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2021 16-inch MacBook Pro review: One year later, still worth buying

The 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro

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Apple’s 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro powered by M1 Pro and M1 Max Apple Silicon launched more than a year ago. As we await new M2 versions, we revisit how well these machines have held up under our daily workload.

In October of 2021, Apple ditched the design it chose in 2016 and debuted a pair of new MacBook Pros. We reviewed them both, of course.

Most of the staff who were in the market for a new machine purchased the M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro, and we have been using it nearly every day since.

The new machines shipped with a bevy of new features. They carried a redesigned chassis, three Thunderbolt ports instead of four, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, an updated display, and Apple Silicon inside.

In the past year, we’ve thrown a lot at our machine, from 8K multi-cam video editing, dynamic fluid flow plus associated boundary layer calculations, to more open Safari tabs than we can count and it has never skipped a beat.

2021 16-inch MacBook Pro specifications

Display Size (inches)16.2
Max Resolution3,456 x 2,234
Pixel Density254
Brightness1,000 nits sustained,
1,600 nits peak
Display BacklightingMini LED
Display TechnologyWide Color (P3),
True Tone
Processors10-core M1 Pro,
10-core M1 Max
Memory16GB Unified Memory, up to 64GB
GraphicsM1 Pro 16-core,
M1 Max 24-core
M1 Max 32-core
External Video2 6K displays at 60Hz (M1 Pro),
3 6K and 1 4K at 60Hz (M1 Max)
Storage512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 8TB
Touch BarNo
BiometricsTouch ID
TrackpadForce Touch
KeyboardBacklit with ambient light sensor
Dimensions (inches)14.01x 9.77 x 0.66
Weight (pounds)4.7 (M1 Pro),
4.8 (M1 Max)
Battery Life21 Hours
Ports3 Thunderbolt 4 ports,
SDXC card slot,
MagSafe 3,
Headphone jack
Webcam1080p FaceTime HD
SpeakersSix speakers with force-cancelling woofers, Dolby Atmos
Microphones3 with directional beamforming
Wi-FiWi-Fi 6
Charger140W USB-C
Color OptionsSilver, Space Gray
PriceRetails starting at $2,499 – but frequently on sale

2021 16-inch MacBook Pro, one year later – Still a great redesign

Our 16-inch MacBook Pro looks fantastic. It has nearly no signs of wear from the past year, and we adore the flat redesign. The old design, while still handsome, started to look a bit dated with its bulging curves.

The new straight edges look more modern and align better with Apple’s current design philosophy employed across iPhone and iPad. It also carries some nostalgia for us, hinting towards the design of much older MacBook Pros.

MacBook Pro has a new design

MacBook Pro has a new design

It always fits easily into our bags for travel and is comfortable to use. There isn’t anything we’d change from this physical exterior design.

One of the more controversial changes to this Mac is the larger display that incorporates a notch in the center of the menu bar. We had no issue with it at launch, and we’ve held steadfast in that opinion.

Unless you’ve got a really long menu bar, it makes no difference at all. In exchange for the notch, the MacBook Pro got a larger display with the menu bar now occupying the space on either side of the camera system, while Apple is free to provide upgraded camera hardware.

MacBook Pro keyboard and ports

MacBook Pro keyboard and ports

Our only minor qualm is still the lack of a Touch Bar. We understand many disliked the Touch Bar or, at best, found it unnecessary. We appreciated the Touch Bar for how it sped up our workflow.

Opening Affinity Photo showed a preview of recent working files along the Touch Bar for quick access, and filling out forms was expedited by multiple options that would display on the Touch Bar.

Touch Bar is gone, and it isn’t coming back. But we still feel a pang of sadness every time we have to jump through extra hoops that the Touch Bar used to alleviate.

Exclusive Deals Through AppleInsider

14″ MacBook Pro with M1 Pro

Configurable with Apple’s M1 Pro 8-core CPU and 14-core GPU, or up to a 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU.

Buy from $1,699

14″ MacBook Pro with M1 Max

Configurable with Apple’s M1 Max chip with a 10-core CPU and 24-core GPU, or up to a 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU.

