Review: MacBook Pro 2020 with M1 is astonishing–with one possible deal-breaker

Jack Wallen dove into the Apple Silicon waters and found them exhilarating. Read about his experience after purchasing a new 2020 MacBook Pro with the M1 chip.

Apple’s 2020 MacBook Pro with M1

Image: Apple

I spent weeks deliberating what laptop to purchase. In the end, I had only three requirements for my laptop:

  1. It must have a 13-inch display.
  2. It must have an outstanding keyboard.
  3. It must not run Windows.

Of those three, one was of particular importance–the keyboard. I’m a writer by profession. I write over a million words a year (between tech journalism and fiction), so I have a very intimate relationship with the keyboard. Couple that with the fact my last workhorse laptop was a 2017 MacBook Pro with the dreaded scissor keyboard, and you understand my need to place a singular focus on those keys.

As for the 13-inch requirement? That’s just my preference. Anything bigger and I find the keyboard not as efficient and the size a bit cumbersome.

With regards to my OS choice, I simply find Windows to be more in the way than any other operating system. Not only that, but it always feels like it’s about to come crashing down around me. That leaves Linux, macOS, and ChromeOS.

Although Linux is my OS of choice on the desktop (and nothing will change my mind on that front), there are some very small points that the open source platform misses out on–primarily the trackpad. The lack of multi-touch gesture support is a real pain, especially given the technology has been around for so long. That leaves macOS and ChromeOS.

Since I also do a lot of video editing, that leaves only one choice for me: macOS.

Because of an odd combination of hardware and software, it became very clear my best route was a new MacBook Pro.

Then came the second quandary. Do I buy one of the last Intel-based MacBooks, or do I jump on the early adopter bandwagon and purchase a brand new MacBook Pro with the M1 chip?

In the end, I decided it was time to join the hordes of early adopters and purchase a shiny new Apple Silicon-y MacBook Pro.

I’m glad I did.

SEE: How to migrate to a new iPad, iPhone, or Mac (TechRepublic Premium)

Performance to spare with the M1 MacBook Pro 2020

I’m not a benchmark junkie–never have been, never will be. I don’t really care about numbers. What I care about is how something performs in the real world. What I’m going to say should carry more weight with consumers than a collection of graphs, charts, and comparisons.

Upon getting the M1 MacBook Pro set up, one of the first things I did was open Safari and start hitting the internet. My immediate impression? I have never seen websites load this quickly.

Ever. Period.

On paper, the specs on my desktop blow the MacBook Pro away, and yet, it cannot hold a candle to how blazingly fast Safari renders websites–that’s across the board. Every site I go to appears almost instantly. We’re talking blink of an eye fast. Once a site is cached, it makes me laugh how quickly they load.

I’m not exaggerating–no matter what site I visit, if I blink I’ll miss the loading.

Next up was email. Open Apple Mail and the missives are dumped into the inbox with incredible speed. Comparing that to my previous MacBook and the difference is eye-opening.

That’s a lot of hyperbole. It’s also truth.

SEE: Apple Silicon M1 Mac buying guide: 2020 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro vs. Mac mini (TechRepublic)

The final test for me is rendering video. I tend to create videos anywhere from two minutes to 20 minutes in length. They aren’t overly complicated, but on my older MacBook, those 20 minute videos can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes to render, depending on how many tracks I’ve added. On the new MacBook Pro, that time is cut in half. I rendered one eight-minute video (without compression) and it took about 30 seconds. That same video, with compression, took about two minutes to render. That’s really fast.

What also surprised me was the silence. With my old MacBook Pro, the second I’d start rendering videos the fans would spin up as though the laptop was about to lift off from the desk. The M1 MacBook Pro is perfectly silent. Much to my surprise, I never feel a bit of heat coming from the thing. With the previous iteration, just using the laptop to work on a manuscript (Safari with a few tabs) would warm up my lap a bit. The M1 laptop? Nothing.

What Apple has done with their new hardware is absolutely brilliant.

The M1 MacBook Pro 2020’s keyboard

Let’s talk about the keyboard. I’m not ready to say it’s the best keyboard I’ve ever used–it’s not. That title is still held by the 2015 Pixel Chromebook. However, compared to the 2017 MacBook Pro, the 2020 keyboard is a game changer. When I type on the 2017 keyboard, it sounds like I’m going full-on aggression mode and beating the keys into submission. Let’s not forget that a single spec of dust, floating anywhere near those keys, could render the keyboard stuck or stuttering.

The 2020 keyboard is worlds apart from that sad mistake found on the previous incarnation. Maybe after the keys loosen up a bit, they might claim the crown from that Pixel. Anything is possible it seems.

The M1 MacBook Pro 2020’s battery

This is the next area that really blows my mind. Although I didn’t include it as one of my priorities, because I spend most of my time at home with my laptops, battery life is still important. Even when my 2017 MacBook Pro was new, the battery life was pathetic. I was lucky to eke out five solid hours of usage. If I used a browser other than Safari, that usage could easily be knocked down to four. On a number of occasions, I could actually watch the battery percentage drop as I used it.

This is not the case with the 2020 MacBook Pro. I did a full charge, before I started the laptop for the first time, and didn’t have to charge it again for four days. Don’t get me wrong, that wasn’t four days of constant usage. That equated to roughly eight hours of usage, until the battery was down to about 30%, so I could have easily squeezed another three hours out of that battery.

That’s impressive.

Outside of that, the 2020 MacBook Pro ticks off all the boxes:

One caveat about the M1 MacBook Pro 2020

Although the M1 MacBook Pro is about as perfect a laptop as I’ve ever used, it does have one caveat that is small for me, but it could be a deal-breaker for others.

For the most part, I tend to use only Apple software on my MacBook Pro:

  • Safari
  • Apple Mail
  • Final Cut Pro
  • Pages

There’s a rare instance when I have to make use of a third-party piece of software. Those occasions are:

  • My password manager
  • Google Drive Sync

Thankfully, my password manager of choice works like a charm on Big Sur. Unfortunately, Google Drive Sync doesn’t, but that’s not a deal-breaker for me. For the time being, I can always manually upload files to my Drive account. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, Google will get this issue fixed.

However, it does point to the fact that not all third-party software will function properly on the M1-chipped Apple hardware–at least not out of the gate. Given time, I’m confident all of the software you use will behave as expected on the hardware.

My conclusion about the M1 MacBook Pro 2020

It’s pretty simple. If you want one of the best performing laptops on the market, and you don’t require third-party software, the new 2020 Apple MacBook Pro is what you want. If you have a number of non-Apple software titles that you use, you might want to hold off until those companies work out the kinks in the software.

For those who decide to wait it out, I would presume those third-party software companies will have their programs working with the M1 chip (and Big Sur) sooner, rather than later.

The 2020 MacBook Pro has impressed me more than any laptop I have ever used, bar none. This laptop is truly astonishing.

So what are you waiting for? Software? Bah. Just buy this beautiful piece of technology and enjoy it. The software will eventually come along for the ride.

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