MacBook Pro: Finally, a Mac That’s as Good as the iPad Pro

Well, almost as good

Key Takeaways

  • The MacBook Pro finally delivers on Apple’s hardware promise.
  • It has the iPad Pro's battery life, silence, and cool-running, but in a MacBook.
  • This may be the best computer Apple has ever made.
Person working on one of the new M1 powered MacBook's

Apple

With the MacBook Pro, Apple's Mac hardware has finally caught up to the iPad. 

For years, the iPad Pro has been Apple's most impressive computer. The flat-sided model introduced in 2018 was not only the thinnest computer Apple makes but also had the best screen, ran silently and cool without fans, and barely sipped at its battery.

By contrast, the top-of-the-line 16-inch MacBook Pro from 2019 would heat up to a lap-scalding, palm-sweating temperature at the slightest provocation before its noisy fans kicked in to join the party. But the new 2021 MacBooks Pro are iPad Pros at heart, and boy does it make a difference. 

"The MacBook Pro is as powerful as a desktop, with the added convenience of portability and the avoided hassle of having to set up a desktop," tech expert and advisor Aseem Kishore told Lifewire via email.

Intel’s Shame

The problem was of course Intel’s chips. Hot and power-hungry, these general-purpose chips were never a good match for the needs of a battery-powered portable computer, especially a powerful one that required extra power and cooling.

Apple’s own systems-on-a-chip (SoC) are the exact opposite. Born in the crucible of the early iPhones, Apple Silicon has always been about low power use, with performance gradually increasing until, in that 2018 iPad Pro, it was as good as all but Apple’s most high-end Macs. 

Then, in 2020, Apple dropped the M1-powered MacBook Air. This operates for what feels like forever on a single charge and runs so cool that it doesn’t even need a fan—just like the iPad and iPhone. And all the while it was as good, if not better, than most other laptop computers—including Apple’s own Intel MacBook Pros. 

But the 2020 M1 Macs still weren’t there. They were just the same old Intel Macs, only with Apple’s chips inside. They still used a crappy webcam, had old-fashioned, thick screen borders, and lacked ports to plug things in. The M1 Air is an incredible machine, loved by owners, but compared to the iPad Pro, it looked old-fashioned. 

And Then the MacBook Pro

I've been using a 14-inch MacBook Pro for the last week, and it delivers on almost everything promised by Apple's hardware designers with the iPad Pro. It feels like the device that should have followed the 2015 MacBook Pro if Apple hadn't gone down the route of removing ports and adding the regrettable butterfly keyboard. 

"The MacBook Pro is as powerful as a desktop, with the added convenience of portability and the avoided hassle of having to set up a desktop."

With the new 14- and 16-inch Pros, we're seeing what happens when Apple controls not just the software but the chips that it runs on. 

At first, using one of these machines feels weird. After the initial phase of indexing your hard drive and scanning your photo library, it just never gets hot. It's rarely even warm. Over the years, I developed a laptop stance without realizing—knees apart, and thighs used to kind of hold the edges of the computer, all to avoid heat buildup. With these MacBooks, the computer runs so cool that when the bottom panel warms up, it's more likely to be heat from your thighs. 

It's not cold all the time. Like the iPad, it warms up a little in use. But not much. And so far, like most other reports I've read, I have never once heard the fans. In fact, according to a system monitoring app, they have never even spun up. 

The next part of the iPad-matching hardware is the screen. It's so good that you might buy the machine just for that, over the inferior MacBook Air screen. It's bright, crisp, and has minimal borders at the edges. The notch, which contains the camera array, is a non-issue. You don't notice it because it's just a dark spot in the menu bar. 

An exploded view of the Apple M1 MacBook Pro screen.

Apple

The other thing you notice is how snappy this thing is. Even compared to the M1 Mac mini, the new Pro feels faster. Apps open instantly, and the machine is ready to go as soon as you open the lid. And it can even run iOS apps.

It's so impressive that veteran Apple journalist Jason Snell called it "A Mac Pro in your backpack" in his review

Still to Do

The Mac still has a little catching up to do. The obvious spot is the camera. The iPad Pro has a better FaceTime camera and also does FaceID, but that unit is too thick for the MacBook’s thin lid. The other significant missing feature is cellular data. An iPad is always connected. A Mac is not—although I bet Apple adds it eventually, now that its self-designed cellular modems are said to be almost ready to roll

I bought that 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pro and returned it after seeing how pathetic it was compared to my iPad. Now, the Mac is finally Apple’s best computer once again.

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