The Controversial 13″ MacBook Pro

A lot of us (myself included) have been piling on the recently updated 13″ MacBook Pro. You have to admit it really stands out in Apple’s current line as a relic of days gone by. That said, it now has the M2 chip and it is now for sale. Jason Snell wrote a piece for Macworld explaining why it may make sense. Still, it’s weird. The 14″ MacBook Pro is far superior and the new MacBook Air is also a better computer by several metrics for less money.

We’ve been speculating on Mac Power Users now for some time about the idea of a 15″ MacBook Air. There are plenty of people that would like a bigger screen without the MacBook Pro power (and price). In my head, the 13″ MacBook Pro exists as a placeholder for that mythical 15″ MacBook Air.

In the meantime, I stand by my advice, “Friends don’t let friends buy the 13″ MacBook Pro.”

The MacBook Pro Check-In

Now that the dust is settling on the new Mac Studio and we’re waiting for the next penny to drop on the Apple silicon Mac Pro, I wanted to check in on my Apple silicon MacBook Pro, which I’ve now been using for six months.

For most of my years using a Mac, my computer has nearly always felt like a no-compromise machine. That changed for me during the last few years of Intel Macs. For a while, it seemed like every guest interview on the Mac Power Users started with the guest explaining why their Mac no longer had the ports they needed or the keyboard wasn’t working. They were rough times. Many of us nerds began to wonder if Apple was even serious anymore about the Mac.

And then Apple announced Apple silicon Macs. Two years ago Apple proved that they hadn’t lost interest in the Mac. (In hindsight, it feels like they were marking time on the Mac for the years before that as Apple silicon made its way to release.)

The Build

My MacBook Pro is loaded: 16-inch screen, M1 Max chip, 64 GB RAM, 4TB of storage. I overpay for Apple storage, but I always find ways to use it. Indeed, I currently have some storage management work to do.

The port situation is better on this MacBook Pro than on other Apple laptops in the last few years. That said, I still need extra input/output. I bought the CalDigit Elements Hub for this purpose, and it has worked without fail.

I haven’t missed the Touch Bar, and the keyboard works just fine. Isn’t it nice when your laptop’s keyboard barely merits a sentence?

Use Cases

Historically, I’ve been a desktop Mac kind of guy. I like having my machine always on and always able to do bits of work in the background. I also like the contextual nature of knowing, “This is my desk. This is where I work.”

I went with a MacBook Pro because I am currently a technology hobo. I have a desk set up, but it’s in the middle of our home, and sometimes other people would like to enjoy our home. So in those cases I have a foldable desk upstairs where I can alternatively work (and record). For the time being, I need my main machine to be mobile.

This MacBook Pro is perfect for that. I can record screencasts straight onto the laptop with or without an external monitor. All my files are with me no matter where I set up shop. I’d add that the historical problem of connecting a laptop to an external monitor and dealing with the shenanigans required to make sure the monitor sees the laptop, the laptop sees the external drives, and all of that are all nonexistent for me with this laptop and my Apple monitor. It just works.

The screens on the new MacBook Pros are stunning. When I need a change of scenery, even when not recording, I bring the MacBook Pro to the kitchen table or the couch and work from there. Again, I’ve got plenty of screen real estate and all my files on board.

Whenever I’m not actively using the MacBook Pro as a laptop in another room, I keep it plugged into my screen and external drives. That gives me most of the benefits of having a desktop Mac (Hazel and Apple Mail rules in the background, for instance). When at my desk, I keep it on a shelf with the side that has the HDMI, SD Card, and Thunderbolt port pointing out. This gives me easy access to input and output.

Performance

Performance on the M1 Max chip is, unsurprisingly, bananas. These days I’m doing a lot of videos. Video in Final Cut on this thing renders faster than I should be allowed to render video. The same goes for audio and video filters and effects, image processing, and any other processor-intensive work I do.

I’ve owned it for six months, and this thing tears through anything I throw at it. Also, I’ve never heard the fans spin up. I’m sure they have turned on at some point, but I’ve never heard them.

