MacBook Pro 16-inch review: Apple laptop is back at its very best
With the new MacBook Pro 16-inch, Apple has returned what users loved about previous models
The MacBook Pro is back and it seems Apple has finally listened to its millions of loyal users with some big new upgrades and old favourites returning to this premium laptop. Apple is launching two models later this week with users now able to choose between a 14-inch model (which replaces the older 13.3-inch device) and a fully rebooted 16-inch PC for those that want the ultimate supersized display.
Both laptops get new and more powerful M1 processors, an improved keyboard, upgraded webcam and the return of MagSafe charging. There should also be less need for a bag full of dongles with these new machines bringing back popular ports such as an SD Card slot and HDMI connection.
So, is the MacBook now back to its very best and are these the ultimate laptops for professionals? Express.co.uk has had the 16-inch model on our lap for the past week and here’s what we think.
MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) review: Design and display
Apple appears to have gone to basics when designing its new MacBook Pro and it actually looks a little reminiscent of the models released all the way back in 2012.
Over the past six years, a lot of attention has been paid to making the Pro thinner and more visually appealing but in 2021 Apple simply wants this premium laptop to do the job many professionals want and need it to do.
That means the 16-inch model is now thicker and heavier than its predecessor. There’s no getting around the fact that this new design doesn’t look as good as before but we’re almost certain MacBook users will be happy with the trade-off when they begin using this machine.
Lift up the screen and chunkier design is instantly forgotten with users being treated to a gorgeous screen that now pushes closer to the edge of the aluminium chassis. This new 16.2-inch panel is a thing of absolute beauty with it producing rich colours, bright whites and deep blacks.
The new MacBook Pro is bigger and heavier than before
Apple has also brought its ProMotion technology to the MacBook for the first time which offers a silky smooth experience when whizzing through websites and checking your emails. It’s also capable of producing up to 1600 nits of peak brightness which means you shouldn’t have any worries using the Pro in the great outdoors.
There is now an iPhone-style notch in the middle of the screen but you don’t really notice it as it hides neatly in the menu bar at the top of the display.
Yes, the new Pro has put on a bit of weight and has lost of its supermodel looks but we think the payoff is worth it.
That bulkier appearance means users get a bigger battery, massively improved performance and a bunch of ports, including HDMI and an SD Card slot. There’s simply no question that professional users would rather have all that tech rather than a slimline machine that can’t cope with what’s being thrown at it.
If we had one niggle it would be that Apple still refuses to bring touch screen technology to its MacBooks. It’s no deal-breaker but it is one area where Windows-powered laptops do have an advantage.
Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch review
MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) review: M1 Max processor and battery life
The new MacBook Pro has two options when it comes to the processor under the bonnet with both now taking Apple’s M1 chip technology, which launched last year, to a whole new level. Firstly there’s the M1 Pro which is highly capable and offers graphics performance that’s around twice as fast as the standard M1 processor.
For those wanting the ultimate power, there’s the M1 Max which features a 32-core GPU and is around four times quicker than Apple’s entry-level M1-powered laptops. The M1 Max can also be boosted to 64GB of physical memory that delivers up to 400GB/s of memory bandwidth – that twice as fast as M1 Pro and 6x faster than M1.
For our review we took delivery of the 16-Inch Pro with that ultimate Max chip tucked under the hood and it can only be described as an absolute powerhouse. Apple had already impressed when it launched its original M1-powered MacBooks last year but they look sluggish when compared to the Max.
These new brains can be pushed to new limits with 8K video editing, audio mixing and photo retouching all performed without the hint of a stutter. As well as being supremely powerful, the M1 Max and Pro chips are also much more efficient meaning the battery doesn’t take such a hammering.
The new M1 processors are mighty
Battery life has been a real issue in the past for the Intel-powered MacBooks with these older machines often running low after just a few hours of usage. Those previous machines also have a terrible habit of getting incredibly hot but there’s no sign of these issues on the new Pro. We’ve been powering through memory-intensive tasks with the 16-inch laptop lasting around 10 hours on average.
If you lower the brightness and simply perform a bit of web browsing you’ll get well over 17 hours which is seriously impressive and means you’ll no longer need to keep finding places to charge when out on the road. During the endless hours we’ve had the new Pro on our lap it’s managed to keep its cool with Apple’s new fans and better efficiency clearly working.
When the power pack does finally run flat there’s more good news as MagSafe is finally back on the Mac. Yes, years after it was removed, Apple has finally admitted that this is a much better way to refill the battery and we’re so pleased it’s making a return.
