Apple’s replacement for the 13in MacBook Pro is an upgrade but not as big a step forward as you might expect
- Great battery life
- Superb screen, webcam and speakers
- Excellent build quality
- Base model is expensive
- Smaller performance gains than expected
Apple’s M3 MacBook Pro laptops span an extraordinarily wide variety of price points and performance capabilities. They start with the ‘basic’ £1,699 14in model, and prices rise steadily (and astronomically) until you get to the M3 Max-equipped 16in machine with 128GB of RAM and 8TB of storage; that’s a laptop that will set you back a terrifying £7,299.
Whichever of these appeals to your particular workflow (or bank balance), though, there is one core reason why you might want to consider buying one of the new MacBook Pro machines: no Windows rival can deliver this level of power and performance while maintaining the same all-day battery life the MacBook Pro can.
Whatever you might say about the price premium, the stamina of Apple’s laptops remains a compelling reason to buy one.
Apple MacBook Pro 14in (M3, 2023) review: What you need to know
But Apple isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here. The latest MacBook Pro 14in essentially repeats the same feat of the previous model, but with M3 chips inside instead of M2. Except it isn’t quite that simple.
That’s because this year’s 14in MacBook Pro replaces not one, but two ranges of MacBook: the M2-based 13in MacBook Pro with the old touchbar chassis; and the newer, shinier M2 Pro/Pro Max-equipped 14in MacBook Pro, first introduced at the back end of 2022.
For this review, I was sent one of the lowest-spec models – the M3-equipped laptop with 16GB of RAM designed to replace the older 13in MacBook Pro – but you can also get it with an M3 Pro or an M3 Max processor, up to 128GB of unified memory (that’s RAM to you and me) and up to 8TB of SSD storage.
Other changes include a new fingerprint-resistant colour – Space Black – although this is only available on the M3 Pro and M3 Max machines. The laptop’s already-excellent Mini-LED screen can now go 20% brighter when displaying SDR content, rising from a quoted 500cd/m2 to 600cd/m2. That’s your lot, though. Physically, it’s identical to the 2022 M2 MacBook Pro 14in.
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Apple MacBook Pro 14in (M3, 2023) review: Price and competition
Configuration tested: 8-core Apple M3 processor with 10-core GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 14.2in 3,024 x 1,964 Mini-LED display. Price: £1,699 inc VAT
There’s always an Apple premium to pay for a MacBook Pro and that is very much the case with the 2023 14in model. Prices start at £1,699, which gets you the standard M3 chip with 8 CPU cores and 10 GPU cores, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. A pretty meagre specification for the better part of two grand and it only gets more pricey from there.
The M3 Pro model (11-core CPU, 14-core GPU) starts at £2,099 and is kitted out with 18GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, while the one with the M3 Max (14-core CPU, 18-core GPU), 36GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage will set you back £3,299.
Believe it or not, for the equivalent M2 Pro machine, these prices are lower than they were last year, albeit by a mere £50. If you compare prices with the old M2 MacBook Pro 13in, however, the new model is £400 more expensive.
As for alternatives, you have the Apple MacBook Air 13in and 15in models with prices starting at £1,149 and £1,399 respectively. These are both based on the older M2 processor, however, and are fanless, so performance can’t match that of even the cheapest 14in MacBook Pro.
And then there’s a whole gamut of Windows alternatives, most of which deliver more performance bang per buck. Our current favourite ultraportable is the Asus Zenbook 14X OLED, a laptop we reviewed at £1,499 with a 13th Gen Core i7, but you can now buy the more powerful Core i9-13900H model for a bargain £1,199 at Amazon.
That’s a fabulous machine and it also comes with double the RAM and storage of the base M3 MacBook Pro, a 14.5in 120Hz OLED screen and performance to match. Only battery life lets it down.
Another, even cheaper lightweight workstation machine is the Huawei MateBook 16s. Slightly larger than the M3 MacBook Pro 14in, this cost £1,099 from the Huawei store at the time of writing, comes with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, although the IPS screen can’t match either the MacBook’s Mini-LED effort or the ZenBook’s glorious OLED panel.
And don’t forget to consider the 14in Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro. It comes with possibly the best screen we’ve ever seen on any laptop, double the RAM of the MacBook at 16GB and a 512GB SSD, although it isn’t quite the bargain the Asus and Huawei machines are at £1,600.
Apple MacBook Pro 14in (2023, M3) review: Design
As mentioned above, nothing has changed physically about this new MacBook Pro, save for the new Space Black colourway. That’s no bad thing, however. As ever, the chassis is built from solid aluminium and it is both attractive and well-made. The lid is stiff and provides good protection for the display, and no amount of twisting can elicit any kind of creaking from the rest of the chassis.
As a result, it isn’t the lightest or thinnest laptop but it’s about on par for a laptop of its type. It weighs 1.55kg without the charger and 1.78kg with it, and it measures 313 x 221 x 15.5mm (WDH) when closed. Its principal Windows rival – the Asus Zenbook 14X OLED – has similar stats – it weighs 1.5kg and is slightly thicker at 16.9mm. The cheaper Huawei machine is larger, thicker (17.8mm) and heavier (1.99kg) still. The 15in MacBook Air is thinner and lighter at 11.5mm and 1.51kg.
