Review of the MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch): Incredible power

The MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) is a much-upgraded version of its predecessor that, when equipped with the newest Apple hardware, raises the bar for MacBook performance to new heights. Its stunning new Liquid Retina XDR display makes almost everything you do on it seem amazing, and the 1080p camera on top ensures you look your best on video conversations with friends and coworkers. Try not to be concerned about the notch; if you’re like me, you’ll forget about it within a few minutes.

Advertisement
Skip advert

The MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) is already a strong candidate for one of the greatest MacBooks on the market and one of the best laptops, period, when you consider its comfortable keyboard, amazing speakers, and 15+ hours of battery life on a single charge.

Review of the MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch): Incredible power

But now that the Touch Bar is gone, MagSafe charging is back, and the port array has been enlarged with a few connectors that content makers will like, it feels like this may be the greatest laptop for video editing you can purchase right now.

Advertisement
Skip advert

Of course, you’ll have to pay a premium for the opportunity, since setting the 16-inch Pro 2021 for optimal performance costs a good penny. Even yet, there are a few critical areas where this colossal new piece of Apple technology falls short that you should be aware of before purchasing. In our thorough MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review, find out everything we like and don’t like about it.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Price and availability

  • Expect to pay at least $2,499
  • Gets expensive fast, with prices topping out at $6k+

Prepare to pay a premium if you want to toy with the might of Apple’s heaviest, most powerful MacBook. The 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 is currently available for buy on Apple’s website for $2,499, which is $100 higher than the Intel-based 16-inch Pro it replaces. You may purchase it in one of two colours: Silver or Space Gray, as is customary.

The $2,499 entry-level model comes with an M1 Pro processor with a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16GB of unified memory, and a 512GB SSD for storage, however you can upgrade to 32GB of memory or 8TB of storage for an additional fee.

Advertisement
Skip advert

If you want more processing power, you may choose for a model with Apple’s new M1 Max processor, which is the company’s most powerful chip to yet, with a 10-core CPU and up to a 32-core GPU. A 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Max (24-core GPU), 32GB of unified memory, and a 512GB SSD for storage costs $3,099 as a starting price. Alternatively, you may pay to upgrade the M1 Max to a 32-core GPU, 64GB of RAM, or an 8TB SSD. If you go all-in and get everything, you can expect to pay up to $6,099 for a fully loaded 16-inch Pro with an M1 Max.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Specs

16-inch MacBook Pro 2021
Starting price$2,499
Screen16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display (3456×2244 pixels, 254ppi)
ProcessorM1 Pro (10-core CPU, 16-core GPU) | M1 Max (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU)
Battery size100Wh
Battery life (claimed)Up to 14 hours of web surfing over Wi-Fi
Storage512GB to 8TB
Memory16GB to 64GB
PortsThunderbolt 4 (x3), HDMI, MagSafe 3, headphone jack, SD memory card slot
Webcam1080p FaceTime HD camera
Wi-Fi802.11ax Wi-Fi 6
BluetoothBluetooth 5.0
Dimensions14 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches
Weight4.7 pounds (M1 Pro) | 4.8 pounds (M1 Max)

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Design

  • Smartly redesigned chassis is roughly the same size as its predecessor
  • Thinner bezels help the new Liquid Retina XDR display shine
  • Notch around the webcam is easy to ignore

The 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 has undergone some minor but substantial changes. It’s nearly the same size and just a tad thicker as the Intel-based 16-inch Pro it replaces, measuring 14.01 x 9.77 x 0.66 inches and weighing 4.7 pounds (4.8 if you choose for the M1 Max edition). The 100% recyclable aluminium chassis features a flatter lid than its predecessor, with vents cut out of each side for better cooling and a revamped 6-speaker sound system on the interior.

But the biggest changes are hidden until you open the lid, at which point you’re greeted by a big, beautiful 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display framed by bezels that are just over 20% thinner at the sides and roughly 60% thinner along the top. But that’s not counting the new notch, a rounded black rectangle that houses the Pro’s webcam and juts down about 0.4 inches from the top bezel.

