Review: Apple's new MacBook Pro packs a powerful punch for a mighty price

Apple's new MacBook Pro
There's a reason it has 'pro' in its name, so is Apple's new notebook for you? Photo credit: Newshub

Powered by Apple's new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, the company claims its new MacBook Pro lineup delivers a new level of performance that's above anything else on the market.

But can they possibly deliver on that hype?

I've been using a new 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip and 16GB of RAM for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

The first thing you notice when opening the MacBook Pro is just how stunning the screen is.

The liquid retina XDR display is a work of art, offering up to 3024x1964 resolution and with 1000 nits of brightness sustained over a period of time.

It has a peak brightness of 1600 nits meaning you can use the Pro in bright sunshine and you're going to see the details you need - it's practically begging me to go and work outside for a few hours.

Then the deep, rich colours make this a pleasure to use whether it's streaming a movie in 4K or browsing the web for new stories.

ProMotion, the adaptive refresh technology that was also introduced in the iPhone 13 Pro models this year, has also been added to the MacBook Pro for the first time, which means the screen can refresh up to 120 frames-per-second (fps), depending on usage.

It means scrolling and gaming - when supported by the apps - are just a much better overall experience. It's something you might not notice or even be aware of if you've never seen it before, but once you have it's hard to go back.

One of the biggest wins for me is the lack of heat and noise when using the new notebook.

My older Pro used to get so hot that I'd frequently notice red marks on my bare legs where it had been sitting. If the CPU was being challenged, it also sounded like a plane was about to take off.

The new MacBook only gets slightly warm on the underside which, given the power on board, is surprising. Even better, I haven't had to increase the volume once because I just haven't noticed any noise while using it.

Apple's new MacBook Pro
Photo credit: Newshub

I'm also a massive fan of the decision to add more ports to the body. The push for devices to become lighter and thinner has given rise to the need to make decisions about what can be plugged in and when as well as the need for external port hubs.

There's plenty of options here, though, unless you've still got a ton of USB-A devices, in which case you're out of luck.

There's an SDXC card slot, HDMI port, 3.5mm headphone jack and three Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports that support charging and displays. And there's the return of the MagSafe charging port, too.

My old MacBook has been saved more times than I can remember because its MagSafe charger became detached rather than bringing it all crashing down due to my carelessness. I've lost a couple of Windows laptops due to that carelessness.

Also, the new cable encased in a woven fabric to offer greater protection and detaches from the power adaptor, meaning it's a whole lot cheaper to replace if something does go wrong.

I could go on. The 1080p HD front-facing camera offers great video conferencing while the microphone quality meant my terrible singing couldn't be put down to background noises in a cute video we recorded for our nephew's fourth birthday.

The audio output is as good as anything I've heard from a laptop in all my years of using them, too.

Apple's new MacBook Pro
Photo credit: Newshub

There are six high-fidelity speakers on board, with force-cancelling woofers and wide stereo sound, according to Apple. What that means is whatever you're listening to, you are unlikely to be disappointed in the full breadth of the sound you get.

There's also no dampening of the sound when you use the notebook on your lap, something I've experienced in multiple other devices.

Oh, and did I mention the near 17-hour battery life?

The notch

I love good tech rumours and in the lead-up to Apple's last two major announcements there was plenty to enjoy; some proved accurate, others not so.

The one that I put absolutely zero stock in, however, was the idea the new MacBook Pro might have a notch at the top of its screen to house its front-facing camera, similar to that of the iPhone.

Before the device had even been unveiled, the notch was the subject of much incredulity on social media with some people angry at the very prospect something like that would be implemented.

Apple's new MacBook Pro
Photo credit: Newshub

The rumour proved accurate and a notched laptop screen was unleashed on the world to... well, in my case, complete indifference. I was prepared to get annoyed by the prospect because I don't particularly enjoy it on my iPhone.

But on the MacBook? It actually makes a lot of sense. It has allowed Apple to slim the bezels around the screen and move the menu bar up into, essentially, useless space. That leaves more screen to show my content on, without intruding on the part that really matters.

For me it just fades to the background, partly just because of how great the screen is.

I don't tend to look at the menu bar all that much anyway, and with my eyes focused on the colour and the quality below then I can, hand on heart, say not once has it bothered me in the slightest.

I've seen others, particularly those who use apps with a large number of menu items, say it's given them problems because the menu wraps around the notch and so my experience won't necessarily be the same for everyone.

I also understand some people don't want anything intruding on the screen, but if that came at the price of increased bezel size and less screen real estate, I wonder how many would actually opt for the alternative?

The bad

Given the notch proved to be a bit of a furore over nothing, there really isn't much about the MacBook Pro I'd change - but there is one serious issue I'll get to soon.

The laptop is noticeably heavier and bulkier than other devices, but that's a necessity that comes with the design decisions like the increase in the number of ports that remove the necessity for additional peripherals.

The biggest miss is the lack of FaceID.

Apple's new MacBook Pro
Photo credit: Newshub

I'm sure there are good reasons why the IR technology necessary to do so can't fit in the camera notch, but given a choice of unlocking with my fingerprint or my face there really is no comparison.

FaceID is one of those features Apple has absolutely nailed and other manufacturers are still trying to catch-up to its low-light performance, in my experience. That includes Windows Hello, my preferred way of logging into Microsoft-powered laptops, but has often shown mixed results recognising my face when it's a little darker.

FaceID would have been the cherry on the top of the cake had it been included here.

And then there is how much these things cost.

The verdict

There is no question the new MacBook Pro is one of if not the best notebook on the market right now - it's stunning in just about every way.

But that doesn't mean it's something you're going to want to buy.

Apple's new MacBook Pro
Photo credit: Newshub

Apple has been clear, from its name down to the "supercharged for pros" tagline on its website, that this has a target market. The premium you will pay for one of the new devices is also a fairly strong indication of who it's aimed at.

The cheapest configuration with M1 Pro will set you back $3399 while, if you're going full out with the 16-inch model with the M1 Max pro, 32GB RAM and 1 TB SSD storage you'll pay just over $6000.

The 16-inch version with M1 Max chip, 64GB unified memory and 8TB of SSD storage isn't on sale yet, but when it is it will set you back NZ$10,599. Ouch!

If your use comes down to web-browsing, a bit of mindless gaming and some Netflix in bed then the new MacBook Pro is simply overkill.

This is for 3D designers, video editors and creative professionals using suites of software that cost more than many laptops do.

That also means I didn't come close to pushing the new Pro as hard as it can be while I reviewed it. I simply don't have multiple 8K video streams to edit at the same time and I still associate 3D more with the finishing move of legendary wrestling tag team The Dudley Boyz than I do computers.

Apple's new MacBook Pro
Photo credit: Newshub

But I do love a challenge.

The loan device is sitting on my desk and, if it could, it would be winking at me knowing that I'm going to want to find some way of justifying spending all that money on a device that will not only last for years, but do it with significant style.

Game on!

Newshub was supplied with a 14-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro chip and 16GB of RAM for this review.