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It’s been almost six months since Apple launched a revamped pair of MacBook Pros. I use the 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Max processor daily. I’m surprised how well it fits my workflow.
As a reminder, the 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with two processor options, just like the 14-inch. Users can choose between the M1 Pro and M1 Max SoC inside. I chose the latter.
These new chips feature a 10-core processor with a 16-core neural engine, with memory bandwidth increased to 200 GB/s on the M1 Pro and 400 GB/s on the M1 Max.
Each also incorporates a new Media Engine as part of the SoC design, enabling hardware-accelerated H.264, HEVC, ProRes and ProRes RAW decoding and encoding. On the M1 Max, the Media Engine has been further enhanced to include two video encoding engines and two ProRes encoding and decoding engines, making it even better for video production.
All of these improvements are before the power of the integrated GPU is taken into account. The M1 Pro is only available with the 16-core GPU option, but the M1 Max starts with a 24-core GPU and moves up to a 32-core option – that’s what I used here.
The new chips also bring additional memory options beyond what the M1 supports. Instead of capping at 16GB, the M1 Pro starts at this unified memory level, with an option for 32GB.
On the M1 Max, your starting point is the same 32GB cap, but you can go up to 64GB if you want. The GPU also uses Unified RAM, which makes sense to go all out on memory when configuring it at purchase.
As my workflow evolved, I started leaning more towards a desktop solution with an iPad Pro for on-the-go work. I started using the newer Mac Pro for everyday work, with an iPad Pro for specific tasks and work on the go. I loved the Mac Pro for its modularity, and I’ve outfitted it with lots of internal storage options, more RAM, and a new PCI-E GPU over time.
The Mac Pro was awesome. The iPad Pro is still invaluable technology, but I got tired of waiting for Apple to beef up iPadOS for what I needed.
For what I’d like to use it for, the iPad OS is still hampered by poor support for external monitors and no support for Apple’s pro apps, such as Final CutPro. So we bit the bullet and opted for the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
My daily work oscillates between copious photo editing, video production and a lot of writing. The 16-inch MacBook Pro proved capable of all these functions in a single product.
So I turned to the 16-inch Mac Pro with the full-time M1 Max.
True to form
The late 2021 refresh was the first MacBook Pro in five years to see any form of redesign. The boxy look returns to the overall design philosophy of the 2008 MacBook Pro, with a modern twist.
It stacks better with other devices, but neither we nor Apple recommend it.
There is no doubt that the return of the ports has been beneficial. We like the lineup Apple has chosen, from HDMI to the card reader to plenty of USB-C. Apple could have done with one more Thunderbolt port on the right side, but overall it’s a solid selection for your average user.
The HDMI port and SD card reader are underpowered, and in my workflow I haven’t used them since I picked up the machine. Apple chose an HDMI 2.0 port, and the SD card reader is just short of the promised maximum UHS-II transfer speed.
I would be happy if they disappeared and were replaced by another Thunderbolt port, but I know why Apple added them.
I use a Thunderbolt 4 dock on a daily basis, but mostly so I don’t have to plug and unplug multiple accessories every time I move my Mac. As we continue to drive home, it’s Apple’s “one-cable” idea, with everything connected to the machine with one cable that it’s been trying and reverting for three decades.
And after months of tweaking, I’m still struggling with the Touch Bar. Whenever I have to enter shipping information on a site and have to switch from keyboard to mouse and choose individual parts of our address, it reminds me how much easier the Touch Bar was.
The same goes for opening a recent file in Affinity Photo or navigating to a specific place in the timeline in Final Cut Pro. Its existence was divisive, but it was a shame to see it go for those who used it, including me.
Battery and Charging
With the latest MacBook Pros, Apple has given users options. They can be charged with USB-C like they’ve been doing for years, or they can charge through MagSafe. Apple brought back MagSafe, and it can now charge quickly with adequate power.
On my 16-inch MacBook Pro, the 140W GaN power supply can deliver 50% power in just 30 minutes. This has proven to be exceptionally helpful and has led me to use my Mac away from power more often. I can recharge quickly, then go to work wherever I want.
This varies among our staff. Mike Wuerthele does not use it and has no intention of doing so.
As the weather here keeps getting better, I can’t wait to get back outside to write and edit in the sun.
Battery life is excellent and lasts for hours between charges. Depending on how much video editing I do, I can go almost an entire working day without recharging.
MagSafe was also found to be safer, depending on the angle. Since the MagSafe connector is so long, it requires a bit of force to dislodge when pulled from side to side. If pulled down, it releases much faster.
Although I appreciated the return of MagSafe, it means I’m packing an extra charger. I could still use USB-C like I do on my iPad, but I want the extra speed offered by MagSafe. The good news is that there are options and users can choose for themselves.
What do we want next
Using the current-gen 16-inch MacBook Pro over the past few months has given me an idea of how I’d like to continue to see Apple iterate. Some next-gen features are obvious. There’s no denying that we’ll see new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips – or other variants – that will boost performance even further. Other changes are not so concrete.
It would be great if Apple finally adopted Wi-Fi 6E. This emerging standard unlocks an additional frequency band. 6E Wi-Fi routers will be able to operate on the 6 GHz spectrum, which can be useful in cities or apartment buildings where the spectrum is congested.
This might be one of the biggest Wi-Fi updates in quite some time. Yet Apple hasn’t rolled it out, and there aren’t any particularly cost-effective wireless hotspots either. A portable Mac would be well served with this new technology for the future.
I would also, although I don’t expect Apple to lower the prices for the storage and memory upgrade. Apple is charging $400 to upgrade from 16GB to 32GB of unified memory and even $200 to upgrade from 512GB to 1TB of internal storage. Apple’s custom options were often expensive, but they push the boundaries of what’s acceptable.
There’s been talk of Apple adding Face ID to future MacBook Pros, and I could take it or leave it. Touch ID is fine, and Face ID would be an easier option for authentication, but I use my Mac in clamshell mode with an external display, which makes adding Face ID unnecessary.
Every Mac, every project, every piece of hardware ever built by any manufacturer is an exercise in compromise. With the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro and M1 Max inside, this list is incredibly short. This machine is fast, sleek, powerful, full of ports and packs a great battery.
The biggest change I’ve had to get used to is relying on external storage instead of internal storage, but that’s not a new issue for mobile-centric Mac users. As long as I’m aware of the architectural differences and fundamental trade-offs between desktop and mobile Macs, the MacBook Pro stood up to every challenge I threw at it.
After months of use, I think Apple has created an almost perfect mobile Mac. But this Mac Studio is calling me.
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