MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 with M1 Max

There are a lot of words you might use to describe a MacBook but “cheap” isn’t one of them. It’s true of the price, and also of the overall user experience. While not for everyone, here’s why some of us keep buying shiny Apple-branded chunks of aluminum.

A Solid macOS Experience

macOS isn’t perfect, but it’s still the best desktop operating system I’ve used. It takes the reliability and security of UNIX and makes it user-friendly and virtually foolproof. If your workflow is compatible with the macOS platform (and it probably is) the operating system blends into the background and just lets you get on with it.

It’s easy to take some of the most basic included features like Time Machine or Spotlight for granted, but they never let me down. Some features like Control Center and Monterey’s new “Erase all Content and Settings” option have been lifted straight out of iOS and yet still manage to feel right at home on the desktop.

You can get in-depth with Automator or Apple Script if you’re so inclined. Every day I use a simple right-click option to resize images for publishing on this website. Shortcuts lets you access some of these options using drag-and-drop coding blocks. If you’re comfortable using a command line then Terminal is by far the fastest way to work.

macOS Monterey desktop

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Apple’s security can be a little over-zealous for some tastes, but this gives me the confidence not to run any antivirus software. An iOS-like permissions system lets you control which apps can access your data or write to certain folders, while System Integrity Protection outright protects system files and stops first-party processes from falling victim to code injection.

macOS has matured into a seriously productive platform. Apps like Safari are optimized with battery consumption in mind, while Apple Notes is now arguably better than note-taking behemoths like Evernote (more so when you consider Apple Notes is completely free to use).

There’s always the Hackintosh route, but I don’t want the hassle of configuring hardware and patching installers. In terms of notebooks, your Hackintosh options are even more limited, and Apple’s switch to its own ARM-based architecture may spell the end for the practice entirely. The price you pay for a MacBook buys you a ticket to use what is arguably the best operating system for a wide range of users.

Others would class some of these pros as cons, and no operating system is perfect or immune to security issues. macOS does not do it all, and it’s not necessarily a platform that’s going to please tweakers and hackers. Gaming is notoriously shaky on a Mac, and we don’t recommend buying even the latest MacBook Pro if gaming is your number one priority. But on balance, it’s still my preferred OS.

MacBooks Are Reliable

My previous MacBook lasted nearly ten years. It’s a Retina MacBook Pro from 2012 with a paltry 8GB of RAM and a meager 256GB of solid-state storage. If I’d known I would get nine years of service out of it, I might have opted for a more capable model at the time. That’s why I bought a high-end 16-inch MacBook Pro to replace it in November 2021.

While the user experience was somewhat diminished by the end of its life, the damn thing still refuses to die. There’s no support for the latest version of macOS, but that didn’t stop me from daily driving it until only a few weeks ago. I had the battery replaced, as well as the trackpad (which was covered by AppleCare) after a whiteboard fell on it (yes, really).

While Apple has made some missteps in previous models, it isn’t rare to find old MacBooks still going strong a decade or more later. The dreaded “butterfly keyboard” and underwhelming thermal performance in the previous generation Intel MacBook Pro models are blemishes on an otherwise rock-solid line of notebooks.

Some of those missteps were design flaws. Many decried the “DongleBook Pro” when Apple decided to go all-in on USB-C and get rid of SD card slots and HDMI ports. But that’s changed with the new generation of machines, and the only thing they really lack is USB-A connectivity. Even MagSafe has made a return, much to the delight of anyone who’s ever tripped over their laptop charger.

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There are four MacBooks in my house, three of them are a decade old, and none of them are ready for recycling just yet. I’ve never had another notebook come close, and I’m convinced that Apple’s penchant for build quality has a lot to do with it.

Software Support Goes On and On

Like the iPhone, Apple does a good job of supporting its Mac hardware with years of free updates. My last MacBook Pro received seven major OS upgrades, from Mountain Lion in 2012 to Catalina in 2019.

Even when a model loses support for new OS upgrades, you’ll get a year of security patches. Sometimes Apple even issues security patches for machines outside of this window. In November 2020 High Sierra received a security patch even though it was three years behind the most current release. Catalina also received an update around the time that Monterey was released in 2021.

Since Apple’s hardware tends to last, there’s a dedicated community of software developers who produce patchers that allow you to install unsupported versions of macOS on older hardware. This provides the latest versions of apps like Safari and allows you to communicate with new versions of iOS and iPadOS, though it demands a bit more upkeep than a Mac that’s still on Apple’s radar.

If you do decide to go this route because your Mac is no longer receiving macOS upgrades, you should research how your current model will handle the new version before you jump in. Failing that a lightweight Linux distro may get years more service out of your Mac (and Linux is coming to Apple Silicon models, since Apple’s bootloader doesn’t reject unsigned kernels).

