Those of you who have followed my writing over the years know that I have favored Apple’s Macintosh computers throughout my career. I have used different iterations of the Mac on my desktop and carried a Mac laptop pretty much everywhere for the last 30 or so years. Over that time, the Mac laptops have evolved in every possible way. The current crop of laptops is faster, more powerful, lighter, and just flat-out better than any of its predecessors.
For many years, I chose the MacBook Pro as my laptop as I wanted the power it offered for my work. That work included presentations for educational purposes as well as in court. In the last several years, however, Apple has developed a very powerful MacBook Air that weighs less and costs less than the MacBook Pro. While the Air lacks some of the power and features of the Pro, I discovered that it has plenty of power for everything I need it to do. That includes writing, Internet browsing, legal research, preparation of presentations for teaching and for trial, and even the presentation of these materials themselves in the courtroom or the conference room.
A few years ago, I got a MacBook Air with an M1 chip in it and a 13” display. It provided all the power I needed but was a bit shy on display size, making it less than ideal for some tasks. Yes, I could and sometimes did add a second screen to give me more space. That worked reasonably well for most purposes; it also required me to carry a second monitor when I thought I might need one. In 2022, Apple released its M2 chip and upgraded its MacBook Air to include it. The M2 brought more processing power than the M1. I did not upgrade my then-one-year-old MacBook Air as I did not think that the power difference offered enough to justify upgrading that soon. In 2023, Apple dramatically changed the game by offering a substantially upgraded MacBook Air using the M2 processor and offering it with a 15” display.
Specs and Comparisons
The 15” MacBook Air, of course, has a slightly larger footprint (13.4”x 9.35” v 11.97”x 8.46”) and weighs a bit more (3.3 lbs. v 2.7 lbs.) than its 13” sibling. It offers substantial improvements in several areas. The most obvious improvement is the display size. The difference between a 13” and 15” display looks much bigger than 2”. The display on the 15” Air is 2880 x 1864 pixels and the display on the 13” Air is 2560 x 1664 pixels. The two computers have very different sound systems. The 15” has a six-speaker system with force-canceling woofers, wide stereo sound, and support for spatial audio when playing music or video with Dolby Atmos on the built-in speakers. The 13-inch Air uses a four-speaker system. The six-speaker system does not produce exceptional quality sound, such as you might receive from high-quality external speakers or a top-of-the-line headset. It does, however, produce very decent sound for a laptop and represents a substantial upgrade to the four-speaker system used in the 13” MacBook Air.
The specs on the two computers are otherwise pretty much identical.
They both use WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.3. Additionally, both come with the MagSafe3 charging port and require the new generation of Apple’s MagSafe connector cable. The MagSafe connector gives you some protection against pulling your laptop off the table and sending it crashing on the floor should you trip over the charging wire, as might more likely occur with the USB C power connector used by the MacBook Air M1 and other Mac laptop computers. I like the MagSafe connection and think it is a small but good modification to the computer. I encourage you to pick up an extra cable or two—if your MacBook’s battery runs down and you have misplaced the one and only MagSafe cable you own, you are out of luck until you find that cable again. It’s not like the USB C connections that you can purchase almost anywhere. The MagSafe connection is relatively new, and cables are not so easily found. I don’t yet trust third-party cables for this, so I get mine exclusively from Apple. I make it a point to carry an extra, just in case.
In terms of options, both the 13” and 15” M2 MacBook Air laptops offer you the choice of 8 GB, 16 GB, or 24 GB of memory and 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB or 2 TB of storage. Each step up costs you a bit more. Those are the only choices you get to make about the computer itself, other than the color of the case (starlight, midnight, space gray, or silver for both the 13” and 15” versions). Color choices have no impact on the price. I should note that you can choose a more powerful charging block than the one that comes with the computer as well. You can choose between the 35 W dual USB C block that comes standard with the computer or a 70 W block with a single USB C port. The cost remains the same. Upgrading the power block to the 70 W unit allows you to charge the computer more rapidly. Apple says that it lets you charge the MacBook Air to 50 percent in 35 minutes.
At the base level, the 13” starts at $1,099 and the 15” at $1,299. The base level includes the computer, 8 GB of memory, and 256 GB of storage. Going to 16 GB or 24 GB from the base of 8 GB costs $200 for each step. Going from 256 GB to 512 GB increases the price by $200, going up to 1 TB adds another $200, and taking it to 2 TB adds another $400 beyond that. Step increases for memory and storage are the same for both the 13” and 15” versions.
