Last week, Apple announced its first three new computers built with the company's new M1 chip. There's a new M1-based MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. It marks the first time in 14 years that Apple has integrated its Macs with anything other than an Intel chipset, but it's super exciting because of the huge leaps in both performance and battery life that the M1 chip promises.
When comparing Apple's new laptops, the M1-based MacBook Air and M1-based MacBook Pro, the two are actually very similar. The MacBook Pro has a slightly brighter screen, a slightly heavier design and slightly improved performance (thanks to its active cooling system and larger battery), but the M1 chip kind of acts as a great equalizer. Or as John Gruber of Daring Fireball put it: "The [new M1 MacBooks] are best thought of not as three different computers, but rather three different manifestations of the same computer."
Apple sent me a review unit of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro so I could check out the real differences that the M1 chip makes. The short version? These MacBooks are great.
The new Pro is outwardly identical to the old one.
For better or worse, the new MacBook Pro looks and feels like any of the MacBook Pros that Apple has sold in the past few years. Some of its details will be new to you if you haven't updated in a few years, like the Touch Bar as well as the new-and-improved keyboard with scissor switches, instead of the much-maligned butterfly switches. But compared to last year's 13-inch MacBook Pro, the M1 version is identical except for its guts. It still even has the same 720p webcam.
Also, only the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro has been updated with the M1 chipset. The more "pro" versions of the MacBook Pro -- like the 13-inch model with four ports instead of two or the 16-inch MacBook Pro that was released earlier this year -- are still kitted out with the trusty Intel chipset. It's a decision sort of at odds with Apple's branding of the M1 as it's "most powerful chip," but the switch is doubtlessly coming for the other MacBooks soon.
It's fast and quiet.
There are a few things I noticed right away switching from my older 2016 Intel MacBook Pro to one with Apple's M1 chip, and that's that everything seems to run just a little bit quicker. A big part of this sensation has to do with its new "Instant Wake" feature, which basically allows the MacBook Pro to instantly start up after its been sleeping and work just as quickly as if you'd been using it for the last 15 minutes. There's no waiting time, which is a feature that iPads and iPhones have been able to do for a long time and it's nice to see it actually work on a Mac.
I'm not a "pro" user who is constantly transferring huge files using editing programs like Final Cut Pro that really push a computer's CPU, so suffice it to say I don't really push this thing to its absolute limits. But over the course of typical use (browser tabs, browser tabs, and more browser tabs), I found it next to impossible to get the fan running. My 2016 MacBook Pro, which is of course showing its age in general, kicks up the fan the second I'm doing anything more rigorous than browsing the web. But nothing really seemed to bother the M1-based MacBook Pro. I was playing Apple Arcade games, such as The Pathless or Hot Lava, and streaming Apple TV+ and Netflix, specifically See and The Queen's Gambit, and the computer was just quiet. It was pretty wonderful.
The battery life is no joke.
The killer feature of the M1 chip, at least in my mind, is its hugely improved battery life. Apple claims that M1-based MacBook Pro is able to deliver 17 hours of web browsing, which is huge improvement over the 10 hours that its predecessor was able to deliver.
And I've noticed it. It's about five o'clock in the evening and I've been working on the M1-based MacBook Pro since around 8:30 in the morning — and my battery is at 31 percent. That's mostly web browser work, though with apps like Slack and iMessage, and a few video calls sprinkled in. With that workload, it doesn't seem like the Pro would make it to the max rated 17 hours, but I can see how it would be possible if you were only browsing the web. Either way, the battery life is plenty enough for a full day's work with breathing room to spare.
Is a M1-based MacBook Pro worth buying?
My initial reaction is heck yes. If you need a new MacBook in general, the M1 chip seems like the way to go. It's fast. It's long-lasting. And it's impressively quiet.
But there are reasons to pump the brakes. The new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are kind of first-generation products, and it's possible there are still some kinks that will need to be worked out when it comes to software compatibility.
But most of all, these new Macs feel like old shells with guts. Could Apple radically redesign them to take even more advantage of the new power and efficiency of the M1 chip? Or offer power comparable to older MacBooks but in a much smaller form factor? Or both? We'll have to wait and see, but an evolution in form factor seems very likely and it's worth considering whether you might want to wait for that.