Apple MacBook Pro M1 Pro 14-inch review: A portable, professional powerhouse

From a distance, the new 14-inch MacBook Pro looks a lot like the or you might already be using. Look again and the differences pop out. It has a bigger screen (obviously), slimmer bezels and a new keyboard color scheme. 

Get close enough to pick it up, and that’s when it hits you: This thing is actually pretty heavy. It’s 3.5 pounds, compared to 3.0 pounds for the current 13-inch Pro and 2.8 pounds for the MacBook Air. A half-pound may not sound like much, but in the arms race toward ever slimmer and lighter laptops, we’re now definitely moving in the opposite direction. 

For the creative pros and other power users who have been waiting for a post-Intel Mac with the graphics processing power they need for their work, that will hardly matter. For casual users who just want the latest and greatest MacBook, you’ll have to calculate if the portability trade-off is worth it for the new features, which include a better webcam and more ports. 


Don’t Like

The 14-inch MacBook Pro and its companion product, the 16-inch MacBook Pro, are part of Apple’s second wave of devices with the company’s own M1 series chips. Instead of the already in the MacBook Air, 13-inch Pro, Mac Mini and , the choice here is between the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, both of which offer more cores dedicated to graphics processing than the vanilla M1 (14, 16 or 32 GPU cores, vs. 7 or 8 GPU cores), and more on-board video encoding and decoding capabilities. 

The two new models are very similar in features and configuration options, with a couple of lower-end M1 Pro options reserved for the base 14-inch MacBook Pro My review of the 16-inch MacBook Pro covers a lot of the new features and performance changes in depth, so here I’ll just hit on a few of the highlights and how the smaller size of the 14-inch changes the potential audience for it. 

Current MacBook lineup

With its thicker body and larger footprint, this is not going to be a 1:1 replacement for your current MacBook Pro if you value portability above all else. That said, I carried this around for several days and didn’t feel like it was a massive imposition, even though I usually carry a very light device like a MacBook Air or Surface Pro. It might be a different story if I were commuting with it every day, especially via subway. There, an extra half pound can get old pretty quick. 

Here’s what you get in return for a little extra size and weight:

Bigger, brighter screen

Thinking of this as a successor to the 13-inch Pro, the screen size jumps from 13.3-inches to 14.2 inches. It’s what Apple calls a Liquid Retina XDR display, which is basically a mini LED screen, as in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Its sustained brightness is doubled, from 500 nits to 1,000 nits (a measurement of brightness, explained here).

And as the screen grows, the bezel, or border, around the display shrinks. It’s a trend in everything from TVs to laptops to the new . In this case, however, the border is so slim, a notch needs to be cut out of the screen real estate to fit in a webcam. Yes, this is the dreaded “notch” iPhone users have complained about for a few generations. 

Having a notch cut out of your screen is never ideal. That said, it’s even more transparent here than on the iPhone, because Apple has tweaked MacOS to integrate the notch. Menu bars now slide right up next to it, effectively hiding the notch. Going full-screen with a photo or video hides the notch in a letterbox bar across the top of the screen. It’s a compromise, and your tolerance for it might be different than mine. 

The 14-inch MacBook Pro screen bezel vs the 13-inch Pro. 

Better webcam

That notch also allows for a better webcam, something we’ve wanted for years. That’s become much more important now that so many of us are working from home and taking part in a lot of video meetings. The old 720p-resolution cameras on previous MacBooks (and many Windows laptops) were fine when we were only using them occasionally. For a professional Zoomer, we need better. The camera here jumps to Full HD, which means it bumps from 720 lines of horizontal resolution to 1,080. 

The difference is obvious, and once you try it, you’ll have a hard time going back to a 720p webcam. Both the 27-inch (Intel) iMac and M1 24-inch iMac also have 1080 cameras, as do a handful of Windows laptops, but it’s still far from the norm. 

A look at the new 14-inch and 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro

A retro port revival 

Sometimes Apple adds ports, sometimes it takes them away. MacBooks used to have miniDisplayPort as the main video output, then there was HDMI, then HDMI was ditched in favor of USB-C, and now we’re back to HDMI again. That’s a snapshot of roughly the past 15 years, since the first MacBook Pro in 2006. The SD card slot makes a comeback as well.

It feels like after years of hearing people complain about missing or removed features, the MacBook Pro’s designers gave in and added everyone’s top wish list items, including the classic MagSafe power connector. There’s much more on the return of MagSafe in the 16-inch MacBook Pro review, but it’s as good as you remember, even if I also appreciated our current era of universal laptop power cable interoperability, with almost everyone and everything using the same USB-C charging. 

Go Pro, or go Max 

Both the M1 Pro and M1 Max available in the 14-inch, and it can be configured with the same 64GB RAM and 8TB storage as the 16-inch Pro. The comparative prices for that top config are $5,800 for the 14-inch and $6,100 for the 16-inch. But what you can get on the 14-inch are a couple of lower-end M1 Pro options not available for the 16-inch, with fewer CPU and GPU cores. 

MacBook Pro M1 Pro and M1 Max performance

As my , “There are two versions of the M1 Pro, one with eight CPU cores and 14 GPU cores and one with 10 CPU cores and 16 GPU cores.” The M1 Max also has 10 CPU cores, but your choice of 24 or 32 GPU cores. 

In both benchmark tests and 8K video tests in Premiere, the new MacBook Pros were much faster than last year’s 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro or a 2019 Intel MacBook Pro with discrete AMD graphics. In my initial hands-on testing both the Pro and Max offered similar results, and I’m looking for a more challenging workload to push them further. 

Premiere video export test

Who should buy this, and who shouldn’t

I’m not a video editor or 3D designer, but I do shoot and edit a good deal of my own video in Premiere, design 3D printing projects in CAD programs and work with middle-res photos in Photoshop. For my prosumer needs, last year’s M1 versions of the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro have been more than powerful enough, and those were in turn faster than preceding Intel versions. 

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If you’re a college student, coffee shop writer or other mainstream laptop user, consider that this is a hefty premium to pay for a better screen and webcam and more ports. It might be like buying a sports car just for driving on city streets. Bring in all-day, every day web video meetings, you might be able to make a good case. All that said, the $999 M1 MacBook Air is still my recommendation for mainstream users: It’s an extremely useful laptop at a reasonable price. 

But for the professional audience the new MacBook Pro was intended for, the call comes down to screen size versus portability. There’s a $200 to $300 or so premium for jumping to the larger 16-inch screen with the same specs. The 16-inch Pro feels like a rebooted version of the long-lost 17-inch MacBook Pro, which was discontinued in 2012. It’s the type of big laptop we used to call a desktop replacement. 

The 14-inch model, on the other hand, is just small enough to go around with you on a regular basis, although it doesn’t feel as weightless as the 2.8-pound MacBook Air. 

We will continue to update this review with additional test scores and analysis, including battery test scores, in the coming weeks. Apple MacBook Pro M1 Pro 14-inch review: A portable, professional powerhouse