You Can Always Sell Them

While the price of entry is high, so too is the resale value in contrast to comparable Windows laptops. Apple hardware holds its value, partly for its build quality and reliability, but also because the machines have desirability that most Windows vendors can’t seem to tap into. Is this the “cult of Apple” at work?

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Whether this reputation is warranted or not, it’s a fact that your MacBook will still fetch a pretty penny even years after it’s classed as “vintage” by Apple. The company’s own trade-in options are best ignored since there are plenty of second-hand buyers who will take your MacBook off your hands.

As of November 2021, models like the aforementioned decade-old Retina MacBook Pro are still selling for around $150 to $400 on eBay in good condition. That seems like madness for a machine that no longer receives software updates, at a time when Apple is moving to a different system architecture altogether.

If you examine this phenomenon from a short-term perspective, it may provide comfort for anyone thinking of giving a MacBook a try. This is particularly true of Apple Silicon models, which may be the most “future-proof” computers on the market right now.

Expensive Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Overpriced

Ask yourself: are the new Apple Silicon MacBooks really that expensive? While it’s true you can buy comparable Windows laptops and save $1000 or more, you can’t necessarily match the performance and efficiency at this moment in time.

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The M1 MacBook Air will do just about anything the average user would want a laptop for, and it’s incredibly fast thanks to Apple’s work on optimizing software to suit the new hardware. Not only does it fly in web browsing and light video editing, it does so without turning into a radiator and the battery life is unmatched in any comparable Windows machine.

If you don’t need Windows (and there are many legitimate reasons one might opt for Microsoft’s operating system), macOS might be the better choice. Apple is providing something you quite literally cannot get elsewhere (right now, at least) and charging a premium for it. While the price of entry may be higher than the alternative, you’re getting a unique user experience.

Now, look at the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with their M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. As of this writing, these are the world’s most powerful laptops, and that’s reflected in the price. You don’t only get unmatched performance-per-watt, you get one of the best displays, impressive speakers, and a keyboard that’s as good as any other in a solid metal chassis.

We’ll have to wait and see what Intel’s portable Alder Lake CPUs look like when they hit the market in 2022, but even if they surpass Apple (and it’s good for everyone if they do) the M1 Max and M1 Pro will still be among the most powerful and efficient laptops on the market. And they’ll still be a joy to use.

And Then There’s the Ecosystem

If you already use Apple products like the iPhone, a Mac fits comfortably into your life. You’re already “stuck” in the Apple ecosystem, and the seamless way that Apple devices play off each other will further draw you in.

Safari Handoff from Mac to iPhone

You can hand off apps like Safari and Reminders between your Mac and iPhone, or simply copy something on one device and paste it on the other. As soon as you’ve taken a photo on your iPhone it appears in your Mac’s Photos app, without any input from you. You can reply to text messages and iMessage conversations right on your Mac, and take phone calls or FaceTime calls too.

If you have an Apple Watch, your Mac unlocks automatically when you open the lid. You can AirPlay your iPhone’s screen to your Mac to see your videos on a bigger and brighter screen. Shortcuts recipes can now be shared between devices, and you can set Do Not Disturb on everything using Focus from a single device.

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Your iCloud storage is also shared between your devices, so you can store your Mac’s desktop and documents in iCloud alongside your Photos and device backups. Apps can share files seamlessly, allowing you to work in apps like GarageBand or iMovie regardless of which device you have on you.

These conveniences become so second nature that it’s hard to fathom an escape. Android and Windows are not developed in tandem in the same way that macOS and iOS are. If only Windows Phone had succeeded all those years ago, who knows how Microsoft’s ecosystem could be pushing things forward right now.

There’s No Perfect Computer

MacBooks aren’t perfect. They’re among the least repairable computers you can buy, and Apple’s imposing approach isn’t for everyone. macOS has arguably fewer free software solutions available than Windows, and as mentioned before it’s far from a gamer’s platform. And we’ve not even mentioned the notch.

But I still spent thousands on a new MacBook Pro, and I don’t regret it one bit. If you’re interested in making the MacBook jump yourself, take a look at our recommended MacBooks for school, work, and general use.

The Best MacBooks for 2021

Best MacBook Overall
MacBook Pro 14-inch (M1 Pro, 2021)
Best Budget Option
2020 Apple MacBook Air Laptop: Apple M1 Chip, 13” Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage, Backlit Keyboard, FaceTime HD Camera, Touch ID. Works with iPhone/iPad; Space Gray
Best for Students
2020 Apple MacBook Air Laptop: Apple M1 Chip, 13” Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage, Backlit Keyboard, FaceTime HD Camera, Touch ID. Works with iPhone/iPad; Space Gray
Budget 4K Monitor
Dell S2721Q 27 Inch 4K UHD, IPS Ultra-Thin Bezel Monitor, AMD FreeSync, HDMI, DisplayPort, VESA Certified, Silver
Best MacBook for Gaming
MacBook Pro 16-inch (M1 Pro, 2021)
Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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