New chips, familiar ports, and actual volume buttons — it might be love
It’s easy to be excited about the new MacBook Pros — it feels like Apple finally listened to everyone and brought back the best parts of the beloved 2015 MacBook Pro, while pushing the display and performance to new heights. I know a lot of people who ordered one sight unseen; the pent-up demand for a great pro Mac laptop has been growing since Apple released the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 chips last year.
We’ve had three of these new MacBook Pros for a little less than a week — we’re doing some quick impressions now, but we’re taking our time with the full review since there’s a lot to discuss and a lot of questions about performance and battery life to answer. We also know a lot of people are eager to order these new MacBook Pros but have a lot of questions, so ask away in the comments and we’ll answer as many as we can in the review later this week.
The three MacBook Pro models we have here are a silver 16-inch model loaded with a 10-core M1 Max with a 32-core GPU, 64GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage that sells for $3,899; a silver M1 Pro 16-inch with a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage that costs $3,099; and a space gray 14-inch with the same 10-core M1 Pro with 16-core GPU, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage that sells for $2,899.
Design wise, they’re a slight new direction for Apple laptops — the concepts are all familiar, but the execution is a little more squared off, a little thicker, a little more aggressive. They share an overall sensibility with that 2015 MacBook Pro, with a hint of the titanium PowerBook G4 from 2001. The “MacBook Pro” name is now stamped on the bottom, along with four raised feet — there was some early discussion about these feet, but in practice they are barely noticeable.
In a welcome move, Apple has added some useful ports back to the new MacBook Pros: gaze upon an SD card slot and an HDMI port. (Sadly, neither is cutting edge, the SD slot is UHS-II, not UHS-III, and the HDMI is 2.0, not 2.1.) Other than that, you’ve got three Thunderbolt 4 ports and the MagSafe power connector. It’s great that MagSafe is back, but I get the feeling it’s a hedge against the confusing mess of USB-C power standards: you can charge the new Pros from any of the Thunderbolt 4 ports and fast charge the 14 over USB-C, but Apple tells us you can only fast charge the 16 with the MagSafe port. And we need to really test how fast charging works on the 16 with other USB-C adapters to make sure it works, since that’s always goofy. We’ll see.
The other major design change is a personal victory: Apple finally got rid of the Touch Bar, which never really lived up to its potential, and replaced it with full-height function keys. They’re great, uncomplicated, and do exactly what you’d expect. The TouchID button looks a lot uglier in photos, but it’s totally fine in person and seems very fast to unlock the machine. The keyboard feels great, although Apple’s claim that it feels like a mechanical keyboard is just like… an idea from another dimension? Here in reality, it feels like a nice laptop keyboard. The most controversial thing about it in our office has been the all-black keyboard deck, which some people think will get dirty fast. So far: it hasn’t been an issue.
We’re going to spend a lot of time testing the new Mini LED display that supports 120Hz refresh rates in the full review, but in early use it looks great, with claimed peak brightness up to 1,600 nits in the default profile out of the box. One nice surprise, given Apple and Google’s history of weird video codec fights: you can just open up an HDR video on YouTube in Chrome and it will work and look incredible. It’s great. And yes, the display has a notch, which we know will be polarizing, but I very quickly stopped noticing it, just like everyone stops seeing the iPhone notch. We’ll see how I feel after another few days with this thing.
Inside the notch, there’s a new 1080p camera that takes advantage of Apple’s image processing system on its chips. It’s noticeably clearer and crisper than the miserable quality of previous Apple webcams, but it’s still a laptop webcam — it’s not even close to an iPhone front camera. And there’s no Center Stage, so it doesn’t follow you around the room on a video call like the iPad can now do. The sound quality on these machines is incredible — there are six speakers, and they sound great and support spatial audio. And they can get very loud.
Inside you’ve got Apple’s new M1 Pro and M1 Max processors, which are much more powerful versions of the M1 chip that have much more serious GPU capabilities. We’re doing a lot of performance tests to see what’s what with these chips, but I can tell you right now that the 16-inch Pro with M1 Max clocked the fastest time ever in our Adobe Premiere 4K export test… by over a minute.
Apple is very proud of the fact that its chips draw so much less power than the competition, so it’s able to deliver the same performance plugged in as on battery power. We’ll do our best to put that to the test. And a major reason we’re taking a little extra time to publish our full review is because I want to be really certain about battery life — we loved the battery life we got on the M1 machines last year, but these have much beefier chips, bigger, brighter displays, and get used for more intense tasks, so I want to be as sure about that as we can. The early results are promising — big batteries and efficient chips are a good combination — but we want to push things as hard as we can.
But the main thing we want to know is: what do you want to know about these new MacBook Pros? A lot of people have waited a long time for these machines, and we want to make sure we make this review as useful as we can. Let us know your questions in the comments and we’ll try to answer them in our full review.