Let’s talk about MacBooks. They are very nice little machines if I can be honest. They are very good looking, very well built, decent hardware, a nice keyboard (not the butterfly ones) and run a clean OS. Sure they have some thermal issues, but they work relatively well and are easy and nice to use. So everyone goes out and buys a Lenovo Yoga Ideapad 13 (Amazon best-selling ultrabook as of writing).

Just kidding of course. The MacBook isn’t competing in the same class as that Yoga. So the question here is: what is it competing against? Well, I’d say machines like the Dell XPS 13, LG Gram 2021, HP Spectre and the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i. Machines that will easily cost you north of S$1800, and can very well peak at close to S$3000, or even more. The competition is tough as well: Dell, LG and Lenovo have fitted their devices with Intel’s shiny new Tiger Lake (11th Gen) chips, whereas HP has decided to go both ways; some having the Intel chip, and some having the new 5000 series AMD chips as well. So, to stand out, Apple decided to ask their engineering team to make something faster, something that will get everybody talking.

Say Hello to M1

The standard procedure to make a laptop faster is to fit it with the highest performing Intel/AMD chip, insert more RAM, give it a vapour chamber, and maybe add in a powerful graphics card. But Apple’s engineering team decided to go a bit further than that.

Source: Apple Singapore

Welcome everyone to the M1, and the M1 MacBook Pro.

Aesthetic photo of M1 MacBook Pro taken in the dark
M1 MacBook Pro

The first thing you need to know is that the only thing the M1 and those Intel/AMD chips have in common is that they are CPUs designed for desktop computers and OS-es. Everything else has changed. The M1 is the world’s first computer chip to be built using a 5 nanometer(nm) process (Intel is still stuck on 10nm). Apple also claims that it is the world’s fastest CPU in “low power silicon” and has the best “performance per watt”. So, no messing about then. But what does this actually mean?

Source: Apple

Well, to find out, we need to explore a bit further. The M1 has 8 CPU cores, 8 GPU cores and a 16 core Neural Engine. In the CPU, we find 4 high-performance cores and 4 energy-efficient cores. All this means that the M1 is capable of power use-optimisation processes never before seen in any previous MacBook. One more important thing to note is that the M1 is based on the ARM platform. It is the same kind of processor you may find inside your phone or tablet. The M1 was designed based on the A14 Bionic, Apple’s other top tier CPU engineered for the iPhone and iPad Air 4. This means that it is different from Intel and AMD, whose processors are based on the x86 platform. So if the M1 is so different, software designed for x86 shouldn’t work on M1. Right?

Nuclear Reactor in a Laptop

Wrong. Well, mostly. See, Apple is smart. They knew that dropping the M1 on the world meant that the world would not have time to immediately update their software for ARM. So, what’s the answer? Rosetta 2. Rosetta 2 is an emulation layer that translates x86 software into language that the M1 can understand. This means that software/apps that have not yet been optimised for the M1 can run on the new MacBooks. And the M1 runs them fast. Like, really fast. Mind-blowingly fast.

Video Quality of MacBook Pro
Video playing on MacBook: Apple M1 Mac Review: Time to Recalibrate, MKBHD

Apps that I used on my old Windows machine like the Microsoft Office Suite, Chrome, Spotify, Discord, Notion – the list goes on – after the very first launch? (which is fast in itself) Near instant. I click on the icon, it bounces up and the app launches. It is incredible. There are zero hiccups when I use said apps as well. In day-to-day use (web browsing, typing notes, streaming content etc), everything is snappy and fast. I cannot say this enough, whatever Apple is doing with Rosetta 2? It’s working, and working way better than I could have imagined. This M1 MacBook Pro is the most impressive laptop I have ever seen and used. I can do things here that would bring my brother’s Ice-Lake(10th Gen Intel) Acer Swift 5 (another S$2000 ultrabook) to its knees.

Performance Numbers

Let’s get into some performance figures. For those that don’t really care or understand, just know this: The M1 MacBook Pro 13 is one of the fastest Macs ever made, and one of the fastest/most powerful ultrabooks in its class. It is a one of a kind machine that we have never seen before. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, you can skip this section. For those who care, here are some quick numbers.

