Apple MacBook Pro 13” M1 Review- Why You Might Want To Pass

I’ve read the first batch of Apple MacBook Pro 13” M1 reviews from the Apple-chosen first reviewers and you’d be hard to find anything negative about the new laptop. At the worst, there were some complaints about the iOS app experience, but on the whole, early reviews, described the new MacBook Pro 13’ essentially as God’s gift to the notebook wanting masses.

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 likely 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, and have a lot of money. 

I wanted to provide some balance to those early reviews and discuss who I believe 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 whom I think should avoid it.

Want assured software compatibility– The new M1 MacBook will not run native MacOS applications built in the past ten years. This is because the Apple M1 processor doesn’t speak the same underlying software language as the Intel-based Macs. The new M1 MacBook Pro needs to use binary translation to convert Intel instructions to Arm instructions through an app called Rosetta 2. If you experienced the nightmarish PowerPC to Intel Rosetta 1 software transition, you have an idea what you’re getting yourself into. I’m told the Rosetta experience should be better than last time, but I’m not seeing it yet.

Edge crash
 PATRICK MOORHEAD

So far, I have experienced application crashes in Microsoft Edge, Outlook, WinZip and Logitech Camera Control. I got installation errors with Adobe Reader XI, Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, a Samsung SSD backup application, and Xbox 360 Controller for Mac. 

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 would not install either. The error message says, “Acrobat DC not yet available for devices with Apple silicon. (Error code: 405).” WinZip 8.0 would not open after installation. 

Don’t rely just on my testing. Others are finding widespread issues with the M1 silicon compatibility. Given how many incompatibilities the M1 chip is having, a samaritan has created a site called “Is Apple Silicon Ready” documenting incompatible apps. 

So far, this site says the following apps are incompatible with Rosetta 2: 

  • Autodesk Revit
  • OBS Studio (FIXED 11/21)
  • Google Drive File Stream (an enterprise tool)
  • Haskell (ADDED 10/7)
  • LFO Tool plugin (UPDATED 11/24)
  • Matlab
  • Native Instruments (ADDED 11/22)
  • Nectar plugin (ADDED 11/22)
  • Neutron plugin (ADDED 22)
  • Parallels 
  • Pro tools (ADDED 11/22)
  • Screenflow (ADDED 11/20)
  • Virtualbox (ADDED 11/20)

That same site lists Rosetta 2 issues with:

  • Adobe Photoshop 2020
  • Adobe Indesign
  • Adobe After Effects
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Premier Pro
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Airfoil (ADDED 11/20)
  • Audio Hijack (ADDED 11/20)
  • Android Studio
  • Brave Browser 
  • Docker
  • LoopBack (ADDED 11/20)
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Soundsource (ADDED 11/20)
Acrobat DC won’t install
 PATRICK MOORHEAD

I also experienced a weird camera interaction with Skype for Business as my cameras would bounce between the Mac’s camera and my external Logitech C922.

Crashed app on the new MacBook Pro 13 M1
 PATRICK MOORHEAD

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. Be sure to check printer compatibility, too, as HP Printer drivers v5.1 would not install for me. 

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.

Samsung SSD backup software failure
 PATRICK MOORHEAD

Want assured performance- Note that most all the performance claims the early reviewers have made were for Apple applications or benchmarks. AnandTech reportedthat Rosetta 2 can add up to an 50% CPU performance penalty on non-Apple, non-Arm native code applications. (see below) This makes a lot of sense to me as binary translation is very hard to do.

Rosetta 2 CPU performance hit versus native code
 ANANDTECH

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 Chrome, Skype for Business, Webex, Zoom, and Teams. 

Slack was very sluggish and slow. Slack is based on the Electron IDE, where one of its software engineers said here that Rosetta 2 will make app (like Slack) “performance will be significantly degraded.” 

The Register reported that “the GCC compiler has yet to receive Apple Silicon support, and that’s led some to argue that anyone serious about scientific computing should avoid M1-based Mac models.”

