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Apple MacBook pro review: A radical update that’s miles ahead of the competition

Apple has released new MacBook pro laptops, with a slick and gently updated design, bigger screens and new processors, which come in two new sizes, 14in and 16in. But, just as importantly, the new models see the return of popular features which had vanished from earlier versions: a slot for an SD card, an HDMI connector and, best of all: MagSafe.

This, you might remember was Apple’s brilliant innovation where the charging cable is connected by a magnet, so that if somebody accidentally trips on your cable, it detaches rather than jerking the laptop off the desk.

The last big hardware design update to the MacBook pro was back in 2016, though there have been big updates to the keyboard, for instance, since then. The 2016 keyboard introduced a new mechanism which was noisy, replaced soon after by a quieter one. Both had reliability issues for some users and the keyboard that replaced it in 2019 was sublime, though it was accompanied by a controversial change called the touch bar, more on which below.

This new model is the biggest change for five years, with a subtly changed shape, new-look keyboard, improved camera for video calls and significant power increase. Another key introduction from previous models, the touch ID fingerprint sensor to securely unlock the screen, has also been redesigned for the latest model.

How we tested

We’ve been testing the new 14in MacBook pro since a few hours after Apple announced it a week ago. This involved running power-hungry programs, watching video, testing the recharge speed, trying out the new FaceTime camera for video calls and finding how comfortable the new keyboard was to use.

Read more:

Apple MacBook pro 14in: From £1,899, Apple.com

Design

This is the first major redesign for the MacBook Pro in years. It sees the lid switch from one that gently tapers to a thin edge to a flatter design. It’s something of a throwback to earlier Mac laptops, while still being all-new. Although the change is in some ways subtle, it’s also unmissable. It looks solid, business-like and classy. Though it lacks the tapered edges, the 14in model is still no thicker than last year’s 13in MacBook Pro.

Take a look at the Apple logo on the laptop’s lid. It’s a lot bigger than before (and looks great). The logo on the previous 16in MacBook Pro measured 4cm, but on the new 14in model, it’s 5cm tall. That may not sound like a lot, but it makes a very strong impression.

This is Apple’s first 14in laptop. While the size isn’t that much more than the 13in model, the extra screen size makes a lot of difference. The larger laptop is a 16in model and replaces the one currently in the range. Though, here again, there’s a different screen size: the exact screen measurement is 16.2in, and the smaller model is actually 14.2in.

Open the lid and more changes are evident. First, there’s the display, which we’ll come back to shortly, but it has much narrower bezels around the edges than before. So narrow at the top, in fact, that there is a cut-out peeping into the screen area, where the front-facing camera sits. This system of a cut-out or notch is common to smartphones now, since Apple introduced it on the iPhone X.

One noticible change is the lid has switched from one that gently tapers to a thin edge to a flatter design

It’s slightly hidden here by the fact that the menu bar that runs along the top of the display is the same depth and is darkish in colour so it blends in well. I worried that it would be a big distraction, but it’s absolutely not.

There’s no MacBook pro logo at the base of the display. Although the display has those narrower bezels, there’s still room for that logo, so it’s obviously a design choice, to reduce distractions from the display.

Oh, and if you turn the laptop over, you can see where that logo went. The words MacBook pro are etched pleasingly into the underside.

Connections

The SD card, beloved of photographers, is back. Apple removed it when it replaced every single socket with a USB-C slot (and the headphone jack). Everything had to be attached by a dongle, unless it was the USB-C power cable, for instance. But the MacBook pro is designed for power users and they let Apple know that they wanted more sockets. Apple listened, and the SD card sits on the right edge of the laptop, alongside the HDMI socket. Some have pointed out that neither of these use the very latest versions of these sockets, which can limit speed or features. For most people, they’ll be more than enough.

Also on the right edge is a USB-C socket, and there are two more of those on the left edge, all of them Thunderbolt (that is, fast and capable). All of those can be used to charge the laptop – handy if you forget your special new MagSafe cable.

MagSafe charges the laptop fast, and it’s even an attractive thing in its own right. The cable has a woven finish, like on the latest iMac, though there’s no colour-coding as there is on the desktop PC. And the new cable works just as neatly as previous MagSafe cables: it just clips into place automatically and detaches with a reasonably deliberate pull.

It’s rare for Apple, or any company, to go back to previous configurations. Apple has done this because users said they wanted it and the results are terrific.

Keyboard

Another big change is the keyboard. One of the innovative upgrades of previous MacBook pro design was the touch bar: a touch-sensitive strip along the top which replaced the row of function keys that other laptops had. I loved it: the purpose of the keys would change according to the application. If you were typing an email address that you usually followed with one or two other addresses – colleagues, perhaps – the touch bar would intelligently populate with those routine addresses.

