Updated: Jan 7
Apple's quest for minimalism has often upset its customers. However, there have been rare occasions when the behemoth has had to accept that it went wrong– the buttonless third-gen iPod shuffle was replaced with its own predecessor
If you are into photography or video editing it will be hard to miss the punch that the new display on the MacBook Pro packs.
The 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display (3024x1964p) packs in eye-popping colours and is bright enough for you to work even in the bright winter sun.
But there is more. Apple has added its ProMotion adaptive refresh rate technology in the screen and it can switch up to 120Hz.
Nearly everything major that changed with the 2016 redesign and annoyed people has been reversed – but there are still a few caveats and one big new compromise that has already caused fresh controversy.
Apple has listened to the demands of its power users, making the new laptops slightly larger and heavier, with longer battery life and more ports. They are all the better for it.
MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) design and features-
The design is almost retro. The aluminum body apes the first-generation MacBook Pro from 2006, while the 14in version (as tested) has a similar screen size to iBook models from 2002.
Open the lid and two things stand out: the screen has an iPhone-like notch cutting into the top of the screen and the Touch Bar from previous models is gone.
You can still use Type-C ports to charge the new MacBook Pro, but MagSafe will be quicker (depending on the wattage of your power adapter).
The standard function and utility keys are back instead, including a large escape key that will please developers. The power button has a Touch ID fingerprint scanner that works great.
But the screen is limited to the same 500nits as previous models for standard dynamic range content, which is everything that’s not HDR movies, images and games. It is certainly bright enough for most situations.
The “thunk” sound as the connector snaps into place is familiar and satisfying – as convenient as universal Type-C charging is, having MagSafe in addition is the best of both worlds. It also fulfils its original purpose of disengaging quickly when the cord is yanked, preventing your expensive laptop from crashing to the floor.
You'll now also find three Thunderbolt 4 ports (one fewer than before) that support charging, DisplayPort video, and USB4; an HDMI 2.0 video output; an SDXC card slot; and a 3.5mm audio jack.
It's almost surprising that Apple retained the 3.5mm jack, having ditched it even on iPads now. Although it's great to have more ports for flexibility, HDMI 2.1 and SD Express would have been better choices for future-proofing. You'll also still need dongles or a hub for Ethernet and USB Type-A.
Pros: very powerful, very long battery life, fantastic miniLED ProMotion screen, lots of ports, SD card slot, brilliant speakers, Touch ID, great keyboard and trackpad, MagSafe, competitively priced for the power, 14in is great size.
Cons: no USB-A, no Face ID, no Centre Stage camera, no HDMI 2.1 support, RAM or SSD cannot be upgraded after purchase, no BootCamp/Windows support, some niche apps may have issues running until updated.
Screen: 14.2in mini LED (3024x1964; 254 ppi) ProMotion (120Hz)
Processor: Apple M1 Pro or M1 Max
RAM: 16, 32 or 64GB
Storage: 512GB, 1, 2, 4 or 8TB 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 1.55mm
The butterfly keyboard disaster is behind us now, and the new 2021 MacBook Pro is quite pleasant to type on. The key action is a bit crisp, but comfortable. The Fn row shortcuts have been rearranged – there's no backlight level adjustment shortcut anymore which is annoying, and it's too easy to unintentionally pull up the new emoji picker by tapping the Fn key. The arrow keys are a bit cramped as well. Overall though, typing is comfortable and even pleasant.
MacOS recognises lots of multi-finger gestures which work fluidly and soon become second nature.
Whatever you want to get done, be it multi-stream 4K/8K video editing, development work or editing enormous image projects, the MacBook Pro will handle it with no dip in performance when on battery.
The TouchID is integrated in the right top corner of the keyboard. This is also extremely responsive for when you want to quickly resume work. But I noticed one quirk too. At times when you use the TouchID with a little bit of pressure, you get the prompt asking if you want to switch off. I have not faced this on another keyboard with the Apple TouchID integration.
MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) usage and performance
The 2021 MacBook Pro is the first computer to feature more powerful versions of Apple’s M1 custom processors used to great effect in the MacBook Air and iMac.
The GPU core count is also up from seven or eight to 14 or 16. Memory continues to be integrated but you have up to 32GB with the M1 Pro, and it has a faster interconnect. Of course the M1 Max CPU option pushes these figures up even further. The new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips have performance rivalling most workstation-level machines from competitors but at a fraction of the power consumption.
Push the machine really hard by exporting high-res video or compiling large apps and the battery life can plummet but I estimate you’ll still be able to get at least five hours.
Apple's own ProRAW and ProRES formats which could come in handy for video production and content creation professionals. In addition, devices powered by the M1 Pro and M1 Max can drive up to two and three external 6K displays, respectively.
In short, Apple's new hardware tiers are not like what we're used to seeing from traditional CPU manufacturers and PC brands – there are several capabilities to take into consideration to choose the right variant for your needs. Again, nothing is upgradeable, so you need to make a big decision at the time of purchase.
This laptop is overpowered if all you need it for is entertainment, basic productivity, or Web surfing. In everyday use it runs completely silent. Premiere Pro ran flawlessly with a fairly heavy video project loaded up, and I was able to apply effects and render video quickly.
Blender completed the BMW render test scene in 4 minutes, 27 seconds and the Classroom scene in 13 minutes, 47 seconds. Interestingly, the same tests took 4 minutes, 26 seconds and 12 minutes, 38 seconds on battery power – that shows there isn't much throttling, if any, to conserve power. However, the battery level did drop by 16 percentage points which is quite a lot.
The speakers on the new MacBook Pro are impressive. Music sounded rich and full with reasonably good bass, and voices in video were crisp. The maximum volume could have been a bit better, but this is still great for a laptop. The 1080p webcam is quite good as well, but needs adequate light to work.
Battery life is equally impressive, lasting for 14 hours of light work consisting of email, browsing, writing and photo editing or more than 11 hours with more demanding tasks such as editing videos and advanced photo manipulation.
Coming to battery life, the new 14-inch MacBook Pro was able to get through a full workday without being plugged in, and still had over 20 percent left at the end. Usage was mainly browser-based, with a lot of work on documents and a bit of music and video streaming as well.
Heavy tests did drain the battery quickly but there's no sign of throttling, which will be great for some people. Idle power usage was minimal – closing the lid at night and checking in the next morning, there was virtually no drop in the battery level at all.
The 2021 MacBook Pro is the power laptop Apple users have been waiting for.
The combination of workstation-level processing power and long battery life are unrivalled. The display is stunning and will allow people who work with video to work in HDR away from their desks with dedicated high-end monitors – many of which cost eye-watering sums on their own.
Apple's upcoming replacement for the current MacBook Air should make much more sense for most people who don't have heavy workloads. It could even replace the holdover 13-inch MacBook Pro for entry-level content creators, considering how good Apple's next-gen silicone is likely to be. If you've been holding on to a pre-2016 model for a while, it's a good time to upgrade.
If you don't have any budget constraints and just want the best Mac laptop there is right now, look no further. However, creative pros do have sleek and powerful options on the Windows side of the fence these days, with plenty of compelling features such as touchscreens and stylus support.
Microsoft's Surface lineup is the obvious equivalent, but the Asus ProArt and Acer ConceptD series are contenders, as are many top-end models from Dell, Lenovo, and HP for less artistic power users.
If you’re an Apple-using creative or developer in need of an upgrade, this is the machine for you. You’ll pay a princely sum for it but it is absolutely brilliant.