Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1) Review: Exceeding every expectation

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The Apple MacBook series has always held pole position when it comes to high-end performance on a laptop. But with this generation, Apple has pushed the envelope further. Its new Mac lineup comes with in-house M1 SoCs, including our 13-inch MacBook Pro. The M1 processor features up to 16-cores, comprised of an 8-core CPU and either a 7-core GPU available only on the base 13-inch MacBook Air or the standard 8-core GPU. While this simplifies processing power considerably, how good does it make the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro?

Design and I/O

With much of the major improvements under the hood, the 13-inch MacBook Pro remains identical to its previous generation. The low-carbon aluminium chassis adds a touch of premium and durability to the machine. In terms of thickness, the 13-inch MacBook is 15.6mm and it weighs 1.4kg which is extremely manageable.

The M1 13-inch MacBook Pro retains a familiar design

Compared to many other laptops in the market, the 13-inch MacBook shares a simple look. You find a glossy Apple logo on its lid contrasting its otherwise matte finish. Its lid and overall weight distribution is bottom heavy which means the laptop stays grounded when you abruptly open the lid. We think the laptop just has a small caveat. While its sharp edges are visually nice, in practice, they have the tendency to hurt your wrists when typing.

We would have liked to see 4 Type-C USB ports instead of just 2

In terms of I/O, there is not much to talk about. The 13-inch MacBook comes with two Type-C USB ports on the left edge and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right. Most of your wired accessories will need to be connected via an external dongle, just like how it has been for a couple of years now. The Type-C ports support DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 for 40Gb/s and 10Gb/s speeds respectively. As far as wireless connectivity is concerned, you get Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, both of which work well with no signal loss whatsoever.

Display and multimedia

Quite obviously, the new MacBook Pro comes with a 13.3-inch IPS display. Apple calls it the Retina display, which has a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 making for a 227ppi. With True Tone, the display can adjust to surrounding light. There is nothing particularly poor about the display, with it also boasting a 500 nit brightness. However, we feel the bezels on the display are just a bit too thick.

Watching your favourite series on the machine is great

With the competition moving towards sleek displays with almost an edge-to-edge design, the 13-inch MacBook looks a bit dated from the inside. Thanks to its bezel though, you do find a 720p HD web-camera placed on the top. While its resolution stays identical to the previous generation, Apple claims it uses algorithms to improve quality. In practice, the improvement is minor if at all, and we would have liked to see Apple opt for a 1080p web-camera instead.

We are not a fan of the large bezels around the display nor about the 720p web camera

Completing the multimedia experience, you find the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s stereo speakers. They combine extremely well with the display, making for quite a pleasant movie watching experience. There is support for Dolby Atmos playback and quite honestly, audio sounds extremely rich and well balanced. Furthermore, it is plenty loud, enough to fill up a medium sized room with ease.

Keyboard and trackpad

Just like its display, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro retains the typing and usage experience from its older variant. It uses the Magic Keyboard layout with the refreshed scissor switch mechanism. Typing feels natural on it and the chiclet style keys are tactile enough for regular use. You also get decent arrow keys but something we found a bit restricting was the size of the left ‘Shift’ and ‘Enter’ key. For those accustomed to Apple keyboards, this is not a problem however for new adopters, there is a learning curve involved.

Adjusting to the keyboard takes a bit of time

With every flagship Apple MacBook Pro keyboard, you also get its Touch Bar. During our use, the Touch Bar saw fairly limited interaction. Aside from adjusting sound levels, keyboard brightness and display brightness, I did not find a more compelling use for it. You can use it for other things such as Siri or picking an emoji when typing and for frequent users, navigation between tabs or in pages is also possible through the Touch Bar. Thankfully, the Touch Bar remained functional throughout our usage with no responsiveness issues.

Unfortunately, the Touch Bar still remains a novelty more than anything else

On the top right of the keyboard, you also find a Touch ID sensor integrated into the laptop’s power button. It works just as well as it should, pairing quite nicely with the machine’s quick wake up time. With macOS Big Sur and Apple’s M1 SoC, the MacBook wakes up instantly as soon as you lift the lid. This is crazy fast and a feature that you only truly appreciate once you have experienced it.