The Front Door Problem

I love everything about my MacBook Pro while using it in my house. The problems, for me, start at the front door. It’s big (it doesn’t fit in my favorite backpack), and it is heavy. Moreover, it costs more than my first car, so every time I take it out the door, I’m worried about damaging, dropping, or losing it. Do I leave my expensive laptop in the hotel room? I have to use a gigantic backpack with it, and on one flight the stewardess made me put it in overhead, where I wondered about it getting crushed.

So I take this MacBook Pro out the front door only when I absolutely must. This means I leave it home when it would be a nice-to-have, and I miss having a Mac on those occasions as well.

While this is a great Mac, its size presents issues with travel. That’s my only complaint. The solution, for me, would be a MacBook Air for trips. I’d still get all my Mac automation goodness without the raw horsepower of the MacBook Pro. If it weren’t for all the rumors of a new MacBook Air looming in the future, I’d probably already have solved the front door problem.

Getting Back the Thread

To be clear, I love this Mac. It’s fast, the screen is beautiful, and it has I/O to spare. The MacBook Pro is awesome again. If you need a powerful Mac that you can move around with, check out the new MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro M1 Max Initial Impressions

Last week I ordered a new MacBook Pro, and then a few days later, I changed my order to something even beefier. The net result was a ship date around Christmas. While I was okay with the idea of waiting for this dream Mac to arrive, I couldn’t help but check the local store on Tuesday’s public release, just in case. Since I’d upgraded to the loaded one, I figured there might be a chance. “Turns out” they had my exact build in stock: even my chosen color, Silver. So I canceled my online order and reserved the one in the store. A few hours later, I had a new precious on my desk. Here are a few thoughts after using the 16″ MacBook Pro M1 Max for a few days.

The Build

  • Everyone has made the Titanium MacBook comparison, but it rings true. Particularly with my silver color, it looks familiar.

  • The radius of the curves on the bottom is bigger than that on top. I expect that is because they don’t have the room on top, given that crazy screen, but I dig the look. Also, it’s effortless to pick up with that nice curve underneath.

  • It’s big and heavy compared to my prior M1 MacBook, but Apple makes it, so it is still pretty svelt and nothing like those massive gaming laptops on the market. Indeed, when I read reviews that list “big and heavy” as a downside of the MacBook Pro, it makes me want to throw something through the window. We finally got Apple to come around to the idea that “big and heavy” is a good idea for professional laptops. Please don’t give them a reason to go back “thin and light” (and underpowered).

  • There are big vents on the underside. If you would like to set your laptop on your lap, I’d caution against it. Instead, get a lap desk, so you don’t block those vents.

The Guts

  • Jason Snell called this MacBook Pro the Mac Pro that fits in your backpack. He was right. I’ve never used a computer so powerful. This shows itself in so many ways.

  • 4K Renders, no problem. I’m doing a lot more 4K video as of late, and the M1 was perfectly capable of handling it. However, it did require me to make tea and generally leave the computer alone for a while. I’m now getting 4K renders around three times as fast. Screencast renders are even quicker. It’s just ridiculous.

  • The other thing that stands out is disk access speed. Moving data on the internal SSD (even massive files) feels near-instantaneous.

  • Overall, all the paper cuts that came with delays resulting from multiple builds and render times are gone. All that forced downtime is gone too. Now I can make tea when my body needs a break, not because my computer forces me to.

That Screen

  • The screen is fantastic. I don’t know how else to put it. Vivid colors to the edge, all the way around the screen. Whether you are watching a video or working on your task list, you will love this screen.

  • A separate point about the screen is the text sharpness. I’ve been using an M1 MacBook for the last year, and I never had any problem with how it rendered text, but the MacBook Pro renders text just that little bit sharper (because it is genuinely a 2x screen), and it was immediately noticeable. It’s like when you go to the optometrist, and they flip the lens in their lens doohicky, and suddenly everything is really clear.

