Anton D. Nagy contributed to this post.
The day was August 1st, 2011… Well, earlier actually. More like 2009. But that’s a story for another video. 2011 is actually my first full day on Pocketnow, and that 13-inch MacBook Pro behind me was what started it all.
Apple’s New MacBook video really sold me on it. You gotta understand that at the time, there were no laptops with multi-touch trackpads, aluminum unibody housings, back-lit keyboards, or LED backlights. This Mac was only one of few, and the only one I could afford.
At the time we were already doing video, and iMovie was fine at first. The problem is when we came up with the idea of the Pocketnow Daily and decided to do multi-layered content. My first ever 3-minute project took one and a half hours to render and export. Nope, I’m not exaggerating. After hours of editing was done, renders took hours on Final Cut 7.
But see, this has been the paradigm of computing for decades. If you want more power to export a video in minutes, portability doesn’t help. You either got a powerful desktop or spent thousands of dollars on a large and heavy laptop. The maxed-out 16-inch MacBook Pro I bought back in September was $4,700, and even with 64 gigs of RAM, a powerful GPU, and fan noise like a jet engine, you make peace with some compromise in performance and battery life.
For years, I’ve dreamed of an ultra-portable laptop like my first Mac, but that could handle all my tasks, last all day on a charge, and not cost an arm and a leg. I knew Apple Silicon was coming, but like every marketing pitch, it sounded too good to be true. Apple has never gotten first-generation products right. I still bought the cheapest models, just out of curiosity, cause I figured they were still not going to fulfill my dream, and well, I was kind of wrong.
This is the M1 13-inch MacBook Pro, what Apple calls the future of the Mac, which is actually the least pretentious thing they’ve ever said about a product. After two months of using it, I’m gonna actually go as far as to say it doesn’t do this computer enough justice.
I’m not gonna bore you with a review full of benchmarks and numbers, the Internet is full of that by people that are actually better at it than I am. I’d even say those numbers don’t really explain why this chip changes everything.
So, simple example. In the past, if you wanted to edit a video smoothly, the base 13-inch MacBook Pro didn’t cut it. I mean, it could, but trust me, I tried and fried a $3,000 maxed out Intel version 2 years ago. As it was, even if you had a quad-core CPU and 32 Gigs of RAM, integrated graphics was just not enough. You were forced to go 16-inches just for the extra discrete graphics.
What’s mind-boggling about the M1, is that even this MacBook Pro is overkill. I actually started the testing with the Air, and it turned out to be so good, that a week after testing the cheapest $999 base model, it has now replaced Diego’s old $3,000 15-inch MacBook Pro to edit the Pocketnow Daily. I ended up keeping the Pro because I do videos in 4K, expecting that I’d need the fan cooling for sustained loads, and two months later, I’ve only heard it spin once during a software update.
Like how can this be? How is it that Apple is willing to kill its own, more expensive computers with these little entry-level machines? The only logical explanation that I have is scale. The more similar the chip is to an iPhone, the more they can negotiate volume and reduce the cost per chip all around. I used to work in supply, so I understand this really well. The less the cost per component, the more the profit. Think about it: How many more MacBook Airs can Apple sell at less than a grand, versus trying to sell maxed-out 16-inch MacBook Pros? There’s just more profit in scale. And Apple has already tried this before with the iPad. How many times have you seen them trying to sell you that an iPad as a computer? So, if that didn’t work, why not turn things around and optimize the software in a way to make the computer run on iPad guts?
So, if you’ve joined me in dreaming about one affordable computer that can behave like an iPad in lasting all day on a charge, this is it. My battery anxiety issues were addressed. I’ve been able to edit entire videos on flights, render them in just minutes, and have enough power for the rest of the day. Sure my 16-inch MacBook Pro can export videos faster, but to give you some perspective, just around 2 minutes faster. Yes, 2. In the past, it would be a difference of about 20 and don’t even dream about the 16-inch letting you edit a video on a charge. It makes no common sense for anyone today to want to spend $3,500 more, just to win 2 minutes on an export on a dead battery.
