A revolution that doesn’t look like one.
UPDATE 14/02: Added Capture One test under “Applications” section.
In recent years I have used a plethora of machines and configurations, from a Microsoft Surface Book 2 to an Alienware m15 on the mobile side. My last experience with Mac OS was a mid 2015 15” Macbook Pro from work. Out of all of them, I still miss the Surface’s screen the most.
I stopped using laptops when covid hit, as my PC was powerful enough for anything I threw at it, upgradeable, cheaper and not a lot of places to move to.
One of the advantages of working from home is being able to move around a bit. Being locked at my desktop for so much time started getting on my nerves. So, I wanted to be able to at least move around home when working.
As I would normally get the biggest screen I could without entering desktop replacement sizes. I ordered a 16” Macbook Pro, thinking the new M1 Macbook would have app compatibility issues due to the changed architecture and other issues at launch; not to mention they were not available for purchase for the first days. Just like in the days of transitioning from IBM to Intel. But, they became available sooner than I expected. I considered the praise they were getting around battery life and the performance parity with high end Intel machines, thus cancelling the 16. With one of my biggest pain points being the loss of the bigger screen for the added mobility and battery life, I hoped I had chosen right.
I did not expect how much of a difference there can be between a 13” and a 15” screen size in reality. This 13” screen feels slightly cramped at times.
And while 15” screens are a pleasure to work at, what I have discovered with my first smaller laptop is that you can find space to work almost anywhere. The laptop itself becomes somewhat transparent to your workflow. As it should be.
I cannot stress this enough: The screen should be one of the key purchasing factors when shopping for a laptop that’s geared toward anything creative, since a gaming screen, even if nice, will be tuned to higher refresh rates and lower resolutions.
Now, the first thing I noticed upon booting the Macbook is that the screen color fidelity is better than I expected, maybe even better than the Surface. Though I can’t compare anymore as I no longer have the Surface, but I’m sure it’s a close call. From the Alienware side, I miss the matte coating and the sweet 144hz screen. Though the non-widescreen aspect ratio is a godsend for photography and working on documents. Again, the Surface did this one best with it’s 4:3 aspect ratio.
I hate the bezels though.
And I hate that the Surface had a 1080p camera. Why does the MacBook have such a bad camera in 2020?
One of the things I hated from the Surface was just how much you could notice the aggressive speedstep from Intel. You could feel the computer “ramping up” or throttling once the thermal envelope was reached (which was easy to do just brushing in Photoshop).
The M1 Macbook feels smooth and consistent even while on battery. There are no slowdowns and I have yet to be able to turn on the fans with browser / Lightroom / Photoshop usage.
The only slowdown I noticed is the difference between running the Intel version of Chrome and then the M1 optimized version.
There is a performance impact from running Intel versions, more noticeable than some reviews say. So if you have many apps that have not been optimized for M1, be wary of purchasing an M1 Macbook.
You can check compatibility for your apps here.
I cannot stress enough how weird it is to have a laptop that has no fan noise, even when working in Photoshop.
Though I feel my desktop PC to be faster still, it’s negligible and I believe it has more to do with UI animations between OSs.
One thing I do notice is that apps launch much faster (Photoshop and Lightroom specifically), I don’t know if it has to do with hardware or the fact that Photoshop is in beta. Not to leave it on the “feels”, here are some benchmarks:
The M1 Geekbench5 result (It’s important to note that the fan didn’t kick in during the benchmark):
While my relatively old but still capable Core i9 9900k overclocked PC:
I believe the difference comes from the design of four performance cores and 4 efficiency cores in the M1 between the single and multi core score.
This is nothing to scoff at, as it’s on par with a watercooled high end desktop CPU from the previous generation. All without revving fans in an ultraportable.
The MacBook feels snappy and smooth while loading or loading photos in Lightroom. I use the cloud version of Lightroom to have the pictures available in every single device.
I do miss the 144hz Alienware screen and the dedicated gpu, but prefer by far the taller aspect ratio, higher resolution and color accuracy of the Macbook.
Another of the big tradeoffs I did when cancelling the 16” version was RAM.
M1 Macs top at 16gb memory currently, which is on the low side for RAW file editing and other multimedia use cases, such as working with After Effects, or even two browsers running at the same time.
I must say, I am a memory hog, running many things at a time, from Firefox and Chrome, Lightroom, Photoshop and occasional InDesign. In this regard, I think my desktop spoiled me. So maybe getting a bit constrained would force me to keep my browser tabs to a minimum while working on photos.