In Geekbench Single-Core Performance, the M1 MacBook Pro beats the previous-generation 27-inch iMac and the 2019 Mac Pro. Both of those machines cost way more than the MacBook Pro. In fact, the only machine it loses to is the new M1 Mac Mini, and it ties with its laptop cousin the M1 MacBook Air. For Multi-Core Performance, the M1 MacBook Pro beats the 2013 Mac Pro and the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro and loses to the 2019 Mac Pro and some new iMacs. However, keep in mind that everything that beats it is a desktop machine, and most of them have nearly and if not more than twice the number of CPU cores of the M1.

Performance numbers of MacBook. Source: Geekbench Browser
Single Core Scores | Source: Geekbench Browser

In Cinebench R23 (single-core), the M1 MacBook Pro beats everything except an AMD Ryzen 5 5600X and Ryzen 9 5950X (both having more cores than the M1). The M1 barely loses to the 5600X, scoring 1513 against 1541, and the Ryzen 9 scored 1649 (AMD has been on a tear recently). In multi-core, it loses to the Ice-Lake i9, AMD Ryzen 7 4800U and the same two chips above. Keep in mind that these chips have more cores/threads compared to the M1, accounting for the jump in performance. Regardless, this is still impressive showings by the M1. Furthermore, Cinebench is an x86 program, and has not been optimised for the ARM based M1, meaning that this performance is through Rosetta 2. If the M1 is producing such numbers through an emulation layer, I can’t wait to see what an optimised test will produce.

Cinebench R23 Single Core Scores. Source: notebookbench.net
Cinebench R23 Single Core Scores (top 6) | Source: notebookcheck.net

The Verge has also reported that the M1 MacBook Pro can run a Premiere Pro 4K export in just under 8 minutes. This is especially impressive given that the Mac doesn’t have a dedicated Graphics Card/GPU – something that Premiere Pro takes advantage of.

MacBook Pro video exporting performance time. Source: The Verge
Source: M1 MacBook Pro and Air Review: Apple Delivers, The Verge

The main thing to note here is this. Unlike Windows’ emulation for ARM chips, Rosetta 2 and the M1 MacBook Pro by extension has been impressive. When an app opens expecting an Intel/AMD Processor, Rosetta 2 translates the code for the M1 to understand and just, well, run. I have experienced no noticeable difference between running apps on this Mac and my Windows desktop, and it even seems to run faster in some cases. To see this kind of performance through an emulation layer is just wild to me. It doesn’t have the slowness or buggy-ness of Windows’ emulation (on the Microsoft Surface Pro X). Apple did it. It’s good.

The Machine that Doesn’t Sleep

But does the emulation layer mean worse battery life? After all, it makes sense. The laptop has to do additional processing to ensure that programmes can run. And if it is able to do it so quickly, something has to give, right? Well, wrong again. Battery life on the MacBook has been incredible. Apple claims 20 hours of video playback on the MacBook Pro, and while I haven’t managed to test that number myself, I can say this. I did not have to charge my laptop for 3 days. 3 days! Sure, I wasn’t doing heavy tasks like video/photo editing, but I was streaming videos and music, typing notes and writing this review. It is straight-up amazing. When I first unboxed it, I went through installing my apps, carrying out a software update, watching videos and browsing email. After all that (on the second day), I ended the day with 40% battery at 11.30pm. All those activities were done unplugged, by the way.

Screen on usage to illustrate battery life of M1 MacBook Pro. Amazing battery life of 3 days without charging
I did not charge from Tuesday to Thursday night.

And it doesn’t end there. Charging is good, the MacBook Pro makes the century sprint in less than 2 hours. Apple bundles a 60 watt power brick with the machine and it has USB-C charging, meaning I can use one cable to charge my phone (I use Android), tablet and laptop. Battery life on the MacBook Pro has been stellar, and I cannot ask for more.

Source: Apple Singapore

Middling Camera

If there is one disappointment with the M1 MacBook Pro, it is the web-cam. Apple didn’t make any changes here. They just took the same web-cam in the previous MacBook Pro 13 and put it in here with some tweaks. Colours are better now, but it is still 720p (not Full-HD), and the image/video produced is soft and slightly grainy in darker conditions. This is disappointing, especially since we are in the middle of a pandemic and many of us are expected to work from home. This means video calls and using our web-cams, which is sad given that Apple has such a good rep in their phone’s cameras. Just put your iPhone selfie cameras in your MacBooks Apple. You can do it.

