Review: Apple 2021 MacBook Pro 16″ – Part 2

If you saw the first part of my review of my new 2021 16″ MacBook Pro, I found it to be very powerful with a retro vibe to it. But how does it perform in the real world? Let’s start with battery life. This is a very individual thing based on how you use a notebook. In my case, I devised a test that fits my work pattern.

  • Disable the ability for the screen to go to sleep.
  • Connect to a VPN to maintain a constant network connection.
  • Unplug the MacBook Pro and use it as I normally would when I work from home.

This started at 8:02 AM. Except for lunch and some breaks, I was constantly using it. I watched a few videos on YouTube for mental breaks, I used the VPN to work on a client’s network. I also did my video export test. More on that later. And I did the usual surfing and answering email. At least until I got a low battery prompt at 8:17 PM.

That’s 12 hours and 15 minutes. And I likely could have got another 45 minutes to hour out of it. While this is not the 21 hours that Apple came up with in a high unrealistic and contrived video playback test, it is close to the 14 hours of web browsing that Apple promises in that highly unrealistic and contrived test. Regardless, this 100 watt-hour gives this MacBook Pro legitimate all day battery life. Or put another way, It’s a flight from Toronto to Hawaii with at least 2 hours of power left over. That was pretty impressive. So was charging. Apple claims that you can get a charge of 50% in 30 minutes. And I watched it charge that fast. That was pretty impressive as well.

Now over to that video export test. Using iMovie, I strung together two 4K 60 FPS HDR clips lasting 30 seconds with a 1080P 60 FPS clip and exported it to both Pro Res and MP4 format. Both in best quality. Here were the results:

MP4: 1:04

Pro Res: 15.97 seconds

Pro Res exports way quicker because Apple put dedicated Pro Res encoders and decoders on the M1 Pro. And if you get the M1 Max, you get two of these. Which means that if you’re a video editor and your workflow includes Pro Res, you simply should buy these machines without question. Another note, if I did this on my 2015 MacBook Pro with an Intel processor, it would have taken up to 10 minutes, and the fans would have spun up to jet engine loudness and the notebook would have gotten hot to the touch. On this M1 Pro MacBook Pro, the fans never spun up and the notebook remained cool. Actually, now that I think about it, I have never heard the fans spin up the entire time I have had this MacBook Pro.

Now over to the screen. It’s what Apple calls a Liquid Retina XDR display. The best way to describe it is that it is a scaled down version of the Pro Display XDR. It is an excellent screen and you will have a hard time running this MacBook Pro with any external monitor if you have it in clamshell mode as no monitor will measure up to this display. It also comes with ProMotion which ramps the display rate from 120 Hz down to 24 Hz depending on what you are doing. This balances having a great looking and fluid display with battery life. And it works. Switching between full screen apps to a normal desktop was insanely smooth. Scrolling web pages is smooth.

That leads me to the notch. Now when you see the notch, you’re seeing it in a 16:10 display. But if you watch video in full screen (which if it’s a HDR video will be a treat), or use a full screen app, you get a 16:9 screen with a black bar at the top. But honestly, it’s mostly a non factor as you will get used to it very quickly. I say mostly because if you have a lot of menu items or you use something like iStat Menus, there is the chance that some of the menu items will go behind the notch. Hopefully that behaviour gets fixed as I would expect things to go around the notch and not through the notch. Though if this really bugs you, there are apps that can address this. Having said that the trade off is that you get insanely thin bezels which I welcome as I get more screen real estate (16.2″ to be precise) as a result. That’s more than the previous 16″ MacBook Pro.

Inside that notch is a long overdue 1080P webcam. Thanks to the image signal processor and a new four-element lens, a and wider aperture you get much better video for your Zoom or Teams calls. Even in lower light conditions. And no, there is no Face ID. Apple claims that the fingerprint sensor is more convenient for users. But I would not at all be shocked that Face ID makes an appearance in the next year or two. Speaking of the keyboard, it’s fantastic. I love the feel and the amount of travel. And the removal of the Touch Bar, which Apple introduced and really didn’t give developers a reason to adopt, and almost no end user liked, in favour of function keys is welcome. I should note that the escape key is bigger as well. And the blacked out look is sweet.

MagSafe makes a welcome return to the MacBook Pro. It’s a connector that magnetically attaches to the laptop’s power adapter port, and it breaks away if you give it a good tug. It’s a great safety feature that I really missed, especially as someone who has tripped over the plugged-in cable more than a few times. Another nice touch is that the included USB-C to MagSafe cable is braided, so it’s a bit more durable than the regular vinyl it uses on its other cables. Though I will warn you that if you need to replace it or get a spare, it will be pricy. I should note the MacBook Pro can still charge via USB-C if that works better for you.

Next there’s the speakers. The new sound system with six speakers is currently the best system you can get in a mobile device, Period. You can enjoy a very rich and powerful sound, and only a real subwoofer would be an additional improvement. The MacBook also supports 3D audio if that’s your thing. As for that headphone jack, if you’re an audio professional you can leverage this for your high impedance headphones. And Apple nailed this as those headphones are loud. Oh yeah, Apple calls the microphones “studio quality”. I wouldn’t go that far, but they do work very well in a pinch if you don’t have a microphone or a pair of AirPods Pro handy for a Zoom call.

Finally, this MacBook Pro feels solid and while it is heavier than some of its competition, it’s not a deal breaker. It’s also a bit bulky, but that too isn’t a deal breaker.

So let’s get to the bottom line. Who is this MacBook Pro for? Well, should you be able to utilize the additional performance for video editing or anything that graphics heavy, this is the notebook to get. And if you need even more performance, there’s always the M1 Max processor. If however if you simply check your email and surf the Internet, this machine is total overkill for you. It is a really impressive laptop, despite some minor quirks and issues. And the fact that you can get it in a 14″ model as well as the 16″ model that I have really gives it a lot of flexibility. The 14″ model starts at $2499 CDN. the 16″ model starts at $3149. My 16″ MacBook Pro with 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and an M1 Pro processor comes in at $3899. And you should get AppleCare as repairs to this MacBook Pro will likely not be inexpensive. It’s not cheap, but if you can fully utilize what it is capable of, it’s worth it.

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