October 13, 2021

Review: Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M1 Max, late 2021) 

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The new Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro is pricey, but the top-end M1 Max chip shows that Apple Silicon can genuinely move with the most powerful mobile workstations available from competing PC makers.

Apple’s choice to ditch Intel processors and leave the Mac platform to its home-grown Apple Silicon was welcomed with many Mac users’ concerns. However, it is a concern that was alleviated by the first generation of Macs utilizing Apple’s M1 chip, which connected strong performance and practical battery life.  

Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro

It’s a trial that Apple seems to have enjoyed, as the new 16-inch MacBook Pro presents an impressive — if costly — upgrade for current owners. 

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Display, Design & Features 

It has a slight increase in screen size for the Liquid Retina Display, which means that, to be precise, this is the 16.2-inch MacBook Pro. However, it does mean that the new MacBook Pro is insignificantly larger and heavier, covering 16.8mm thick, 355mm wide and 248mm deep and weighing either 2.1kg with the M1 Pro chip or 2.2kg M1 Max version. That correlates with 16.2mm thick, 350mm wide and 246mm deep, and a weight of 2.0 kilograms of the Intel-based 2019 model.

At first glance, the latest MacBook Pro doesn’t seem dramatically altered from its Intel-based predecessor, which was last renewed in late 2019. However, closer examination exhibits significant differences, commencing with Apple’s decision to reject the unloved Touch Bar. Instead, it has been superseded by a more traditional row of physical function keys, including a much bigger Escape key, which is a welcome detail. The whole keyboard has also been updated, with “mechanical keys that pro users love” and which do, thankfully, travel thoroughly and hold firm when typing.  

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Even so, that’s still a healthy weight for such a big laptop, and many expert users will embrace the new Liquid Retina XDR Display and its increment in resolution from 3072 by 1920 to 3456 by 2234. The display also holds XDR with 1000 nits maintained brightness, a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, and Apple’s ProMotion feature, allowing the refresh rate to dynamically alter between 47.95Hz and 120Hz depending on the displayed content. 

The Liquid Retina Display supports various colour standards, incorporating the sRGB for web graphics and layout and DCI-P3 for video editing. In addition, a convenient pull-down menu in the Display Preferences panel allows you to select the required colour standard for different tasks quickly. As a result, the display is impressively bright, sharp and colourful when viewed with the naked eye. Still, the technical quality of the display will have many professional and creative users anxiously eyeing the new MacBook Pro as their ultimate mobile workstation. 

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MagSafe 3 Power Connector 

Apple is addressing the requirements of pro users in other areas too. For example, returning to classical Function keys, the 2021 MacBook Pro detects the return of Apple’s MagSafe power connector. Its easily detachable magnetic connector is designed to eliminate trip-over accidents with the power cable.  

Apple also claims that the MacBook Pro presents “the most advanced connectivity ever.” Given Apple’s traditional dependence on USB-C as the only interface alternative on the MacBook range. R

The new model is awash in ports and connectors, including HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack, three USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports, and a slot for SDXC cards. In addition, the FaceTime camera, which now exists in a notch within the 16.2-inch screen, takes a long-overdue upgrade to 1080p, but there’s no physical privacy cover.

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It’s about time, but at least Apple concedes that it requires to focus a little more on purpose, rather than design, for a change. It even gives a relatively simple option for battery replacement, as exhibited by the recent tear-down conducted by the brave souls at iFixit. 

Pricing 

Apple stocks three standard configurations in its online store, with the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro starting at $2,499 with an M1 Pro chip that provides 10 CPU cores and 16 GPU cores, accompanied with 16GB of ‘unified’ memory that’s mounted into the SoC, and 512GB of solid-state storage.  

The next step up doubles the storage to 1TB for an additional $200/£200. Finally, the M1 Max has the equivalent of 10 CPU cores but doubles the GPU to 32 cores and incorporates 32GB of on-chip RAM and a 1TB SSD for a cumulative price of $3,499.

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Additional upgrade possibilities allow you to expand the memory to 64GB for a substantial amount. 

Performance & Battery Life 

The centralized design of Apple’s M1 chip — having CPU and GPU cores joined in a single SoC — asked questions about its ability to compete with Intel-based PCs that can offer a discrete GPU to enhance the graphics performance. The first wave of M1 Macs didn’t answer that question, but it looks like the M1 Pro and M1 Max can provide a pretty emphatic answer. 

There’s battery life to consider, which is increasingly starting to resemble Apple’s ace-in-the-hole for laptops and mobile designs. For example, using the MacBook’s automatic power balancing features and the screen brightness set to 50 percent, we could stream full-screen video from the BBC iPlayer for 11 hours and 42 minutes. That’s unheard-of from a laptop with such a big, high-resolution display, with rivals. Of course, battery performance will vary when running more demanding graphics and video software. Still, the new MacBook Pro does look as though it can offer workstation levels of performance combined with all-day battery life. 

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Conclusion

The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is pricey, but the top-end M1 Max chip confirms that Apple Silicon can genuinely go toe-to-toe with the most compelling mobile workstations available from competing PC manufacturers. Of course, it also brings those unique little Apple touches to the table, like the exceptional Liquid Retina XDR Display for high-end graphics and video work and the laptop’s svelte, slimline design. Finally, there’s the impressive battery endurance, which drives down the gauntlet for Apple’s Windows competitors implying that Apple is finally converging on the essentials of its professional users once more.

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