Advertisement
Skip advert

 The notch is one of the most divisive design decisions Apple has made with this new Pro, but after using one as my daily driver for a while, I can say that I’ve grown to like it. Maybe it’s because I’m used to the toothy aesthetic of a notched screen from using an iPhone, but I appreciate how the MacBook Pro’s display pushes back on each side of the notch. In my experience, macOS does a good job of tucking the Menu Bar into the narrow ribbon of extra screen space on each side of the notch, so it feels like I’m receiving some more screen area where the top bezel should be rather than the bezel thrusting down into my display. Even if you don’t agree, in my experience you stop noticing the notch a few minutes after you start staring into the gorgeous Liquid Retina XDR display.

There is no longer a MacBook Pro branding printed on the bottom bezel below the display, probably due to a lack of space. Instead, Apple engraved it into the laptop’s bottom, which I believe is a far better location.

Apple’s choice to remove the Touch Bar and replace it with a row of more conventional function buttons is another major design shift. I’ve always found Apple’s much-maligned Touch Bar difficult to operate, so I’m delighted to see the firm bring back a more classic function row — it makes this laptop seem more like a no-nonsense professional workhorse.

Advertisement
Skip advert

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Ports 

  • SD card reader and HDMI-out make their long-awaited return
  • Still no USB-A port

Cast a glance along either edge of the MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) and you’ll see more evidence that Apple has listened to criticism and outfitted this laptop with ports that pros might actually want.  

While Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports are still plentiful, the 16-inch Pro now has a few more options. There’s an HDMI out, one Thunderbolt 4/USB connector, and an SDXC card reader that supports UHS-II along the right edge.

It would have been good to see Apple add an SD reader with UHS-III/SD Express compatibility, especially because this is obviously a laptop for video professionals who would benefit from the quicker transfer speeds of those formats to swiftly move large video files, but at least we have a card reader.

Advertisement
Skip advert

It would have been good to include a USB-A connector for older peripherals, but you’ll have to rely on dongles instead.

Along the left edge, you’ll find a headphone socket, two more Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports, and the new MagSafe 3 charging port. I’m really happy to see Apple bring back MagSafe, as it was one of my favorite features of earlier MacBooks and I never understood why it went away in favor of USB-C charging.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Display 

  • 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display is rich and vibrant, with good contrast
  • Adaptive refresh rate of up to 120 Hz is a nice touch
  • 3456 x 2234 resolution screen is beautiful, but still not 4K

The new 16-inch MacBook Pro’s 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display is one of the most gorgeous laptop displays I’ve ever seen. It’s the same brilliant, colourful mini-LED display we saw in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021, only this one has a resolution of 3456 x 2234 and Apple’s ProMotion adaptive refresh rate of up to 120 Hz.

Advertisement
Skip advert

Despite how wonderful this screen is, I wish Apple had able to squeeze in a true 4K panel. This is intended to be a top-of-the-line creative laptop for professionals, and it would be good to see it come with a screen capable of viewing native 4K material. Of course, you could connect it to a high-resolution external panel like Apple’s Pro Display XDR, but that’ll cost you several thousand dollars on top of the thousands you’ve already spent on this premium Pro, which seems like a tall order.

Even so, UHD material looks amazing on this screen, which Apple claims can reach 1,600 nits of peak brightness. Even while displaying HDR video with the screen turned up to maximum brightness, we couldn’t get it brighter than 520 nits in our lab tests, but that’s still a lot of light. We’ve reached out to Apple for comment, and we’ll keep you updated on our findings.

The screen shows 109.3 percent of the sRGB colour spectrum (100 percent is most accurate) and 77.4 percent of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, according to a colorimeter.

Advertisement
Skip advert

Anecdotally, streaming 4K UHD films like Knives Out and Casino Royale was a joy on the 16-inch Pro’s display. Colors look rich and true-to-life and there’s nice contrast in the shadows, while bright spots shine with eye-catching brilliance.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Performance 

  • Our top-of-the-line model with M1 Max delivered best-in-class performance
  • Outperforms most Windows laptops in benchmarks
  • Cheaper 14-inch Pro with M1 Pro performed nearly as well

The M1 Max is the most powerful chip Apple has ever included in a MacBook, and it shows. The Geekbench 5.4 multi-core performance benchmark gave our 16-inch MacBook Pro review unit a score of 12,683 when we put it to the test with its M1 Max processor. That’s a fantastic score, and it outperforms almost every laptop we’ve ever evaluated using the same benchmark. Our 16-inch Pro not only outperforms nearly every Windows ultraportable, including the Dell XPS 15 OLED (7,477), but it also outperforms gaming laptops like the Razer Blade 15 Advanced (6,662) and the Maingear Vector Pro (8,786).