Just like the original, it snaps in place with a satisfying click and you then get a charging light that glows to show you that things are being refilled. Apple has also boosted the charging times via this connection with the MacBook Pro going from flat to full in around an hour.
One final beauty of MagSafe is that the charger pings straight out of the Mac if someone wanders past and trips on the cable. That means the laptop stays firmly rooted to your lap and you’re not left with a £3,000 PC flying across the room. If you happened to walk out without the MagSafe charger in your bag then don’t panic as the USB-C ports on either side can still be used to boost the battery – that’s a really nice touch.
The new keyboard has ditched the Touch Bar in favour of physical keys
MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) review: Keyboard and Trackpad
Apple has refreshed the keyboard on the new MacBook Pro and the biggest change is the removal of the Touch Bar. We’ve actually always liked this mini screen that changed depending on the applications that were being used on the main display but it certainly divided opinion. Apple clearly feels it’s time to go back to basics with the new keyboard returning to physical function keys which makes it much easier to ramp up the brightness, control volume and search your hard drive.
There’s also a much bigger escape button in the top left-hand corner.
Although we kind of miss the Touch Bar, there’s no denying that this keyboard is better for most to users and should help professionals get things done faster with simple access to those all-important quick function keys.
Apple has also tweaked the Touch ID fingerprint scanner which now features a metallic ring to aid touch recognition.
Another visual change is that there’s now a black panel that the keys sit on which looks great and makes it better to focus on the keys as you bash out emails or endless Word documents.
Just like all of Apple’s previous MacBooks, you’ll find the simply brilliant Force Touch trackpad which is still the best in the business and makes most Windows laptops look massively inferior.
The ports are back
There’s Magsafe, USB and HDMI ports on the new MacBook
MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) review: Return of the ports
If you hate carrying around a bag full of dongles then you’ll be pleased to know that Apple has finally brought back some useful ports on its new MacBook Pro 16-inch. Yes, years after ditching these useful sockets and moving everything over to USB-C there’s now the return of an SD Card reader and HDMI port. The 16-inch Pro we tested also gets three USB-C ports and a headphone jack that automatically modulates voltage levels to drive high-impedance cans.
The only thing that missing is a standard USB-A port but you can’t have everything I guess.
Bringing back these ports is sure to please many pros who have long complained about the inconvenience of travelling with endless dongles.
There’s a new 1080p webcam tucked inside this new laptop
MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) review: Extras
Along with all those headline features, there’s plenty more tucked inside the new MacBook including some mind-blowing speakers which have to be heard to be believed. The rich sound they produce is magical and anyone travelling with the new Pro can forget about needing to take a Bluetooth speaker with them as this laptop can easily fill a small room with sound.
If you need to record your voice or any other audio there are also some impressive studio mics that do a good job of filtering out background noise.
Anyone spending endless hours on Zoom calls will also be pleased to hear that Apple has boosted the webcam with it now including a 1080p FaceTime HD camera.
It’s a big upgrade over its predecessor with your face appearing brighter and much clearer when making calls.
It’s worth noting that Apple hasn’t included the clever new centre stage technology found in its iPads which is a real shame. This feature allows the lens to track you so you always stay in focus when making calls.
And, despite the notch looking very similar to the iPhone, there’s no Face ID tech tucked inside so don’t expect the screen to magically unlock when it spots your face.
The new speaker system tucked under the shell is hugely impressive
MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) review: UK Price
MacBook Pros have never been cheap and don’t expect a bargain when heading out to buy one of these new machines. The 16-inch Pro starts from £2,399 – that’s for the version with the M1 Pro chip tucked inside and 512 GB of storage.
Switch up to the M1 Max processor and you’ll be paying at least £3,299 to own one.
Things get more expensive when you start adding extra RAM and storage with the best 8TB model with 64GB of unified memory costing over £5,899. Ouch!
Of course, MacBooks are renowned for lasting years on the road so it’s a solid, if not expensive, investment.
MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) review: Final Verdict
Apple has clearly thought long and hard about the laptops it has rolled out over the past few years and made a decision to go back to basics.
What they have now produced is a laptop that professionals will truly love with it packing more power, longer battery life, a stunning screen with ProMotion tech and the return of all those hugely useful ports. MagSafe is also back and we’re guessing most will prefer the physical function keys, rather than the intelligent Touch Bar.
The impressive speakers, pin-sharp 1080p webcam and fast charging all add to the appeal.
Yes, it’s bigger and heavier than before, there’s no Face ID technology and Apple still refuses to include a touch screen. Other than those very minor niggles this is one mighty machine that pros are simply going to love. Yes, the MacBook Pro is well and truly back to its very best!