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

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

Video transcript

DEVINDRA HARDAWAR: With its last batch of MacBook Pros, Apple gave its more demanding fans pretty much everything they wanted-- a complete redesign that featured, you know, bigger and better screens, more ports, and tons of speed. And as usual, Apple is following that up with a more straightforward upgrade. Now, we're just getting the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips in the same basic design as before. These new MacBook Pros also have a few new features like 8K video output and Wi-Fi 6E support. But I really think it's that extra speed that's going to be really tempting to Apple's more creative users.

After Apple completes a major redesign, it typically doesn't change things very quickly unless it's a major disaster like that trash can Mac Pro. So it wasn't a huge surprise when this year's MacBook Pros look pretty much the same as what we got in 2021. This new MacBook Pro 14 still has a gorgeous 14.2-inch liquid retina XDR display with ProMotion support and a prominent notch up top housing a 1080p webcam.

It also has all the ports you'd 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 overall is just an evolution of what we've been seeing on the MacBook Pro for maybe the past decade or so.

Under the hood, though, that's where the MacBook Pro 14 inch has really been upgraded. It can be equipped with Apple's new M2 pro chip, which offers up to a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU or the M2 Max, which squeezes in a 12-core CPU and up to a 38-core GPU. Now, much like Intel's new hybrid processors and mobile chips we've been seeing from Qualcomm and a whole bunch of other companies, Apple is using a hybrid design with powerful cores combined with high-efficiency cores. So that's how they're getting good performance and better battery life.

Apple claims the M2 Pro and the M2 Max are around 20% faster in terms of CPU speeds than their predecessors and around 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's 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. Now, that's a big desktop. So that's a huge leap in performance for this thing.

Now, these are phenomenal numbers if you're planning to use the MacBook Pro to its full potential. But I'll admit in my testing, it's not super noticeable in everyday usage. 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 does make it clear that this is not an immediate upgrade for most people, if you bought one of those previous MacBook Pros.

And unlike PCs, it's not like you're going to be gaming too much with these computers either. There are Apple Arcade titles which run pretty well across all Macs and most Apple mobile devices. And we are starting to see some games natively supported on Macs like "Resident Evil Village." But, you know, these are few and far in between. Certainly nice to have these games. But I don't think anybody's going to be buying these computers as gaming systems.

Now, if you're among the folks dealing with high-end video editing or 3D encoding all day, it may be another story. When I transcoded a one-minute long 4K clip using HandBrake on this computer took me about 31 seconds. On the previous M1 Max MacBook Pro 16 inch, that took 41 seconds. Now, extrapolate that time difference to bigger projects, longer movies. And it adds up to a lot of time.

And if you're somebody who's working on the clock and you just need to clear through a lot of jobs, you're going to want the fastest machine possible. Now, if you're also somebody who's doing creative work and you're still holding onto an Intel MacBook Pro, this is definitely the time to upgrade. You're going to notice a night and day difference in performance.

Aside from being a good performer, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is also just a delight to use. Sure, it's exactly the same as last time. But that experience is still very, very good. The retina display screen is beautiful and bright. It has mini LED backlights. It makes it really easy to use outside in direct sunlight. And the ProMotion settings which gives you really fast refresh rates makes everything look super smooth.

Now, you're not going to really see in this video. But, you know, from my perspective, when I'm scrolling through documents and web pages, stuff I'm doing every day, it just looks so much smoother. And it's easier on my eyes. And that's 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 mic attached to your computer. But it sounds good for what it is. Certainly, it's going to be great for video chats and if you're recording audio, which we've done a few audio recordings just using these mics. It sounds pretty good.

The MacBook Pro's keyboard and track pad remain pretty solid too, though, you know what? I wish Apple had explored some ways to bring in a little more key depth onto these computers. I know it takes Apple a while to do any changes like this. We lived with those butterfly keyboards for way too long. But we're seeing some really nice key depth from Microsoft's laptops. And if they can do it, I'm pretty sure Apple can figure it out too.

The track pad is also large and smooth and accurate. And really, that's everything I want. I'm also really happy to see that Apple isn't trying to experiment with the whole invisible track pad 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 tell where the track pad is and where your wrist pad is.

One nice upgrade this time around is battery life. On the last 14-inch MacBook Pro, I lasted around 12 and 1/2 hours on our typical battery test. On this computer, I got 15 hours and 10 minutes. Either way, you're going to have enough juice to last you through a workday. But the more, the better. Now, you may see Apple talking about 22 hours of battery life from these computers. Take note that they're really only referring to the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is bigger and can have a bigger battery, obviously.

Just like last time, the 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,999, a huge leap up from 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 revamped M2 MacBook Air, while power users might as well bump up to this more powerful 14-inch model. If you're aiming for something bigger, the 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,400.

And new gear means that all models will go on sale pretty soon certainly throughout this year. So if you've been eyeing 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 isn't dependent on having the fastest possible computer at this minute, you can probably save a big chunk of money by getting an older version.

So you may 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 is just a spec upgrade. They plopped in 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, though, this is another reason to stick with Apple instead of jumping to a PC.

Stay tuned to engadget.com for more of our laptop reviews and certainly all of our Apple device testing. If you dug this video, be sure to like and subscribe.

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