The New MacBook Pro

The announcement of the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros is a culmination of Apple’s laptop apology tour. They thoroughly ticked off users with the abysmal keyboards and limited ports in the 2016-era machines and they’ve finally rectified the situation. It’s a major release and one that many users have been waiting for since the 2015 models were discontinued.

The Ports

I can’t say I’ve really been held back by the limited port selection on my 2020 MacBook Pro. In the year-and-a-half that I’ve owned the machine, I think I’ve only had all four ports in use simultaneously on a single occasion. But there have been times when I had to dig out a different cable to connect an external drive or other peripheral. Not too much of an inconvenience, but that’s pretty specific to my workflows.

If given the option, though, I would definitely have included some variety. When I wrote about the Framework laptop, which let’s you choose what ports you want, I would have chosen two USB-C, a USB-A, and an HDMI. And that holds true today. That would let me connect just about everything I have without an adapter.

The new MacBook Pros feature three Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone jack, an SDXC slot, HDMI, and MagSafe 3. I’m sure there will be some grousing about the lack of USB-A and it would have been nice to see at least one, but given Apple’s priorities, I think they struck a pretty good balance with this.

The SDXC card slot is going to make a lot of dedicated camera owners and Raspberry Pi enthusiasts happy, while the HDMI port is just going to be so darn convenient. Whether you want to connect your laptop to a projector, a television, or a computer monitor, it’s a good chance you can make that happen over HDMI.

MagSafe sort-of came out of left field for me, though. It may have been in the rumors at some point, but I haven’t been following those too closely as of late. I’ve seen a lot of people wishing for the return of MagSafe over the years and while I think it’s a great feature, it was never on my wishlist. MacBook batteries are so good these days that I basically only ever plug it in at my desk and there’s no chance of accidentally yanking on the cable there. I much prefer near-universal compatibility of USB-C to USB-C cables.

Luckily, you can still charge over USB-C if you want, but the back-left port is where I would prefer my charging cable be located. And with the introduction of MagSafe, I would end up having to plug in to a port further forward on the chassis. Not too big of a deal for me, really, but still worth noting.

It is a bit of an odd implementation. It’s not a MagSafe charger like with previous laptops. Instead it’s a MagSafe cable that plugs into any USB-C charger on the other end. This is actually brilliant on Apple’s part because you don’t have to use a dedicated charger for your laptop. And no matter what USB-C charger you use, it will still get the benefits of MagSafe.

M1 Pro and M1 Max

I understand that this matches the naming scheme used on the iPhone, but the chip names are lame. The rumored “M1X” name sounded so much cooler. But at least their performance appears to live up to Apple’s superlatives.

I am even more interested to see how the Apple Silicon story continues to unfold, though. With the new chips offering double the multi-core performance when compared to the regular M1, how well is that going to scale in the 27-inch iMac and the Mac Pro? What will Apple be able to accomplish when they have a higher ceiling on energy usage?

And what’s the memory situation going to look like? Will Apple ever develop a system on a chip that allows for replaceable memory? Will their graphics performance be able to compete with the highest-end GPUs from Nvidia and AMD? Will Apple ever develop another machine that allows for adding a dedicated GPU over PCIe?

There are only two Macs left in Apple’s lineup that haven’t transitioned away from Intel, so I suspect many of these questions will be answered soon. Hopefully.

The Display and Camera

It has a notch. It seems that macOS will handle it fairly gracefully, since the center of the menu bar isn’t often used for anything. But if I was a hardware engineer at Apple, figuring out a way to remove the notch from the iPhone and MacBook Pro would be high on my priority list.

I expect most users will forget about the notch after a short period of use, but the MacBook Pro would undoubtedly be better without the notch than with it. If I was using these machines, I’d probably end up setting my menu bar to black using Boring Old Menu Bar to try and hide it.

The camera upgrade is going to be welcomed with open arms. It’s amazing that it’s taken so long for Apple to finally give this component the attention it deserves. I just hope it performs as well as they claim.

The display also features ProMotion, allowing for refresh rates up to 120Hz that adapts to match the movement of content. My iPad and iPhone both offer this as well and while it’s certainly noticeable, I don’t find it to be quite as revolutionary as others. It’s nice, for sure, but it isn’t going to fundamentally change the way you interact with your device.

The Keyboard

The Touch Bar is gone and in its place are good old fashioned tactile function keys. I wouldn’t say I necessarily hate the Touch Bar, but if I could have ordered my current MacBook Pro without it, I would have. It doesn’t offer enough functionality to warrant the lack of tactile feel and it always seems to be dimmed when I want to use it, requiring an additional tap to wake up.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is now the last remaining model with the Touch Bar and it sure seems like the only reason it remains in the lineup is because of the massive gap in pricing between the MacBook Air and the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

The black background behind the keys is an interesting decision. I wonder if that material is plastic and whether it has any impact on the repairability of the machines. Is it easier to swap out the keyboard on this laptop when compared to previous MacBook iterations?

Overall

I’m due for a new work laptop in the next month or two, so I was eager to see what Apple had to offer with this announcement. I don’t think I’m going to end up with one, though. Pricing isn’t a concern for me in this case because I can, for the most part, order whatever laptop I want though my company.

It helps that every laptop in Apple’s lineup is more powerful than my current machine — from a performance standpoint, no matter what I get, it’s an upgrade. So it will ultimately come down to the hardware features and physical size.

There aren’t any features that these new models offer that really compels me to get one over the M1 MacBook Air. The upgraded camera would be nice, but not necessarily a deal breaker — it’s not like the M1 MacBook Air’s camera is worse than my current one. I won’t have much use for the additional ports. And I’d probably end up charging the machine with a standard USB-C cable anyway.

There’s also some concern for me about Linux support. While I don’t use Linux for work, I have been using it on my personal machine. When we upgrade our work computers, we are given the option to purchase our old one from the company. I would rather have something with decent Linux support to prolong the machine’s life. And there’s already been quite a bit of work toward supporting the M1 MacBook Air in Linux.

I can’t be sure that there will be as much effort put toward supporting these newer MacBook Pros. There’s going to be a lot more M1 MacBook Airs sold than either of these Pros because of pricing alone. It’s a much safer bet to expect full Linux support on the Air.

Setting that aside, though, the physical size and weight is something I highly value. The 14-inch MacBook Pro is 3.5 pounds, compared to just 2.8 pounds for the M1 MacBook Air. The Air is smaller by every dimension.

These machines are great, but they just don’t seem like they’re right for me. I’m so glad that Mac users that need the additional performance and, perhaps more importantly the ports, finally have a rock solid option, though. It’s been far too long.

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