The 2021 MacBook Pro, on the other hand, is designed from the ground up to be a powerhouse performance, and it’s priced accordingly. Given that our evaluation device costs over $4k, comparing it to Windows laptops in the $1.5-$3k range is a little unreasonable. Because these are pricey pro computers intended for creative professionals, it’s more intriguing to compare its performance to other recent Windows workstations we’ve evaluated. Even yet, Apple silicon outperforms the competition: the Asus ProArt StudioBook 16 (9,158) and the Dell Precision 5760 (8,601) couldn’t match the 16-inch Pro with M1 Max’s benchmark results.

Advertisement
Skip advert

However, it didn’t perform much better than its little sibling. When we benchmarked the MacBook Pro 2021 14-inch with an M1 Pro chip, it turned in a Geekbench 5.4 multi-core score of 12,477. That’s nearly the same performance (in a benchmark test, at least) as the larger Pro with its fancy M1 Max, but from a laptop that’s more than $1k cheaper. 

The rest of the findings from our testing on the 16-inch Pro with M1 Max might be told in a similar fashion. It has incredible video editing capabilities, converting a 4K movie to 1080p in under 4 minutes and 48 seconds using Handbrake. That’s one of the quickest speeds we’ve seen, and it’s less than half the time it took the 2020 Macbook Pro with M1 or the Dell XPS 15 OLED (8:10) to do the same test. In the same test, it’s also quicker than Windows workstations like the Asus ProArt StudioBook 16 and the Dell Precision 5760 (6:27). The smaller 14-inch MacBook Pro with the inferior M1 Pro CPU, on the other hand, was nearly as quick (4:51) as its more powerful sister.

When it comes to transferring data around, this new Pro is likewise a beast. The 16-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Max achieved read speeds of 5,315 MB/s and write speeds of 5,565 MB/s in the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, which is similar to its 14-inch sibling (read: 5,322 MB/s, write: 5,377 MB/s) but significantly faster than either the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 (read: 2,768 MBps, write: 2,406 MBps) or the 16-inch.

Advertisement
Skip advert

At the PugetBench Photoshop test, the 16-inch Pro with a tricked-up M1 Max scored 877 and finished in 4:44, just edging out its M1 Pro-equipped 14-inch sister (806, 4:54) but clearly exceeding the 2020 MacBook Pro with M1 Max (577, 7:03).

Check out our MacBook Pro 2021 benchmarks piece for a more in-depth look at how the new 2021 Pros compare to the competition, which compares them against the Microsoft Surface Studio, Asus ProArt StudioBook 16, and HP ZBook Fury G8 in a range of tests. Apple’s new MacBook Pros are the overall winners.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Graphics and gaming performance 

  • Outstanding game performance for a MacBook
  • Upgrading to M1 Max helps achieve much higher framerates

Macs may not have a reputation for being top-tier gaming machines, but the 32-core GPU M1 Max in our 16-inch MacBook Pro review unit gives it enough power to handle most any game you throw at it.

Advertisement
Skip advert

If you took to the bother of getting Cyberpunk 2077 to run on a MacBook, it could struggle, but the 2021 Pro has no problems handling the fast-paced action and detailed 3D sceneries of a game like Rise of the Tomb Raider. When we ran the Rise of the Tomb Raider graphical benchmark on Very High graphical settings at just over 1080p (1920 x 1200 resolution) on our 16-inch Pro, we got an average of 73.8 frames per second, and when we increased the resolution to the Pro’s native resolution (3456 x 2234), we got a respectable 26.5 frames per second.

That’s far better than the 14-inch MacBook Pro 2021 with an M1 Pro CPU, which could only manage 39.3 frames per second at 1920 x 1200 and just 17.1 frames per second at its highest resolution of 3024 x 1964 pixels in the same test.

Although Rise of the Tomb Raider is a slightly out-of-date game at this point, it does provide a reliable graphical benchmark that allows us to compare the performance of this new M1 Max-powered Pro to that of its predecessor, which managed only 27.2 frames per second running the same benchmark at 1920 x 1200 resolution on Very High settings.

