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The 16-inch MacBook Pro – is it the right one for you?

Being creative on the fly is so easy now, with the power of Apple silicon…but, it comes at a price…

M1 Max MacBook Pro - is it for you?
image courtesy of author

A Mac for all

The current MacBook Pros are some of the best Macs ever produced.

It’s been widely accepted that the moment Apple silicon was popped in a Mac, it was a perfect marriage. Whether it’s the ultraportable MacBook Air with its unprecedented battery longevity, or the beastly MacBook Pro’s, Apple silicon, has finally given us the Macs we always yearned for.

But, all this power, grunt and goodness, certainly of the MacBook Pro’s comes at a pretty hefty cost. Which leads me to question, who are they for?

A peek to the future

We started getting the M series of chips, Apple’s first ARM-based chips, in November 2020. The first Macs to receive Apple silicon were the Mac mini, MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

From the moment these Macs started to land out in the wild, away from the refined conditions of Apple’s events, it was apparent that Apple had been busy creating something very special, and unique. We were witnessing the dawn of a new era for laptop, and desktop computing.

Not wanting to rest on their laurels for too long, the following May saw the release of the all new, colourful iMacs. Quiet, quick and powerful, these Apple silicon Macs were all receiving glowing revues.

But, as we were soon to find out – that was merely to be the entrée to a resplendent main course.

Putting meat on the bones

So, enough of the teasers, we were about to find out what Apple silicon was truly capable of. As 2021 rounded out, Apple showed us the next level of Apple silicon – Apple silicon on juice, the fully pimped out, and pumped up Apple silicon. I am talking, of course, about the Pro and Max variants of Apple silicon. And, the first Macs to get the benefit of these chips were the MacBook Pros.

Suddenly, the range of Apple silicon Mac’s on offer, was comprehensive covering all the way from a £700 Mac mini, a £1000 M1 MacBook Air, through to the 13-inch, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, which start at £1349.

Surely, everybody would want to plump for a MacBook Pro, right? It has the most competent, fastest, processor of any Mac, so why wouldn’t you choose one…and you get that all important Pro name badge too.

I use one every day, but does that mean they are for everyone?

How you work matters

I bought my M1 Max MacBook Pro earlier this year, and even that proved to be a story.

Having spent months deciding upon which Mac would suit me best, for the first time in my life, I went with a laptop as my daily workhorse. My progression through Macs had seen me working on a 2010 21-inch iMac, and then, the ‘love’ of my life…a 27-inch 5K i5 iMac. That iMac was the first time I had not bought off-the-shelf. I spec’d that Mac up to serve my needs, and it served me well. You know the way you love your first car, well, that is the way I feel about that iMac. But, emotion to one side, I knew I needed to swap it out.

I was spending too long waiting for files to render or export, and I had been watching all these reviews about Apple silicon and the higher-end M1 chips.

If you are considering making a move to Apple silicon, firstly, let me re-assure you, that absolutely everything you’ve read, or heard, is true. But, you should make your choices carefully. You are about to spend a lot of money!

Just before I placed my order, the waters were muddied for me, with the release of the M1 Max, Pro and Ultra Mac Studio’s. No one had seen this coming, and right at the last hurdle, suddenly I had to re-consider desktop, or laptop.

The way I now work, has changed. In the past, I was only ever based in one place. The iMac set-up suited me perfectly then, but now I split where I work and create, I knew I needed more flexibility. So, as tempting as the Mac Studio was, finally I made my move and went with the MacBook Pro. I ordered it with the new Mac Studio Display. That meant, I’d still be working on a large, 5K, retina display, but now, I could choose to work anywhere, using the even better, but smaller, 16-inch display on the MacBook Pro itself.

I mentioned that ordering of the MacBook, (and display, actually), was a bit of a yarn. The supply issues that Apple were facing, post COVID, were a real thing. Good as their products were, they simply could not get them into the hands of customers. Looking online, as I write today, it appears that the supply issue has improved, a little, at least, since then.

It’s a chunky lad

So, yes, technically, you can be mobile with the M1 Max MacBook Pro, but there are numerous considerations to make, before taking it on the road.

The first of those is weight. These laptops are, all but, 5lbs in weight, and trust me, throwing one in to a backpack, you’ll know about it before long. It must be one of the heaviest laptops out there. And this is where you need to take a close, honest, look at how you generally work. I view my MacBook Pro as a desktop, that can be moved. Laptops, to my mind at least, are, are easily portable. That is not a box that this macBook ticks. But, it does double up neatly.

Most nights, I will leave the MacBook behind in the studio space, and head home. Typically, there is nothing that I’ll need it for in the few hours at home, so it is left in place. The less moving about the MacBook has to make, is better for both it, and me!

And, if suddenly, or out of the blue, I have to jump onto something, I have the old iMac at home and also an M2 MacBook Air with me.

It is not only the weight that makes the desire to make this MacBook a proper, portable machine…it is the cost too.

Is it for you?

The cost, is a point that leads me to the thought about, is the MacBook Pro for you?

At £1349 for the basic 13-inch config, it is already a high entry point. The 14-inch starts at £1899 and the 16-inch at £2399. Buying into the ‘Pro’ level of MacBooks comes at a cost. Which beggars the question, would you want to throw a heavy, £2000 machine in your backpack willy-nilly? You kind of feel as you’re moving the crown jewels around with you – as if you have a precious gem with you, which you oddly do! So, weight, and cost both detract from this being a laptop, in the truest sense of the term, but its strength starts to shine through when you get in-front of it and begin to work.

