With the new MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021), Apple is well and truly back when it comes to making the best laptops for creative professionals. While the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) was a step in the right direction, thanks to Apple’s own M1 chip that powered it, the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) is an even more confident showing from Apple, packing drastically improved hardware courtesy of the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which are follow-ups from the M1. And that goes for its larger brother, the MacBook Pro 16-inc (2021).
This has led to even more impressive performance from the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) when it comes to creative workloads, with the laptop easily handling even the most intensive tasks we threw at it with ease. While the M1-toting MacBook Pro 13-inch only offered a maximum 16GB of memory, the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) can be configured with up to 32GB with the M1 Pro chip, and up to 64GB with the M1 Max. This doesn’t just make multitasking even better, but as it’s unified memory it means it can be used with the M1 Pro and M1 Max’s graphics processing unit (GPU) to offer exceptional performance when working with complex graphics, including ultra high resolution textures, often beating what even powerful (and expensive) professional graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD can manage.
It’s not just the components that have been improved with this release. Apple has given the MacBook Pro 14-inch a huge redesign, which will please anyone who has felt the MacBook design getting a little outdated of late.
So, the screen is now bigger (14.2-inches compared to the 13.3-inches of the previous model), and it’s also got a higher resolution of 3,024 x 1,964, which makes the pixel density from 227 pixels per inch, a decent jump over the 13-inch’s 254PPI. The more pixels per inch a screen fits in, the sharper and more detailed the image is. We’ll go into more detail regarding the MacBook Pro 14-inch’s display in a little bit, but this really is one of the best screens you can currently get on a laptop.
The bezels around the screen have also been slimmed down, and this makes for a much more modern-looking laptop. Apple’s competitors like Dell and HP have been releasing some seriously stylish laptops of late with exceptionally thin bezels, so it’s good to see the Cupertino company fight back.
Another vital change in the design for creative professionals is in the amount of ports that the MacBook Pro 14-inch comes with. While previous MacBook Pros made do with either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, which meant if you needed to plug in other peripherals, or wanted to take photos from a memory card, you needed to plug in an adapter.
However, Apple has listened to the creative community and has drastically posted the port selection, offering three Thunderbolt 4 ports, one HDMI port, an SDXC card slot, and a MagSafe 3 port for charging. This is a game changer for anyone who was getting frustrated at having to use memory card adapters or dongles for plugging in monitors, as it’s made the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) a mobile creative workstation what you should be able to easily plug in your most-used peripherals when working on the move.
The MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021), along with the larger 16-inch model that was also launched, is easily the most exciting laptop Apple has ever created, especially for creative professionals who want desktop-class workstation performance in a portable laptop formfactor.
MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021): price
Let’s not beat around the bush: the new MacBook Pro 14-inch is an expensive laptop, but the build quality, features and performance it offers should mean that it’s a worthwhile investment for people looking for a powerful laptop. Unlike Windows laptops, ‘investment’ really is the word to use with MacBooks, as they can last for years and still offer excellent performance, so if you like what you see with the 14-inch MacBook, then despite the high price, this could be a laptop that you won’t need to replace for a very long time.
The base model of the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) with an 8-Core CPU, 14-Core GPU M1 Pro with 16GB unified memory and 512GB SSD storage starts at £1,899, and there’s a more powerful model with a 10-Core CPU, 16-Core GPU M1 Pro with 16GB Unified Memory and 1TB SSD that costs £2,399.
That’s certainly pricey, but it’s not the most expensive workstation laptop out there. If you want more power, then you can swap out the M1 Pro with the boosted M1 Max chip.
This supports up to 64GB of faster memory, and double the graphics performance. Adding the M1 Max with 10-core CPU and 24-core GPU will costs an extra £500, while the highest-end M1 Max with a 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU will set you back £700 more.
The maximum configuration of the 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU M1 Max processor, 64GB of RAM and 8TB of SSD storage costs a whopping £5,799. As you can see, upgrading the base MacBook Pro 14-inch can quickly become very expensive. However, that top-end spec will only be necessary for people who need huge amounts of power for their work.
For more mainstream creative work, the base model should be plenty powerful enough. If that is still too expensive, the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020), or even the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) remain excellent choices that are more affordable.
MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) review: power and performance
As with the M1 chip that came with the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the MacBook Pro 14-inch runs on Apple’s own M1 Pro and M1 Max architecture, rather than the Intel and AMD components MacBook Pros used to rely on.
