2021 MacBook Pro review: Yes, you’ve been waiting for it | GeekComparison

The 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro stacked on top of the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro.
enlarge The 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro stacked on top of the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Samuel Axon

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Apple has long offered a program called Time Machine that allows you to restore the software on your computer to the state it was in before something serious went wrong. In many ways, the new MacBook Pro is a hardware Time Machine in its own right; you could say it seems like the past five years never happened.

Notably, the 2021 MacBook Pro is bulkier, more flexible, and more powerful than its predecessor. It clicks “restore” on a slew of changes that were generally unpopular, such as the addition of the Touch Bar instead of physical function keys and the particular focus on Thunderbolt as the port of choice.

The new laptop also features the most advanced CPU, GPU and NPU ever in a consumer laptop and display technology never seen in mainstream consumer products. So maybe it’s not so much as if the past five years never happened; it’s more like we’ve entered an alternate timeline where Apple never changed course at a critical moment when many people felt it shouldn’t have happened.

There has been speculation as to whether this is the first laptop designed without much direct involvement from longtime Steve Jobs partner Jony Ive, who left Apple not long ago. Maybe maybe not. Considering everything that goes into designing these machines over several years, it probably isn’t that tight.

But aside from Ive’s level of involvement, don’t worry: if you didn’t like the direction Apple has taken over the past five years with the MacBook Pro, then this laptop mostly feels like an explicit apology for all that. The result: it’s the best laptop you can buy for many use cases, provided you very much of money.


Specifications at a glance: 2021 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro
operating system macOS Monterey 12.0.1
CPU Apple M1 Pro (14-inch), M1 Max (16-inch)
RAM 32GB (14″), 64GB (16″)
GPU Apple M1 Pro (14″) M1 Max (16″)
HDD 1TB (14″), 2TB (16″)
Networking Wi-Fi 6; Bluetooth 5.0
Ports 3x Thunderbolt, 3.5mm Headphone, SD Card Slot, HDMI, MagSafe
Guarantee 1 year, or 3 years with AppleCare+
Price as rated $2,899 (14-inch), $3,299 (16-inch)

As usual, we’ll start with the specs. And there’s a lot to talk about here.


The MacBook Pro is available in two sizes: 14-inch and 16-inch. Technically, the screen sizes are 14.2 inches (with a resolution of 3024×1964 pixels) and 16.2 inches (3456×2234). And yes, there is a camera notch – we’ll get to that shortly.

The display is one of the main value propositions of this machine. It’s in an entirely different category than most other consumer laptop displays, thanks in part to Mini LED technology, which has appeared in high-end TVs and Apple’s ultra-pricey Pro Display XDR monitor.

Mini LED allows local dimming of hundreds or even thousands of dimming zones, so while it’s still an LCD display, in optimal conditions you can get the same contrast and black level as what you might see in an OLED display, but with better clarity and without combustion -at risk.

The screen of the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro.
enlarge The screen of the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Samuel Axon

Apple claims it can achieve 1,600 nits of peak brightness in highlights, or 1,000 nits of sustained brightness in full screen mode. That’s honestly crazy for a laptop screen; it’s similar to what we see in the most expensive HDR televisions. This is a huge advantage for those in certain fields who want to do things like HDR color correction on the go, which wouldn’t really have been possible without the unwieldy and ridiculously expensive mobile workstations. For the rest of us, that means higher brightness to combat sunlight or ceiling lights, and excellent contrast and highlights in HDR video content like movies and TV shows.

Apple is known for properly calibrating its displays before shipping, and for the first time you can create custom color profiles in the System Preferences pane of macOS. This won’t matter to most people, but for a certain group of photo and video editing professionals it could be a really nice addition.

That all adds up to the best screen I’ve ever seen in a laptop.

However, it is not always flawless. You’ll notice the occasional LCD-type bleed, especially in letterboxed images like 16:9 videos. It’s just noticeably less pronounced than on previous MacBook displays.

The 14-inch model could also benefit from a little more screen space, given the tasks it is intended for. As has long been the case with Apple’s “Retina” displays, the actual screen real estate is not what you would expect from the native resolution, as there is some scaling.

The screen on the 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro.
enlarge The screen on the 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro.

Samuel Axon

By default, the 14-inch desktop looks like 1512×982 in terms of space available for Windows. You can increase that a bit to 1800×1169. (The System Preferences pane warns that this could affect performance, but we didn’t notice any issues.) There are also two lower resolutions — 1147×745 and 1024×665 — which are all bigger but make it a little blurrier.

As for the 16-inch model, the default mode “looks like” 1728×1117, and there’s another more generously scaled option at 2056×1329. The scaled-down sizes include 1496×967, 1312×848, and 1168×755. The 16-inch gives you plenty of room in the standard scaling setting and plenty in the one a step above it. But to me, the 14-inch feels a little cramped unless it’s on the highest setting.

Based on what Apple has said and as far as we can tell, there is no material difference between the 14-inch and 16-inch screens other than the screen size. The 14-inch model may have fewer Mini LED zones, but it looks so good that it will be difficult for most people to see.

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