I’m pretty much always using a new laptop as my daily driver — whichever one that I’m testing for review. And in 2023 alone, I’ve reviewed almost 40 machines, ranging from near-budget machines with solid performance and impressive features all the way up to innovative devices like the HP Spectre Foldable PC.
But occasionally, there’s a lull in new releases, which gives me a chance to do a gut check. Which laptop do I return to as my primary work machine? To my own surprise, it’s none of the flashy new releases from 2023. It’s a laptop from way back in 2021 that remains my favorite. Not coincidentally, it’s the only laptop I’ve purchased myself in years. That laptop is the first-gen Apple MacBook Pro 14, and it’s held up so well against the competition that I still haven’t felt compelled to replace it. Here’s why.
I’ve reviewed a number of laptops with very good IPS displays, OLED displays with dynamic colors and inky blacks, and a couple of mini-LED displays that were apparently held back by Windows. The latter were particularly disappointing, with brightness and contrast ratios that were much lower than they should be. The MacBook Pro 14’s mini-LED panel has no such problems, with MacOS optimizing the display’s best qualities.
For me, that all starts with the contrast. The MacBook Pro 14’s display has black text that pops against white backgrounds, which is important to me as someone who stares at text all day. The display is also sharp enough that text is smooth without any pixelation, making the MacBook’s display my favorite for writing.
Then, the inky blacks combine with the display’s incredible brightness to display exceptional high dynamic range (HDR) video. I watch a lot of science fiction and fantasy shows with dark scenes, and I watch it on the MacBook Pro 14 whenever possible.
Apple hasn’t changed the MacBook Pro’s display in the subsequent couple of generations, and that’s a good thing. It’s easily the best display on a laptop today.
I should also mention the MacBook Pro 14’s audio quality. Six speakers including force-canceling woofers, provide much better sound than you’ll find on a 14-inch laptop today. There’s a ton of volume without a hint of distortion, the mids and highs are crystal clear, and the bass is deep and satisfying. It’s the only laptop I use where I don’t feel the need to put on a pair of headphones to watch an action TV show or movie.
Apple’s Magic Keyboard is an excellent keyboard. Its keycaps are large and the spacing is perfect. While the switches don’t have a ton of travel, something I typically don’t like, they have a snappy precision that no laptop I reviewed in 2023 (or before) can match.
Typing thousands of words a day can be fatiguing. On the wrong keyboard, that kind of volume can’t be tolerated for long. But the MacBook Pro 14’s keyboard is light enough that I haven’t yet felt the need to slow things down. Even better, I can type faster on this keyboard than any other, increasing my productivity.
The MacBook’s Force Touch touchpad is also excellent and probably also the best on a laptop. I like the ability to press a little harder on a click to look words up and kick off other functionality, and generally speaking, the touchpad is incredibly comfortable. I do miss having a touch display, though, and that’s one thing I wish Apple would implement.
I don’t need a lot of power in a laptop, and the Apple M1 Pro in my MacBook Pro 14 is plenty fast enough for my needs. I’m not even remotely tempted by the incredible speeds offered by Apple’s latest M3 CPUs. If you do need a lot of portable power, the MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max is an excellent option.
I do, though, have a workflow where I put my desktop workhorse machine to sleep around noon and switch to portable mode for the rest of the day. I work on and off until turning in around midnight, so I need good battery life. On most days, the MacBook Pro 14 lasts throughout and has quite a bit of juice left when I’m done working.
I might run short if I watch a bunch of HDR content that ramps up the display brightness. But typically, I don’t challenge the MacBook Pro 14’s longevity, and that’s a welcome change from any Windows laptop I’ve reviewed in 2023.
I prefer Windows 11 over macOS, so I’d love to have a Windows machine that offers the same display and keyboard quality and battery life. But as of now, it just doesn’t exist. So far, my two-year-old MacBook Pro 14 looks like it will hang on to its top spot on my list for the foreseeable future.
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