Apple’s transition to its own silicone is almost complete. The 13-inch MacBook Pro was among the first computers to get the M1 chip, however, that seemed like more of a stepping stone than anything else. Really, Apple was building up to the 2021 MacBook Pro, which boasts an all-new design, a stunning new screen, and perhaps more importantly, either the new M1 Pro or M1 Max chip.
The new MacBook Pro continues Apple’s apology tour. The company has been much more open to feedback over the past few years, it seems. It’s been willing to make the iPhone slightly thicker for better battery life, for example.
But changes to the MacBook Pro are far more drastic, and frankly, they’re all for the better. The laptop has a new edge-to-edge display, interrupted only by a notch. The Touch Bar is finally gone, in favor of a row of sweet function keys. And, almost all of the ports you’ve missed for the past few years are back. You’ll even get MagSafe.
There are a number of 2021 MacBook Pro variants. There are two sizes — a 14-inch and a 16-inch size. And, you can get the laptop with either an M1 Pro or an M1 Max chip, and there are a few versions of each. Our model has an M1 Pro chip and is 14 inches. We’ll likely have a review of an M1 Max-equipped model later.
If you’re a professional user or a creator, should you get the M1 Pro MacBook Pro? Or should you either save your cash and get a MacBook Air, or save up a little more for an M1 Max machine? I’ve been testing the 14-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro to find out.
MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 14-Inch) design
The 2021 MacBook Pro has received a major redesign, and I love the new look. First of all, there are plenty of things about the laptop that are still here. It still looks like a MacBook Pro. It’s available in Space Gray and Silver, and boasts that classic Apple metal unibody look, with a glossy Apple logo on the back of the lid. It definitely looks different than previous-generation models, but not so different that it’s unrecognizable as a premium Apple laptop.
You might assume based on images that this MacBook Pro is thicker than the previous-generation 13-inch model, but they’re actually the same thickness. This one looks a little thicker, for some reason, but in general, I find that it’s very sleek and easy to slide into a backpack or bag. The laptop is pretty lightweight too, coming in at 3.5lbs. It’s heavier than a MacBook Air, which is 2.8lbs. But I find that it’s still relatively easy to carry around.
One change that I really like is the black keyboard bed, which really looks great. Maybe I just like it because it’s fresh, but it definitely helps the 2021 MacBook Pro set itself apart from previous models.
Around the edges of the MacBook Pro, you might notice some strange holes. These are called ports, and they let you connect to all kinds of things, like displays, accessories, and more.
Seriously, it’s great that Apple has brought ports back to the laptop. You’ll get a MagSafe connector, headphone jack, SD card slot, HDMI port, and three Thunderbolt 4 ports, which is plenty for most. A USB-A port might have been nice, but I definitely get why they aren’t here.
The HDMI port is HDMI 2.0, not 2.1, which is a little annoying but not a huge deal. HDMI 2.0 still supports 4K video at 60 frames per second, and that should be enough for most users.
The return of MagSafe is great to see. MagSafe on this laptop does seem slightly stronger than it did before, but it still very easily connects and disconnects. And, you can use the USB-C ports to charge instead of the MagSafe port, which can come in handy when you’re traveling and want to take as little as possible.
MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 14-Inch) keyboard and touchpad
Gone are the days of the ultra-slim butterfly keys. The 2021 MacBook Pro’s keyboard feels great. There’s plenty of travel, and keys are spaced in a way that makes typing pretty easy. The keyboard generally feels like apples other scissor-switch style keyboards and that’s a good thing. I’m not quite sure why Apple tried to reinvent the keyboard in the first place, but I’m glad that it’s back to its roots.
Of course, there’s one thing here that’s completely different from the past few years of MacBook Pro. In place of the Touch Bar there’s a row of function keys along with a Touch ID sensor on the top right. Finally. It’s nice to be able to control volume, playback, screen brightness, and more straight from the keyboard, without having to mess around with a touch display that changes every time you use a new app.