Advertisement
Skip advert

While a dedicated gaming laptop like the Alienware m15 R4 (which can run a more recent game like Shadow of the Tomb Raider at over 60 frames per second in 1080p and over 30 frames per second in 4K) will give you better game performance, the 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 with a maxed-out M1 Max is the best MacBook for gaming yet. I had a lot of fun using it to play games like Divinity: Original Sin 2, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, and Crusader Kings III throughout the review period, and I never had any noticeable lag or performance issues.

While a dedicated gaming laptop like the Alienware m15 R4 (which can run a more recent game like Shadow of the Tomb Raider at over 60 frames per second in 1080p and over 30 frames per second in 4K) will give you better game performance, the 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 with a maxed-out M1 Max is the best MacBook for gaming yet. I had a lot of fun using it to play games like Divinity: Original Sin 2, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, and Crusader Kings III throughout the review period, and I never had any noticeable lag or performance issues.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Audio 

  • Redesigned speaker system sounds great
  • Excellent bass for a laptop

Apple put a new six-speaker sound system in the 16-inch Pro that supports spatial audio and Dolby Atmos, as well as a new triple-microphone array designed to better capture sound.

Advertisement
Skip advert

The original 16-inch MacBook Pro had a six-speaker configuration that we enjoyed, and the current model, in my opinion, has even greater sound quality. On tunes like Muddy Waters’ “Folk Singer,” the treble and vocals sound beautifully warm and resonant, while bass on Massive Attack’s “Angel” thumps with an almost physical kick. The soaring sound cues and gloomy speech in the 4K Dolby Atmos trailer for Dune felt everything but tinny.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Keyboard and touchpad 

  • Touch Bar is gone, replaced by much more useful function keys
  • Comfy keyboard feels good to type on

I have big hands and hate shallow, cramped laptop keyboards, but even I enjoy using the big Magic Keyboard built into the MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch). I wish the keys had a little more travel to them, but in general I found the keyboard to be comfortable and easy to use for all my daily tasks, including writing this review. 

 

Below it, the Force Touch trackpad is big enough for easy use. More importantly, it’s accurate enough that I never once had a problem using it to scroll and tap my way through my workday, and in my experience it does a great job of picking up gesture commands.

Advertisement
Skip advert

I’m also relieved that Apple has abandoned the Touch Bar, since I find the row of function keys that crowns the keyboard on the 16-inch Pro to be considerably more helpful and logical. This appears to be Apple’s subtle acknowledgement that their unique strip of context-sensitive OLED touchscreen controls was a misfire, and although I’m glad they tried, I’m considerably pleased that we’ve finally gotten a 16-inch Pro with a more professional, usable keyboard.

The Touch ID sensor in the top-right key is very useful and works well, however I wish the webcam supported Face ID so that Touch ID wasn’t the sole biometric authentication option.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Webcam

  • 1080p webcam is a welcome upgrade
  • No Face ID support

A nice webcam is usually appreciated, but the importance of appearing good on a video conference increased during the COVID-19 epidemic and subsequent global lockdowns. Apple appears to have taken notice, as the new MacBook Pro 2021 includes a 1080p FaceTime HD camera that captures clarity in both photographs and video.

Advertisement
Skip advert

While the camera is a welcome step up from the grainy 720p webcams in most laptops, remember that it doesn’t support Face ID, which means you can’t log in with your face the way you can on modern iPhones and iPads. 

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Software 

  • Early macOS Monterey looks great on the 16.2-inch display
  • Stable, bug-free experience so far, though key features have been delayed

Apple is launching macOS Monterey alongside these new 2021 MacBook Pros, and after using Monterey for work and play I can tell you it’s a subtle update to Big Sur that’s easy to use. Partly that’s because, at least at this late stage, it’s so stable and speedy that it doesn’t feel like beta software. I don’t think I’ve encountered a single bug or unexplained issue.

But also, it feels a little thin without some of its promised features available at launch. Most notably, Monterey currently lacks support for Universal Control, a promising feature that’s designed to let you use one mouse and keyboard across up to three Macs and iPads. It’s a cool gimmick that could make it a lot easier to use an iPad as a second screens or move files quickly between multiple devices, but it’s not ready for launch. Instead, Apple has said that it will be added to Monterey in an update later this fall. We’ll also have to wait a bit to get SharePlay, which lets you FaceTime with friends while watching or listening to movies and music together. 

