My Thoughts on the MacBook Pro 14-Inch

Having just bought the new MacBook Pro 14-inch (M1 Max, 24 core GPU, 32 Gigs, 2 TB), I have to say it is great to have a machine that feels like Apple made it for creators and pros, not Jony Ive’s design sense. Don’t get me wrong, I love (most of) his iconic designs for Apple over the years, but there are times where it felt like the design overtook the user requirements. Things have gone the other way in the new design, with the ultra-slim-looking tapers gone and most of the ports back. All these go to what pro users need, and after the initial impression that the new MacBooks are enormous (they are not, it is just that the full thickness goes to the edges instead of tapering), the design still looks great. The look harks back to the earlier unibody MacBooks, or even further to the G4 Titanium PowerBooks and iBooks, which I am old enough to remember wanting. OK, OK, I remember when the original G3 iMac and iBook were the hot things.

After several years of laptops that did not feel like there was much “Pro” about them, these are refreshingly designed to address the issues that pros have had with the MacBook Pros in recent years. The keyboard feels great, the HDMI and SD Card slots cut the need for dongles and readers, and everything seems ready to get stuff done.

Why I bought one

First off, I’m a Mac user. I edit in Final Cut and Motion, develop for iOS, and feel more comfortable in macOS than Windows or Linux. After a couple of years on an iMac, I also missed the mobility of a laptop, whether traveling, just getting a change of scenery, or working when I am away from my desk. I have been enjoying getting away from my desk, whether it is just to the living room or out to coffee shops. Also, it is finally possible to get a laptop that has the power to do everything most desktops can, and better yet, get it in the smaller size, not just the larger 15 or 16-inch models.

What I Like

The size.

My first Mac was a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, and while I loved the form factor, the power was not there. The new Pros have plenty of power for everything I want to do. Even the 13-inch Pro covers what most people do for most business, creative, and programming uses. Adding the M1 Pro or Max means you have the horsepower to do just about anything, in a form factor that is easily carried even in smaller carry-on bags (and my 13-inch camera bags). For everything I have done, it is on par with or (almost always) better than my well-equipped 2019 27-inch iMac.

The Build.

The new MacBooks feel like they are made for professionals. Professional is a somewhat loaded term, and plenty of people who are not classical professionals will use this. But if you are someone who relies on your computer to get stuff done, create, do business, etc., it feels like (with a few minor exceptions) they were thinking of you.

The screen is beautiful, especially when you throw HDR content at it. The 14-inch size is a nice improvement from the 13-inch.

The camera, keyboard, and speakers are all great. Since everyone uses these things all the time, it is pretty important to get them right, and Apple did. Things like the new TouchID sensor are also nice touches.

The SD card slot.

Even with higher tier cameras (Nikon D850, D500, Z50) in the house, they all support SD Cards, and having a reader built-in makes it much easier to work on the road, at events, and while I am not at my desk.

The return of MagSafe.

I was as appalled as anyone when USB-C replaced MagSafe. The design is just so good, with the significantly lower risk of dropping your laptop or even breaking the power port with an errant bump or tug. Then I got used to the convenience of USB-C, sharing power adapters with other things, access to third-party chargers, and charging from either side of the computer. When I heard the rumors of MagSafe returning, I was actually kind of torn, thinking I would be missing out on those benefits. However, the new implementation is truly the best of all worlds. You can use MagSafe most of the time, but if you are stuck with just a USB-C charger, it still works. The cord is detachable from the charger, so it works with third-party USB-C chargers, and you only need to replace the cable if something goes wrong. The new MagSafe is as close to a perfect solution as I have seen in quite a while. The only improvement I would like to see is the cord going from $50 to $20.

What I Don’t Like

Not a whole lot here. I have seen a couple of times when it got hot, and I wonder if it is too tuned to keep the fans low. It would be nice to easily tweak them to spin up a little more in some cases.

The price.

