MacBook Pro 2021 (M1 Pro) Review: Refined Design, Unwieldy Power And Returning Fan Favorite Features

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The new MacBook Pro is all-new but also strangely nostalgic. As well as an updated design, new screen, radically powerful processor and significantly increased battery life, it sees the return of several features which had previously been removed, such as a more traditional row of function keys, an SD card slot, HDMI socket and MagSafe. As you’ll know, the latter is the brilliant system which connects the power cable to the laptop magnetically, so if someone trips on the cable, it safely detaches rather than sending your MacBook Pro flying.

The new laptop comes in two new sizes: this review is about Apple’s first-ever 14-inch machine, and there’s also a new 16-inch model with a slightly bigger screen (strictly speaking, 16.2 inches) than the previous 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Both use Apple’s own silicon, and there are two processors to choose from: M1 Pro and M1 Max, which are the new, more powerful versions of last year’s M1 chip. It means that every Mac laptop now comes with Apple’s own-brand silicon—there’s no Intel chip on any MacBook Air or MacBook Pro now. So, should you be upgrading to the 14-inch MacBook Pro?

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Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch In a Nutshell



Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch: Technical Specifications

Processor Apple M1 Pro or Apple M1 Max | Storage: 512GB/1TB/2TB/4TB/8TB | Memory: 16GB/32GB/64GB | Battery: Up to 17 hours video playback| Dimensions: 0.61 x 11.97 x 8.36 inches (31.26 x 22.12 x 1.55 cm) | Weight 3 pounds, 1.6kg

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch: Design

The new MacBook Pro looks just great. It has a flatter lid and base than before, evoking earlier MacBooks while still looking all-new. The Apple logo on the lid is much bigger than before and is very striking. It makes the older, smaller logo look suddenly puny.

There’s a cute extra design secret: The MacBook Pro logo has been moved from the base of the display to the base of the laptop, where it’s a 3D-stencilled affair that looks great.

But the bigger changes come when you open the lid. The display has much thinner bezels, allowing Apple to create a laptop with a 14-inch screen in a form factor not much bigger than the current 13-inch MacBook Pro. That display springs into action instantly—the brief wait on earlier laptops has gone, and it’s ready for action straight away. It also has a notch, just like on the iPhone. More on that in a second. The keyboard also deserves its own section, below.

The camera mounted in the display notch uses a much bigger sensor than before and the results are obvious: Sharp, colorful images and the peace of mind that your endless video calls will look as good as they can. Overall, the design is a big success: Smart, chic and serious. It clearly means business.

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch: Display

So, there’s a notch on the display, but that’s only part of the story. This is a Lightning Retina XDR display, meaning it offers dynamic refresh rates and has thousands of local dimming zones, similar to the top-flight iPad Pro 12.9-inch model. This system provides deep black colors, outstanding contrast levels and bright, lively colors throughout. It’s also a very bright display, with up to 1,600 nits of peak brightness. Basically, this display is very bright and very attractive.

It has ProMotion, Apple’s name for dynamically changing refresh rates. It slows down the refresh rate to save battery when you’re looking at a still image, say, but zooms right up to 120Hz when needed to ensure a smooth, judder-free effect, whatever you’re doing. The resolution has been increased enormously—the 5.9 million pixels that make up the 14-inch screen are more than the last-generation 16-inch MacBook Pro had.

The result is that this is the Goldilocks laptop. The display looks easily big enough for most people to find immersive and attractive, in a device that’s over a pound lighter than the 16-inch version. So it’s super-portable and easily big enough for detailed work.

About that notch: Most of the time, I didn’t notice it was there, as it sits perfectly in the menu bar that surrounds it which often camouflages it completely. When you’re watching full-screen content it leaves thin black lines at the top and bottom, so your video is never interrupted by the cut-out.

Some felt that Apple missed a trick by not including Face ID here. I disagree. I think it would have been tech for tech’s sake. When you open the lid of the MacBook Pro, you want your hands to be near the input area, the keyboard and trackpad. So, your finger naturally gravitates to the Touch ID buttons, so that’s all you need. Face ID would have been overkill, unless we suddenly need even greater security levels than currently. And anyway, if you’re wearing an Apple Watch, that will unlock the screen as well.

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch: Keyboard

The keyboard also looks strikingly different because the black keys sit in a black well instead of above an aluminum one, which makes the keyboard seem complete and self-sufficient. And then there’s the big change: the Touch Bar is gone. This was a controversial item—a touchscreen strip that sat where function keys usually would, with the capabilities changing as you switch applications.

