable even in broad daylight — although many models, including the 15-inch MacBook Air, come with a notch cut out at the top, like on the iPhone, which you might find distracting.

Kif Leswing/CNBC

All in all, the 15-inch MacBook Air is one of the first laptops from Apple since the M-series transition to be priced aggressively, and represents a great option for people who want a daily use laptop. It should be particularly attractive to people who haven’t recently upgraded. 

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