All this being said, yes there is a catch. For you to achieve this ideal, you kinda have to be sold on Apple software. See macOS Big Sur is Apple’s full return to ARM ever since they abandoned PowerPC chips 15 years ago for Intel. You could say Cupertino never stopped living a double life since that foundation is how iPhones and iPads ran a variation of OS X in the early days. What’s genius is that Apple has made this transition almost seamless through Rosetta 2. Apps just run, and that includes non-apple apps, but to explain the difference, think of it this way: If your app is already optimized for Apple Silicon, you’ll get all the performance and battery life. If it’s not, it’ll most likely run just as well or take an extra second to launch, but then your battery will behave like you were using any other Mac, which is still fine. In two months I have never seen this computer hang, drop frames, or bore me with beach balls. And this is with only the base 8 gigs of RAM. For those interested in seeing performance with 16 Gigs, I’ll link to my buddy David Cogen for his deep dive.
The not so good
Now, you know me, I make reviews, not love letters, and this computer is far from perfect. I think the reason why Apple has not done this launch enough justice starts in the visuals. The price we had to pay for this first-generation product is that it’s kind of boring. This design is five years old, with just a few minor improvements that are not even new. If you place it next to any other MacBook Pro you won’t be able to tell a difference. Same machined aluminum unibody, with the large trackpad, the improved scissor switches with Touch ID, and the touch bar that just won’t die. Over time I’ve learned to stick to silver instead of space gray since it ages better, but it won’t be free from dents if you hit other metals.
Now, all that aside, my biggest problem with this M1 MacBook Pro, is that the one thing Pros need most is not addressed: and that’s Ports. Seriously, not sure what engineer thought that a Pro can survive with just two USB-C ports, out of which you’ll need one for charging every now and then. Sure, I appreciate the portability when I’m on the go, but when I’m at the studio or at home, I need my monitor and peripherals. Sadly, what most people don’t know is that dongles don’t really solve all the problems. You’ll find a ton with HDMI out for example, but most are capped at 4K at 30hz.
Still, for those asking why, even with its flaws, I always come back to using a Mac, it really has a lot to do with the quality of their panels for the price. This 13.3-inch Retina Display continues to be my favorite for color accuracy and its support for the P3 color gamut. Viewing angles are top-notch and it does get pretty bright in direct sunlight. Sadly yeah, it’s also kinda boring. I won’t blame you for thinking the bezels are a real waste of space with what Dell and Huawei have been doing for years. After using 15 and 16-inch models for years, I agree, this screen is just as crammed as the storage options you get. If you’re a creative, that’s the one upgrade I would recommend, as you can’t upgrade later.
Maybe the only portion of overhyped marketing is the whole idea of running iPad apps. You can, but the navigation is funky, and if there’s a more expensive Mac app, you better believe the iPad version won’t be in the store.
To conclude, what can I say? I mean, I’ve been living a dream for the past two months. You can call it marketing all you want, but I don’t think this is just the future of the Mac. Apple has almost re-invented laptops as we know it. This seriously has changed the rules of how we judge computers so much, that it would be incorrect to compare this to anything. Be an Apple hater all you want, but I challenge you to give me a more powerful and complete creative tool for just $1,299, or even $999 with the MacBook Air.
After 10 years of iPad, Apple finally achieved a paradigm shift, but on the Mac. This is not something that happened overnight, Apple Silicon began with the A4 on the first iPad in 2010. The result is that we finally have almost all the benefits of an iPad but on a real computer.
Really the only reason why this is not replacing my 16-inch MacBook Pro just yet is because certain of my graphics plugins are still not yet compatible with the M1, but that’s been changing quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to wait and see what Apple has next, but if you’re in the market for the best laptop I can recommend right now, this M1 MacBook Pro is a pretty complete package.