Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (M1, 2021) review

We picked up Apple’s new 16-inch MacBook Pro so our reviewer could put it through its paces. Keep reading to read the full article.

The new 16-inch MacBook Pro M1 is the best laptop Apple has ever produced.

The combination of a superb display, incredible speed and exceptional battery life makes the Pro a must buy for anyone who depends on their laptop to quickly perform demanding computing tasks. Of course, this level of performance comes with a hefty price tag, starting at $2499. The MacBook Pro offers a window into a new kind of computing experience for those who can afford the high price tag.

I’ve been using Apple laptops since the Powerbook 100 came out in 1991. After spending several weeks with the new MacBook Pro, I could see that it offered the responsiveness previously associated with iPads and iPhones, paired with the sleek form factor of Apple’s best laptops.


Design: Back to the Future

In appearance, the new MacBook Pro doesn’t look dramatically different from Apple’s previous Pro laptop models. It has a similar aluminum casing, and the screen is about the same size as the 2019 model.

However, the small details make all the difference in the design of the new MacBook. The Pro simply feels better than any laptop Apple has ever made in a number of ways, starting with the incredibly smooth hinge mechanism when you open it.

The Pro could be seen as a step backwards in some areas. First, at 0.66 x 14 x 9.8 inches and 4.8 pounds, the MacBook Pro is bulkier and heavier than the model it replaces. It’s definitely not a laptop you’ll forget you’re carrying around in your backpack. On the other hand, the weight of the new MacBook is reassuring and corresponds to its target, professionals.

Apple has also come full circle and replaced the ports it removed in previous versions of the MacBook. You get a MagSafe connector, headphone jack, SD card slot, HDMI port, and three Thunderbolt 4 ports, which should be enough for almost any user. There’s no USB-A port, but most people won’t regret that.

Keyboard: Accuracy is everything

The fun of using the MacBook Pro really becomes apparent when you start typing on the keyboard. It has a scissor key mechanism which is precise and provides excellent feedback.

Apple has discontinued the Touch Bar, a strip that provides touch access to software functions.

The Pro has one of the best keyboards I’ve ever used on a laptop. But if I had to be picky, I’d say the key resistance is a little too much, which can lead to finger fatigue during long typing sessions.

Just above the keyboard is another area where Apple decided to backtrack. The company has discontinued the Touch Bar, a strip that provides touch access to software functions. Having used the Touch Bar for several years without ever finding a use for it, I say good riddance.

Trackpad: Big and Bold

There’s nothing wrong with the new MacBook Pro’s trackpad. It’s big and responsive, and you won’t notice it after a while, which is all you need in an input device.

The new MacBook’s trackpad works flawlessly, which is more than can be said for most Windows laptops. I had no trouble moving the cursor precisely across the screen when I spent hours editing documents.

Display: Bright and beautiful

The Pro has the best screen I’ve ever used on a computer and might be a reason to buy this model on its own. It is synonymous with quality.

Some users might object to the notch cut out at the top of the display, which makes room for a camera. But I found that I didn’t even notice the notch after using the Pro for a few hours.

In addition to its stunning display, the Pro features redesigned speakers.

The screen features Mini-LED technology, which means the screen can turn off in sections, delivering deeper black levels than regular LED screens. You also get ProMotion technology, which offers a high refresh rate for a smoother display when moving the mouse, for example.

In addition to that great screen, the Pro comes with a redesigned set of speakers. These are, in a word, great. They offer four woofers, which produce enough bass to make most music come alive. Movies sound close to cinema quality.

Text looks great on the Pro, and I ended up spending time looking at Word documents just to admire how the words are so crisp and defined. Video playback is equally impressive, with the Mini-LED display revealing a level of detail that made me want to rewatch my favorite films. The anti-reflective coating also works great, even when I’m using the Pro in direct sunlight.

Performance: Blazing speed that stays cool

The MacBook Pro uses the same cutting-edge, Apple-designed M1 chip that’s been powering some of the company’s other devices for a year.

The new chip makes all the difference. I never thought my old MacBook Pro from 2019 was slow until I started using the new model, and now I can’t try another computer without thinking about how slow it is.

Apps start almost instantly on the Pro. I have a bad habit of keeping too many browser tabs open while I work. But even when I had dozens of tabs open in Chrome and Safari web browsers, the Pro didn’t slow down.

For those who want to know the details, benchmarking software PCMark found the following scores for the MacBook Pro:

Single Core: 1749

Multi-Core: 11542

For comparison, here are the results of the same test software on the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1):

Single Core: 1720

Multi Core: 7552

Battery: A battery that never stops

One of the advantages of the new M1 chip is its efficiency. Despite its power, the chip consumes energy. The M1 Pro ran for 16 hours on its battery in continuous use, making it the longest-lasting laptop I’ve ever tried.

There is a significant practical gain to be gained from all this autonomy. In fact, you don’t need to worry about carrying a charger even for a whole day’s work. It’s a liberating feeling to not have to worry about charging.

The M1 Pro ran for 16 hours of continuous use, making it the most durable laptop I’ve ever tried.

Another plus point of the M1 chip’s efficiency is that the MacBook runs cool. I used it for dozens of hours, and it never got more than slightly warm. Compare that to my 2019 MacBook Pro which got so hot I was afraid it would catch fire.

Price: Cough, sputter?

The big snag for most would-be MacBook Pro users is its steep price tag. I used the lowest-end model, which starts at $2499. For that price, you get a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB SSD storage.

To put that into perspective, you can pick up the excellent MacBook Air, which also has an M1 chip, for $999. At this price, the Air comes with an 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage.

I use my MacBook for hours every day for mission-critical tasks, so I don’t mind spending a lot. I plan to keep the new Pro model around for years to come and make sure I have a setup that is relatively future proof.

A less expensive MacBook will be fine for many users who just need a lightweight machine for work and play. But for anyone who wants the best laptop ever made, only the new MacBook Pro will do.

MacBook Pro (M1, 2021) vs. MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

There’s good reason to think that for many people the much cheaper MacBook Air is a better option than the Pro model.

The Air offers many of the same benefits as the Pro, including the super-fast M1 processor, which also means super long battery life. You also get the proven portability of the Air model, which makes it significantly thinner and lighter than the Pro model.

But the Pro model has a lot of advantages over the Air model, and it’s a matter of deciding if they’re enough for you to pay the extra. For example, the Pro has plenty of ports that can be handy for plugging in peripherals, whereas with the Air you’re pretty much stuck with USB-C.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro’s screen is also a step ahead of the Air model’s. The Pro’s screen is of course much larger than the Air’s, which means you can see a lot more information at once and can work on large documents or spreadsheets more easily. The screen also outperforms the Air model in terms of sharpness and resolution, which you’ll immediately notice if you have the two models side by side.

If your main computing tasks are all about light web browsing and you value portability over raw power, the Air is a solid choice. But if you spend many hours a day staring at your laptop screen and want the flexibility of plenty of ports, you won’t regret spending the extra money on the Pro.

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