A short review of Apple’s new M1 MacBooks

How do they do?

Pascal Janetzky

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Apple presented the refreshed M1 MacBooks about three weeks ago. Because of the custom chips used, you should be prepared to learn (at least when using them for Machine Learning tasks). I covered this in an earlier article.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to play with the new MacBooks shortly. Difficult to last year’s model, they come with 14" and 16" screens. In my eyes, the small version, 14", is only marginally bigger than the older 13" model. This is primarily due to the increased screen-to-body ratio.

We have already seen this in many Windows and Linux devices; the current smartphones also have a high screen-to-body ratio, regardless of the manufacturer. This concept is now coming to the MacBook Pro models. In the 13" model, the space between the display’s top edge and the housing is large enough to “hold” my little finger. In the 14" model, this space is much more narrow.

How is that? The camera is now integrated into the actual display. This part is called “notch” and was introduced with the iPhone X a couple of years ago. Because I’ve often wondered why the screens have such useless edges, I welcome this development, as it incorporates bigger displays in smaller bodies.

As usual, the screens themself can get very bright — a handy property if you’re going to work in all sorts of places. The maximum brightness of last year’s model is 500 nits. I frequently use such a device and can fairly say this is ample enough for 95% of the cases. In the new models, the number has doubled, with up to 1000 nits. That’s ok; it will cover the five remaining percentage points.

Besides the increased brightness, Apple has also incorporated both higher resolutions and increased (and dynamic) refresh rates. While I welcome both advancements, they will not make a difference in my case. I mainly use the laptop for doing Machine Learning stuff:

  • Coding
  • Researching on Google Scholar
  • Reading PDF documents
  • Traversing GitHub and Stackoverflow

These use cases will also work with a regular 60 Hz display. However, for (professional) photographers or video editors, these improvements are nice.

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