Apple’s MacBook Pro received its biggest upgrade in power, ports, and screen quality since 2016, ticking almost every box on the wishlist of impatient Mac users.
But the new 14-inch and 16-inch models are no longer machines for the average consumer. Pricing from £ 1,899 ($ 1,999 or A $ 2,999), these are workstation laptops for creative professionals and developers and are priced accordingly. They leave the excellent £ 999 MacBook Air M1 as Apple’s first mainstream laptop.
Apple listened to the demands of its power users, making the new laptops slightly bigger and heavier, with longer battery life and more ports. They are all the better for it.
The design is almost retro. The aluminum body resembles that of the 2006 first-gen MacBook Pro, while the 14-inch version (as tested) has a screen size similar to the 2002 iBook models.
Open the cover and two things pop out: the screen has an iPhone-like notch that cuts off the top of the screen, and the touch bar from previous models is gone. This pot-like feature had enormous potential but was not appreciated by most.
The standard function and utility keys are back instead, including a large escape key that developers will love. The power button has a Touch ID fingerprint scanner that works great.
The new 14.2-inch display is in a different league. It’s larger than its 13.3-inch predecessor and has two technologies borrowed from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro: ProMotion and miniLED backlighting.
ProMotion refreshes the screen up to twice as fast as most non-gaming machines at 60Hz for much smoother animations. It’s smooth but the jump is less impactful than on touchscreen devices such as tablets and smartphones.
The miniLED backlight is a huge step forward, producing up to 1,600 nits (a standard measure of screen brightness) of maximum brightness for stunning HDR content. Most competing displays go over 500 nits. It can produce super bright whites and deep and ink blacks for extremely good contrast.
But the screen is limited to the same 500 nits as previous models for standard dynamic range content, which is anything other than HDR movies, pictures, and games. It is certainly bright enough for most situations.
Filter: 14.2-inch Mini LED (3024 x 1964; 254 ppi) ProMotion (120 Hz)
Processor: Apple M1 Pro or M1 Max
RAM: 16, 32 or 64 GB
Storage room: 512 GB, 1, 2, 4 or 8 TB SSD
Operating system: macOS 11 Monterey
Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD Camera
Connectivity: wifi 6, Bluetooth 5, 3x USB 4 / Thunderbolt 4, HDMI 2.0, SD card, headphones
Dimensions: 221.2 x 312.6 x 1.55 mm
Weight: 1.6 kg
M1 Pro and M1 Max chips
The 2021 MacBook Pro is the first computer to feature more powerful versions of Apple’s custom M1 processors that have been put to good use in the MacBook Air and iMac.
The new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips have performance that rivals most competitive workstation-level machines, but at a fraction of the power consumption. They are significantly faster than all previous Apple laptops and close to the more expensive Mac desktops. Whatever you want to do, whether it’s 4K / 8K multi-stream video editing, development work, or editing huge image projects, the MacBook Pro will handle it without a drop in performance when is on battery.
The laptop runs completely silent most of the time. It wasn’t until playing the Intel Mac version of the Xcom 2 game at the graphics settings pushed to maximum that I could hear the faint roar of the fans.
Equally impressive is the battery life, lasting 14 hours of light work consisting of emailing, browsing, writing and photo editing or over 11 hours with more demanding tasks such as editing videos and advanced photo manipulation. Push the machine really hard by exporting high-res videos or compiling great apps and the battery life might drop, but I estimate that you can still get at least five hours.
The MacBook Pro casing is made from 100% recycled aluminum. It contains 98% rare earth elements while 100% recycled tin is its logic board solder, and at least 35% recycled plastic has been used in several components. Apple breaks down the environmental impact of the computer in its report.
The computer is generally serviceable and the battery can be replaced for £ 199 by Apple. The iFixit repair specialists rated the machine 4/10, mainly due to the difficulty of replacing some parts. Apple offers free trade-in and recycling programs, including for non-Apple products.
The MacBook Pro runs Apple’s latest macOS Monterey software, which looks and feels similar to its Big Sur predecessor. In short, Monterey adds the ability to FaceTime video calling in a grid layout like Zoom, spatial audio surround sound for movies, live text recognition in photos, quick note taking, and enhanced privacy options. in Apple Mail. It also adds “focus”, an extension to “do not disturb” settings and other features of iOS 15.
The more ambitious features of Share Play and Universal Control will be available as part of a software update later this year. As with Big Sur, most software developed for Intel-equipped Macs works fine, but compatibility is not guaranteed for older applications.
Blooming, where the backlight shines like a halo around the dark edges, is extremely well controlled compared to most LCD screens.
The six speakers are incredible for a laptop and produce surprisingly effective virtual surround sound for movies.
The M1 Max has up to twice the graphics performance of the M1 Pro, but both chips have the same processor performance.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at £ 1,899 ($ 1,999 / A $ 2,999) for an M1 Pro chip with an eight-core processor and 14-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage.
Models with the 10-core M1 Pro / 16-core processor start at £ 2,199, while M1 Max models start at £ 2,799.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at £ 2,399 (A $ 2,499 / A $ 3,749). It is not possible to upgrade RAM or storage after purchase.
For comparison, the MacBook Air starts at £ 999, while Windows laptops roughly equivalent to newer machines like the Dell XPS 15 cost around £ 2,099, the Razer Blade 15 around £ 1,700, and the Surface Laptop. Microsoft’s studio costs around $ 2,100 (£ 1,576).
The MacBook Pro 2021 is the powerful laptop that Apple users have been waiting for.
The combination of desktop processing power and long battery life is unmatched. The display is beautiful and will allow people who work with the video working in HDR away from their desks with dedicated high-end monitors, many of which alone cost outrageous amounts of money. The larger and larger screen of 14.2 inch laptops compared to 13.3 inch laptops makes emailing, writing and browsing more comfortable while being easy to store in bags.
The keyboard is awesome and the best-in-class trackpad is huge. Even the new 1080p HD webcam is a big improvement. The extended port selection and SD card slot are welcome. Unlike previous models, the chips are the same for the 14in and 16in versions, making size the key choice, not horsepower.
The machine is not perfect. I would have liked it to have a USB-A port, the HDMI port is not the latest standard, the webcam does not have Apple’s excellent Center Stage technology which keeps the user in the course of calls video and the lack of face identification is baffling. As is unfortunately normal nowadays, you cannot upgrade RAM or storage after purchase. But these are small flaws.
The MacBook Pro is no longer a mainstream laptop. Instead, it’s the best compact, professional-grade workhorse I’ve ever used. If you are an Apple creator or developer in need of an upgrade, this machine is for you. You’ll pay a princely sum for it but it’s absolutely awesome.
Advantages: very powerful, very long battery life, fantastic miniLED ProMotion display, many ports, SD card slot, brilliant speakers, Touch ID, excellent keyboard and trackpad, MagSafe, competitively priced for power, 14 inches is large.
The inconvenients: no USB-A, no face ID, no Center Stage camera, no HDMI 2.1 support, RAM or SSD cannot be upgraded after purchase, no BootCamp / support Windows, some niche apps may have some trouble working until the update.