After years of dithering on what makes for a great pro-grade laptop, Apple turned a corner in 2021 with the redesigned MacBook Pro in 14- and 16-inch avatars. These laptops finally added the power and ports that professionals had been hankering after for years. As we described it in our review, Appleput the Pro back into the MacBook Pro.
Building on the same product ethos, the 2023 M2 Pro-based MacBook Pro is a beast of a mobile workstation aimed squarely at pros with a pro-sized budget. Plus, there’s an M2 Max variant with up to 96GB of memory and 8TB of storage if you have the need to go all out and hopefully, the ability to write this off as a business expense.
This time, we’ve taken the 16-inch mid-range M2 Pro model – if you can even call Rs. 2,69,900 mid-range, that is – for an extensive spin to see how far we could push Apple’s latest workhorse.
Design and build
Expectedly, build quality is exceptional, the weight is evenly distributed, and there’s simply no flex or give anywhere, either on the chassis or the lid. Design wise, Apple got it mostly right in the previous iteration, so there was little to refine in the design – except maybe add a color or two to the silver/space grey options?
Ditto for the excellent touchpad and keyboard, which are beyond censure this time around as well. From the get-go though, you realize this is not a laptop to be trifled with, both in terms of performance and longevity claims as well as the sheer heft of the 16-inch model.
If you haven’t seen the previous generation models, these are pudgy pieces of kit, with the 16-inch model coming in at 2.15 kg. Slip this into a backpack and it makes its significant presence felt. One would wager this is meant more for the desk than the lap when in use.
The upside of this portliness is ports, lots of them (particularly for a recent Apple product!) – two USB-C ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a magnetically attaching MagSafe 3 charging port on the left, and a SDXC card slot, one USB-C and HDMI port on the right. No USB-A port though, nor is the SD card slot on the latest UHS-III standard. All three USB-C ports are Thunderbolt 4 so you can charge the laptop with any of them if you leave the MagSafe cable behind. Minor future-proofing connectivity upgrades include support for Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, and HDMI 2.1 for 8K/60Hz or 4K/24Hz monitor support.
Not messing around with basic formula also means that it ships with the same vibrant 16.2-inch mini-LEDLiquid Retina XDR display which, while it may not be an OLED display like the one on the new Samsung laptop we tested, still manages excellent black levels and deeper contrast levels than regular LCD panels.
More importantly, the MacBook Pro’s screen can go up to a peak brightness of 1600 nits on HDR media/games (1,000 nits sustained, 500 nits standard) that the others simply cannot match up to. As with the previous model, the 120 Hz variable refresh rate dynamically balances fluidity with battery consumption. You get pre-calibrated color profiles for precise color accuracy while color-grading your videos or editing photos, but you’ll want to switch to the XDR Display profile when you’re done for the day and just want to kick back with a movie or TV show.
With a screen this expansive, the six-speaker sound system lands just as impressively – this is an all-rounder of a laptop that’s equally at home in a creative workplace as it is in the den. The display also houses the controversial iPhone-style notch cutout, which contains the much-improved 1080p webcam, but no Face ID hardware for hands-free authenticationa la the iPhone, a change which could have made a real quality of life improvement over the first-generation MacBook Pro.
As good as the screen gets, the target audience for this laptop may well never see the screen, as MacBook Pros often are connected to an Apple Studio Display or similar color accurate monitors for built-for-large screen creative applications. You’re really paying the big bucks for the performance boost from the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, which pack in even more transistors than the previous M1 equivalent chips for a 30% bump up in graphics performance while still retaining their famed energy efficiency.
The unit I tested was the highest non-configured SKU (1TB storage) with the M2 Pro unit, with a 12-core CPU and a 19-core GPU, so while I can’t comment on the M2 Max’s boost in performance over the M2 Pro, I can say this much – the M2 Pro alone is a beast of a machine. Forget obliterating premium priced Windows laptops for creative applications (which it does handily), this laptop chews through everything - from video editing and rendering six simultaneous 4K streams in Final Cut Pro (FCP) to applying complex color correction in DaVinci Resolve. The laptop kept on going at peak performance, even on battery.
Honestly, while I dabble in the odd edits and color grading, I’m no creative pro, so I enlisted a video editor friend who currently uses an Intel Core i9 MacBook Pro from 2019 for his workload (FCP, DaVinci Resolve, Lightroom) to sample the new MacBook Pro. Safe to say, the said friend is now actively budgeting for a new Pro purchase.
I didn’t have an M1 Pro MacBook Pro on hand to test the exact bump up in performance, but it’s safe to say M1 Pro owners can safely skip this generation, unless they’re specifically after the efficiency gains.
And those gains are there, I assure you. I’m going to skip over Apple’s 22 hours of screen time for a moment, although that’s enough to last the longest flight I’ve taken. What impressed me more was I could go through a long 10-12 hour workday – streaming music, juggling more browser tabs than should be considered legal, noodling around with video edits and making slow progress on filing this review – with 35-40% left in the tank. A lighter day and I’d probably be able to go two days without charging. Getting so much screen time from a 16-inch laptop with pro-grade power on tap and a bright, high refresh rate mini-LED screen without having to nervously glance over at the battery indicator is stuff of computing legend.
There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind, starting with the evergreen question: “can you play games on this?”. You can certainly game on these machines, with a good assortment of made for Apple Silicon-games now available on Apple Arcade (or older ones on compatibility mode via Rosetta 2) or AAA titles via the Epic Games Store. But know this – these laptops aren’t specifically designed for gaming, and if that’s a priority, you’ve probably not read this far anyway.
The other thing to note is that as with all base configuration Macs these days, there is a drop in read/write speeds in the base 512GB model as compared to the 1TB model I tested. Also, only the 16-inch models support 140W fast charging.
Straight off, if you’re a MacBook Pro user (like my aforementioned friend) who hasn’t made the move to Apple Silicon yet, this is a great time to do it, particularly if you can expense the MacBook Pro as a professional purchase and can justify this for your workloads.
Not only are the chips vastly more capable for ‘pro’ applications than the Wintel peers, but the battery improvements will be – no hype – stuff that alters your usage patterns (for the better). It’s heavy on the wallet (and your lap), so it’s best viewed as an investment in your workflow – this is not a purchase I expect anyone to regret.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar