An October Surprise
I didn’t see this coming, but Apple has gone and announced its M3 family of chipsand updated its lineup of 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pros. A corollary effect of all these announcements is that the 13-inch MacBook Pro (you know, the one with the Touch Bar) is no more. Instead, we now have a 14-inch MacBook Pro that comes with the base M3 chip. Is this now the best MacBook for most people in Apple’s MacBook lineup? How does it compare to the MacBook Air? How fast is the new M3 chip? And can I play Baldur's Gate 3 on it? The answers to all these questions and more are in this review.
The TL;DR version:The entry-level MacBook Pro finally gets the update it deserves, and it’s an extremely capable machine. The only downer is that it only comes with 8GB of memory as standard.
One way to tell that this 14-inch MacBook Pro has the base M3 chip is that it only has two USB-C ports – the M3 Pro and M3 Max models have three. Another tell-tale sign is if it comes in Space Grey. That colour is now exclusive to the 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 because the M3 Pro and M3 Max units only come in Silver and Space Black. Otherwise, it looks like any other 14-inch MacBook Pro, which is no bad thing really given that this design is still fresh and there’s really not much wrong about it.
The display is the same 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, which uses a mini-LED panel and has a dynamic refresh rate of up to 120Hz. On the whole, it’s a great display with terrific sharpness, colours, and contrast. There's no question it's a significant step up from the MacBook Airs' standard LCD displays.However, blooming continues to be an issue and some people continue to be annoyed by the notch. Maximum brightness remains the same at 1600 nits when displaying HDR content, but it can now get brighter when showingSDR (standard dynamic range) content by going up to 600 nits – up from 500 nits. I can’t say I noticed this extra 100 nits of brightness in normal use.
Apart from the new M3 chip inside (which we’ll get to on the next page), the one thing to note about getting the base 14-inch MacBook Pro is that it’ll only have two USB-C ports and that they support Thunderbolt 3 instead of Thunderbolt 4. It still has a MagSafe port, so charging isn’t really an issue, but connecting peripherals might be an issue if you have e a lot of them and don’t have a hub or dock, or intend to use Thunderbolt 4 accessories. Another shortcoming is that you can only output to a single external display – this has been a limitation of Apple’s base chips and it hasn’t changed.
The rest of the hardware remains best-in-class. The keyboard is a joy to type on and now has a proper row of physical function keys. The trackpad is humongous and extremely accurate and responsive. The six-speaker sound system continues to impress and is easily one of the best speaker systems you’ll hear on any notebook. There’s convincing bass and there's little distortion even at high volumes – weaknesses of many lesser notebook speaker systems. Perhaps what’s most telling is that while watching an episode of Loki, I didn’t feel that the speakers were lacking at all.
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