  • Apple has a lot of statistics about the screen, but I’d recommend going in and looking at one at a local Apple Store if you can. I expect folks will buy these computers without needing all the processing power but just because they want that screen. It is that good.

  • I’ve heard from readers who say they won’t buy this machine because of the notch. I disagree. The only reason the notch exists is that they pushed the screen so close to the top edge. It’s been a few days, and I don’t think about it. It is, however, to play hide and seak with the mouse pointer behind the notch. (You can do that.)

The Ports

  • Nice to have them back. I’ve got the new MacBook Pro hooked up to all my gear. The only dongle is an Ethernet to USB-C adapter.

  • The SD Card reader is really shallow. If third parties try to make a flush mount USB storage card, they aren’t going to have much real estate to work with.

Heat and Fans

  • The fans, when they run, are not loud.

  • So far, I’ve only noticed the fans running when doing long 4K renders.

Battery Life

  • As with all Apple Silicon Macs, the battery life is excellent. Especially when you consider how much more power this M1 Max chip requires.

  • I ran it all day yesterday off the battery. That included a full day of work and a bunch of test renders. I made it through the day fine.

  • I think the M1 Pro/Max chips are being stingy about harnessing all that extra compute power. For most tasks, I expect it’s doing most of the work off the two efficiency cores and turning off the more powerful cores until it genuinely needs them.

Comparison with M1

  • This is a professional laptop made for heavy lifting. It is shockingly better at big compute projects than the M1 (and the M1 is no slouch).

  • I can detect no performance difference between this fully loaded expensive MacBook Pro and my M1 MacBook for low-performance tasks like web browsing, writing, email, and the like. I expect that is because (as mentioned above) that work is not taxing and being done on the more power-efficient cores. Put simply, if that is the only type of work you do, the MacBook Air and fully loaded MacBook Pro are going to perform about the same for you.

  • The screen, however, is much better than the M1 MacBook screens. If that is the selling point for you, get the lowest-priced MacBook Pro (but make sure to get enough storage). If I were not doing so much video work these days, that is what I would have done.

Overall

I love this Mac and the options it gives me. I think Apple nailed the balance between power, efficiency, and battery life in my initial testing and usage. The screen is the biggest surprise for me. I knew it was better but had no idea how much better until I started using it.

Eating Max Crow

So a few days ago I posted my new MacBook Pro spec and explained why I didn’t see the upgrade from M1 Pro to M1 Max as worth the $1,200 price increase for me. Then MPU Forum member MereCivilian pointed out that with my spec the actual difference in price wasn’t $1,200, but $200. (It was actually $400.) I don’ know whether to thank him or curse him.

So I slept on it.

And I woke up realizing that: 1) this will be my primary machine for years; and 2) every time I render a video (which in my case is almost daily), I’ll be reminded of the fact that if I had spent an extra $400 in 2021, it would render twice as fast. I realized that this fact will drive me nuts.

I don’t buy the fanciest cars … but I do like fancy computers. So this morning I got on the phone with Apple support and paid a few extra bucks (and managed to push my ship date back to December) with my new MacBook Pro holding an M1 Max chip. All that stuff I wrote a few days ago about me not needing this particular chip? Never mind.

The New MacBook Pro


So I ordered a new MacBook Pro. Here are the specs and my thinking:

16 Inches

Over the last year, I’ve been using an M1 Mac mini and a 13″ MacBook Pro. Throughout that process I’ve learned a few things. First, with the crazy battery life of the M1 machine; it is really nice having a light, portable Mac. Second, the Mac mini is nice, but it would help me if my production machine was portable. What I mean by that is more about moving about the house than out in the world. With the big COVID shake-up hitting our house, I’ve lost my walled-off studio and instead am installed more centrally in the house. Overall, I prefer the change, but sometimes I need to go into a room to podcast or record screencasts. That really isn’t possible with the Mac mini, but a big MacBook Pro would be perfect for this. With the MacBook Pro, I can keep it connected to my big screen, but also disconnect and move with it.

