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Apple MacBook Pro 14 review: Return to glory

With sustained peak performance over extended periods, this is the machine that has put the ‘Pro’ back into MacBook Pro

With the 2021 MacBook Pro 14, Apple takes a few steps back to take a huge leap forward in areas that matter to creative professionals and developers. (Photo by Tushar Kanwar)

By Tushar Kanwar

LAST PUBLISHED 03.12.2021  |  05:04 PM IST

Apple’s MacBook Pro lineup of premium laptops has had a rough time since the 2016 model shifted to the butterfly-switch keyboard. The models included the questionable and unintuitive Touch Bar and lost most of their pro-friendly ports to move to a “future that wasn’t there yet” all-USB-Type-C port existence. With the 2021 MacBook Pro 14, Apple takes a few steps back to take a huge leap forward in areas that matter to creative professionals and developers. If your line of work requires you to push your laptop to the limit…and earns you enough to write off these machines as a valid business expense, Apple has righted enough wrongs to make these new laptops well worth the princely price of admission.

Fittingly, the design is almost retro-inspired, unapologetically boxier and heavier. With a reduced bezel around the screen, you are essentially getting a 14.2-inch screen in a footprint that’s marginally bigger than the current 13-inch MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. But it’s the noticeable gain in thickness that affords the re-addition of lost-but-not-forgotten ports. The easy-detach MagSafe charging socket makes a return, as does an HDMI 2.0 port and an SD card slot, alongside the staple three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports for connectivity—or charging, at a pinch. Know this—there is no USB-A port, and the HDMI port is HDMI 2.0 only, so it’s restricted to output a maximum of 4K 60Hz to an external display. Yet, at least for some creative pros, the ability to move on from #donglelife alone is a big reason to consider the new models.

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It’s still very recognisable as a MacBook Pro, though. Open the lid and two things stand out—an all-black keyboard with a full set of function keys (no Touch Bar), plus the power button with integrated Touch ID authentication and an iPhone-like notch. Yep, a notch on a laptop screen, which houses the much improved 1080p camera but arguably misses a trick in not packing in Face ID authentication, as all iPhones do. The notch could be considered either “quintessentially Apple” or an eyesore. What’s undeniable is the quality of the 3024x1964-pixel display, which takes inspiration from the latest iPad Pros by using a mini-LED panel for high contrast, deep blacks and vivid colours and up to 1600 nits of peak brightness while working with high dynamic range content.

The screen is gorgeous whether you are creating or consuming content. Apple’s 120Hz ProMotion fast-refresh tech makes everything on it smoother, while saving battery when you are looking at static content. All in all, there’s much to like about the new 14-inch form factor. The MacBook Pro 14 represents a perfect tweener size between the 13-inch laptops and uber-massive 16-inch models. Complementing the setup is a six-speaker sound system that sounds considerably better than previous MacBook Pro models while reproducing Apple’s virtual surround Spatial Audio fairly convincingly.

The new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros are the first to feature the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, on-steroids versions of Apple’s M1 custom chips. (Courtesy: Apple)

The new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros are the first to feature the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, on-steroids versions of Apple’s M1 custom chips. These offer performance comparable to pro-grade Mac desktops at a fraction of the power consumption. On the M1 Pro (16GB memory, 1TB storage) version of the MacBook Pro 14, everyday tasks were blazing fast, and the machine thought nothing of several dozen browser tabs while streaming music and editing a batch of photographs. But these are machines built for so much more, evidenced by the fact that making a bunch of edits on 4K 60 frames per second video footage in Final Cut Pro didn’t have the cooling fans fire up (and renders completed nearly twice as fast compared to a previous generation Intel Core i9 MacBook Pro). Likewise for large-batch image edits in Pixelmator; both these tasks had made even the M1-powered iMac skip a beat—and this is on a laptop running on battery.

Battery life is impressive, with the laptop lasting well over 10 hours of mixed use, including light video and photo editing. Lighter everyday use will get you past 12-13 hours of use, and more demanding tasks, like exporting high-resolution video or compiling large development projects, will allow five-seven hours. Fast charging on the 96W charger, included in the higher spec configurations but an additional buy on the entry-level model, takes you from 0 to 50% in under 30 minutes.

The 1,94,900-upwards question then is, do you really need this much power on tap? The clue is in the name: MacBook Pro. Granted, the display is stunning, the keyboard and trackpad are best in class, and all the ports and the new 1080p webcam will appeal to all users, but this is not a consumer laptop. If you don’t need the power to run complex edits or app compilations on the go, or you can manage with a few dongles, you are likely better off spending half the money on an M1-powered MacBook Air. But for those of you who can leverage the sustained peak performance over extended periods of time, this is the machine that has, after some years, put the Pro back into MacBook Pro.


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Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar.

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