2021 MacBook Pro review roundup: Just what we hoped for

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2021 MacBook Pro review roundup: Just what we hoped for
The 2021 MacBook Pro draws praise, and just a bit of criticism, from reviewers.
Photo: Apple

The first reviews of the 2021 MacBook Pro just dropped, and they’re generally quite positive. There’s praise for the mini-LED display, the return of useful ports, and the sheer power of Apple’s new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.

However, some reviewers harbor mixed feelings about the screen notch. Here’s a summary of comments about the features.

2021 MacBook Pro offers a top-notch screen

A highlight of Apple’s new 14-inch or 16-inch macOS notebook is its mini-LED display. This uses thousands of tiny backlights to give impressive contrast. Reviewers sound genuinely pleased. As Caitlin McGarry said at Gizmodo, “With a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and P3 wide color gamut, this screen is just all-around excellent.”

Engadgets D. Hardwar talked up the screen’s high refresh rate, “Best of all is that the MacBook Pros support ProMotion, Apple’s technology that enables refresh rates up to 120Hz,” Hardwar wrote. “With that flipped on, scrolling through web pages and documents just felt silky smooth. And after spending hours writing up this review, I definitely noticed that my eyes were less fatigued thanks to the speedy refresh rate.”

But we can’t overlook the screen notch for the front-facing camera. Todd Haselton from CNBC discussed the pros and cons.

“You won’t notice it if you have the laptop on dark mode, which is what I did, since everything around the notch is dark anyway,” wrote Haselton. “And I prefer the trade-off: you get slimmer bezels on the top of the screen instead of big borders like on earlier models. You’ll see the notch if you have a bright background and menus but it fades into the background even better than it does on an iPhone.”

Ports: Everything old is new again

Back in 2016, Apple took out almost every type of port but USB-C. The 2021 models reverse that move. And reviewers like it. Gizmodo said: “The return of useful ports to the MacBook Pro is a game-changer if you use a lot of peripherals as part of your workflow. Both MacBook Pros have three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports, a headphone jack, an HDMI port, an SD card slot, and a MagSafe charging port.”

It’s been pointed out before, but those shiny new ports aren’t as advanced as they could be. Nilay Patel from The Verge said, “Apple has added some useful ports back to the new MacBook Pros: gaze upon an SD card slot and an HDMI port. (Sadly, neither is cutting edge, the SD slot is UHS-II, not UHS-III, and the HDMI is 2.0, not 2.1.)”

And of course the Touch Bar — the customizable LED touch strip directly above the keyboard — is gone at last. The replacement sounds like a winner.

“Apple finally got rid of the Touch Bar, which never really lived up to its potential, and replaced it with full-height function keys,” The Verge said. “They’re great, uncomplicated, and do exactly what you’d expect.”

Awesome performance

The 2021 MacBook Pro versions come with either an M1 Pro or M1 Max chip, enhanced versions of Apple’s proximal M1 processor from 2020. Engadget’s review sang the praises of the latest Apple Silicon.

“Apple’s redesigned MacBook Pros, powered by its new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, are exactly what media professionals have been waiting for,” Engadget wrote. “The processors are far faster than last year’s M1, they support up to 64GB of RAM, and both laptops feature XDR display technology borrowed from the iPad Pro.”

Engadget reports an 11,777 Geekbench 5 multi-core score for a 14-inch version running an M1 Pro. Its 16-inch model with an M1 Max scored 12,693 on the same benchmark test. For comparison, the 13-inch MacBook Pro released in 2020 with the original M1 scored 7,382 on that test.

CNBC’s review gave some real-world examples. “You can edit multiple 8K HDR video scenes (or Apple’s brighter XDR content) in real time within apps like Final Cut Pro, or render and tweak how the sun falls on 3D models in Cinema 4D, all without waiting for the computer to render.“

As a bonus, the new Apple chips let users connect more external screens than their predecessor could. As CNBC said, “You can add up to two additional displays with the M1 Pro or three screens if you upgrade to the M1 Max chip. That’s up from a single external monitor with the M1 chips last year, and it’s a big deal for folks like me who prefer to run several screens at once.”