Buy from $2,445

16″ MacBook Pro with M1 Pro

Powered by Apple’s M1 Pro chip with a 16-core GPU.

Buy from $2,089

16″ MacBook Pro with M1 Max

Apple’s M1 Max chip can be configured with a 24-core GPU or a 32-core GPU.

Buy from $2,599

Powering through our daily workflow

Performance remains the same. In case you missed our first review of the machine, these new chips boast a 10-core CPU with a 16-core Neural Engine, with memory bandwidth increased to 400GB/s on the Max.

Each also incorporates a new Media Engine as part of the SoC design, which enables hardware-accelerated H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW decoding and encoding. On the M1 Max, the Media Engine’s improved further to include two video encode engines, and two ProRes encode and decode engines, making it even better for video production.

This is all before you take into account the built-in GPU. The M1 Max starts with a 24-core GPU and rises to a 32-core option, which is what we have here.

Apple’s GPU and GPU speed gains are not the whole story. The 1TB flash drive we tested here is blisteringly fast as well. Using BlackMagic’s disk speed tester, we saw 6.4 gigabytes per second write speed and 5.3 gigabytes per second read.

You won’t quite get these speeds on the 512GB model, though. In our testing, we saw the same read speed at about 5.3 gigabytes per second, but a drop in write speeds to about 4 gigabytes per second. This is entirely due to less parallelization with the smaller storage capacity.

While the rest of the staff has different needs, most of my workflow with the Macbook Pro has been video production for AppleInsider‘s YouTube channel, photo editing, and plenty of writing. There’s also been occasional gaming.

None of these tasks have been burdensome for the M1 Max. It has powered through easily, speeding up our workflow, managing an unending pile of simultaneously open apps, and running on battery for hours.

Across the staff, we’ve had multiple incidences of not plugging into power or a Thunderbolt dock and not realizing it for hours until we glanced at the battery indicator, and it wasn’t full.

I should have opted for more storage on my personal machine. With the help of the JetDrive Lite, we were able to add an extra terabyte of storage via the SD card reader. The JetDrive Lite isn’t the fastest storage given that it’s SD-based, but it is an easy way to store files without needing an external SSD or hard drive.

Belkin's MagSafe adapter

Belkin’s MagSafe adapter

We felt let down initially by the new 1080P webcam of the MacBook Pro. It was an upgrade, but still not as good as a dedicated webcam. We’d gripe more about this if it weren’t for macOS Ventura.

Ventura offers Continuity Camera that allows you to use your iPhone’s rear-facing camera as your Mac’s webcam. This provides a far superior experience and has left us unconcerned with the integrated solution.

Still worth the purchase

It is common for a first-generation product, or at least the first-generation after a redesign, to have some rough edges that need refining with the next iteration. So far, that hasn’t been the case with the new MacBook Pro.

The keyboard is responsive and fast, the display looks incredible and vivid, and the M1 Max has crushed it. We’d still have preferred four Thunderbolt ports instead of three with HDMI and a SD card reader, but you can’t always get what you want.

For most users, we recommend either the stock M1 or M2 MacBook Air. If you need more power, or are looking at nearly any upgrade at purchase to the M2 MacBook Air, the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro with either the M1 Pro or M1 Max Apple Silicon is an excellent machine for about the same price given the sales we’ve seen lately.

2021 16-inch MacBook Pro — Pros

  • Sleek redesign
  • M1 Max is still a more than capable chipset
  • Plenty of ports
  • Great looking display
  • Fantastic battery life
  • macOS Ventura added plenty of new features

2021 16-inch MacBook Pro — Cons

  • We still morn the loss of the Touch Bar
  • Your mileage may vary, but four Thunderbolt ports is more flexible than three with HDMI and SD
  • No Wi-Fi 6e
  • Built-in camera is only OK

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy (and save on) Apple’s MacBook Pro

Apple’s 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro laptops are currently up to $700 off, with exclusive deals at your fingertips in our Mac Price Guide.

At press time, Apple Authorized Reseller Adorama is discounting every configuration with promo code APINSIDER and this activation link, in addition to knocking $70 to $80 off AppleCare with the same coupon.

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