Since the launch of the M1 chip last year, an increasing number of app makers have created versions of their programs that work on Apple silicone, including the likes of Adobe. Of course, all of Apple’s software, including Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, are optimised for the M1 family of chips.
For those apps that don’t have Apple silicone versions, the MacBook Pro 14-inch can seamlessly run them via Apple’s Rosetta tool with minimal impact to performance. So, you can upgrade to the MacBook Pro 14-inch happy in the knowledge that your favourite apps should still run fine.
In many cases, they’ll also run better than ever, as the M1 Pro and M1 Max represent huge improvements power-wise to the M1 chip. The M1 Pro has 8 high-performance cores, and 2 efficiency cores, compared to the 4 high-performance cores and 4 efficiency cores in the M1, and Apple claims this leads to 70% better CPU performance. The GPU within the M1 Pro also gets a hefty bump, with 2,048 Execution Units (EUs), which is a massive increase over the 128 EUs found in the original M1, and comes in either 14-cores of 16-cores. Apple has managed this while keeping power consumption to just 30W – this is essential for prolonging battery life and keeping temperatures down.
The M1 Max is an even bigger upgrade when it comes to graphics. It features the same CPU as the M1 Pro, but comes with either 24-cores or 32-cores which means you get up to 4,096 EUs. On paper, this is an exceptionally powerful GPU for a laptop, which will be great news for anyone doing hardcore image and video editing, or 3D modelling.
The good news is that in practise, the MacBook Pro 14-inch easily lives up to those promises. The model we reviewed comes with the 10-core Apple M1 Pro chip with 32GB unified memory, and it performed brilliantly in all of the workloads we threw at is. It ships with macOS 12 Monterey, the latest version of Apple’s operating system, and as you’d imagine, it runs brilliantly, with the OS booting quickly and loading apps in a flash.
It’s been built with the new MacBook’s in mind, and this enables even the most resource-hungry apps to run well on the M1 Pro and M1 Max, which keeping battery life from depleting too fast.
While day to day tasks run great, it’s when you start putting the MacBook Pro 14-inch through its paces with high intensity workloads that this laptop really starts to impress. We loaded up an 8K video project in Final Cut Pro, and we were able to easily skip through the footage without a single pause. The MacBook Pro 14-inch allowed us to view the ultra high definition footage without needing to render or transcode it every time we made a change and wanted to preview it. Even with a scene using four simultaneous 8K streams, the MacBook Pro 14-inch worked brilliantly.
It was the same with working on complex 3D scenes in Cinema 4D, as we could add and tweak effects and settings, and preview them instantly. Rotating a light source allowed realistic shadows to fall depending on where we placed the light, again in real time without needing to render anything. It’s this kind of instant feedback which could make a huge impact on your workflow.
AI and machine learning-powered tools in Adobe’s suite of applications, such as smart captions in Premiere Pro, were also near-instant. It’s an extremely impressive showing for the M1 Pro chip inside the MacBook Pro 14-inch, and it’s in fact so good, that it means the even more powerful M1 Max chip should only really be considered by people who need higher bandwidth memory and even more powerful graphics capabilities.
It’s a very impressive showing, but what’s even more exciting is how the MacBook Pro 14-inch performs when on battery. Most powerful laptops have very short battery lives, and to help prolong that battery life for as long as possible, performance is often throttled when the laptop is unplugged. This drops the performance in tasks that require a lot of CPU or GPU power, but the trade off is that the battery doesn’t drain ridiculously quickly. It’s a compromise many people live with, learning to keep the more intensive workloads for when their laptop is plugged in.
However, Apple has worked extremely hard to keep the performance of the MacBook Pro 14-inch as high as possible when on battery power, while being as power efficient as possible for the longest battery life possible. It’s been able to do this thanks to ensuring both the software and hardware work as well together as possible, and it’s really paid off here. So, you can edit 8K videos or create and preview computer generated 3D scenes all on battery with minimal performance impact.
What makes this so exciting is the freedom it allows you to work and create wherever you are. The fact that you don’t need to be plugged in to do this kind of work could prove to be revolutionary for many creatives.