The trackad on the 13-inch MacBook Pro is amazing

Summing up the interaction on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, you find its trackpad. It is larger than most laptops but is one of the best trackpad experiences out there. Clicks feel premium and uniform which is something I truly appreciate. And tracking is extremely accurate. Both of these features in combination makes me confident of using this trackpad even for more intense tasks such as video editing. Moreover, it supports a variety of gestures to make multitasking a breeze. Being a new MacBook user, getting used to these gestures takes time but it is worth learning a few to boost productivity.

Performance and user experience

As highlighted before, this 13-inch MacBook Pro is powered by Apple’s M1 processor. For someone who has rarely experienced Intel powered MacBooks, the performance on the M1 driven 13-inch MacBook Pro is nothing short of outstanding. We think this is because Apple has been able to optimise macOS Big Sur extremely deeply. The only area where you may face a lack of power is for GPU intensive processes, although performance is much closer than before the introduction of the M1 SoC.

The machine runs Intel based software via Rosetta

Before going into using the MacBook Pro on a regular basis, we were sceptical on how applications would behave. For instance, a lot of Apple applications would work fine on the M1 processor however for non-Apple applications, you either wait for an optimised version or use the non-optimised Intel version via Rosetta. When installing a non-native application, you are prompted to download and install Rosetta for the first time, and never again for any other application.

Even when pushing the laptop heavily, its use capped off at 12-13GB

It seems the conversion of the application happens in the background, with some respectable performance to back that up. Applications such as Audacity or Adobe’s Creative Cloud are yet to be released with full blown M1 optimisation but this does not stop you from using them via Rosetta. Sometimes, you may face performance issues such as a force close or a pause however it is not the end of the world.

For those who use Apple software, switching the an M1 based MacBook Pro makes the most sense

On the contrary, using Apple optimised applications such as Final Cut Pro, DaVinci Resolve (beta) and Handbrake (beta) paint a great picture of how well these could run on the M1 chip. In fact, between a non-optimised and optimised version of the same application, you could see a 40 per-cent boost in performance doing the same task, which is crazy. Might we add, it does not matter how much you push the machine, both temperatures and fan noise remain extremely minimal, another huge plus point for the laptop.

Editing on Final Cut Pro or using any other creative program is great on the device

As far as RAM is concerned, this should not be a major issue either. With a video render, multiple 4K videos running on Chrome via YouTube and some extra tabs, the 13-inch MacBook Pro used 12-13GB out of the available 16GB of RAM. However, thanks to how the M1 chip is optimised, a similar workload can also be handled on an 8GB machine without issues. With more applications being built for the M1 chip, optimisation will get better. And technically by then, 8GB of RAM should be plenty for your machine. But we recommend you opting for 16GB if you want to future-proof your machine for the next 4-5 years, keeping in mind that not every software company will be steadfast in releasing an M1 optimised version of its application.

Battery life

If good performance is not enough to sway you, the battery life on the 13-inch MacBook Pro is like magic. We started to hear about this as soon as consumers go their hands on the machine. But we wanted to thoroughly test its endurance with some real world tasks. Quite astonishingly, the 13-inch MacBook Pro got us close to two days of moderate to heavy use on a single charge.

We are thrilled with the battery life on the new M1 MacBook Pro

This included a video render on Final Cut Pro, 7+ hours of video editing on Premiere Pro and 3-4 hours of Netflix usage. The display during this testing was kept to about 40 per-cent, which is comfortable to use indoors. With battery backup like this, you can easily get real work done without having to worry about charging the laptop. And this, above all, is what we appreciate the most on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro. Recharging times can be a bit high, averaging about 2.5 hours but we are not complaining if it can deliver such strong battery performance.

Conclusion

With the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, Apple has left us nothing to complain about. It performs exceedingly well in everything you throw at it. Not just that, it may be one of the best if you consider the price to performance ratio it delivers. For anyone who already uses optimised Apple applications within the ecosystem, switching the M1 MacBook Pro is a no-brainer. For others too, it makes for an extremely tempting choice, just because of how seamless things work and the potential for improvement. But if you are someone who owns a high-end machine with a dedicated GPU, the M1 13-inch MacBook Pro will not be able to replace that.