Review

Macbook Pro M1 Max: four things I noticed after 2 hours of testing

At long last, the Macbook Pro M1 Max is on my desk. Time to draw a first, completely subjective conclusion. But I promise you: there will be more.

It has now been exactly 126 minutes since I picked up a Macbook Pro featuring the new, hardcore-sounding M1 Max processor from my local Zurich store. As a Macbook user and occasional video editor, I was, of course, hooked on the silver-grey 16-incher following the keynote. So I won’t withhold my first impressions from you. However, I should add that these are just first impressions. After just two hours, you can’t even begin to do any kind of in-depth review – I’ll get back to you in a few days with more.

Apple MacBook Pro – Late 2021 (16 ", M1 Max, 32 GB, 1000 GB, CH)
3348.–

Apple MacBook Pro – Late 2021

16 ", M1 Max, 32 GB, 1000 GB, CH

16 ", M1 Max, 32 GB, 1000 GB, CH

46

Still, I can say one thing: the hype is real.

Big, bold and beefy: the Macbook Pro

It’s pretty obvious that the Macbook Pro with M1 Max is larger and heavier than its predecessor. Still, when unpacking, you’ll notice the size and weight. My kitchen scale puts it at 2165 grams. The previous model weighed a third less.

The Macbook Pro from the left…
The Macbook Pro from the left…
… and the right.
… and the right.

Its shape does remind me of older MagSafe Macbooks quite a bit. The edges are flatter, the casing thicker. In general, the Macbook makes more of a statement than its predecessors did.

Its creators have used the space well. While watching my first YouTube video, I noticed that they probably borrowed some of those new iPad Pro speakers. The sound is powerful by notebook standards. Basses, trebles and mids blur together when you turn up the volume, becoming almost unpleasantly loud.

Wide speakers provide rich laptop sound.
Wide speakers provide rich laptop sound.

Speaking of sound: the 3.5 mm jack connector has migrated. Most professional headphones have their cable connection on the left ear cup. Therefore, it would be nice if the port were also on the left side. Apple previously had them on the right. You had to run the cable around the back of the screen to keep it from resting on your keyboard at work.

Connections on the left are new. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s one of those details that leave a very good first impression.

One gigantic notch

The Macbook Pro has a notch. Sounds as harebrained as it looks. I now understand everyone who made fun of Apple’s controversial decision, sitting there at the top of the screen, taking up all the space. Notches are already antiquated on smartphones – nobody wants them any more – and selling them as a novelty and innovation for laptops seems almost satirical – or just marketing gobbledygook.

But wait, there’s more. Following the controversy, Shruti Haldea, Product Line Manager for Pro Macs at Apple, commented and followed up on the Same Brain Podcast.

«It’s a really smart way to give you more space for your content.»
Shruti Haldea, Same Brain Podcast.

The quote is taken out of context, but it still clearly shows the delusions that Apple has regarding notches in general. Here’s a fact: nobody likes notches. The fewer of them we have in our lives, the better.

But – and it’s a big but: if there really and undoubtedly has to be a notch, then the one on the Macbook Pro is as good as one can be. The notch protrudes just as far into the display as the Menu Bar is high, located at the upper screen edge in the macOS operating system. Actual content you use won’t be covered by it. Aside from movies sharing the exact same image diagonal in full-screen mode, maybe. You’ve got your icons and the time on the right, with menu items for active applications on the left. There’s a yawning void in the centre, which is now filled by the notch.

In width at least.

When it comes to height, things are quite different. In order to fit the notch nicely in front of the menu bar, it doesn’t actually adapt to that section, but the other way around. Apple simply designed the menu bar accordingly.

For this comparison to make sense logically, we have to consider and normalise the screen resolution of the M1 Max and its M1 predecessor. What this entails: the Apple icons on both screenshots were made the same size in Photoshop and superimposed. After that, I drew a red line at the bottom of the Menu Bar for better visibility.

The Menu Bar on last year’s model…
The Menu Bar on last year’s model…
… and on the M1 Max.
… and on the M1 Max.

Number-wise, it looks like this:

  • Menu bar height (M1): 49 pixels
  • Menu bar height (M1 Max): 79 pixels

The screen: 120 hertz, more intriguing than MiniLED

«If you believe the marketing, MiniLED is superior to OLED,» says Luca Fontana, an expert on screen technologies and critiquing them. Therefore, according to marketing, MiniLED should be brighter, have more local dimming zones, produce better black levels, and generally just be better than anything that has come before.

The technology isn’t new. Otherwise, Apple probably wouldn’t have installed them in the Macbooks. They usually like to play it safe before launching anything. Apple likes to wait until other manufacturers have made their first experiences and the internal research department has finished taking a look at the technology. Sometimes the Cupertino-based company waits quite a long time. For notches and MiniLEDs, for example.

A screenshot made during the intro to «Blade Runner».
A screenshot made during the intro to «Blade Runner».

A convincing first impression. I don’t see any blooming. This being when dimming zones outside a bright object on the screen are illuminated. My colleague Kevin tested this with Darth Vader’s lightsaber in front of his black cowl. A similar test using the first scenes from the movie «Blade Runner» in 4K shows: it’s definitely a good fit.

What’s even more impressive: the 120-hertz screen. Especially when I scroll or type, everything seems more fluid and smoother. I like that a lot. It should also be less tiring on the eyes than a 60 hertz panel. In other words, we’ll just have to wait and see.

An initial conclusion: a beautiful device that stirs emotions and hopes

I deliberately refrained from benchmarks. Sure, I could rattle through Geekbench, but I wouldn’t have time for more. Last year, I did. Same as now, but I won’t write about it until the upcoming review.

Macbook Pro M1 Max Geekbench

Should I run a quick Geekbench?

  • Yes
    85%
  • No
    14%

The competition has ended.

My first impression of the new Macbook Pro is that it is beautiful, big, heavy and fast. I already noticed the increased processor power of the M1 Max by how much faster applications installed than before. But what impresses me most is definitely the display. It looks so very good, and everything glides smoothly across the screen. Nice.

In terms of look and design, the M1 Max is a Macbook Pro as I imagine it. Not from last year, but around 2013. The shape is wonderfully retro and shows, among other things, that space was needed to fit all the ports, the cooling, the larger system-on-a-chip and as much battery as possible into the case. This doesn’t do the concept of simple elegance any favours, but it proves that «form following function» is still Apple’s philosophy.

Something to end on: after 120 minutes of testing, I’ve already forgotten that there’s a notch. Even if it annoys me as soon as I consciously perceive it.

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Journalist. Author. Hacker. A storyteller searching for boundaries, secrets and taboos – putting the world to paper. Not because I can but because I can’t not.


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