This one would not be an issue if the M1 didn’t exist. Even as expensive as they are, the Pro and Max represent plenty of value. In the pre-Apple Silicon days, my wife and I were pricing new MacBooks. Each one would have cost almost what it cost us to get both a 13-inch M1 for her AND the 14-inch for me. This was due to the higher memory, discrete GPU, etc., and it would have required the 16-inch since the power wasn’t available in the 13-inch.

Looking at it another way, Apple has compared the M1 Max’s video editing capabilities to a Mac Pro with the 28 Core CPU and an Afterburner card. To put this in perspective, for the price of just those upgrades, you could buy a MacBook Pro with everything except storage maxed out and have enough money left over to buy a second one. And that doesn’t even factor in the cost of the Mac Pro; that is solely the CPU upgrade ($7000) and afterburner card ($2000). By the time you include the price of the Mac Pro, you could buy 3 to 4 well-equipped MacBook Pros.

For anyone who needs the power, the new MacBook Pro represents exceptional value. So why is price a problem? As I said before, because the M1 exists. Even the M1 MacBook Air is so powerful that it will do everything most people need to do at half the price. So consider what you need from your computer and if you need to spend the additional money for the M1 Pro or Max.

One last port.

OK, I’ll be that guy. I wish there was one USB-A port. While plenty of stuff has moved on, some things are still USB-A, and oddly, many are pro-level equipment. Wireless adapters for many mice, presentation controllers, and graphics tablets are still USB-A, as are hardware licensers like the iLok and most multi-factor authentication hardware. You can use dongles, but especially for the wireless adapters that can usually be left plugged into a USB-A port, it is not an ideal situation.

Other Thoughts

The Notch. Some people loath it, some defend it, and some, like me, accept it as an annoying compromise that makes sense. It takes up a part of the screen that is usually not used to move the title bar up and provide a higher-quality webcam. These days, with the prevalence of video conferencing, webcams are a vital consideration. It could be smaller, but I am guessing (hoping?) they left space so they could add FaceID later without expanding it. Having used it for a few weeks, you usually are not looking at that part of the screen anyway, so it has not been a problem. I have seen a few reports of menus disappearing behind it, but apps do pretty well wrapping around it from what I have seen. (Based on Capture One Pro, Affinity Photo, and Xcode)

The Removal of the TouchBar.

Like the notch, I am somewhat ambivalent about the TouchBar. I don’t think it was a bad idea, but with no support for desktop keyboards, even the ones from Apple, developers had less incentive to invest in optimizing for the TouchBar, and it languished. So I don’t feel like we are losing much here, and the function keys are more stable and less likely to be inadvertently pressed.

HDMI 2.0 and UHS-II

I’ve seen some complaints about the HDMI and SD Card not supporting the newest, highest-speed versions of the protocols. UHS-III would be nice, but not much supports it now. HDMI 2.0 supports up through 4K60, and for the vast majority of uses cases, this will be completely fine. I think Apple targeted this much more for ad-hoc use, like conference rooms, shared workspaces, and so forth, that are usually not more than 4K60. Most high-end monitors will be USB-C/Thunderbolt anyways, so while the newest and fastest would always be nice, I don’t think either will be that much of a limitation in real-world use.

Battery life:

It is good, but, especially with the Max SoC, you aren’t going to get 17 hours out of it most of the time. This isn’t surprising; the battery life numbers are based on some pretty specific workloads (which Apple lists) that maximize battery life. So while I have found battery life to be very good, there have been times where I had to plug in a bit sooner than I would have expected.

No Bootcamp/Windows virtualization support:

This isn’t a problem for what I am using this computer for, but I also use a MacBook for my day job, and it may be an issue there. Hopefully, Microsoft will allow for properly licensed ARM-based Windows, but until then, there will be a bunch of Intels that are kept alive just for that purpose.

In conclusion:

If the new MacBook Pros indicate where Macs are going, the next several years will be good. They are very capable and have been designed to address the needs of people who use them to get stuff done. Almost everything users have been asking for has been addressed, and most of it is done very well. I am very happy with mine, and I am looking forward to what is coming in the future.

How about you? Have you bought one, or is it on the shopping list?

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