An unusual (for this blog) hardware review of the MacBook Pro 2021 14".
(Amateur) Review Time
I do not upgrade computer gear very regularly. I’ve been using the same MacBook Pro 2013 13” since, well, 2013. That changed a few weeks back as I’ve bought a new MacBook Pro 14” 2021 (second hand, but new to me). That’s the model with the M1 Pro chip. Here are some notes if you too have an MBP 2013 and are wondering whether to go for the MBP 2021.
Almost Identical Size
I walked in to my local Apple store (Bath, UK) and took my old laptop with me prior to the purchase. I wanted a real-life comparison of the MBP 2013 vs the new Air and Pro models. The MacBook Pro 14” is near enough the same size. This was great news as I’m strongly in favour of a laptop that is no bigger than the MBP 2013 and the new MBP 13” model is probably a bad deal, so that left the 14”.
The MBP 2013 13” or MBP 2021 14” size is just great. Easy to carry around in a backpack and not so large you feel conspicuous sitting at a coffee shop with the laptop on the table. Good for you if you’re sat there with some 17” mega gaming laptop, but it’s not my style.
The comfort principle is something like “spend your money where you spend your time”. Whilst I’m not sure it’s solid advice to apply blindly, I was thinking about that earlier this year as my old MBP 2013 was getting uncomfortably hot whilst doing very little. I did try remedy this by spending an evening reseating the heat sink and applying better quality thermal paste. This dropped the CPU temp by a couple of degrees but nothing close enough to be a noticeable improvement.
The MBP 2021 by comparison runs really cool. I’ve had it on for a couple of hours now doing some dev, videos and web browsing. It feels a little warm but no where near hot. It’s the coolest running laptop I’ve used yet.
Great Sounding Speakers
I was surprised by this as I gave it zero weighting in my decision to buy the laptop but the MBP 2021 speakers sound really good. My comparison here is a new-ish Lenovo laptop I use for work and my old MBP 2013, both of which sound like typical laptops, not that loud and lacking in range. The new MBP 2021 however sounds very good. I’d say it’s comparable to a mid-range Bluetooth speaker. It’s not super bass-y, but actually does have some bass response compared to most laptop speakers that are completely lacking in that department.
Display Is Ace
Starting with the size, as already mentioned the overall dimensions are near enough the same as the MBP2013 13”, but you’re getting most of a 14” display instead. I say most as there is a notch where the webcam is situated. In usage this is not a problem. GUI apps stick the menu either side and it sort of blends in as you focus on the main app content. Full screen apps or videos don’t make use of that very top bit of display and so don’t have a chunk missing.
Resolution wise it’s an upgrade from 2560 by 1600 (220 pixels per square inch) to 3024 by 1964 (254 pixels per square inch). The new display is a ‘Liquid Retina XDR display’. I don’t know what that is, but it looks really good and was noticeable better than the MBP 2013 which I always thought had a very capable display.
Hardly a new laptop innovation, but there wasn’t one on the MBP 2013 and I’ve found it to be a genuine time saver for both logging in and macOS GUI ‘sudo’ prompts. Chrome also has integration that can utilise this, e.g. fast fill of card payment form details.
Thinking more about this, I’ve had a work laptop with a fingerprint reader for years but am only now appreciating the hardware. I think this is because my work laptop lives in a closed state connected to an external monitor 90% of the time, so I can’t use it. For the chrome payment integration, that’s a task more commonly required on my personal laptop anyway.
USB C All The Things
Since getting the laptop I’ve been on a mini USB C rampage. The MBP 2021 charger can be used for both my personal and work laptops (the Lenovo has USB C charging as well). I’ve also purchased USB C/HDMI hubs for both home office and work office. It doesn’t sound like much, but having to plug in just one peripheral and not having to remember to move chargers from place to place has been a real (albeit small) life improvement.
The only loose link in the chain is that I’m still carrying my old MS Sculpt keyboard between offices and it doesn’t have Bluetooth, which means remembering to grab and switch the USB dongle between machines. If I can replace that for a dongle-less device in the near future that would be another win.
I don’t think I’m best placed to say if M1 is better/worse than x86 architecture. Instead I’ll say my experience so far has been pretty smooth. I setup my laptop in the usual way. For macOS that’s a semi-backup restore, install OhMyZsh, install homebrew and then some misc tools (tmux and other shell friends).
The only issue I’ve hit so far is actually running this blog locally! I installed Ruby (via rvm) and started on the dependencies but the machine bailed at installing ffi (which sort of makes sense as it’s Ruby reaching out beyond itself). I didn’t spend long on trying to resolve though, instead I just ran it mimicking the x86 architecture. That means right now as I’m typing this, to see a local draft served from jekyll I run:
arch -x86_64 jekyll serve --drafts
Works like a charm!
Battery life is very good, which I remember being the case with the MBP 2013 when it was new. Even after 9 years of use that was pretty good, would still comfortably do a few hours. The MBP 2021 will apparently do ~14 hours. I haven’t yet tried out whether my usage pattern will give that, the most I’ve done is probably 4 hours without a charge giving ~65% remaining, so it feels plausible.
Summary: Would Recommend
I don’t consider myself an Apple fanboy. I don’t own an iPhone or an Apple Watch or basically any other piece of hardware they make beyond the MBP 2021. I get that it’s expensive but from my experience it feels worth it. At least, buying second hand like I did feels worth it. If you are currently running with something from the 2013 era I’d strongly recommend the upgrade.
I think the MBP 2013 was a great laptop from Apple. People actually sought that model out for a bit afterwards whilst Apple was releasing new Pro models that weren’t clearly better (bad keyboards, that weird touch bar display stuff etc). The 2021 model by comparison has been considered a ‘return to form’, which I definitely agree with!