Apple’s MacBook Pro has often been one of the most controversial devices the company put out over the past few years. From removing key ports to adding a TouchBar, many (including yours truly) have felt the MacBook Pro was always taking a step back. But all that changed in 2021. Apple’s 2021 MacBook Pro machines is anything but a step back. It’s a huge step forward in the right direction.
Maybe this has something to do with Johnny Ive’s departure, or maybe it’s Apple finally paying closer attention to what it’s users want. It’s hard to tell, but it’s not something we should dwell on at the moment. Instead, we should celebrate the glorious return of the MBP to being Pro.
From the display to the ports, and the performance to macOS, the 2021 MacBook Pro is peak Apple. If you are on the fence about upgrading, we are sure you will want to right after this review.
Right from the outset, there’s no mistaking the 2021 MacBook Pro. Apple’s controversial notch makes its debut on macOS, and it’s debatable at best. On the plus side, you do get a larger canvas in the same form factor, but the downside is that the notch creates all sorts of issues on macOS. But that’s a software issue Apple is already working on, so it’s a temporary issue. Overall I really like the notch, it brings a sense of uniformity to Apple’s displays.
Another polarizing design choice is the return to the boxy form factor. While it does enable Apple to bring back our beloved ports, it does so while not looking as elegant as its predecessors. But again, it’s a tradeoff that’s totally worth it. With the MBP, function is far more important than form, especially if you are going to cough up over $2,000 for it.
The only issue I have with Apple’s 2021 MacBook Pro machines is that users can now pick between two processors – the M1 Pro and M1 Max. On paper, there seems to be quite a bit of difference, summed up in this table below-
|Up to 16
|Up to 32
|1 video and 1 ProRes encode/decode
|2 video and 2 ProRes encode/decode
But, those differences aren’t all that big in the real world. As AppleInsider put it, “if you have a workflow where seconds matter… you’re going to save time with the M1 Max, but the M1 Pro, even with the base model, is still a very capable machine.”
In the end, it just comes down to how much you can afford. It’s very unlikely that most people are going to need the M1 Max, but as with all of Apple’s products, it’s worth splashing the cash if you have it. The greatest difference will only come to those in niche areas – like animators and 4k film editors where large files are routine. For those who use the MBP as an on-the-go device to replace their desktops, you’ll find the M1 Pro more than up to the task.
Display and Performance
The first thing you’ll notice about the 14” model is that it’s a pretty big screen. From 13.3” on the 2020 model, the 2021 MacBook Pro has 14.2”, which is certainly a welcome addition. Apple has also decided to go with mini LED for the display, which is certainly a welcome addition for photo and video editing. Many early adopters have compared it to Apple’s XDR Display, so you know you are getting something insanely good for your money.
Performance is also a hit and miss, depending on the apps you use. Apple’s native apps like Final Cut Pro and Logic X are all optimized for the new processors, so things are super smooth and fast. But with Adobe, things aren’t that great. Of course, a lot of that comes from the fact that the Adobe suit isn’t optimized entirely yet, but as we mentioned above, it all comes down to the chip. Overall, the 2021 devices offer a significant upgrade over last year, so the only question you should be asking is – how much are you willing to pay for the performance upgrade?
Irrespective of what processor you chose, you’ll also notice a considerable upgrade in battery life. With a massive 70-watt-hour battery, the devices should easily get you through most tasks on a day-to-day basis. If you do need to edit and render, or plug in an external display the battery doesn’t last as long, but it’s still pretty impressive for a notebook. The Verge summed up the battery life perfectly by saying, “At one point we were worried we’d fall asleep before the MacBook Pro did.”
Thankfully, the 2021 MacBook Pro returns almost all the ports that made the device useful – there’s a HDMI port, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, and an SD Card slot along with the beloved MagSafe. Of course, this also presents some challenges.
With MagSafe, you can now charge the 2021 MacBook Pro either via MagSafe, or via the USB-C port as you would on the 2020 models. As you can imagine, this presents a bit of a conundrum. The 16” MBP only supports fast charging via MagSafe, but that says more about USB-C than it does about MagSafe. It’s pretty confusing if you desperately need fast charging, but if not, just plug in MagSafe. It may not charge fast, but at least you can be assured your Mac is safe.
Returning to the other ports, you should know they aren’t exactly the latest standard. It’s quite shocking, but despite paying thousands of dollars, you are only getting a HDMI 2 and not a 2.1 port, as well as a UHS-II SD card slot, not the latest UHS-III or SD Express. Again, it’s not something most people will notice, but for the real pros, it’s probably a bit of a letdown.
I’ll admit, I am in the minority of users who will miss the TouchBar. Sure it wasn’t well implemented, but it certainly was a novel idea that worked incredibly well when it did. I wish Apple would keep it around, but alas it seems like that’s a wish that will never come true.
One thing I do appreciate is that Apple has bumped up the storage on the new Macs, with base storage starting at 512GB and maxing out at 8TB. If you are seriously investing in these machines, you’ll need the space and thankfully Apple hasn’t cut corners there. Another area that received an upgrade is the FaceTime camera, which is now 1080p (up from 720p). I’ve always found the MacBook Pro FaceTime cameras to be poor, and by most accounts, the new MBPs deliver a significant upgrade in that area.
Another area that’s been upgraded is the speaker system. The 2021 MacBook Pro now comes with a high-fidelity six-speaker sound system that supports Spatial Audio. No matter what you are listening to, you’ll enjoy the speakers on the new Macs.
Overall, the new Macs are definitely a major upgrade, even if you do have the 2020 machines. The only drawback is the price. Starting at $1,999, the 14” Macs are quite costly, and get even more so with add ons like the M1 Max chip and storage. But in the end, if you really do need it, this is one investment that doesn’t need a second thought.