So, you’re in the market for a new laptop. As it happens, Apple recently released two brand new computers — a 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro — complete with the speedy M1 Pro chip, the return of MagSafe charging, large mini LED displays, and other exciting new features. But before you say “that one, please” and hand Apple your money, consider the possibility you don’t actually need the new MacBook Pro after all.
Of course, “You don’t need the new MacBook Pro,” is something I and many others are likely chanting to ourselves, since our current machines do not currently require an upgrade of any sort. If you find yourself in a similar situation, know you and I are not the focus of this article, however tempting we might find Apple’s M1 Pro machines. I’m talking to the person whose old laptop isn’t cutting it anymore, and is considering one of Apple’s new MacBook Pros. To that person, I say: You’re likely better off buying a different computer. Here’s why.
Apple really means “Pro” with its MacBook Pro this year
The “Pro” name is something Apple has worn to death; nearly every Apple product now has a Pro variant, but rarely does it live it up to the name. In Apple-world, Pro usually means “more features, more expensive.” You don’t need to be a professional to buy an iPad Pro, for example; while it features a better display and the M1 chip, the overall iPadOS experience is largely the same, whether you have an iPad Pro, iPad Air, or even a base-model iPad.
Even the MacBook Pros of the past pushed the Pro name a little too far. Sure, the higher-spec MacBook Pros were designed for professionals, especially those requiring extra graphical power and performance increases. However, you wouldn’t buy a base-model MacBook Pro for someone in this field; instead, you’d buy one of these laptops to get a couple extra ports, access to faster internals, and a slightly brighter display.
This year, however, Apple dedicated itself to the “Pro” name. These MacBook Pros ship with the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, Apple’s successor to its impressive M1 chip. In short, these components go hard, delivering significant gains in computing performance and dramatic improvements in graphical power. There is no doubt anyone who works in video, gaming, animation, or other graphically-intensive fields will find these chips live up to the “Pro” promise.
If you’re a part of this audience, then, of course, the new MacBook Pros are a wise decision. For the rest of us, though — the ones who don’t use their computers for graphically intensive work — there’s a harsh truth to be had here; we do not need these machines.
Apple’s M1 Macs are still impressive
When Apple released the M1 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini last year, it disrupted the entire market. M1 brought power and efficiency we hadn’t seen before in a consumer computer, making the machines easy to recommend to just about anyone.
Apple’s latest computers might supercharge Apple silicon, again redefining our expectations for power and efficiency in a laptop, but that doesn’t mean M1 is any less impressive. I write about tech, so I’m always tempted by the latest and greatest Apple has to offer. But I write, which requires next to no computing power whatsoever. The most pressure I put on my Mac is when I have too many tabs open.
My M1 Mac is more than capable of handling whatever I throw at it; I research and write while listening to music from Apple Music, switching over to Slack and email every now and then. In my off time, I watch YouTube, Netflix, or HBO Max, surf Reddit, and use Messages to keep in touch with friends. I doubt I push my Mac to any of its limits in my use, so to do my job on an M1 Pro MacBook would be wasted potential. I assume the same could be said for many reading this post.
While we’ll have to wait for units to ship to testers before we know how real life use compares between the M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 chips, we have enough data now to know M1 is overkill already for many of those who use it. The M1 MacBook Air can hold its own video-editing in Final Cut Pro, let alone delivering your emails.
The new MacBook Pros are expensive
With this argument in mind, consider Apple’s pricing for the next MacBook Pros. The 14-inch model starts at A$2,999, while the 16-inch starts at A$3,749. A$2,999 for a laptop is a huge expense, and one that shouldn’t be made lightly.
Consider the difference between the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. The Air starts at A$1,499, exactly 1,500 dollars cheaper than Apple’s new laptop. Of course, any customisations to the Air will bring the prices closer together; upgrading to an 8-core GPU brings the price up to A$1,849, and 16 GB of RAM will cost an extra A$300. Even still, if you buy a souped-up MacBook Air, you will save about A$850 by not going for the MacBook Pro.
You can apply the same logic to the M1 MacBook Pro, M1 iMac, and M1 Mac mini when compared to the new MacBook Pros, all with varying savings. If you have an external display already, the M1 Mac mini is absolutely the best value. It starts at A$1,099, and the A$1,399 price tag on a model with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage is nothing compared to the M1 Pro MacBook Pros.
At the end of the day, however, you will always save money going with M1. Even though Apple gives the new MacBook Pros bigger education discounts than previous Macs, it isn’t enough to close the gap more than A$400 in any comparable configuration. The outlier is the 8-core M1 iMac, which comes within A$67–100 of the 14-inch MacBook Pro when you upgrade storage and RAM.
To be fair, there are more features to consider here than just the professional-grade internals; the new MacBook Pros sport some options anyone would enjoy — an HDMI port; an SD card slot; MagSafe charging (why did Apple ever remove this); a super-bright, high-contrast, high-refresh rate display; and an improved FaceTime camera are just some of the changes that improve the day-to-day use and utility of the new MacBook Pros.
The question is, what price do you put on those features? How much would you pay to have a MacBook with magnetic charging again? Would you spend an extra A$850 if it meant your display was bigger and brighter? Could you live with a laptop without an SD card reader if it meant you could afford an iPad mini to go along with it?
These questions have personal answers; if you have the money to burn, and you’d rather have all these fun features, then go for it! But for the majority of consumers — the ones who just want a reliable Apple laptop for work and personal use — their money is likely better spent on an M1 Mac.