The screen & keyboard

I adore my Studio Display. I think it’s a lovely panel, in both design and function. But, the panel on the MacBook Pro is even better.

For starters, just like the £6000 Pro Display, it’s a Liquid XDR display. The first thing that strikes you is the brightness. At its peak brightness it is 1600 nits, but even it’s sustained brightness of 1000 nits is plenty bright!

It is a ProMotion display too. There are no jitters, or noticeable lags, no matter how quickly you move your mouse between apps, or scroll webpages. Apart from the physical limitations of the screen, it obviously only being 16-inches, it is such a creative pleasure to work on. My work tends to necessitate a decent amount of screen real-estate, but if yours doesn’t, then you are in luck.

The vast array, and depth of colours on this screen, has to be seen to be believed. Even after six months, I still feel lucky to be working on one. It, somehow, manages to make the most mundane tasks, or dull days, that bit more special.

This MacBook, also heralded the start of Apple returning to listening to what their customers wanted. And that became apparent, with the backlit keyboard. With the much maligned touchbar gone, Apple went back to their roots on this MacBook, and a row of the favoured full-height function keys now sits at the top of the keyboard for you. Old habits die hard, huh!

Loving the design

This squared off look to the MacBooks, is very much my kind of look. It scales down perfectly to the MacBook Air, and, is apparently, even being considered to continue through to the iPhone 15.

The trackpad is positioned in such a way as to make typing for long periods comfortable. Even with the depth of the base of the MacBook, which sits 15mm proud of your desk, you don’t find the body of it cutting in to your wrists.

Given the weight of the laptop, anything less robust looking for the bodywork, would have looked awkward and out-of-place. It’s meant to be a workhorse, and it’s styling reflects that. The bodywork is holding up well too, with no obvious signs of wearing, or scratches.

It is also odd, but just like the back of the Studio Display, or iMac, one of the coolest design keys, is often lost on a daily basis. The de-bossed logo underneath the MacBook, is such a lovely touch, and it’s a real shame, it literally, doesn’t see the light of day.

The listening paid off

Apple never says “sorry”, or admit they got anything wrong, but in this MacBook, it is about as close to an apology, as we are ever likely to get. Not only did we see the return of the function keys, but also an SD card reader and an HDMI port too. The silly, slim days of Jony Ive, are long gone. The MacBooks are back to being creative powerhouses, just like they should always have been. Form and function meeting effortlessly. Another welcome return, was that of the MagSafe charging port as well.

Icing the cake

The 1080p camera is adequate, which you can now augment, with Ventura’s Continuity Camera trick. The speakers are stunningly good, and the mics more than good enough for the majority of your online calls and video conferences. There is even a touch of noise reduction added to them.

Options

Spending so much money, it will behoove you to spec this MacBook with love! To cut corners on an already expensive Mac, would only serve to bite you hard in the backside. It is more than likely that you’ll hold on to this MacBook for a good few years, so it would be wise to tick a few boxes before you checkout.

The two considerations you should think over closely are the memory, and storage. From the get-go, I knew this machine was a long-term purchase. So, I chose the M1 Max chip, even though my current workflow, could probably have easily been managed by the M1 Pro chipset. In six months of heavy Photoshop, Audition, and Premiere work, memory has never been an issue. Whatever clever, virtual memory swapping that has gone on in the background, has not once slowed me down, or become apparent. That, and the fact that I have even carried out basic editing work on my M2 MacBook Air, which only has 8GB of memory, would lead me to believe that the 16GB version of the MacBook Pro would suit most needs. I went with 32GB on my MacBook, though, as it just seemed a sensible bit of future-proofing.

Storage is one of those areas that always causes debate. Yes, there are some very cheap, external options you can choose from, but I wanted to work as compactly as possible. Also, no matter how good the purported port/cable transfer speeds are, in my mind, nothing will ever match or beat, quick, onboard SSD storage. It’s astonishing how things change, though. That old iMac of mine, even after seven years, still has over half of its available 1TB of storage free. But as my work had now transitioned to daily video editing, I decided more was always going to be better. I went with 4TB, and I have to say, it was one of the best choices I’ve made. No storage anxiety, no matter how big the project is that I happen to be working on.

Is the MacBook for you?

Possibly not. As we await the release of the Mac Pro, these MacBooks, are equally not for everyone.

To get that Pro moniker, you pay handsomely. My advice would be realistic about your needs, and don’t get sucked into the Pro lane mistakenly. If your current workflow is already pushing the limits of your rig, then yes, the MacBook Pro may be the right choice for you.

But, these Apple silicon Macs are that good across the entire range, that you may well find a less expensive option may work just as well for you. Not only that, but it will leave you some spare cash to spec up, say, an M2 MacBook Air.

As I said, my entry-level Air has been a blast to use. Even if you select 24GB of memory, and 2TB of storage, it will still only set you back £2549…and it delivers in a fortnights time as well. Add to that, it will also be very, very portable!

You really can’t go wrong with Apple silicon, desktop, or laptop, but now, possibly more than ever before, you have the choice of a Mac that will suit your needs. Choose carefully, future-proof, and then enjoy for years to come.

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