Why 16″ and not 14″? I intend to keep the small M1 MacBook Pro for trips out of the house. This MacBook Pro I’m buying is expensive. I don’t want to be banging it up on the road unless I have a real good reason to take it with me. For non-production tasks, the M1 is perfect, light, and gets crazy battery life. So since I have a light machine for the road, why not the big boy for home? Also, I like big screens.

M1 Pro, not M1 Max

I’ve been getting plenty of production out of the M1. Doubling that will make things even better for me. However, quadrupling it with the M1 Max seemed like overkill for my needs and my budget. I got the stock M1 Pro processor count: 10 cores, 16 graphics cores. For what I make, this computer is going to scream.

So … umm … the above paragraph is not going to age very well.

Memory – 32 Gigabytes

I continue to believe that it is hard to get more bang for your buck than by adding memory. With modern Macs, that decision only happens at the time of original purchase. Memory makes everything run better and faster. That being said, if the M1 Pro had the option to go to 64 Gigabytes (it does not), I still probably would have stopped at 32.

Storage – 4 Terabytes

Yup, you read that right. This was the option where I spent the most money. My current data load is right at 2 Terabytes. Moreover, I continue to add more big files and media as I generate videos for MacSparky and the DLR Field Guide. I intend to ramp both of those up even more over the next year. I’m tired of shuffling storage between internal and external drives and decided this was a solvable problem if I’d just throw (a lot of) money at it. So I did. As I spend the next several years filling up 4TB, I’ll try not to think about how much it cost.

Color – Silver

Because I’m sick of space gray.

Using the Apple Trade In Program

A few days before the Apple event, I took my M1 Mac mini, an aging iMac, and a few other bits of Apple gear in the Apple Store. I sold it all back to Apple for about $2,000 in Apple Store gift cards. I could have made more selling the hardware myself, but the whole process with Apple only took 20 minutes and I don’t have to worry about hearing back from some crazy buyer. Either way, I got rid of the extra hardware and was able to get my new MacBook Pro for $2,000 less. The only hang-up was that there was a problem with the Apple Online Store at launch. It couldn’t accept gift cards for the first few hours, setting back my ship date. I tell the entire story on this week’s episode of MPU dropping later today (or tomorrow).

Anyway, that’s the specs for my next Mac.

A Few Thoughts Following Apple’s “Unleashed” Event Today

Today was Apple’s much anticipated “Unleashed” event. Apple delivered the goods, and I have a few thoughts:

The Opening

  • The opening Movie was fun (as always). I knew we were in good shape when they included the MagSafe connector in the movie. However, I also laughed out loud when the indie artist (working from an old garage) used a $6,000 Pro Display XDR. That probably explains why there wasn’t a car in the garage.

Apple Music Changes

  • More playlists sound great. That was the reason I subscribed to Beats Music before Apple bought them. This is one of those things where the proof is in the pudding. Let’s see.

  • The new Apple Music Voice Plan lets you subscribe to Apple Music for $5/month, but the only interface you get is your voice. It’s a mistake. To try it out, I’ve spent the whole day trying to trigger music with only my voice. Here’s a sample interaction. “Hey Siri, Play Fried Bananas by Dexter Gordon” [beep beep] “Sure things. Here’s Damage by H.E.R.” I think this service is going to make people hate Siri.

AirPods Version 3

  • Assuming they fit, the smaller stem is better in my opinion.

  • I dig Spatial Audio. So getting it in the standard AirPods is a win.

  • I’m assuming that with force sensor controls, I no longer have to walk around beating on my ears to play and stop like a crazy person.

  • 1 hour of listening time with 5 minutes of charging. Yes, thank you.

  • I have a certain degree of trepidation about the v3 AirPods. I like the way AirPods v1 and v2 fit my ears. These are different. No matter how much better they get, I’ll be stockpiling the v2 AirPods, which are still for sale, if the new ones don’t fit my ears.

