I nearly bought my first MacBook Pro in 2015. It would have been the first Mac I ever personally owned. But I convinced myself to wait another year for faster Intel chips — and in October 2016, Apple took away almost everything I admired about that Mac in one fell swoop.
The comfortable keyboard? Replaced with a too-thin slab that also became a nightmare for many a Mac user over the years, the butterfly switch mechanism so fragile a speck of dust could lay it low. The handy SD card slot for photographers and videographers, and the HDMI port to easily connect to monitors or TVs? Both axed seemingly in favor of selling us more overpriced dongles.
In the quest for ever-thinner and flashier laptops, Apple had seemingly forgotten why people bought the MacBook Pro in the first place — and pros were happy to point that out. They ridiculed the tiny strip of touchscreen Apple built into the keyboard, decried the relative lack of RAM, the missing ports, and how Apple’s choice of GPU didn’t match up to the Windows competition. I collected a bunch of those thoughts right here at the time, and Michael Tsai has more.
Five years later, Apple is giving those pros everything they said they wanted.
On Monday, Apple announced an intentionally thicker (in the case of the 16-inch model) and heavier MacBook Pro filled with ports — including HDMI, the SD card slot, and even the return of the MagSafe charging cable — plus three USB-C / Thunderbolt 4 connectors, the most capable port around. The new 14- and 16-inch Macs feature up to 64GB of memory, and up to 8TB of the fastest PCI-Express storage on the market, with 7,400MB/sec reads. They feature a redesigned keyboard with function keys instead of the dreaded Touch Bar, and 120Hz high refresh rate Mini LED screens that might wind up being the best panels you can purchase on a laptop anywhere (they theoretically offer the benefits of OLED without some of the compromises, though we’ll have to test).
Perhaps most impressively, Apple claims that the 32 GPU cores on its new M1 Max chip give it nearly as much power as the Nvidia RTX 3080 high-end gaming-grade laptop chip you’ll find in a similarly priced Razer Blade 15 Advanced.
And while Apple was busy making these improvements, it finally added a 1080p webcam too. Yes, there’s a notch, and yes I don’t feel amazing about that, particularly seeing there’s no Face ID.
But I think I’m buying a Mac.
I’ll probably wait for the dust to settle a bit. As always, there are some big open questions like performance and battery life, not to mention how it feels to use, including things like heat and noise. (No journalist has touched these devices yet, even for a basic hands-on.)
With battery life, for instance, I wonder if Apple might be cherry-picking numbers. While the company says the 16-inch model has “the longest battery life ever on a Mac notebook,” but the company’s only talking about playing back video in its own Apple TV app, and doesn’t specify important variables like the brightness of the screen.
In Apple’s wireless web test (which uses Safari, not Chrome, last we checked) the company says the 14-inch MacBook Pro only manages 11 hours of battery life, far less than the 17 hours it claimed to get from the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 from late last year. (We saw around 10 hours in real-world use.) The 16-inch MacBook Pro now claims 14 hours of wireless web, which does at least sound like an improvement from the 11 hours that it claimed to see from the 2019 model with its Core i9 chip.
Look, all I’m saying is I’ll feel more comfortable dropping $2000+ on a new MacBook Pro after Nilay can confirm it’s fast and actually lasts and doesn’t make for sweaty palms or uncomfortably hot laps. If I’m going to switch from Windows to Mac, that’s the least I can ask.
But for Apple’s audience of creative professionals that have been closely clutching their 2015 MacBook Pro with Retina Displays for all these years, or those who begrudgingly upgraded to a Touch ID-equipped laptop because they felt it was their only option, or those who defected to Windows when they saw the writing on the wall, today must feel like a brand-new day. 13-inch model aside, Apple’s no longer just trying to sell pros a faster Air. It took five years to turn this ship around, but Apple is clearly listening to the pros. It built these computers for them.