Advertisement
Skip advert

That said, there are still a host of changes coming in macOS Monterey that might get you excited to upgrade. Safari gets a big visual overhaul that makes it especially eye-catching on the 16-inch Pro’s big Liquid Retina XDR display, and the Shortcuts app finally arrives on macOS. And of course, if you take a lot of photos of notes, signs, and other things you want to remember, the new Live Text feature that lets you select text in images and copy it elsewhere is sure to delight.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Heat 

  • This performer isn’t a lap-scorcher
  • Even the new High Power Mode doesn’t make things hot

After spending a few days putting our review unit through its paces, I can tell you I never once noticed it getting appreciably warm, even when playing demanding 3D games or editing video with the laptop configured in the new High Power Mode which is unique to the 16-inch Pro.

When we tasked the MacBook Pro 2021 16-inch with playing Full HD video for 15 minutes and then ran a heat gun over its chassis, we didn’t detect any temperatures over 90 degrees. The hottest point we found was on the center of the underside, where we recorded a max surface temp of 88.5 degrees.

Advertisement
Skip advert

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Battery life 

  • 15+ hours of tested battery life, beating Apple’s own 14-hour promise
  • Fast charging via MagSafe 3 helps you top up quickly

Apple claims the MacBook Pro 2021 16-inch can manage up to 14 hours of web surfing on a single charge, but based on our testing that’s actually underselling it a bit. In our battery test, which involves tasking a laptop with endlessly browsing the web over Wi-Fi with its screen brightness set to 150 nits, the 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 delivered an outstanding 15 hours and 31 minutes of battery life on a single charge. 

That’s an incredibly long-lasting laptop, one that beats most rivals we test by at least a few hours. However, we’ve been spoiled by Apple silicon to expect such impressive battery life, as the older 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 lasted even longer (16:25) in the same test. 

That said, 15+ hours of use on a single charge is better than just about every other laptop we’ve tested. For comparisons’ sake, the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro (14:09) lasted over an hour less in the same test, and the old Intel-equipped 16-inch MacBook Pro (10:55) couldn’t even last 11 hours under similar conditions. 

Advertisement
Skip advert

This new MacBook Pro also offers fast charging. and in my experience it lives up to Apple’s promise of being able to take you from critical to 50% battery in about 30 minutes. Note that while you can charge the laptop via either the MagSafe 3 port or the Thunderbolt 4/USB4 ports, the USB ports don’t support fast charging.

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review: Verdict 

The MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) is an across-the-board improvement over its predecessor, so if you’ve been considering investing in a 16-inch Pro this is unquestionably the model to buy. With its remarkable battery life, outstanding speed, smartly redesigned chassis and big, beautiful screen, this is a versatile pro laptop that will serve you equally well in work or play. And if you’re willing to pay the price, configuring it with one of Apple’s brawny new M1 Max chips will guarantee you some of the best performance you can buy in a MacBook. 

But if you look back over our test results you’ll see that in many key areas, the 16-inch Pro with a top-of-the-line M1 Max chip didn’t perform much better than the 14-inch Pro 2021 with an M1 Pro chip. Most of the time we saw nearly the same performance from a roughly $3k 14-inch Pro 2021 as we did from a 16-inch Pro 2021 that costs just over $4k, though the M1 Max did deliver significantly better performance than the M1 Pro in video games and 3DMark. So if you’re not planning to do a lot of demanding 3D work, it’s hard to recommend paying extra for an M1 Max when an M1 Pro will perform nearly as well in most applications. 

Advertisement
Skip advert

Whether you keep with the M1 Pro or go all out with the Max, you’ll enjoy productivity and video editing capabilities that nearly no other Windows laptop can match. In our testing environment, even workstations like the Asus ProArt StudioBook 16 and Dell Precision 5760 couldn’t keep up with the new 2021 MacBook Pros, despite the fact that those workstations have other helpful capabilities (like as 4K monitors) that Apple’s new Pros don’t.

Nonetheless, the MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) is a fantastic machine that demonstrates Apple’s approach of developing custom silicon for its laptops is paying off handsomely.

Advertisement
Skip advert

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.