But there were issues: touch the bar inadvertently and you were suddenly typing in bold when you didn’t mean to, or you’d brush the “escape” part of the touch bar and your work would vanish. Apple fixed this with a physical Esc key later on, which is now wider than before on this keyboard. But now, the touch bar is gone.

When it comes to the sockets, users let Apple know that they wanted more, and Apple listened

Actually, I don’t mind. The new row of physical function keys is full-height (it was half-height before) and the brilliant touch ID fingerprint button at the right edge is bigger and easier to use.

Instead of individual black keys on an aluminium background, Apple has made the whole keyboard black, setting it apart from the rest of the laptop. The keys are as beautifully backlit as ever, and the keyboard is more immersive – like the removal of the MacBook pro logo on the display, it makes for fewer distractions.

Apart from its look, the keys themselves are unchanged, with the same sumptuous travel under your fingers that is comfortable and efficient.

Display

This is another big change. It’s bigger than the 13in model, and much, much brighter. That’s because, like the top-end 12.9in iPad pro, the regular LED LCD display is supplemented by thousands of tiny mini LEDs which create an effect which is punchy, high-contrast and eye-catching. It’s also much higher-resolution than the last Apple laptop displays: there are more pixels on the new 14in screen than there were on the previous-generation’s 16in display. There are 5.9 million pixels on this screen (though I’m taking this on trust rather than counting them, you understand).

Read more: 10 best high-end laptops for great performance with sleek design

The result is a display with deep black hues, vibrant colours and huge levels of pin-sharp detail. It also has adaptive refresh rates, which means that when you’re looking at a still screen, for instance, the refresh rate drops to save energy and then increases to make for a smooth experience when you’re scrolling fast through menus or watching video.

Speaking of which, if you wonder what happens to the display cut-out when you’re watching a movie fullscreen, it doesn’t impinge. The display stops in a straight line just below the menu bar and by a matching amount at the bottom of the screen. So, the display is very slightly less than full screen but perfectly rectangular.

Camera

Now that we’re all doing a lot more video calls, a good front-facing camera is important on phone, tablet and computer. This one is terrific and makes you look much better than the previous MacBook pro camera did. Colours are better, you’ll appear in more detail and sharper (this may not be your idea of a good thing) and it even looks better in low light. Though, please, don’t sit with a window behind you – that never looks good.

Performance

The processors in the new MacBook pro range are Apple silicon in every model – previously, Apple used Intel chips but it’s halfway through a two-year transition to its own silicon. It means that now, there are no Mac laptops with Intel chips at all.

The MacBook pro now uses one of two processors, depending on your configuration. They are evolutions of last year’s M1 processor: M1 pro and M1 max. The M1 chip was fast but these are much faster. We’ve been using a 14in model with the M1 pro chip and it’s blazing-fast. But the M1 max is designed to be much faster still, promising bleeding-edge speeds for the most demanding users and increased graphical capabilities. Although we have tested this as much as we can, you can’t help but feel you’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Read more: How to choose the best laptop for you

Certainly, demanding programs like Logic Pro open and perform at high speed, allowing users to be at their most creative and never held back by waiting for the machine to respond. The power here is breathtakingly fast.

There are fans in the MacBook pro, but we’ve never heard them. They’re there to offer thermal management which permits high-demand programs to continue to thrive for longer times. But the processor is so efficient, no matter how many things have been running at the same time, no help from the fans has been necessary.

One other thing: performance seems undimmed when you’re using the laptop on battery power instead of mains.

Battery life

The new processors are also super-efficient in terms of battery life. The gain is extraordinary compared to previous Intel-chip Mac laptops. You almost forget you need to charge it, unlike many laptops which remind you with a red battery warning light after just a few hours. This goes on and on. It’s a change which came with the MacBook air last year when it switched to the M1 processor and something akin to all-day life became a reality. When testing this MacBook pro, it never crossed my mind to take the charging brick with me. Additionally, when you do need to recharge, the MagSafe connector can deliver a lot more power, so recharging is much quicker, too.

The verdict: Apple MacBook pro

Apple’s new MacBook pro is a radical update, from the slick, classy design to the rethought keyboard and eye-poppingly brilliant display, from the addition of useful connectors to the joyous return of MagSafe charging. It’s true that some of the new sockets like the SD card aren’t the most advanced versions, but they certainly perform well.

We’re not the most demanding of power users, though my more power-hungry activities such as video editing have sometimes stymied laptops before now. But as a medium-demanding user, what we want is a laptop that does everything at speed, without delay, has strong battery life and an immersive display. The new MacBook pro does all of the above with aplomb, better than any laptop we’ve used before, from any manufacturer. It is a country mile ahead of the competition.

Apple MacBook pro 14in

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Impressive camera, battery life and fast performance, we also out Apple’s brand new iPhone 13 to the test

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