16-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro: The good, the bad, and the very, very ugly

Spending $3,000 on a MacBook is not all fun and games. There's also a lot of screaming and tearing out of hair.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Okay, so the time came for me to upgrade my 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro, replacing it with the new 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro with Apple's new M1 Pro chip.

It's a good machine.

Great, in fact, but it's not perfect. And Apple has dropped the ball several times when it comes to making the new MacBook Pro a smooth, painless experience for new owners.

OK, let's start with the good bits.

Speed is out of this world, and the display is like cucumber slices on your eyes.

Battery life is out of this world, with a day's use on a single charge being possible even when I'm pushing the system hard.

In these three areas, Apple has hit it out of the park.

The design is also nice, dropping the industrial, angular design for a more curved look and feel.

This is a portable system designed with carrying it around in mind.

I'm also thrilled that MagSafe is back, but I also love the convenience of still being able to use USB-C for charging.

This is a great touch.

The new front-facing camera is streets ahead of the previous-generation camera setup, and the notch is the perfect solution for maximizing screen real-estate. People who are worked up about this don't have enough to worry about.

OK, that's the good. But it's not all good.

First look: 16-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro

First off, it's nice that we have more ports, but the lack of a USB-A port means that I still need to carry a dongle.

That's a shame. I know that not everyone will need one (I'm guessing folks at Apple don't), but the people most likely to have something vital that uses USB-A are creative pros.

So, I'm not throwing those dongles away just yet.

Then there's the end to running x86 versions of Windows on the MacBook Pro. The Arm version works, and you can get x86 apps to run, but I'll let my ZDNet writing colleague David Gewirtz take you on that journey.

Then there's the ugly.

The very ugly.

Yes, there's ugly.

Shifting from one iPhone to another is simple. You can do it in less than an hour, and then your new iPhone is like your old iPhone, only faster and with a better camera.

It's a system that's super smooth and caters to people who upgrade yearly.

Migrating from one Mac to another is a mess.

The migration process itself is smooth, but on first fire-up, you're inundated with a blizzard of security messages and demands to activate software packages.

This is a truly terrible first-boot user experience.

I know, I know, this isn't really an Apple issue, and if we all bought software from the App Store we wouldn't have these problems, but it would be nice if Apple offered developers a better framework.

It's also not a MacBook Pro-specific issue, but it's ghastly. For time-crunched professionals, the amount of clicking and messing with security settings and goofing about with activations is going to be painful. It's taken me a couple of days to make sure everything is working again.

Then there's the transition to Apple Silicon apps.

I think Apple is kinda hoping that developers will soon shift over Mac apps to being universal, in that they'll run on both Intel and Apple Silicon.

But right now, that's not the case.

For example, if you use the Google Chrome browser, and migrate from an Intel Mac to an Apple Silicon Mac, you'll end up using the Intel version of Google Chrome, and there's nothing obvious in macOS to tell you that you might be able to upgrade.

And it's true of other apps.

This is another aspect that feels messy. And frustrating.

Suites like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud are great on this front, but you can still end up running a whole swathe of apps aimed at Intel Macs on your shiny new M1 Pro or M1 Max MacBook Pro.

That's such a waste of the hardware on offer.

Apple could do a lot better here. A lot better.

It's interesting here that most of my grievances are to do with the software rather than the hardware, but since Apple has tight control over the ecosystem, I think that this is fair game.

You buy a Mac, and it comes with macOS.

There's the hardware and the software, and both need to work smoothly for the experience to be a pleasant one.

And my migration experience was far from that.

So, the hardware is a win, with a few tiny exceptions (ports), but for pros making the switch, the whole migration process is really ugly and messy, and Apple should put more effort into making the shift to new machines less painful.

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