From my perspective, the sweet spot is 16 GB of memory and 1 TB of storage. That’s how I configured mine, and it’s worked just fine—plenty of power and sufficient storage for my programs. The cost of the 15” Air configured this way is $1,899.
When I need more storage, I connect an external SSD. I keep some data on the built-in storage, but mostly, I store it on an external device. External SSDs up to 4 TB have become common and easily available. Most of them take up very little space and weigh next to nothing. I have a particular partiality to Samsung’s and SanDisk’s SSDs and use both. At the time I write this, the 4 TB SanDisk Extreme costs $257 at Amazon; the 4 TB Samsung T7 Shield costs $299 at Amazon. I use those currently. You can get other brands and lesser iterations from Samsung and SanDisk that run more slowly and cost a bit less. I have used the Samsung and the SanDisk SSDs for the last several years and have found them highly satisfactory. From my perspective, getting one of those 4 TB drives for $299 makes a lot more sense than paying $400 for a second TB of built-in storage from Apple.
Some reviewers have faulted Apple for not including a touch screen on the MacBook Air. Certainly, it does not have one, but I won’t fault Apple for that, as I don’t particularly like a touch screen on a laptop and don’t make use of it when available. If you want a touch screen on your laptop, you will have to get a Windows machine, as Apple has no laptops with that feature.
Another possible negative is that the system will support only one additional monitor. The frequency with which I use an external monitor has decreased for a variety of reasons, including the extra real estate offered by the 15” display. I have rarely used a third display, and then only for testing purposes. Accordingly, the ability to add a third display means little to me personally. If you are a three-display person and want to stay in the Apple line, you need to go to the MacBook Pro for a laptop. The Pro costs considerably more than the MacBook Air and, other than the ability to add an additional display, does not provide a great deal more for the uses normally required by an attorney. While I used the MacBook Pro for many years, I cannot justify the premium cost in comparison to the MacBook Air 15”. You can also address the problem of adding a third monitor by getting a docking station for the MacBook Air 15”.
I do criticize Apple for the lack of ports on the MacBook Air 15”. Like the 13” M2 MacBook Air and the M1 MacBook Air, the 15” M2 Air comes with only a pair of Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. Adding a third and maybe even a fourth port would not have killed Apple, nor should it have significantly raised the cost of the laptop. It would have made things much easier for users, who now have to buy a third-party dock or hub to attach to the computer to expand the number of available ports. If you want to plug more than two things into the MacBook Air 15”, you need to buy that extra piece of hardware. Apple does not make one, so you will have to get it from another provider. You have many options from which to choose. The options range from very portable pieces that add a few extra connections to very powerful docking stations that add many more connections. Some of the add-ons simply use the power in the Thunderbolt ports, while others add an external electrical connection. If you get a docking station or a hub with many ports, you will want one that adds its own electrical connections to ensure sufficient power for everything you plug into it. Some pieces require more power than others, so consider the power demands of what you will add, even if you only add a few peripherals.
Some of the nicest docking stations and hubs that I have found come from Hyper. Prices vary depending on the number and configuration of additional ports that you wish to add. Hyper offers solutions ranging from as few as two to as many as 18 additional ports, with various combinations of USB A, USB C, HDMI, Ethernet, Thunderbolt, 3.5 mm audio, and an SD card reader. Some of the devices also have the option of supporting two additional monitors. Depending on the options, the cost runs from $59.99 to $349.99. Hyper also has add-on ports for desktop computers and tablets. Most of their devices work with Windows as well as Apple products.
Through the years, I have had many laptop computers in my practice and for personal use. Of all the laptops I have had, I consider the 15” M2 MacBook Air the best package of power, efficiency, size, weight, and price. I do not hesitate to recommend it to you.
Note: In the world of technology, nothing ever stays the same, and you can count on the fact that a newer, better, more powerful version will come out with respect to almost any technology you acquire. Apple has already announced the release of the M3 chip. I have not learned of any planned release date for an M3 MacBook Air, but you can count on the fact that there will be one, probably later in 2024. The M3 will provide more power than the M2. Whether you wait for that is your choice, but the M2 provides plenty of power for the type of work normally done by an attorney. Undoubtedly, if you wait for an M3, it won’t be long before the M4 becomes available. You get the picture.
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 13, Number 6, January 2024. © 2024 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.