The selection of ports and sockets is the same, with a full-sized SDXC card slot and an HDMI 2.1 output on the right edge, and the MagSafe charging socket alongside a pair of USB-C ports on the left side. Those USB-C ports support both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 4 data transfers at up to 40Gbits/sec, charging and DisplayPort video output.
And the keyboard is as comfortable to type on as ever. It is, perhaps, a touch rattlier than I’d like on a laptop this expensive but the keys are nice and large, have plenty of space surrounding them, thus keeping typos to a minimum, and the key action is well-damped with a good dose of tight feedback. I prefer it to the keyboard on the Asus and Huawei machines mentioned above, although admittedly there isn’t a huge amount in it.
Apple’s glass-topped Force Touch touchpad, meanwhile, continues to do its job in a quiet, unfussy kind of way. It’s responsive to swipes and gestures, and you can click anywhere on its surface and get the same response, unlike the touchpads on most Windows machines.
All is good, except that this laptop is very much non-user upgradeable. This means if you choose the 8GB RAM model (hint: don’t do that) you’ll be stuck with it for the life of the laptop.
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Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 2023) review: Display, webcam and audio
Apple would like you to think that nobody does it better when it comes to display quality, and the screen is certainly very, very good in the MacBook Pro, but it isn’t quite the best in the business (I also think Apple should have done away with that notch by now). That accolade belongs to the superlative Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro, whose Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen delivers simply jaw-dropping quality, especially during HDR playback.
The MacBook’s display may not look quite as vibrant but it does edge out the Samsung for colour accuracy, and the fact that Apple has precalibrated it in the factory, supplying a whole gamut (pun intended) of colour profiles, elevates it to a whole different level when it comes to colour-critical work.
The default setting is Apple’s XDR Display (P3-1600 nits), which lets the laptop access every colour the panel can generate but there are presets for sRGB, NTSC, PAL & SECAM Video and several variations on the P3 colour space, all of which limit brightness and colour in some way. Oddly, though, there’s no AdobeRGB preset – if you’re a pro photographer working in that space, you’ll have to calibrate it yourself.
It’s no different to its predecessor in this respect, though. Where it has improved is brightness in standard dynamic range mode (SDR). I found it goes significantly brighter than Apple’s quoted 600 nits and measured it peaking at 639cd/m2 with True Tone and automatic brightness turned off.
In HDR playback, I measured peaks of around 1,248cd/m2 and, in the right circumstances, it will rise as high as 1,600cd/m2 according to Apple. Not that you need these levels of brightness. The screen looks wonderful with all sorts of content and is readable even in the brightest ambient light.
Elsewhere, the webcam produces images that are crisp and well-exposed, whatever the light. The six-driver speaker system, with its force-cancelling woofers, delivers remarkably full-bodied audio and the triple Studio microphones provide voice pickup that’s almost (but not quite) on a level with a proper professional microphone. Once again, though, there isn’t anything here that we haven’t seen before on a MacBook Pro.
Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 2023) review: Performance and battery life
For this review, I was sent the base variant M3 MacBook Pro 14in, which has an 8-core CPU and a 14-core GPU. This delivers decent all-round performance that’s a notch above the M2, just as you might expect, although its most notable feature is that it’s Apple’s first laptop processor to be built on the 3nm manufacturing process first introduced in the iPhone 15 Pro/Pro Max’s A17 Pro chip.
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This is undoubtedly a major engineering achievement, but in our testing it didn’t appear to deliver benefits above and beyond what you might expect from a simple generational technology boost. In all the benchmarks, including those designed to stress the GPU we see a similar pattern emerge. The M3 is faster than the M2 but not by a huge amount, and it’s slower than the M2 Pro.
You’ll also see that, for CPU-bound tasks, much cheaper Windows machines such as the Huawei MateBook 16s perform better, as does the Asus ZenBook 14X OLED and the same is true of the multi-core element of the Cinebench R23 test, where the M3 MacBook Pro 14in scored 10,351 versus the Zenbook’s 13,202 and the MateBook’s 16,211.
However, for GPU-centred tasks, the 10-core GPU in the M3 holds a huge advantage over the Intel Iris Xe GPU in those machines.
The storage performance of the soldered-on 512GB SSD matches that of the M2 15in MacBook we tested earlier this year and lags a little behind the 1TB drive in the Huawei MateBook 16s. You’ll get faster speeds if you order more storage, though.
If you want great battery life, however, it has to be a MacBook and, here, the M3 MacBook Pro 14in performed very well, lasting 15hrs 43mins in our video playback test, much longer than those two Windows machines (Apple claims up to 18 hours Apple TV playback or 15 hours wireless web browsing). Even here, though, it was matched by the M2 15in MacBook Air and the 16in M2 Pro MacBook Pro, which is surprising given the move to 3nm.
Apple MacBook Pro 14in (M2, 2023) reviews: Verdict
If you’re going to buy a MacBook Pro 14in, my advice would be to stump up the extra cash and go for the M3 Pro or M3 Max versions – in Space Black – or to stick with the cheaper M2 MacBook Air, in either 13.6in or 15in sizes.
The entry-level M3 MacBook Pro might fill a gap in the range where the 13in M2 MacBook Pro once existed but, although it is faster than the M2 MacBook Air machines, it doesn’t make as much sense from a performance-per-pound perspective as it perhaps should.
Although its battery life is superior to competing Windows machines, it isn’t any better than other, cheaper machines in Apple’s laptop range.