The Touch ID sensor works just as well as it does on other Apple-built keyboards. It’s fast and responsive, and I like being able to access things like passwords and the MacBook itself using just my fingerprint. Of course, it would have been nice if I could use my face instead, but will get into that later.
The touchpad here is big and responsive. Apple has always led the class in terms of touchpad quality, and the touchpad on the new MacBook Pro is no exception to that rule.
MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 14-Inch) speakers
Apple has re-designed the speakers for the new MacBook Pro, and it really shows. The speakers on this laptop are stunning.
Laptop speakers have always suffered in the lower end, and while the speakers on this laptop won’t necessarily replace a great pair of headphones, you do actually get some decent bass response. According to Apple, the new MacBook Pro offers four woofers, and they’re able to deliver enough bass to give kick drums a nice punch, and bass guitars solid presence. It helps make movies more immersive too.
Having not yet tested the 16-inch model, it’s hard for me to say whether or not the speakers on that laptop are much better. Most reviews seem to indicate that they do offer a little more depth and a little more volume to them. But rest assured that the speakers on the 14-inch model are still excellent, and beat every laptop that I’ve used in the past.
MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 14-Inch) display and webcam
Next up is the display, and it’s another serious upgrade for the MacBook Pro. The display on this laptop is a little controversial, thanks to the notch at the top. But the actual quality of the so-called Liquid Retina XDR display is excellent.
The display itself is a Mini-LED display, which means that there are small LEDs dotted throughout the display and grouped into 2,500 individual dimming zones. This means that the display is able to turn off in sections, resulting in much deeper black levels than traditional LED displays. Mini LED displays can sometimes suffer from blooming issues, and while I was able to force this on the MacBook Pro, not once did I notice it when I wasn’t putting the display through specific tests. That was true even when watching movies and TV shows where I might have noticed it on other screens.
The display is also a ProMotion display, and while not every app takes advantage of the high refresh rate, it is noticeable in things like moving the mouse. Hopefully, apps will be updated in the near future. The display on the 14-inch model has a resolution of 3024 x 1964, which equates to a pixel density of 254 pixels per inch.
Then there’s the notch. I get why some people are a little worked up about the notch, but after using the laptop for 30 minutes I stopped noticing it. Really the notch doesn’t cut into the display in any meaningful situations. In normal use, it only cuts into the menu bar, and while there are some videos of menu bar glitches around the notch floating around Twitter, not once did I run into an issue. When you’re watching a movie, the notch is completely hidden thanks to the Mini-LED display making for actual true black levels. I promise, the notch isn’t an issue, and you’ll barely notice it.
The notch hides an old new 1080p webcam. It’s a big step up from the previous generation webcams that Apple has been using for years, and the result is that you’ll get clearer FaceTime videos and better quality zoom calls. We’ve been wanting better webcams on MacBook laptops for years now. I can only hope that Apple brings this new webcam to the MacBook Air in the next refresh.
I would have appreciated Face ID support on the MacBook Pro, especially given the inclusion of the notch. I’m not sure if the tech needed for Face ID just wouldn’t fit in the lid yet, but either way, this seems like a relatively large notch for just a webcam.
MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 14-Inch) performance
Apple has seriously upped the ante for processing on the new MacBook Pro. At its unleashed event, the company unveiled not one, but two new high-performance chipsets, called the M1 Pro and M1 Max.
Through the magic of chip binning, there are actually five different variants to choose from. You can get the M1 Pro with either an 8-core or 10-core CPU, and either a 14-core or 16-core GPU. And, you can get the M1 Max with a 10-core CPU and either a 24-core or 32-core GPU. It can be a little tricky to figure out exactly what you need. Along with those chips, you can get anywhere between 16GB and 64GB of unified RAM, although 64GB is only available with the M1 Max. The laptop we’re reviewing has the highest-end M1 Pro, with 32GB of RAM.
