Don’t get me wrong, there were some very positive things about the new laptop. The new M1 processor is impressive, but far from perfect- it has many warts, that nearly nobody is discussing. I think the new MacBook Pro 13” M1 will be fine for users who use 100% Apple software, stay primarily in Safari and don’t need to connect it to a bunch of peripherals.
I wanted to provide some balance to those early reviews and discuss who shouldn’t consider the new MacBook Pro 13” M1. I know that may sound negative, but I call it balance. I’ve used my unit for nearly five days and here is my assessment of who should avoid it.
Want assured software compatibility and performance– The new M1 MacBook will not run native MacOS applications built in the past ten years. This is because the Apple M1 processor that doesn’t speak the same software language as the Intel-based Macs. The new M1 MacBook Pro uses binary translation to convert Intel instructions to Arm instructions through an app called Rosetta 2. If you experienced Rosetta with the PowerPC to Intel nightmare software transition, you have an idea what you’re getting yourself into. I’m told it should be better than last time, but I’m not seeing it yet.
So far, I experienced application crashes in Microsoft Edge, Outlook, and Logitech Camera Control. I got installation errors with a Samsung backup application. I couldn’t even install Adobe Reader XI 11.0.10. The installer just sat there and I had to hard reboot the entire system. Acrobat DC will not install either. “Acrobat DC not yet available for devices with Apple silicon. (Error code: 405).”
I experienced weird camera interaction with Skype for Business as my cameras would bounce between the Mac’s camera and my external Logitech C922. While Apple may have promised miraculous levels of compatibility, it’s just not here yet for what I’m testing. I’d wait for the Arm binary compatible apps if you want assured compatibility.
If you’re an enterprise and have MacBooks on your approved client list, you may want to start testing these as soon as possible to see if the new MacBooks will even run your corporate apps and your management and security software stacks.
Want assured performance- Note that most all the performance claims being made by the Apple-chosen reviewers are for Apple applications or benchmarks. AnandTech showed that Rosetta 2 can add up to an 50% CPU performance penalty on non-Apple, non-Arm native code applications. This makes a lot of sense to me as binary translation is very hard to do. My experiences varied from app to app.
For me, Edge browser was very, very slow and indicative of complex code. Outlook was better but I experienced some lags. OneNote was extremely laggy. I couldn’t see any issues at all with Word or PowerPoint. I experienced lags in Skype for Business, Webex, Zoom, and Teams. Before you dive in, make sure your apps run well with the M1’s new architecture.
Want assured battery life- The M1 chip is a derivative of the iPhone and iPad chip and overclocked, so you’d expect good battery life. On Apple apps, native Arm apps, and Safari, I think users should get good battery life. My experience was quite different on my use case. I got about 4.5 hours to 10% battery running Outlook, OneNote, Chrome WhatsApp Word, one Skype for Biz call, one Zoom call, and one Webex call. That’s about half the battery life that Apple and Apple-chosen reviewers were experiencing.
Play AAA games- I believe there’s a reason why Apple and the Apple-chosen reviewers are always talking about Tomb Raider. This is likely because it’s one of the few games that works relatively well under emulation over 30fps and it leverages the proprietary, Apple Metal API versus an open API. C-Net reported that Steam barely works and without Steam working well, I think you’re dead in the water for AAA games. I’m sure Bejeweled and Flappy Birds work great, though.
I will be testing out many AAA games over the next few weeks and even more when I can get the 16GB version of the Pro. I didn’t think it would be fair to Apple to run AAA games on an 8GB machine.
Connecting more than one external USB peripheral- The MacBook Pro 13” M1 has two USB ports which means when you plug in your Mac, you only will have one remaining left. That’s one port for an external display or one to charge your iPhone, or one for an external drive or one for a keyboard or mouse. Remember, this is a “Pro” not a MacBook Air. I think professionals need more than one open port. Even the new Surface Laptop Go starting at $549 has two open USB ports while charging.
Want a touchscreen- Even the Apple-chosen early reviewers said that the iOS application experience was horrible and disjointed. Therefore, I’d say running iOS applications adds zero value until Apple adds a touch-screen. What I’ve never comprehended is why Apple supports touch displays on iPhones, Watch, and iPad, but not on the MacBook. The Windows community has found a way to add touchscreen and keep designs thin and it seems like Apple could figure that out, too.
Want LTE or 5G- Like touch-screen, what’s good for iPhone, iPad and Watch apparently isn’t good for the MacBook Pro. Therefore, if you want to be always connected wirelessly, you’re out of luck. During Covid-19, I know many people using their LTE-infused notebooks so they don’t have to compete with their kids for bandwidth.
Want more than one external display– Unrelated to the lack of USB ports, the MacBook Pro M1 is maxed out at one external display. This is one example where the iPhone and iPad-inspired M1 chip is showing growing pains. Not everybody needs more than one display, but I would say many professionals do. I’m a professional and currently use four external displays.
Fans do come on
One other observation I saw with the Apple-chosen first reviewers was about the complete lack of fan noise. There was discussion about no fan noise even when doing very compute intensive applications. I found that hard to believe and untrue for my review. To Apple’s credit, I hear the fan less with this design than previous MacBooks. Apple created a new fan design apparently with the new MacBook Pros as it doesn’t even call it a fan anymore.
Want to fan up your new MacBook Pro M1? Do a WebEx, Teams, or Zoom call and my system heated up and fans were actively whirring. I have a FLIR camera coming in this weekend to show you some photos.
Why not drag Surface Pro X?
You may be wondering why I didn’t drag the Surface Pro X through this. It’s very simple- Microsoft didn’t promise the world to everybody with the Surface Pro X like Apple has done with the MacBook Pro 13” M1.
I meticulously went through the transcripts of Apple’s WWDC and Mac event and the company promised everything on performance and compatibility to everybody. I wrote about those promises here. Microsoft, on the other hand, has been very reserved, conservative, measured, and focused, not pretending the Surface Pro X with the SQ1 or SQ2 is for everybody. Microsoft targets the Surface Pro X to specific use cases as the system isn’t right for everybody.
I am impressed with what Apple has done with the M1 chip but am disappointed the company made promises I don’t think it can keep, made claims it doesn’t explain during announcements, and that the Apple-chosen reviewers didn’t find the warts I found in the first two hours of review.
The broken promises became evident within a few hours of my use case. I believe someone has to keep the company honest and to give the other side of the story when it comes to the new MacBook Pro. The new MacBook Pro 13 M1 is going to be fine for users that only use Apple software, but for those who want more, I recommend going with the Intel version for $100 more or looking at the much more competitive diverse Windows-based options out there.
In the Windows ecosystem, you can get lighter and more diverse designs, higher resolution displays, touch-displays, LTE and 5G, software and peripheral compatibility, and you’ll pay less.
In the future, I will be testing more AAA games, media and workstation apps, and reporting right here. Feel free to follow my test by test of the new MacBook here.
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