MacBook Pro 14-inch review (2023): A blessing for creatives

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The new MacBook Pro 14-inch isn’t a dramatic departure from the previous model, but the new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips will prove incredibly useful to creative professionals.

Video Transcription

DEVINDRA HARDAWAR: With the latest batch of MacBook Pros, Apple gave its more discerning fans pretty much everything they wanted — a complete redesign with, you know, bigger and better screens, more ports, and tons of speed. And as usual, Apple follows that up with an easier upgrade. Now we just get the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips in the same basic design as before. These new MacBook Pros also have a few new features, such as 8K video output and Wi-Fi 6E support. But I really think it’s that extra speed that will really appeal to Apple’s more creative users.

After Apple completes a major redesign, it usually doesn’t change things anytime soon, unless it’s a major disaster like that trashy Mac Pro. So it came as no big surprise that this year’s MacBook Pros look pretty much the same as 2021’s. This new MacBook Pro 14 still has a beautiful 14.2-inch liquid retina XDR display with ProMotion support and a prominent notch top housing of a 1080p webcam.

It also has all the ports you could actually want, in addition to MagSafe power. There are three Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, HDMI, a headphone jack and a full-sized SD card slot. The overall shape of the computer also remains the same. It’s just, you know, flat with slightly rounded edges, which is generally just an evolution of what we’ve seen on the MacBook Pro over the last decade.

But under the hood, the MacBook Pro 14 inch has really been upgraded. It can be equipped with Apple’s new M2 pro chip, which offers a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU, or the M2 Max, which squeezes a 12-core CPU and a 38-core GPU. Now, like Intel’s new hybrid processors and mobile chips that we’ve seen from Qualcomm and a slew of other companies, Apple is using a hybrid design with high-performance cores combined with high-efficiency cores. So that’s how they get good performance and better battery life.

Apple claims that the M2 Pro and the M2 Max are about 20% faster in terms of CPU speeds than their predecessors and about 30% faster when it comes to graphics performance. We tested one of the highest-spec models of the MacBook Pro 14-inch. It costs $3,299. And it is equipped with an M2 Max chip with 38 GPU cores and 64 gigabytes of RAM.

It scored 19% faster in the Geekbench 5 CPU benchmark compared to the M1 Max MacBook Pro 16 from two years ago. And even better, it was a whopping 60% faster in the 3DMark Wildlife Extreme benchmark compared to the M1 Max Mac Studio. That’s a big desktop. So that’s a huge performance jump for this thing.

These are phenomenal numbers if you plan to take full advantage of the MacBook Pro. But I admit in my testing that it’s not super noticeable in everyday use. Now, that’s not really a problem here. I think it’s a testament to how much Apple got right last time. But it really makes it clear that this isn’t an instant upgrade for most people, if you’ve bought one of those earlier MacBook Pros.

And unlike PCs, you won’t be gaming too much with these computers either. There are Apple Arcade titles that work pretty well on all Macs and most Apple mobile devices. And we’re starting to see some games natively supported on Macs, such as ‘Resident Evil Village’. But you know, these are few and far between. Definitely nice to have these games. But I don’t think anyone is going to buy these computers as gaming systems.

If you’re one of those people who spend all day doing high-quality video editing or 3D encoding, it might be a different story. When I transcoded a minute-long 4K clip using HandBrake on this computer, it took me about 31 seconds. On the previous M1 Max MacBook Pro 16 inches, that took 41 seconds. Now extrapolate that time difference to bigger projects, longer movies. And it saves a lot of time.

And if you’re someone who works on the clock and you just have a lot of jobs to get done, you want the fastest machine possible. If you’re also someone who does creative work and you’re still clinging to an Intel MacBook Pro, now is definitely the time to upgrade. You will notice a difference in performance day and night.

In addition to performing well, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is simply a joy to use. Sure, it’s exactly the same as last time. But that experience is still very, very good. The retina display is nice and bright. It has mini LED backlight. It makes it very easy to use outside in direct sunlight. And thanks to the ProMotion settings, which give you really fast refresh rates, everything looks super smooth.

Now, you’re not really going to see it in this video. But you know, from my perspective, when I scroll through documents and web pages, things that I do every day, it just looks a lot smoother. And it’s easier on my eyes. And that is something I really appreciate.

The six-speaker sound system on this computer is also still fantastic. It’s better than pretty much any PC speaker system I’ve heard. And the microphone array is pretty good too. It’s not, you know, like having a USB condenser microphone connected to your computer. But it sounds good for what it is. It will certainly be great for video chatting and if you’re recording audio, which we’ve done a few audio recordings using just these mics. It sounds pretty good.

However, the MacBook Pro’s keyboard and trackpad also remain pretty solid, you know what? I wish Apple had explored some ways to bring a little more key depth into these computers. I know it will take Apple some time to implement such changes. We’ve lived with those butterfly keyboards for far too long. But we’re seeing a really nice key depth from Microsoft’s laptops. And if they can do it, I’m pretty sure Apple can do it too.

The trackpad is also large and smooth and precise. And really, that’s all I want. I’m also really happy to see Apple not trying to experiment with the whole invisible trackpad thing, which we saw on the Dell XPS 13 Plus. I hated that when it came to usability. It’s really nice to be able to see where the trackpad is and where your wrist pad is.

A nice upgrade this time around is battery life. On the last 14-inch MacBook Pro, I lasted about 12 and 1/2 hours on our typical battery test. On this computer I got 15 hours and 10 minutes. Either way, you’ll have enough juice to get you through a workday. But the more, the better. Now you may see Apple talking about 22 hours of battery life from these computers. Keep in mind that they really only refer to the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is bigger and can of course have a bigger battery.

Like last time, the 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,999, a huge leap over the $1,299 13-inch model. I’m still a bit baffled by that MacBook Pro, though. Most mainstream shoppers would still be better off with the refreshed M2 MacBook Air, while power users might as well bump into this more powerful 14-inch model. If you’re looking for something bigger, the 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,400.

And new equipment means all models will go on sale fairly quickly this year, at least. So if you’ve looked at one of these new MacBook Pros and you don’t want to pay full price, keep an eye out for those older models. You know, the M1 Pro and M1 Max are still very good chips. So if your livelihood doesn’t depend on having the fastest computer possible right now, you can probably save a lot of money by buying an older version.

So you might be wondering why Apple just dropped the news about these computers without much fanfare or without an event or anything. I think it makes sense. It’s just a spec upgrade. They popped into new chips. And that’s that. For most people, it’s not a reason to rush out and get these things. But for creative professionals, this is one more reason to stick with Apple rather than jump to a PC.

Keep an eye on engadget.com for more of our laptop reviews and certainly all of our Apple device tests. If you dig this video don’t forget to like and subscribe.

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