The new keyboard on the Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch: the Touch Bar has gone.

Personally, I liked it, but it’s true that it was easy to brush against the Touch Bar inadvertently, with sometimes annoying results. Apple has listened to its users and the Touch Bar has been replaced with an improved row of Function keys. Improved because they’re no longer half-height keys: These are full-size keys. And there are two useful knock-on effects: there’s a bigger Esc key which is easier to hit, and the Touch ID button is bigger, with a circular indent.

Otherwise, the keys are unchanged, with the same extravagantly comfortable travel as on the Magic Keyboard found on the last-gen machines. It remains the most comfortable PC keyboard I’ve used.

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch: Performance

The speed of performance in these new laptops is evident from the second you open the lid. As mentioned above, where the previous 16-inch MacBook Pro took a second or two for the screen to come on—not exactly a hardship—here it springs into life instantaneously. It’s something you get used to fast and going back to the slightly slower experience of previous versions suddenly feels rather time-consuming. That’s down to the new processor.

This comes in two flavors: M1 Pro and M1 Max. The 14-inch MacBook Pro I’ve been testing has the M1 Pro and it was leagues faster than I ever needed. Not once, not a single time, did the fans (included for thermal management) whirr into life, so fast and power-efficient is the M1 Pro. The M1 Max offers even more, and power users will be grateful for this extra oomph and increased graphical capabilities. For most regular humans, M1 Pro seems to be more than enough.

Even when using advanced, power-hungry programs, the M1 Pro was super-fast and never dawdled. If you’re pushing the processor really hard, you’ll hear the fans whirr into action to keep the temperature where it should be. I cannot comment on what these fans sound like because I’ve literally never managed to make such demands that the fans came on. A sure sign that the processor is powerful, capable and incredibly efficient.

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch: Battery

The battery life is a step-change from MacBook Pro models with Intel chips. This uplift first came to the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro last year and it’s also impressive here: The need to carry the power brick when you’re using this laptop has receded vastly.

When you do need to recharge, that’s much faster than before if you use the splendid MagSafe cable and charger. You can still charge through any of the USB-C sockets on board as well, just not as quickly.

Should you upgrade from the Apple MacBook Pro with Intel chip?

Yes. In a heartbeat. This is such a big update, with so many brilliant extras, and so much power, it puts the last Intel MacBook Pro models in the shade—and they weren’t exactly slouches, either.

How about if you have the MacBook Pro with M1 chip from last year? That’s a slightly tougher call as the M1 brought with it amazing performance, strong battery life and more. But, the additional inch of screen size is worth having and, of course, the bright, detailed display is hard to beat. Plus, the new variety of connections—SD card, HDMI and MagSafe—all add up. And now, you can have up to 64GB of RAM with the M1 Max, where last year’s models were restricted to 16GB. Power users will want the new laptop.

Is the MacBook Pro 14-inch worth it?

This is not a cheap laptop. If you don’t consider yourself a power user, then the MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Pro will save you a lot of money.

But the new design is lively and attractive, with the extra screen real estate being appealing, enough to make this display highly immersive. Add in the extra pixels, adaptive refresh rate, greater brightness and the contrast and color fidelity that come from the miniLED backlighting, and the new display really comes alive. Then there’s the keyboard. Unless you’re a diehard Touch Bar fan, the new full-height function keys will be a definite lure, plus the bigger Touch ID button.

This new laptop is the definition of power, sublimely doing everything fast without delay or stuttering. This huge leap forward in processing power is much bigger than annual chip updates usually offer, so there’s considerable future-proofing on board here.

You may not need this kind of power for everything you do, but since it makes everything go with a zip, it can be enough to take your breath away in everyday use, too. This is, of course, Apple’s most powerful laptop ever (apart from the 16-inch bigger brother), and the added battery life, great look and strong performance mean it’s the complete package.  

I’ve been writing about technology for two decades and am routinely struck by how the sector swings from startling innovation to persistent repetitiveness. My areas of

I’ve been writing about technology for two decades and am routinely struck by how the sector swings from startling innovation to persistent repetitiveness. My areas of specialty are wearable tech, cameras, home entertainment and mobile technology. I also work as an actor, enjoying equally the first Mission Impossible movie, a season at Shakespeare’s Globe and a part in the latest series of The Crown. 

I’ve written for the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, the Sun, Metro, Stuff, T3, Pocket-lint, and Wired. Right now most of my work away from Forbes appears in the Independent, the Evening Standard and Monocle Magazine. Follow me on Instagram: davidphelantech, or Twitter: @davidphelan2009.