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My 1st Apple Silicon MacBook Pro. As great as I’d hoped?

Just how does it compare to the Intel MacBook?

Apple Silicon MacBook Pro
Image courtesy of author

I finally feel as if I belong to the cool club. I have had to wait over 18 months, but finally, I am now the owner of an Apple Silicon Mac. I still own a 2019 Intel MacBook Pro, though, so I thought it may be interesting to stack them up and to see what the benefits are in going with Apple’s own chip.

Quality

Not much to call them apart here. On the desk, in front of me now, they both look very Mac-esque. Both my models are in silver, so look even more similar. They have reverted to the logo being slightly larger on the latest MacBook, which, oddly, adds to its feel of being premium. There has been much talk about the weight of the 2021 release of the MacBook. I wouldn’t in honesty say it makes it less portable, but it is weighty.

Image courtesy of author

The added internals have added very nearly half- a-pound in weight. It has certainly been to the gym, and been munching the ‘roids! The 16-inch Apple Silicon MacBook now trips the scales at 4.8 pounds (2.18 kg), up from 4.02 pounds (1.82 kg) of my 15-inch Intel Mac. I had both in my rucksack on the way to the office today, which is not something I’d recommend, but to carry either by themselves, is do-able. Part of what drew me to the latest MacBook was that I could work on any project from anywhere. One tiny little detail, which you hardly ever see, is the de-bossed logo on the base of the newer Mac. Love it!

Connectivity

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The Jony Ive days of form over functionality are long gone. The newest of the MacBooks is thicker on the desk, too. It gives it a more muscular stance, and one which screams productivity. It’s up from 0.61 inches (1.55 cm) to 0.66 inches (1.68 cm), and that ‘bulk’, makes you want to grab it. My Intel MacBook has just four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports. That’s it – that’s all you get! And one of those immediately gets given over to charging, which you’ll need to do…a lot (more of which later). The Apple Silicon MacBook gives you, pretty much, all the ports you’d need day-to-day. You have three Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports (with speeds of up to 40Gb/s), an SD card slot and an HDMI slot too. Charging, (when you need to), is via MagSafe. I have hardly ever used it, though. Not just because of a great battery life, but also as it spends most of its life connected to my Studio Display. The Studio Display takes care of keeping your laptop charged via itsThunderbolt 4 port. The only meaningful port missing here is an ethernet port. You’ll still need a dongle for that.

Keyboard

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A win for the later MacBook on this one. The most significant change, clearly, being the return of the function keys. I have to put it on record, I was quite the fan of the much maligned Touch Bar. I got used to it, and used its functions, and suggested functions daily. It knew what task I was performing, and changed what shortcuts it offered me. Now, I am not losing sleep over its demise, but I just had to defend it! On the 16-inch MacBook, you get a backlit Magic keyboard. It’s way more balanced, and again, feels more ready to work hard. That is the overriding feeling on the newest Mac here – it’s a machine wanting you to work it hard. The trackpads are brilliant and tactile on both. They remain class leaders in that regard. Both are equipped with Touch ID (although the latest one is more pleasing & reassuring to the touch.

Camera & display

The camera has been boasted from 720p on the 15-inch, to 1080p on the Apple Silicon machine. It needed that bump, and is more than useable on Zoom or FaceTime calls. Neither offer Centre Stage, though.

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I have eulogised many times over the display on the 16-inch Mac. Even in last week’s teardown between the Studio Display and the 5K LG Ultrafine, the MacBook was the clear winner that day. Although both are Retina Displays with P3 colour etc, the one on the newest Mac is XDR. The larger screen offers a better resolution as well – 3456×2234 rather than 2880×1800 at their respective, native ratios.

The only display I have seen better than this, was when I looked at the Pro Display XDR in-store. Once you have used the display on this new MacBook, there really is no turning back. One other remarkable feature on my new MBP is the virtually, always on display. The very moment you tip open the lid, the display shines brightly, wanting you to work. Productivity is certainly this Mac’s by-word.

Battery & performance

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When I started to work on my new Mac, I honestly wondered if the battery life could be all I had heard of. Well, guess what…it is! Coming from an Intel machine, which has been well looked after, and is under three years old, it’s shocking how far the battery life has come. Thanks, of course, to the new chip inside, this MacBook runs and runs. I’m not just talking office tasks here, either. I mean full on heavy-lifting, productive, creative apps, like Audition or Premiere Pro.

I had been used to a life of under two hours on Intel when performing such tasks. Now, though, I can probably work all morning editing, without thought of plugging the MacBook in to the wall. It’s truly that good. Add to that, there is no slowdown in performance when running purely on battery and the lack of hardly any fan noise. Apple Silicon has changed the power of laptop computing. Sadly, with the Intel Mac, the wall socket is never far from your mind, and I often suffered battery anxiety with that Mac!

The most I ask of my Mac’s is in exporting video for my YouTube channel. On either my 27-inch iMac or the 15-inch MacBook, a 10 minute, 4K video would take around 35 minutes to render and export. Now, that time is slashed to somewhere around 10 minutes. That is a huge saving in time on every project.

Audio

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Both perform more than adequately for general, daily consumption. The newer model has a six-speaker configuration, with support for both Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos. The headphone jack now allows for support of high impedance headphones too. But both machines will deliver comfortable, balanced and pleasingly EQ’d audio. You’d not be rushing to add speakers to these MacBooks any time soon. Good mids and not overly bass-heavy. Apple have got their sound sorted. The mics are decent enough to use, in a reasonable environment, for your video calls. Just don’t try recording your podcast with them!

Conclusion

These new MacBooks are spectacular. But – I count myself lucky, very lucky. They are a massive investment. I paid £3500 for mine, and I was lucky to get it all. Apple kept pushing back their expected delivery dates. I’d still be waiting if I had not found one, with the spec I required, at Jigsaw24. Yes, I am delighted, and it is achieving everything I ask of it and then some. I feel it has so much un-tapped energy reserved – headroom as it were. But I am probably not the average user. I push it every day, heavily in Photoshop, Audition and Premiere Pro.

The older Intel MacBook cost around £2500 in 2019. Looking on eBay just now, I found my machine for anywhere from £1050 – £1400. At that price, the Intel Mac is astounding value for money. I have used that Mac to broadcast with, and edit both podcasts and video. It is capable of pretty intense, creative tasks. Yes, you’ll sacrifice some speed, and it won’t be as quiet. But you’ll be saving about £2500, and for that money, you could get a Studio Display along with it…and still be £1000 to the good.

Think carefully about your needs, and don’t be fooled by the Emperor’s clothes. The newer Apple Silicon MacBooks will blow your mind with what they are capable of, make no mistake. Nonetheless, I can tell you at just over £1000 the 2019 model is not to be sniffed at. Good audio, decent keyboard, useable camera and enough ports to get by, give it a thought.

These Macs are just tools for us to achieve. Be sure you are buying what is right for you, and not just lining the pockets of Apple still further.

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