When working away from a power source, the battery life holds up remarkably well. Apple claims that the MacBook Pro 14-inch can hit up to 17 hours when playing fullscreen videos, a huge seven hours longer than the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020), which until now had been the MacBook with the longest battery life, and our tests found that to be pretty on the mark. It can also offer 11 hours of web browsing, and during our time with the laptop we found it could easily last a whole work day on battery with relatively intensive workloads. Of course, the more you push the MacBook Pro 14-inch, especially in the graphics department, the faster the battery drains, but even then you’re looking at several hours of intense use before you need to look for your charger.
MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021): display
We’ve already alluded to one of the biggest improvements the 14-inch MacBook Pro brings, which is with its stunning screen. It really is one of the best screens you’ll find on a laptop thanks to its high resolution and pixel density.
The screen is now a Liquid Retina XDR display featuring mini-LED technology. The mini-LED tech in the screen offers stunning contrast ratios of 1,000,000:1, and it has an extremely high peak brightness of 1,600. This gives an incredible vibrancy to photos and videos, especially HDR (High Dynamic Range) footage, with darks being incredibly deep and black, while bright colours are remarkable. As with previous MacBook Pro screens, it also supports the P3 wide colour gamut, an industry standard for video editors that ensures colours are accurate.
It really makes the media you view on the MacBook Pro 14-inch look incredible, and that’s true for your own work, as well as media from other sources. We played some Dolby Vision certified TV shows from Apple TV+, and they looked fantastic. To see your own work handled the same way is a thrill, and the quality of the screen means you’re unlikely to want to plug in an external monitor unless you want a larger display. So, that’s one less thing have to plug in, again proving that the MacBook Pro 14-inch is an incredible portable workstation that lets you work anywhere.
The screen also supports Apple’s ProMotion technology. This is an adaptive refresh rate up to 120Hz, which changes depending on the footage playing, and it leads to incredibly slick video playback. Scrolling pages of code, or long webpages, also benefit from this technology, as it’s all handled impressively smoothly. The screen is easily one of the best things about the MacBook Pro 14-inch.
MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021): features
Apple has packed the MacBook Pro 14-inch with some very welcome features. The FaceTime webcam has been boosted from 720p to 1080p, and combined with the larger sensor leads to a greatly improved image, even in low light conditions.
Having a good webcam has never been more important, so it’s great to see Apple pull out the stops here. The boosted webcam combined with the thinner bezels around the screen does mean that there is now a noticeable notch that surrounds the camera and dips down into the menu bar of macOS Monterey. If you move your mouse, the cursor moves behind the notch, and menu entries are rejigged to sit either side of the notch.
It’s one of the most controversial design choices Apple has made in recent years, with many people who saw the revel voice their displeasure. It’s certainly not the most elegant solution at first, but you genuinely don’t mind it after a while. The fact that the bezels have been slimmed down means the menu bar is now actually higher on the screen, giving you more workspace below it. When watching films, the black bars above and below widescreen footage obscures the notch, and after a little adjustment, you likely won’t mind it at all, and the extra screen space it provides (and the better webcam) makes up for it, in our view.
The microphone is now ‘studio quality’ according to Apple, and the three-mic array certainly does a good job of picking out your voice in video calls and minimising background sounds. It can also do a decent job if you’re out and about and want to record a quick podcast or jam session without needing an external microphone, again adding to the MacBook Pro 14-inch’s flexibility. For studio work, however, you’ll still want to hook up professional microphones.
The charger included with the MacBook Pro 14-inch is now a proprietary MagSafe connection. This uses a magnet to click the charger and hold it in place. If the cable is accidently tugged, the charger safely detaches without damaging the laptop, and when combined with the 96W charger (which comes with the M1 Pro 10-core model), it can charge 50% of the battery in just half an hour.
MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) review: should you buy it?
If you’re looking for a powerful mobile workstation to do your creative work on, then the answer is easy: yes. This is the best laptop in the world right now for graphic design, photo and video editing, music production and more. The strength of the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips allow this laptop to chew through even the most demanding creative workloads with ease.
The fact it can do all this while on battery is especially impressive. If you often work out in the field, or do a lot of travelling, then the fact that you can easily take this laptop with desktop-class performance with you is particularly impressive. Apple’s own creative apps, like Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro, work brilliantly on the MacBook Pro 14-inch, so if you already use these applications, then you should seriously consider getting this laptop.
However, it is expensive, and not everyone is going to need the kind of power the MacBook Pro 14-inch offers, especially with the M1 Max chip. If you’re not going to be pushing this laptop hard, then there are more affordable laptops out there that will be much better suited to your needs.