This wasn’t the plan.
I was going to dutifully wait until my brand-spanking-new 16” M1 Max-powered MacBook Pro arrived in November.
Then, everyone else’s reviews arrived. And I received comments from my subscribers asking where my review was.
I felt a bit left out.
So, I headed to the nearest Apple store yesterday and picked up a 14” MacBook Pro.
These are my first impressions.
The spec and price
The spec I chose was the ‘cheapest’ 14-inch MacBook Pro you can buy. For £1,899, you receive an M1 Pro chip with an 8-core CPU, 14-core GPU, 16GB of unified memory, and a 512GB SSD.
This is an expensive laptop. And that’s always been the case; as soon as you head into MacBook Pro territory, you’re laying down a sizeable chunk of cash.
When it came to the previous generation, that resulted in an undeniably smart, good-looking, long-lasting piece of kit, but a boatload of compromises to boot, and (up until a year or so ago) an absolutely dreadful keyboard.
Not any more. Apple really has gone full circle with the new MacBook Pro Apology Edition.
Oh, hello, old friend(s)
I can confirm that we haven’t been dreaming. I’m typing this on the new MacBook Pro, and it does have a MagSafe connector. There is also an SD card slot on the right-hand side, which is joined by an HDMI port.
Oh, and the Touch Bar isn’t there anymore. It’s gone. Erased from history. In its place? Function keys.
The only thing missing is a glowing Apple logo, USB-A port, and battery level indicator.
Apple has literally taken every single complaint levelled at the previous generation MacBook Pro and reversed their decision. They’ve also made practically everything slightly better, too. The MagSafe features a much stronger and eminently satisfying magnet and the SD card slot is super fast. It is, however, a shame that they only opted for HDMI 2.0, rather than 2.1.
But this isn’t where the retro feel ends. Far from it, in fact.
This is a chunky laptop.
I noted this right from the moment it was unveiled. People told me that it just ‘looked’ chunky and that it was more of an optical illusion due to the less tapered and more squared-off design.
Trust me – this laptop is about as chunky as you’ll find in 2021. As so many other people have pointed out, it has serious PowerBook vibes.
It’s heavy, too. Lord only knows how heavy that 16-inch version is going to be.
But I love it. This is what professional users and hobbyists have been crying out for. We didn’t care about how much thinner a MacBook Pro could become. Sure, it’s nice for it to be relatively unobtrusive and lightweight in one’s rucksack, but most of us would forgo the diet if it meant we had the power and I/O for the task in hand.
Now, we do. This new MacBook Pro clearly means business. In fact, it’s such an about-turn when it comes to the design that I refuse to believe there wasn’t a subsection of people at Apple who felt uneasy when it was unveiled; there must have been some pretty robust discussions about this iteration of their most coveted laptop. But this was absolutely the right direction.
The Apple logo is bigger and more confident. The etched-in ‘MacBook Pro’ on the base of the machine stamps its authority.
You do not want to get into a fight with this bad boy.
I’m a big fan of the new black keyboard, too, even if, clearly, its only job is to indicate that you have the new MacBook Pro.
The notch and screen
Let’s get this out of the way.
The notch really doesn’t matter. It provides us with a larger screen and reduced bezels and houses the (finally) 1080p camera. It also vanishes from sight when you go full screen.
That’s the key thing to bear in mind; the notch only obscures part of the menu bar. Apps aren’t affected, and neither is 16:9 video content. It literally disappears from view most of the time.
Sure, it’s a bit odd that you can lose your mouse pointer behind it, and those with a multitude of menu bar widgets may find it a tad irritating, but it really isn’t worth getting worked up about. Just like the iPhone, this will simply become a defining feature of Apple’s laptops.
Moving onto something far more interesting – the screen is absolutely fantastic. It still suffers from questionable uniformity, but that has always been an issue with Apple displays. However, beyond that, the brightness, colour, and sheer expansiveness thanks to the reduced bezels makes it a joy to work on.
The only slight letdown is ProMotion. I completely forgot it was present on this new MacBook Pro. Unlike the iPad Pro (on which it becomes immediately evident upon first use), I’m genuinely struggling to spot a difference when flicking between 60hz and ProMotion on the MacBook.
That aside, this remains the best laptop screen you’re likely to come across, and the fact it contains all of the Pro XDR Display goodness (including reference modes!), makes it a beast for video editors and photographers.
I’ve only had this laptop for one day, and therefore need more time to report back on the performance of the base-level M1 Pro.
But I did run a quick test on Final Cut Pro.
Using a piece of 4K footage (filmed at 24fps, 4:2:2 with 10-bit colour, if you’re interested), I performed a simple colour grade to initiate a render and exported the finished piece to H.264. The test was carried out on three versions of the M1 chip.
This is what happened.
M1 MacBook Air (8GB, 7-core GPU)
- Render: 09:08
- Export: 10:20*
M1 Mac mini (16GB)
- Render: 6:37
- Export: 12:53
M1 Pro MacBook Pro(base spec)
- Render: 3:14
- Export: 9:54
*if someone could explain how the MacBook Air beat the Mac mini in the export test, that would be great.
This was a simple, pretty unscientific test (that’s all you’ll ever get from me), and I’m far more interested in how this laptop performs day-to-day and during the rigours of a full YouTube video edit.
Regardless, it’s impressive and indicates just how far Apple has pushed the M1 architecture in a little over a year.
Every video I’ve published this year has been edited and exported on that 16GB M1 Mac mini. This base-level MacBook Pro comfortably halves rendering time for me and removes a meaningful chunk of time from the export process, too.
But this is ‘only’ the 14-core GPU version. The 16-inch version I have on order has a 32-core GPU and double the memory bandwidth. I also didn’t attempt to tickle the ProRes accelerator into action during my test, which, having watched countless reviews, clearly has a sizeable impact on processing performance.
I’ll of course return once I have the 16-inch version to see how much faster the M1 Max is over the base-level M1 Pro. Because I think that’s what most people want to know, after all.
I haven’t had this laptop long enough to deliver my full judgement when it comes to battery life, but it’s already clear that it’s a bit of a performer in that regard.
Yesterday, I retrieved the MacBook Pro from its packaging, headed to the studio and shot a load of b-roll while carrying out my Final Cut Pro tests. I didn’t connect it to power once. It was on all afternoon, with all power saving options turned off and the screen as bright as it could go, and I think it lost around 15% battery life.
Equally, having used it for a couple of hours this morning after a full night’s charge, and with the battery life still at 100%, sometimes, you just know when you’re onto a good thing in that regard.
We’ve waited a long time for this. The new MacBook Pro is about as close to an apology as we’ll ever get from Apple.
I need to spend lots more time with it, and, of course, get my hands on the 16-inch version. But I love it already. It’s as expensive as the MacBook Pro has ever been, but boy are you getting a lot for your money now. And the performance is likely to see most of us through many, many years with these devices.
I’m so glad Apple saw sense and swallowed their pride. Now is not a time to be as pretentious as they have been in the past when it comes to laptop design. This is the future, and it’s a chunkier future than we could ever have dreamt of.
It’s a great time to be a Mac user.