Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro review: Superb, but is it overkill for casual users?
Introduction, design, ports
Note: This review was first published on 5 November 2021.
A true Pro notebook
In 1998, after his return and at the launch of the iMac G3, Steve Jobs identified that Apple needed to make four types of Macs. Desktop and portable, and consumer and professional versions of both. In an ideal world, regular users like you and me would buy the consumer versions while professionals would buy what we have come to know as the “Pro” versions. But the lines between the two have blurred over the past couple of years, particularly on the portable side.
If you ask people who know a thing or two about processors why the lines have blurred, they’ll point the finger at Intel. The company’s manufacturing woes are well documented by now so I won’t belabour the point. The short story is that they can't make the processors that Apple wanted. So what we ended up with were compromised machines. Before the MacBook Air transitioned to Apple Silicon, they were powered by low-power Amber Lake processors. Yes, they were relatively efficient which meant Apple could put it in a compact body but they also felt sluggish and slow, which really shouldn’t be the case in a notebook that costs two grand. Consequently, many people felt compelled to buy a MacBook Pro instead. If you are already spending that much, what’s a couple hundred more?
Apple’s transition to its custom silicon means Steve Jobs’ vision is finally a reality. We finally have notebooks that live up to their Pro billing. I’m not going to beat around the bush. The gulf in performance between the last year's M1 MacBook Air and Pro and the new M1 Pro and M1 Max 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pros is huge. And that should be the case because these new MacBook Pros are not cheap – not when prices start at S$2,999. But does that mean these new MacBook Pros are overkill for regular folk like you and me? Should we still consider and or even aspire to own one, even if we don’t use “pro” apps like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro? Let's see if we can find an answer to these questions.
I covered much of the new 14-inch MacBook Pro’s design in my hands-on article so I don’t want to repeat myself too much.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro has an all-new design. Nobody is going to mistake it for anything other than a MacBook but the sides don’t taper as much and are more squared off now. And as you’d expect, it’s a well-built machine. The chassis might be 100% recycled aluminium but you can’t tell. It’s smooth and extremely solid; it looks and feels first-rate.
In terms of overall dimensions, it’s about the same thickness as the 13-inch MacBook Pro but because it has a larger display, it’s a little wider and deeper. The biggest difference is the weight. This new model is 1.6kg, which is 200g heavier, and you do feel it. It’s by no means cumbersome but it’s certainly no featherweight. As I said in my hands-on, the best word to describe this machine is “substantial.”
There are prominent rubber feet underneath which raises the notebook a tad. It didn’t bother me when I was typing but it does create more space for the front intake vents which are located near the front to left and right of the trackpad. And nowhere on the notebook does it say MacBook Pro, you’ll only find an engraved label on the bottom which I really like.
It seems odd to devote an entire section to ports but it was one of the biggest issues with older generation MacBook Pros that I thought I should address it thoroughly.
Round the sides, you’ll immediately notice that this new MacBook Pro has more ports. On the left are two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, a MagSafe 3 port, and a headphone jack. The headphone jack used to be on the right and I like that Apple has repositioned it because that means my headphone wire no longer gets in the way of my mouse. On the right are another USB-C Thunderbolt 4 port, a full-size HDMI port, and a full-size SD card reader. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see the SD card reader returning. It’s probably the most requested feature by professional users.
A MagSafe to USB-C cable is provided but you can also charge the notebook using USB-C. MagSafe works just like it used to. It attaches magnetically and disconnects itself when yanked at from an angle. There’s support for fast charging over both MagSafe 3 and USB-C, but it requires a power adapter that’s rated for at least 96W. Apple says you can get from 0% to 50% charge in 30 minutes. I tested it and they weren’t lying.
Although we have a full-size HDMI and SD card slot, it’s worth mentioning that these are in their highest spec. The HDMI port supports HDMI 2.0 so you are limited to 4k 60Hz video with 24-bit colour and not 4K 120Hz and certainly not 8K. The SD card slot is also only UHS-II (up to 312MB/s) and not UHS-III or SD Express. But I don't think many, if any, will complain about these limitations.
There's also improved support for using external displays. The M1 Pro 14-inch MacBook Pro can output to two external displays at up to 6K resolution at 60Hz while the M1 Max 14-inch MacBook Pro can output to three external displays at up to 6K resolution at 60Hz and a fourth at 4K resolution at 60Hz simultaneously. If you include the built-in display and the ability to use Sidecar, you could have a grand total of 6 screens with an M1 Max system.