Reviewers impressed by ARM MacBooks

Confirming the first benchmarks, reviews of Apple's M1 MacBooks report startlingly powerful machines with unheard-of battery life. Here's Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch:

I personally tested the 13" M1 MacBook Pro and after extensive testing, it's clear that this machine eclipses some of the most powerful Mac portables ever made in performance while simultaneously delivering 2x-3x the battery life at a minimum. 

These results are astounding … This thing works like an iPad. That's the best way I can describe it succinctly.

They emulate Intel silicon fast enough that there'll be no apparent slowdown, at least compared to most last-gen MacBooks, which should obviate the most anticipated software ecosystem problems. Adobe's apps are working well, users report, and will be quickly updated with native support anyway. If anything, the usual problems that come with a new OS version (in this case, MacOS Big Sur) are of greater concern.

At The Verge, Dieter Bohn is blown away.

Believe it. The MacBook Air with the M1 chip is the most impressive laptop I've used in years. … The MacBook Air performs like a pro-level laptop. It never groans under multiple apps. (I've run well over a dozen at a time.) It handles intensive apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Adobe Premiere without complaint. It has never made me think twice about loading up another browser tab or 10 — even in Chrome.

Last week, I wrote that Apple was "astonishingly confident in its new M1 Mac processors," rattling off huge claims and declining to lower expectations in any way. Having used one, I'm simply astonished.

Bohn notes that Apple has gone out of its way to make the new laptops and Mac Minis otherwise indistinguishable from last-gen machines. For once, the clear priority is for nothing to change beyond the simplest measures of performance and battery life, and perhaps a few other things that are unambigiously positive. So there's no new keyboard mechanisms, novel touchscreen features or anything else Apple's been seen to experiment with in recent years.

He does echo three criticisms, widely-shared. First, the webcams are bad. This is a classic Apple compromise that's more pressing nowadays thanks to people working from home during the pandemic. Second, the support for iOS apps isn't as useful as it sounds. In practice the games are more interesting than the productivity apps, which tend to be rudimentary compared to desktop counterparts.

Finally, there are only two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, even on the Pro. As YouTuber Dave Lee put it, "connectivity is really right."

Otherwise, he likes the laptops and the new Mac Mini too: "incredibly strong performers. The numbers didn't make sense to me. I thought I was screwing up the tests."

If you like games, you have one thing to be excited by. First reports are that the on-board GPU is almost as good as the Nvidia GTX 1650 Max-Q in the Razer Blade Stealth—at least as long as the system doesn't throttle to keep temperatures down. This would make the fan-equipped M1 MacBook Pro, in effect, the second-fastest 13" gaming laptop, assuming that games start appearing for Apple's native silicon.

But there's also one thing to be very disappointed by: there's no compatibility, in any of the new machines, for external GPU enclosures. This is a big deal for video as well as games, and a reminder that in the first-gen of anything new, there are features which simply aren't prioritized, but might be worth waiting a year for if that's your thing.

And Apple is, with its own silicon, taking greater latent control of how we use its computers than ever before.

At the Wall Street Journal, Joanna Stern sums it all up nicely:

In the great work-from-home room
Sat two Apple laptops connected to Zoom.
Within both machines dwelt speedy M1 chips
Making them sound less than ever like spaceships.
Goodnight MacBook Pro,
Goodnight MacBook Air,
Goodnight—forever—laptop noises everywhere.