Apple MacBook Pro 14 review: So powerful, this won’t have a rival anytime soon

There is no mincing any words here—these are the most powerful laptops right now. And that’s good news for the power users such as content creators, video editors and photo editors
Apple has listed two options for the MacBook Pro 14 on the Apple India online store. (Image Courtesy-Apple)
Apple has listed two options for the MacBook Pro 14 on the Apple India online store. (Image Courtesy-Apple)
Published on Nov 23, 2021 06:14 PM IST
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After giving Intel and AMD sleepless nights as the two chip companies searched for answers to the performance of Apple’s own M1 chips, Apple MacBook Pro 14 was expected to take it a step or two forward this year. It has arrived in the form of new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, in the completely new Apple MacBook Pro 14 and the heavily refreshed MacBook Pro 16. Apple’s bet on moving away from Intel’s processors and AMD’s graphics is paying off better than one could have ever imagined.

This is the first generation of the MacBook Pro 14. It is a new MacBook in the truest sense with more power (than you may need) and a serious upgrade of the display. The ports are back and so is the MagSafe charger, but the Touch Bar is gone. The belated arrival of a 1080p FaceTime camera for video calls along with a subtly refreshed design. There’s a lot happening, to be fair. The theme that remains consistent is how Windows 11 laptops have an incredibly arduous journey to make before they come anywhere in the range of this sort of performance, let alone surpass it. If at all, that is.

Choosing the right one: Overloaded with choice

Before we delve deeper into how the astonishing power of the new M1 Pro and M1 Max would embed into your computing routine, it might serve well to look at the contours of Apple’s MacBook line-up. It is shaping up well, with the MacBook Pro 14 now filling the price gap between the MacBook Pro 13 and the MacBook Pro 16, while also adding a new screen size option. And these are the default variant configurations we are talking about—each also gets further optional upgrades for processor, graphics (GPU), memory and storage.

Your entry point to the MacBook line-up is the MacBook Air, with price tags of 92,900 and 1,17,900 depending on which of the two iterations of the M1 chip you splash the cash for. The MacBook Pro 13 is where the gates to the Pro line open. There are two variants of the MacBook Pro 13, priced at 1,29,900 and 1,42,900.

The MacBook Pro 14 is ushering in a new direction for MacBook Pros in general. At this time, Apple has listed two options for the MacBook Pro 14 on the Apple India online store, with the M1 Pro chips—priced at 1,94,900 (that’s with the 8-core CPU and 14-core GPU) and 2,39,900 (for the 10-core CPU and 14-core GPU). The latter is the variant we are reviewing here, in default specifications. Unlike the MacBook Pro 16, there is no standard configuration with the M1 Max chip, though that’s available as an optional upgrade for around 20,000 more.

Speaking of which, the MacBook Pro 16 gets a refresh after many years— 2,39,900 and 2,59,900 for the two variants running the M1 Pro chips and 3,29,900 for the top-of-the-line default spec with the M1 Max chip (this has the 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU).

How design intertwines with performance

This really stands out. No longer is Apple looking to shave off a few more millimeters here and there to make the MacBook Pros thinner. In fact, retaining the same thickness as the MacBook Pro 13 (while gaining a few inches in width and depth) has allowed Apple to bring back the full-size ports: an HDMI out, SD card slot and MagSafe for charging alongside three USB-C ports and a headphone jack. It’s heavier by 200 grams too.

It is not just the space for more port, there are benefits for performance, with potentially better cooling in the long run. That’s where the slightly thicker and longer cooling vents on either side of the underbody, also play their role. In fact, in our testing of this machine with different loads, including using photo editing app Pixelmator’s image size doubling ML Super Resolution option, and we are yet to hear the fans start up even once. The underbody doesn’t even feel tepid at any stage. That’s how good the passive cooling is.

There is no mincing any words here—these are the most powerful laptops right now. And that’s good news for the power users (read that as content creators, video editors and photo editors). With the M1 Pro (and indeed the M1 Max), there’s the smart assignment with cores for the CPU and GPU, for power tasks and frugal apps. I have not been able to register even the slightest blip in the responsiveness of the M1 Pro (this is the variant with the 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU). Safe to say, I can only imagine further performance headroom the M1 Max would bring to the table. That also has more cores at play.