Before you dive in, check to 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, and performed one Skype for Business call, one Zoom call, and one Webex call. That’s about half the battery life that Apple and early reviewers were experiencing. Without those calls on a second run, I got a bit over 5 hours.

As I’ve said in all my reviews the last decade, battery life is dependent on what apps you run and how you use them.

I got around 4.5 hours until 10% battery remaining with my use case
 PATRICK MOORHEAD

Play AAA games- I believe there’s a reason why Apple and the early reviewers are always talking about Tomb Raider for Mac- it’s one of the few AAA games that works relatively well under emulation over 30fps, is in the Apple App Store, and it leverages Apple’s proprietary Metal API versus an open graphics 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 iOS Bejeweled, and Flappy Birds work great, though, on the new MacBook, if you can play those with the trackpad. 

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 test 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 will only have one remaining left. Think about that. 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” for professionals 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. 

Apple will gladly sell you a $69 adapter that adds a bunch of USB ports.

One open USB port
 PATRICK MOORHEAD

Want a touchscreen- Even the 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 full 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 ecosystem has found a way to add touchscreen and keep designs thin without bezels and it seems like Apple could figure that out, too.

No, the TouchBar doesn’t count. Even the most hardened Apple fans hate it except for quick keys that, on most every other laptop, is a top row of real keys.

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 via LTE or 5G, you’re out of luck. During Covid-19, I know many people are using their LTE-infused notebooks, so they don’t have to compete with their kids or spouse for bandwidth. 

Many enterprises I advise are paying for employee’s extra LTE bills to remove what they call the “bandwidth excuse.”

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. I’m certain this will get fixed on M1X or M2, but it’s broken for now. Not everybody needs more than one display, but I would say many professionals do. I consider myself a professional and currently use four external displays at once in the office. 

I have a few ThunderBolt 3 docks on order and will assess to see if that changes the calculus.

Fans do come on

One other observation I saw with the first reviews 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 own 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, so I’m wondering if the new fan design or the M1 design is contributing most to the decreased noise.

The MacBook Pro M1 will “fan up” and did for me. I did Webex, Teams, or Zoom calls and my system heated up and fans were actively whirring.  I have a FLIR camera coming in this week 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 the Mac event and the company promised pretty much everything on performance and compatibility to everybody. I wrote about those big 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 and audiences as the system isn’t right for everybody.

Here’s how Microsoft describes the Surface Pro X: It’s “Built for the ways you work and connect. Stay in touch with ultra-fast, consistent, LTE. Plenty of unplugged power with up to 15 hours of battery life. More screen space with virtually edge-to-edge 13” touchscreen. Keep it by your side- 7.3mm thin and starting at 1.7 lbs.” 

Microsoft then points out on its product page that: “NOTE: If you spend time in 64-bit apps like Solidworks,* or play certain graphic intensive games, then the performance and versatility of Surface Pro 7 is the perfect option for you. See here for more information on application compatibility.” Seriously, look at this page. Microsoft isn’t hinding anything.

How Microsoft discloses its SQ1 and SQ2 app compatibility.
 MICROSOFT

Here’s how Apple describes the MacBook Pro: “All systems Pro. The Apple M1 chip gives the 13‑inch MacBook Pro speed and power beyond belief. With up to 2.8x CPU performance. Up to 5x the graphics speed. Our most advanced Neural Engine for up to 11x faster machine learning. And up to 20 hours of battery life — the longest of any Mac ever. It’s our most popular pro notebook, taken to a whole new level.” 

Apple goes on to say, “All your existing apps work thanks to Rosetta 2.” With no asterisk. That’s just not true. All your existing apps will not work thanks to Rosetta 2. In the spirit of honesty and transparency, I’d like to see Apple update its page to accurately and honestly represent reality. 

Apple says “all your apps work thanks to Rosetta 2”
 PATRICK MOORHEAD

Wrapping up

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 first 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 13 M1. It might as well be me. 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 in this Twitter feed.