In day-to-day use, the performance of this laptop is flawless. I’m not necessarily the most demanding user — I don’t edit much video, and my image editing requirements are pretty basic. But in productivity environments, with up to a few dozen Chrome tabs, Mail, Slack, Podcasts, and GIMP all open and running, not once did the laptop choke or slow. It really never missed a beat.
Benchmarks confirm the excellent performance. Here’s a rundown of the benchmark results we achieved on this laptop:
- GeekBench 5 CPU: 1754 single-core, 12510 multi-core
- CineBench R23 CPU: 1531 single-core, 12317 multi-core
These results are excellent. They beat out the vast majority of Windows counterparts, except the most high-powered machines. While the M1 Max will likely beat these results even further, rest assured that the M1 Pro doesn’t skimp on performance. Even demanding video editors should be able to make use of the M1 Pro — rendering might take a few minutes longer than it would on the M1 Max, and you might drop a few more frames, but those that could stand to save the $500 shouldn’t worry too much about missing out.
MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 14-Inch) battery
One of the biggest advantages to Apple Silicon chips is the fact that they’re much more power-efficient — so battery life on them is much better. The M1 Pro and M1 Max are both built for performance, so the battery life isn’t quite as impressive as it is on the M1 MacBook Air, for example. But it’s still very good. I was easily able to get through a full near 9-hour work day, and ended the day with around 15 percent left. For part of the day, I used a second external monitor.
Apple rates the battery on the M1 Pro 14-inch MacBook Pro as offering up to 11 hours of web browsing and 17 hours of video-watching. This seemed more or less around what most should expect, at moderate brightness. As mentioned I ended a work day with around 15 percent, and that included using an external monitor through the HDMI port. My work day mostly consists of having Slack, Mail, Podcasts, Music, Twitter, and GIMP, along with up to a few dozen Chrome tabs at once.
MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 14-Inch) software and features
The 2021 MacBook Pro comes with macOS Monterey, Apple’s latest and greatest version of macOS. Monterey has been a little controversial, but at this point, I don’t actually mind it all that much. It has taken some getting used to, but as someone who used Monterey during the beta, I’m more or less used to the changes, and I mostly use Chrome for web browsing, so I haven’t really had to deal with some of the bigger changes, like changes to Safari.
A quick note, the notch does not seem to impact MacOS at all at this point. Early on in MacBook Pro reviews, some reviewers were able to find situations in which menu items were hidden behind the notch. I never once ran into that issue. If there were so many menu items that they collided with the notch, MacOS just placed them on the other side of the notch. And, when menu items were selected, the cursor jumped to the other side of the notch, rather than hiding behind it. It worked well, and in my testing, the notch is a non-issue when it comes to macOS functionality.
The 2021 MacBook Pro is a return to form for Apple’s high-end laptop. It seriously removes the blurred line between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air is for casual users and those that want productivity features in a lightweight body. The MacBook Pro is for content creators and professionals who prioritize performance, and are willing to pay more and deal with a heftier laptop for it.
macOS users know and love macOS, and as such, most customers are likely trying to decide between this and another of Apple’s computers.
First up is the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is still the Apple laptop most people should get. It offers excellent battery life, and enough performance for the vast majority of use-cases. Apple is rumored to be working on a major redesign of the MacBook Air, so if you can wait, it may be worth doing so.
Then there’s the M1 Max MacBook Pro. If you really need the highest-performing laptop you can find, and don’t mind paying for it, the M1 Max may be worth buying. It costs an extra $500, but you can get the M1 Max chip in both the 14-inch and 16-inch models.
It’s also worth considering a desktop computer. Apple may refresh the Mac Mini soon. If it does, we expect it to offer M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. No promises, but again, it may be worth the wait if you don’t mind the different form-factor.
Should I buy the MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 14-Inch)?
Yes. If you’re someone who needs serious oomph from your laptop, the 2021 MacBook Pro is the way to go. Casual users should look at the MacBook Air though.