  • I’ve ordered a pair. Not sure if I’ll love them or return them. You’ll find out soon.

  • Also, here’s the new AirPods feature dump slide from the presentation, just for you.



Color HomePod minis

  • Yup, They have colors.

  • Nope. Still no word on a replacement for non-mini HomePods.

  • Every time I watch one of these, I make a note to try out Siri’s Intercom feature, yet I never do. Maybe this time.

  • There now seem to be two camps about the “Apple House” that keeps showing up in HomePod-related announcements. One group thinks Apple has trapped a family like a tribe of hamsters. The other just wants to move in. Put me in that second group. Sure, one of my walls would be plexiglass, and all of you could watch me 24/7, but look at those dining room chairs!



The M1 Pro and Max



  • So there was this big whoop-de-doop at WWDC when Apple “accidentally” added an #M1X tag to the YouTube video. So many (myself included) were convinced that meant the new chip would be called M1X. Turns out the chips are named M1 Pro and M1 Max. Do you think Apple gaslighted us all?

  • The rumor guys got the rest essentially right: 10 cores (with eight performance and two efficiency cores), 16/32 graphic cores, and up to 64 Gigabytes of RAM. So you are looking at something between 2 and 4 times more powerful than the M1, which is no slouch. This is the big thing I was waiting to learn, and I think Apple silicon is crushing it.

  • Apple put up a lot of graphs. To summarize them all, this chip performs like a lion but eats power like a mouse. It’s nuts.

  • Johny Srouji is one intense dude. If I were to let anyone down, I wouldn’t want it to be Johny Srouji. Could you imagine looking into those eyes after you drop the ball?

  • It was good to see some of the most prominent video production people talking about Apple silicon without the old-school style demos. Even if they go back to live events, this is the way to bring third-party developers.

The New MacBook Pros

  • Of course, the new MacBooks Pro had to go last

  • The New Cases: A bit boxier, but it doesn’t look that much different to me. That black anodization behind the keyboard = cool.

  • The Death of the Touch Bar: There has been a lot of anger aimed at the poor Touch Bar. I learned to like it. Either way, we can all stop talking about it now.

  • Touch ID: It’s still there, on the power button.

  • If the video is accurate, it looks like the aluminum case has “MacBook Pro” embossed in the bottom. Please let that be true.

  • Color: Any color you want so long as it is silver or space gray. This stung a bit after seeing so many excellent colors for the new iMacs a few months ago. I’d have loved to get one of these new MacBook Pros in orange.

  • Feature Parity: I dig that the choice between 14 and 16 inches is just that. Whatever features you want, you can get with either size.

  • The Screen: The new screen might be just as big of a deal as the Apple silicon. 120Hz ProMotion and variable refresh rate plus the iPad-style Liquid Retina XDR mini-LEDs. I need to see it, but I think this screen will be gorgeous. 7.7 million pixels on a 16.2-inch screen. Wow.

  • The New Camera: I laughed when Apple explained the new 1080 lens was double the prior camera. When 1080 is double, that means the old camera was garbage. (And it was.) A more accurate explanation would be, “Now we all know the old cameras sucked. These new cameras are okay and definitely don’t suck.”

  • MagSafe: Did you see the little green light is back? I loved that light. With a glance, you knew if your Mac was charged or not. Also, the cable is no longer fixed to the power brick. It’s USB-C on the other end, making it much easier to use with other chargers. This makes MagSafe even more convenient.

  • I/O: We got everything we wanted. MagSafe, HDMI, SD Card, high-impedance headphone jack, and three Thunderbolt ports. The works.

  • The Notch: I’m already reading people freaking out about the addition of a notch. I don’t think it is that big a deal, provided my menu bars will go around it and not under it. (I typically run a lot of menu bar apps.) I also think the size of the notch makes it a placeholder for Face ID in future iterations.

