A laptop is one of the most important pieces of technology anyone can own (only second to a smartphone), because of how much we can do with it. It's our entertainment hub to binge Netflix shows, our workspace for getting important stuff done, and our central storage for documents and picture. And that just scratches the surface, because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of additional use cases: video and photo editing, running an online business, managing social media content, coding extensive programs, designing, gaming, etc. - the list goes on and on.
So it goes without question that you need a laptop that can do what you need it to do. Not only that, but the decision to choose one becomes harder because there have never been as many solid laptop choices in the market as there are today. I was in this situation myself a few months ago, and I landed on this: the M1 MacBook Pro.
Super quickly, if you're not familiar with the "M1" designation, this refers to the M1 chip that Apple is starting to roll out across their computer lineup to replace prior Intel chips. Basically, since the M1 chip is created by Apple themselves, they can create all sorts of efficiencies and performance improvements (similar to the iPhone and iPad) that they weren't able to before. Doesn't sound like the biggest deal, but as you'll read in the rest of the review, it translates to a pretty significant impact - maybe even revolutionary.
Design and Ports
Keyboard and Trackpad
Screen and Camera
1. Design and Ports
Let's be honest here - the design of Apple's newest MacBook Pro is exactly the same as prior generations. Same chassis, same materials, and same color options (silver or space gray, like the one pictured here). Luckily, it's still a very clean and modern design at a great portable size of 13". The laptop is also pretty light at 3 pounds, given it's all-metal and glass build. The only part of this design that's starting to look a bit dated is the amount of bezel around the screen - other laptop manufacturers have created some pretty incredible and modern-looking bezel-less screens. Other than that, it's a handsome-looking device as you'd expect from Apple.
In terms of the ports this laptop has, there unfortunately aren't that many. It only has two Thunderbolt/USB-C ports (either of which can be used for charging) on the left side, and one headphone jack on the right side. While this creates a really clean look, it sacrifices some utility, and you'll most likely have to pick up some kind of USB hub or dongle to connect other types of things. I wouldn't say this is a huge deal though, unless you're the type of person who always has over 4-5 things connected to your laptop at any given time.
Design and Ports: 8/10
Now this is where it starts to get really interesting. I don't want to bore you with technical details or speed tests or anything like that - all you care about is real-life performance and what this thing can do. The only technical details I'll tell you about are how I configured this laptop: it has 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage, while the M1 chip has an 8-core CPU (4 performance and 4 efficiency) and an 8-core GPU. If all of that means absolutely nothing to you, not to worry just keep reading on!
For reference, my main laptop prior to this was a Surface Laptop 2 (cost around $1,000), which I love and still use to this day as a Windows computer. As much as I love it, it isn't capable of much more than some web browsing and working on Excel files. If I tried to photo/video edit, it was almost impossible - plus the fans inside would kick on anytime it was put under any kind of workload. This MacBook Pro, however, can do 10x more for close to the same price, and that is not an exaggeration. I have tried to push it to its limits, and it is amazing how much stress you have to put on it before it even turns on the fans to cool down. Even when the fans do kick on, they're very quiet, almost silent, which is just ridiculous in a great way. Here's a list of everything I was able to do simultaneously without any slowdowns:
- 15 Chrome tabs open
- 10 Safari tabs open, including YouTube and Netflix
- DaVinci Resolve (4K video editing)
- Adobe Lightroom (RAW photo editing)
- 3 PowerPoint presentations
- 3 Excel sheets
- Microsoft OneNote
No issues with any of the above, whereas my Surface Laptop would freeze as soon as I tried any video editing at all. This isn't a knock on my Surface Laptop, it's rather a testament to how much Apple's laptops can now do with this M1 chip - and this is only the base lineup. I imagine it will also hold up well with designer applications and coding applications. Unless you're a pro who's needs demand an incredible, incredible amount of power, this laptop can do everything that 95% of people will ever need to do.