Some Little Complaints

Since we are in a slight complaining mood, let me address some annoyances I have. iOS apps can be run here, but most of them are a bit buggy and don’t really work properly (just stick with the Mac versions really). The base model MacBook Pro starts with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, both upgradeable up to 16GB RAM and 2TB storage. However, since they are not user upgradable (they should be Apple), we recommend you spec it up (if you need to) when you place an order. The touch-bar is also here again, and I hate it. Please Apple, please just use the standard function row like on the MacBook Air.

Apple charges you S$300 (S$270 with education discount) for each upgrade. Ridiculous. | Source: Apple Singapore

Creature Comforts

Now before I give my conclusion, I would like to address some of the other features of the M1 MacBook Pro. About the port situation: you get a headphone jack, and 2 thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports. Both are charging capable, and both have fast transfer speeds. While this can be better, it is not different from the previous base model MacBook Pros. And they are thunderbolt capable as well, meaning you can connect this to a dock to connect legacy USB devices, displays and SD Cards. Not too bad then.

As for the keyboard, well, Apple has acknowledged the horrendous design of the butterfly switch and fitted this with the Magic Keyboard. Key travel is nice, resistance is good and everything feels tactile and snappy. This is an excellent laptop keyboard and it is a joy to use to type out notes or documents. I daresay that this is the benchmark of what a proper laptop keyboard should be, although I do prefer the Surface Laptop keyboards. The trackpad that comes under said keyboard is still the same old trackpad that we all love. Tracking is smooth and responsive, gesture control is great and easy to pick up and clicks are nice and tactile. The keyboard deck on this machine is excellent and distinctively Apple – which is a good thing.

Magic backlit keyboard of M1 MacBook Pro
Backlit Magic Keyboard is back

The display is nice as well. Colours look natural yet vibrant, blacks are satisfyingly deep and everything looks clean and crisp. The resolution is 2560 by 1600, which is a 16:10 aspect ratio, meaning you get more vertical space for more content in the same form factor. 227 pixels per inch (PPI) means that you won’t be able to see any individual pixels and everything is detailed and sharp.

Familiar Laptop

And there’s more. The speakers get plenty loud, and are in my mind best in class. Bass is present and sufficiently deep, mids are clear and well-represented and highs are clean and crisp. There is Wifi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. The screen gets plenty bright – 500 nits at its peak. The build is excellent: full aluminium chassis with little to no deck and screen flex. Thermal performance is excellent, it has never gotten hot during my use. The single fan inside barely spins, and when it does, it doesn’t try to demonstrate the sound of a jet engine. You can use your fingerprint to log in. Everything here is not just familiar for Apple, but familiar for a laptop.

M1 MacBook Pro on edge of the balcony

And that’s a good thing. This is supposed to be a next generation machine. It is the first laptop to successfully execute the use of an ARM-based processor. Rosetta 2 emulates programmes smoothly, optimised apps and software can tear a hole in space, and the battery lasts forever. Apple has demonstrated that the transition to ARM is not only the future of computing, it is already here.

Time for a Revolution

Looking back at the past decade, Apple has rarely been the “first mover”. For a long time now, Apple has seemed to have lost their sense of innovation. Every new release has been an incremental update, a slight spec bump to keep up with the times. And sometimes, they even mess it up. The 2019 (and some 2020) MacBooks had massive thermal issues. The butterfly keyboards were a mess and didn’t work half the time. The new iPhones look outdated with the massive notch. And the list goes on.

However, this time is different. In the computing world, we have not seen a change on such a scale since the transition from Power PC to Intel. But now, it is time for a revolution, and for the first time in a long time, Apple is leading the charge.

M1 MacBook Pro Review taken in the dark

Models and Pricing

The M1 Macbook Pro starts at S$1849 (S$1709 with the education discount). The model tested here has been upgraded to 16GB RAM and 512GB storage (costs S$2449, S$2279 with the education discount).

For those who do not need the battery power of the Macbook Pro, we recommend getting the M1 Macbook Air. The M1 Macbook Air (has 2 models) starts at S$1449 (8 Core CPU/7 Core GPU) and S$1799 (8 Core CPU/8 Core GPU). Education pricing starts at S$1299 and S$1649 respectively. If you do decide on the Air, we will recommend the base (8 Core CPU/7 Core GPU) spec and using any money saved to upgrade RAM and storage. The performance gap between the two Air models is near insignificant.

About Author