Apple MacBook Pro (14-Inch, 2021)

OVER THE LAST SIX YEARS, APPLE has used its MacBook Pro series as a testbed for innovation—or lack thereof. These high-priced laptops have suffered from the iconic Butterfly keyboard, the unintuitive Touch Bar, and a significant decrease in ports. This is on top of previously reported software faults such as overheating and poor battery life.

The new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros from Apple are the ray of hope you’ve been looking for. They include several firsts, including new display size, the ability to mix and match Apple’s most powerful chipsets, and a screen notch with a 1080p webcam. Many of the most significant changes, though, are elements that the firm is reintroducing: additional ports, a MagSafe charger, tactile function buttons, and increased battery life. It seems like the MacBook Pro is once again meant for creative professionals.

If you can get beyond the $2,000 beginning price, that is. The most expensive version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro costs an exorbitant $5,900—a little more than double the price of a fully-loaded 24-inch iMac (though still less than a Mac Pro). However, if you’ve been holding out with an ancient 2015 MacBook Pro and its HDMI connector, the new MacBook Pro is definitely worth the price of admission.

Overload of Options on Apple MacBook

Apple now offers two sizes of the new MacBook Pro, as well as two new chipsets: the M1 Pro and the M1 Max—it no longer sells Intel-powered computers. These Apple-designed CPUs outperform last year’s M1, which debuted in the 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

You can change the RAM, the number of GPU cores, and the quantity of internal storage on either model. It’s difficult to explain exactly how to set it because it all depends on what the MacBook Pro will be used for. (If most people should update anything, it’s probably the 16 GB of unified memory to 32 GB.)

Apple handed me a 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Max, which is outfitted with a 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64 GB of unified memory, and a 2-terabyte solid-state drive for $4,099. For someone like me, this is excessive. I use my MacBook for text processing, online browsing, and video chats. Naturally, it annihilated all of those duties with nary a whirl of the fan.

In our Ideal MacBooks guide, we break down which models are best for you. But, in the end, most consumers should stay with the M1 inside Apple’s sub-$1,300 MacBooks. The M1 Pro hasn’t been tested yet, but it’s the better option if you use more demanding software like Adobe Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve regularly. The M1 Max (starting at $2,899) is a must-have if you’re editing feature films, building complex 3D models, or relying heavily on graphically demanding programs.

Subdued Refresh

Many of the changes appear to be drastic, yet you’ll recognize this as a MacBook from a mile away. If you look closely, you’ll note the chassis is significantly boxier, with squared-off edges, similar to the newest iPad Mini and iPhone 13. The all-black keyboard offers it a sleek appearance.

Although the overall proportions are the same, the original 14-inch MacBook features a larger 14.2-inch display than the 13-inch MacBook Air. This is because the screen’s limitations are narrower. If your profession needs you to stare at a screen all day, it’s the ideal size between the cramped 13-inch and the massive 16-inch Pro. If you must choose between the 14-inch and 16-inch models, I can promise you that the latter is significantly larger. I’ve only had a short interaction with it, but it’s massive.

When it comes to displays, the difference between an LCD and a Mini LED screen on these new products is difficult to overlook. Apple originally utilized it in the 2021 iPad Pro. The blacks are substantially deeper, allowing for greater contrast, and the colors are richer. All of this is obvious whether you’re coloring video footage, playing a game, or simply watching a movie. Then there’s ProMotion, an iPad Pro first that’s slowly making its way into the MacBook. This increases the refresh rate of the screen from 60 to 120 frames per second (also on the new iPhone 13 Pro). Simply moving the pointer about the desktop makes it appear smoother and more fluid.

Yes, there is a notch, which houses the webcam. The navigation bar goes up and flanks the camera, so it doesn’t take up any of your 14-inch screen real estates. Many individuals portray it as a serious concern when it is not. When you make an app full screen, it disappears and may even be hidden by using a dark backdrop. What matters here is the camera: Finally, it is accessible in 1080p resolution. The image is no longer grainy, and it performs admirably in low-light situations.

Unfortunately, this camera does not enable Face ID (which would at the very least warrant the need for a notch). The Touch ID sensor is suitable for making transactions, unlocking the screen, and authorizing app installs. Touch Bar is no longer available. Instead, a physical row of function keys is present. (Yes, Do Not Disturb, playback and volume controls, and brightness are all included.) No more tapping a strange oblong display by accident.

But first, let’s talk about the ports’ comeback! Three USB-C Thunderbolt 4 connections, an HDMI port, an SD card slot, a high-impedance headphone jack, and a MagSafe charging connector are now available. The latter, like older MacBooks, disconnects the cord from the MacBook if it is mistakenly tripped over. I’d have liked to see at least one USB-A connector; when I attended a recent Gadget Lab podcast episode, I had to scramble for a dongle to put in a USB mic. But I didn’t require one to connect an external display or SD card—what a novel idea.

Pro Performance

The M1 Max performed admirably on common day-to-day chores. I generally have at least 30 Chrome tabs open at the same time, and this thing was lightning quick. But this gadget was designed for much more. So I gave it over to a skilled film artist (and buddy) and watched him put it through its paces.

We imported a stream of RED raw video footage (20 gigabytes at a 4:1 compression ratio) into Final Cut Pro, changed the saturation, contrast, brightness, ISO, and color temperature. The fans only came on immediately before the clips were rendered. Meanwhile, even while using ML Super Resolution (which doubles the picture size), retouching photographs in Pixelmator remained silky smooth, causing the M1 MacBook Pro to jitter.

What did he have to say in the end? Apple’s $6,000-plus professional desktop, the Mac Pro, felt identical to the M1 Max. The Pro had no issues. He was ecstatic at the prospect of being able to edit movies on the go without compromising performance over a typical desktop.

There aren’t many new Mac games available in terms of playability. On the other hand, Shadow of the Tomb Raider made a solid showing. It wasn’t perfect—graphics didn’t always render perfectly, and the fans didn’t stop spinning—but it was still a great time.

What’s the obvious issue? The battery’s lifespan. The maximum video playback duration, according to Apple, is 17 hours. On a typical weekday, I spent no more than seven hours using Chrome, iMessage, Slack, Telegram, and Zoom. That should be enough. When using it for power-hungry tasks, though, good luck keeping away from the charger for a lengthy amount of time. The battery died in less than an hour when editing heavy-duty video material or playing video games. It is, after all, a portable gadget. On the other hand, power users will want to sit near an outlet. It charges swiftly, at the very least. I had achieved the advertised 50% after only 30 minutes of charging.

The M1 Max-powered MacBook Pro is capable of handling practically any task that producers put at it. It’s a portable MacBook. You can rely on it while you’re not at your desk, and it doesn’t require any dongles (just the charging adapter). That is, providing the cost isn’t prohibitively expensive.

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