3. Battery Life
It only gets crazier and more ridiculous in this section. With all of that performance that I just talked about, you would think battery life would be negatively impacted in some form or fashion. But actually, battery life has been positively impacted. The previous Intel-version of this MacBook was measured around 10 hours of battery life, which honestly is pretty decent. This one however, has double the battery life at up to 20 hours! If you just think about that for a second, this means you can unplug your laptop in the morning and literally go about your entire day without ever needing to even think about a charger.
In my daily use of this laptop, I have found that for every 7-8 hours of screen-on time, I lose about 50% battery. So you could work an entire 9-5, with no breaks whatsoever, forget to charge overnight, and still have enough to juice to work another 9-5 with no breaks. Also, while the laptop is closed, it loses almost no battery. I have fallen asleep with 54% battery life and woken up to see that it still has 53% battery life left. The battery life itself is a game-changer, because this laptop is just so efficient at using its battery that I only charge it once every 3-4 days.
Battery Life: 10/10
4. Keyboard and Trackpad
This is an important section, because we use the keyboard and trackpad so much to interact with our laptops. I also love typing, so a good keyboard goes a long way to make that whole experience enjoyable. Let's start with the keyboard - it's fantastic. Apple had their fair share of keyboard fiascos in the past, but they finally landed on a great keyboard design here. Key travel is minimal, but still clicky enough to feel satisfying no matter which part of the key you hit. They keys are also backlit very nicely when you're typing in darker environments.
Up at the top, you have the Touch Bar, which is a strip of dynamic "keys" that change based on what application you're using at the time. The Touch Bar gets a lot of hate, because people prefer having physical keys for things such as volume, brightness, etc., and I have to agree. I also would prefer a physical key for adjusting my volume instead of tapping a screen, because I can't do that using muscle memory. The Touch Bar does do some cool things though - for example, when you're watching a YouTube video, it turns into a timeline that lets you scrub through the video with your finger. I think the hate is overhyped, but I can see where those people are coming from. One other note is that the speakers are on either side of the keyboard, and they sound super crisp - they get loud, but nothing too exceptional in terms of volume.
When it comes to the trackpad, it's best-in-class, easily. Apple makes the best trackpads - they're large, smooth, and incredibly precise. Nothing else comes close in my opinion. The craziest part to me is that the trackpad doesn't actually "click" when you press down on it, but rather it's sending back a haptic vibration that makes it feel like a click. It's the most mind-blowing thing, because you could swear that you felt the trackpad click down when you pressed on it. Very hard to explain in words - you just have to try it for yourself. Also, if you press down extra hard, it triggers a "force-click" which can trigger other cool actions, such as looking up a word on the screen.
Keyboard and Trackpad: 9/10
5. Screen and Camera
As I mentioned before, this is a 13" LED screen, coined as the "Retina display" by Apple. No complaints at all with the screen - it's very color-accurate and it can get really bright when needed. You can also connect this laptop up to one external display with up to 6K resolution. My only wish for the screen (which I also mentioned before) is that the bezels around it get smaller.
The FaceTime camera is really the only thing in this laptop that's truly disappointing. It's only 720p and while it still works fine in most lighting conditions, it's far far behind the competitors. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but something to be aware of for those Zoom calls.
Screen and Camera: 8/10
If you've made it all the way down here, thank you! Listen, if you are looking for a new laptop and like the Mac operating system, this has to be at the top of your list. You can even check out the M1 MacBook Air, which actually has similar performance to this one, but at about $300 cheaper. Regardless, the M1 MacBook lineup that Apple has put out is the best value for each dollar that you're going to get in terms of performance and battery life. Apple is usually the "luxury" item where you're really paying extra for what you're getting, but in this case it's actually a great value. The performance-to-battery life-to-price ratio is just that tremendous.
(Another real-life example of how absurd this battery life is: I started writing this at 10:45pm with 51% battery. It is now 12:03am and I still have 49% battery left)