For now, it is working, 16GB is not eating too much into swap while editing a multilayer 26 mpx, 16bit raw file imported from Lightroom, but I do fear for the future as it’s borderline.
They were not exaggerating, this thing goes through hours of G Suite and video calls with ease, I have yet to go below 30% battery after a full eight hour workday. This thing’s battery is simply incredible.
But, as it’s always the case with Adobe stuff, I managed to bring it below 50% while using Sidecar, Lightroom and Photoshop in about three and a half hours. Still, pretty amazed as my previous laptops would not even get to his point (The alienware’s battery life was more on the UPS side).
But as always, your mileage may vary.
This is one of the reasons I went for a Mac, since I had an iPad and an Apple Pencil.
Sidecar is a feature that allows you to use the iPad as an external monitor, with its pen capabilities extended to the Mac.
While I miss the Surface’s pen-capable screen for localized edits and layer brushing, the tradeoffs it had (lower performance processor than other 15” laptops, battery behind the screen); being able to use the iPad as a precise pen screen (A mini Cintiq if you will) is amazing and the pen tech is much better on the iPad.
Apple says a cable is not needed to use it, but I found that the best experience comes from using it with a cable, as it feels the smoothest when using the pen. And even if the Apple pencil is more precise, I miss being able to right click with the pen as I could do with the Surface pen.
Being a multiplatform user, app compatibility across mac and windows is a must.
The only app I can’t use at all is Google Drive Filestream, as there is no compatible M1 version. Google says it will be available in April but it slows my workflow by having to use the web version.
You can check compatibility for your apps here.
Everything else I use is M1 compatible, even if partially: Office, Firefox, Cloud Lightroom and a prone-to-crash, still incomplete ARM beta of Photoshop.
The only time I used Intel Chrome was because the M1 version was crashing on me within seconds of launching. And while using it, I felt the performance difference of using Rosetta specifically when launching Google Meet calls. It was just slow to load the camera and get ready to join any video call.
That sluggishness with video calls is gone in the native M1 version of Chrome.
Another nice surprise is being able to run iOS apps on M1 macs. As this is not officially supported, apps are designed towards an iPhone or an iPad, with limitations such as not being able to go fullscreen, choosing text is a pain and a right click a foreign concept.
But some of them do add to your workflow, like having a dedicated window for messaging apps.
Or they can actively kill it.
There goes my productivity for a few minutes.
The route I went for installing them is through this Apple Configurator process, although this capability may be killed by Apple at any time.
This includes using nifty photo editing apps, such as VSCO. Sadly, not being designed for MacOS, they don’t get access to the file system.
Oh and if you have a fancy new MacBook, these are some of my recommended apps:
– BetterTouchTool – Get this, learn it, love it. It allows you to do so much more with the touch bar and trackpad than what was envisioned. And is unique to the Macs.
– Firefox – Being an ex-googler fully certifies me to recommend Firefox as the browser of choice.
– 1Password for handling every password you need.
– MOS if you want to use external, non-Apple mice
– iTerm2 expanded terminal emulation
– Choosy different browsers for different purposes
– f.lux expanded night shift
– Umbra so you can have one daytime wallpaper and one nighttime wallpaper.
–Amphetamine. If you need to prevent your mac from sleeping.
– Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo – The real alternatives to Adobe’s Illustrator and Photoshop. I would jump completely to them if they also had a Lightroom alternative. Both apps are capable, stable, in active development without being a complete copy of Adobe’s and they do not have a subscription model. Check them out.
– AVTouchBar – A music visualizer for the touchbar. It’s a fun novelty.
As for performance for Capture One, I tested importing, quickly modifying basic settings, applying styles and exporting to jpg.
Capture One is Intel version through Rosetta, version 14.0.2.
Files are RAW landscape files from a a Canon T3i and a Canon 6D MkII.
See video for results:
For years, my only Apple device was an iPad. I just went back in full to the Apple ecosystem, switching from a Samsung Galaxy s10+ to an iPhone12 recently, an Apple Watch instead of the Galaxy Watch and a MacBook instead of my Windows Alienware / Surface. While I love tinkering with my devices, at least for the mobile part I wanted a more secure and stable platform, which Apple delivers.
It does however, feel like Apple hurried to deploy the M1 internals, making the MacBook a laptop that feels not as much nextgen as other options externally.
Don’t get me wrong, the hardware is beautiful but certain choices (Bezels, webcam, ports, no SD card slot) decidedly don’t feel next gen. Making this a clear stopgap before the next major MacBook redesign. Maybe they didn’t want to make the 16” and other options appear older before fully transitioning?
Who knows. For now, it feels like an incomplete product, albeit a really high quality one.