For most “pro” apps, the M1 Pro will be at least 30% faster in terms of performance than an 11th generation Intel Core i7 processor in a laptop from the Windows 11 and Windows 10 ecosystem. And you should expect similar gains with the M1 Pro’s GPU too, compared with AMD’s GPUs—and this performance gain will increase as you consider an optional upgrade to the M1 Max.

Some buying tips (you can thank us later)

This is something you need to consider while deciding. The M1 Pro and the M1 Max will be similar in terms of CPU performance. This means how quick multi-tasking will be on your new MacBook, for instance. The big differentiator is the GPU—the M1 Pro goes up to 16 cores while the M1 Max offers up to 32-cores. If you aren’t looking at a 4K or 8K video editing load in your workflow, the latter may be too much power. Yet, the M1 Max will be what you need if your hours are spent with Adobe Premiere Pro 4K H.264 4K videos.

You could be asking if the MacBook Pro 14 can be a gaming laptop? On paper, yes. In theory, yes. But don’t buy this for gaming. The gaming ecosystem in general isn’t best optimised for Macs and there is a high risk that the titles you may want to play aren’t optimised for taking advantage of this level of performance.

Also Read: How to prevent app-tracking on Android phones even as Google drags its feet?

Display: Looking at the biggest upgrade

The display is what you’ll see every minute you use the MacBook Pro 14, and it’ll make spending bucketloads of money, feel worthwhile. The upgrade from a more conventional LED display to mini-LED backlighting and the Liquid Retina XDR display which is richer, brighter and packs in more pixels. While the mini-LED clusters define more than 2,500 local dimming zones allowing for deeper blacks as well.

In fact, the 14.2-inch display on the MacBook Pro 14 is at par with the Pro XDR Retina display which Apple sells separately too (that’s 32-inches priced at 4,49,900). Just like the display, this screen can also touch a peak brightness level of 1,600 nits with 1,000 nits of sustained brightness. That’s double of what the MacBook Pro 13 can achieve. The difference in underlying backlighting and the display tech is quite apparent—at the lowest brightness setting, this screen is visibly brighter (and more usable) than the MacBook Air from last year. And that isn’t at all a bad screen, mind you.

And that’s not all with the display upgrades. This screen supports the ProMotion display refresh rate tech—seen already in the iPad Pro series. If your apps support it, the display can clock between 24 Hz (for power saving) and 120hz (for smoother faster visuals). It may take time for apps to bake in the dynamic refresh rate controls, which means the feature may remain underutilised till developers get around to it.

Keyboard: This doesn’t need any changing

The keyboard is now dressed in all-black, complete with the deck, now, of the same colour as the keys. The Touch Bar is gone. To be honest, it will not be missed. The key response feels exactly like the recent scissor-switch type keyboards in the siblings, which leads us to believe that the architecture hasn’t been tweaked. One thing though, there is a slightly hollow(er) sound with each key press when typing fast, compared to a MacBook Air from last year.

Battery life: Forget the charger, mostly

While the MagSafe charging port is back (this takes us back to the early ears of the MacBook Pro Retina era) complete with its reassuring magnetic click, the MacBook Pro 14 will also charge quickly using any of the USB-C ports with a powerful enough adapter—such as a 97-watt charger from the previous generation MacBook Pro 16 at hand, for instance.

The MacBook Pro 14, with the display brightness around 30% and as a daily office workhorse with carelessly opened web browser tabs and documents, drains at around 6% per hour. That would mean around 16.5 hours on a single charge. Be a bit more careful with leaving stuff running in the background, and you could easily eke out another hour or so from this.

Have money? Do splurge

It has been years since we saw a laptop that was this far ahead of anything that may raise its hand to be classified as competition. In one MacBook Pro 14, you’re ticking off performance that’ll remain unmatched by Intel laptops for quite some time to come, a display that’s by far and away the most utilitarian upgrade, performance that’s delivered without the fans never seemingly whirring into action and battery life that’s consistent as well as long lasting. It will be a really a long time before any laptop in the Windows space catches on. And by then, the M-series of chips will have again raced off.

We have become used to laptop upgrades which are all about an annual and generation CPU and GPU change, and some design tweaks to make them look different. With the MacBook Pro 14, all changes are substantial. It is good to see that the default options of the MacBook Pro 14 are mighty powerful with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD as the base specs. You wouldn’t really need to think about spending 40,000 more to bolt on another 16GB of RAM.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021