  • Pricing: I was curious about how they’d price the new MacBook Pros. They are no longer paying for Intel’s markup, but they also spent piles of money developing these custom chips. In the end, the pricing was about what I expected. These new MacBook Pros are incredibly powerful. You’ll pay a premium for that power, but the price doesn’t feel entirely out of whack to me. They must have got something right; ship times are already slipping to late December.

  • And here’s the feature dump slide for the new MacBook Pros.



Missing in Action

  • M1 Pro Mac mini: I expected to see one today but didn’t. If you are waiting for one though, I don’t think you’ll have to wait long. Now that the chip is out of the bag, I’d not be surprised for Apple to release an M1 Pro/Max mini with just a press release. There are rumors, however, of a new case design. That could mean they’ll wait until the new M1 Pro/Max iMacs are ready.

  • Consumer Grade External Monitor: I had to laugh at one point when they had one of the new MacBook Pros hooked up to three Pro XDR monitors. That was $18,000 of pixels connected to that Mac. If I had Tim Cook’s desk, I’d be pressing to get a more affordable Apple-branded monitor out the door ASAP.

The Video Keynote Format

  • It’s interesting how quickly these pre-canned Apple event videos have turned into the norm. I do have to wonder if they’ll ever go back to live events. If I was Apple, I’d probably not. These events are faster, and there are never any gaffes. The downside is that with no media present, you can’t have a hands-on area. But I’m not convinced Apple views that as a downside.

M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro

Yesterday I purchased a new M1 MacBook. I want to have something running Apple Silicon to experiment with and cover here and on the podcasts. The question was, which one?

Both the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro feature the same M1 chip. But are they? Apple said nothing in the keynote to differentiate the chips themselves. There was no explanation of clock speeds or chip yields. Does the MacBook Pro only get the very best of the crop of new M1 chips so they can run them faster than those that make it in the MacBook Air? We don’t know. The only thing covered in the keynote was the inclusion of a fan in the MacBook Pro vs. the MacBook Air’s fanless design. With an active cooling system, I’m sure Apple will feel more comfortable pushing the M1 in the MacBook Pro harder. I expect that once we do get benchmarks, they’ll show that the MacBook Pro can do longer operations faster, like encoding video.

I wish Apple had done a better job of differentiating the two computers, but I suspect that when the benchmarks arrive, we’ll find that there isn’t that much difference between them. It is, after all, the same chip driving both machines.

Apple explained it would take two years to complete the transition to Apple Silicon Macs and what we got yesterday was only the first step. Even though it looks like the M1 will be a beast compared to other chips on the market, it will also be the lowest power M-series chip ever released. I can’t help but think that sometime next year, we’ll get a different Apple Silicon chip that will be even more powerful than the M1 for use in the 16 and 14(?) inch MacBooks Pro. Put simply, Apple is just getting started. I expect if you are looking for a pro workflow machine, the Apple Silicon Mac you are really going to want isn’t out yet.

So getting back to my decision as to which MacBook to buy, I was considering the pluses and minuses when my daughter came into the room to show me a video she made for a class using Final Cut on her very-much-not-top-of-the-line Intel MacBook Air. It was five minutes long and moved boxes of video contributed from seven different UCLA drama school students. There were visual and audio effects, and the non-M1 MacBook Air was doing it all without breaking a sweat. That was the moment where I realized all I need is a MacBook Air.

I have such fond memories of the first wedge-shaped MacBook Air from ten years ago. I used one for three years before giving it to my daughter, who used it for an additional five years. I do all of my production heavy lifting on an iMac Pro. The idea of a thin, light, fanless laptop that is wicked fast and can run iPad and iPhone apps sounds perfect. So I ordered a MacBook Air. (I did upgrade the RAM and storage. I am MacSparky after all.) I’ll have it in a week or two and report back once I receive it.

One additional point is Apple’s buyback program. I’m selling my existing laptop back to Apple as part of the purchase. I made some price comparisons with other reputable vendors, and Apple had the best price. I know I could make more selling the machine through eBay, but every time I try that, the buyer turns out to be a bozo. Selling it back to Apple is painless.