After a long chat with Apple’s executive troika, I asked my media contact at the company if I could try the 13-inch MacBook Pro model version. The executives’ comments about the M1 had convinced me that, if the chip was as good as they said it was, then the 8 GB would be enough.
So how did this experiment turn out?
To be clear, this is by no means a complete review. It is just my experience of using the machine for a short three days. Generally speaking, I think any review of real value comes from sustained long-term usage.
So, what about the much-ballyhooed startup and instant-on capabilities? Quiet as a whisper? Cool most of the time? Check. Working with an XDR Display in 6K? Yes, indeed. Apple is not lying about those claims. Call this is an instant computer — just add a network connection! Honestly, my real challenge has been getting used to the Big Sur OS. It is just too pretty and shiny. It is like an iPad OS, but not quite.
My most commonly used applications (Mail, Safari, Telegram, Signal, Zoom, and FaceTime) feel brisker than the same apps running on my December 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch that has the highest spec. Microsoft Word and Excel are also working without skipping a beat. I love Darkroom, and to use it in tandem with my Apple Photos library is a radical simplification of my iPhone photography workflow. Apple calls apps native for M1 “universal apps.”
I don’t have higher-end apps such as Final Cut Pro or djay Pro, but I am pretty certain they will work fine given how well other universal apps are performing on this base level system.
My most-often-used video services (Amazon Prime Video and YouTube) worked without a hitch, though I couldn’t tell if the video was any smoother or of higher quality. There is supposedly a better GPU and better codecs, but my iPad Pro quality is a tad better. I should notch that up to Safari in the laptop as opposed to dedicated apps on the iPad.
Unfortunately, I would say trying to get on Zoom calls felt like a step backward in terms of quality on this machine. My MacBook Pro 16 and my iPad Pro both have superior cameras and better microphones. Apple has missed a trick here — a higher resolution camera would have been ideal.
For me, the best part of the MacBook Pro is the chance to try and use iPad applications. Many iPad apps — including Gmail for iPad, Feedbin, Bear, IA Writer, and Hey — are working much better than I expected. I am listening to music on BandCamp’s iPhone app, and it is pretty sweet just to have it sitting on the side of the screen. I will download some games and nerdy science apps over the next few days to get a cross-platform experience. If you have any app suggestions, let me know.
I was a willing early adopter of the x86 Mac when Apple moved from PowerPC to Intel. I used Rosetta to stay backward compatible. Let’s just say Rosetta 2 isn’t your grandpa’s Rosetta. Spotify, Zoom, and Telegram are working smoothly using the Rosetta 2 translation layer that allows apps built for Intel Macs to run on M1. I honestly can’t tell if there is a performance lag, though that may mostly be due to the fact that these aren’t resource-heavy applications.
Now, for the two most important apps in my life: Photoshop and Lightroom. These are both resource hogs. Since Adobe has not yet updated them to work natively on the M1 chip, I used the latest Intel Mac versions of these two applications. Let’s just say that it was not the best experience. There was a substantial lag in opening Photoshop, and adding layers resulted in the machine getting noticeably warmer (though nothing like my MacBook Pro 16). Lightroom also taxed the machine, though not as much as Photoshop did. Still, I could feel the warmth rising in the laptop. Once I shut down those two apps, the M1 Macbook went back to being quiet as a mouse and cold as a cucumber.
I used the machine for about 10 hours every day. With the brightness turned modestly high, I found that I had around 30 percent battery remaining. I think this quality is likely to make this machine very desirable.
Bottom line: For everyday use that doesn’t involve high-end Intel Mac-based photo or video editing apps, I would say the $1299 M1 13-inch MacBook Pro is more than enough. For those who just use email and the browser, this might be all you need to get through the day.
I am not buying one anytime soon, mostly my use case for a laptop is entirely different. The only reason I have a MacBook Pro 16 is for on the go Photoshop editing in the field. Otherwise, I can live my life on an iPad. By the time I am ready to resume my photo adventures and travel, it is a safe bet that Apple would release a laptop with a larger screen, higher storage capacity, and just some more memory. And who knows, even Adobe might have its universal apps available by then. Then it becomes a perfect machine for on-the-go editing!
November 17, 2020. San Francisco