Apple MacBook Pro 14 with M3 is a strong case, as Air and Pro differentiation blurs

For a while, specifically the M1 and M2 eras, an Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch was your entry point into the “pro” portfolio. If that’s what you wanted. Purely because the MacBook Pro 14-inch held the line with the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, and before that, similar colours with the M1. Now, with the entry-spec M3 also available in a 14-inch variant, are we finally at the end of the road for the MacBook Pro 13-inch? If it is, that would re-simplify the Mac line-up that’s getting a bit complex to steer through. Particularly with the excitement after having dusted off your credit card.

Apple Macbook Pro. (Official image)
Apple Macbook Pro. (Official image)

Whilst there’s the expected differentiation on the spec sheet between the MacBook Pro 14-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch, you’ll still need to be attentive enough since the 14-incher with the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max has its own spec checklists too. For instance, the M3 versions (that’s the spec we’re testing here) makes do with one less Thunderbolt port, compared with the three that the same laptop with an M3 Plus chip would offer. Smart distinction or avoidable complication? There’s no Space Black colour for the MacBook Pro 14-inch, which is somewhat perplexing.

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Also read:Apple MacBook Pro 16 with M3 Max forces PC makers to reset and restart, again

The Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch price points are 1,69,900 and 1,89,900. Why you spend that bit extra for the more expensive version is a 1TB SSD instead of the base spec 512GB. There may be sharp opinions about 8GB unified memory as the default spec and while it purely (and undoubtedly) works for most expected use-cases, there is a theoretical ceiling you’re looking at for more complex tasks.

What you’ll need to consider here is – bump up the memory to 16GB for 20,000 more increases the base spec’s price to 1,89,900. But for 1,99,900 awaits the even more powerful M3 Pro option, also with 512GB storage, but 18GB unified memory. But that’s unchartered territory, since we haven’t tested the M3 Pro. At the other end of the scale, overlapping use-case with the MacBook Air 15 (M2; prices starting 1,34,900).

Ideally, the MacBook Pro 14-inch with the M3 chip is potentially an ideal step up from a MacBook Air 13-inch, if you’re a bit apprehensive about perceived longevity of its performance aspect. The M3 is only in the MacBook Pro for now, and when the MacBook Air line-up does get the update, this chip will be tuned for a fanless chassis. Mind you, more ports too (HDMI and card slot).

Also read:Apple Silicon has democratised what a laptop can do: V-P Kate Bergeron

Full credit to Apple for significant performance upgrades. Apple Silicon is now in its third generation. I would say that between the M1, M2 and the M3, the jumps have been more than incremental. Perhaps not as much as the switch the M1 introduced over the Intel chips it replaced, but the M2 and M3 build from a much higher ground. Mind you, these differences may not hold the same weightage to everyone, but if a 10% core performance improvement shaves a few seconds off a video render, it may be worth the money. Subjective, as it inevitably is.

That’s the foundation which makes this generation of the MacBook Pro 14-inch takes advantage of. In most use cases which would likely include a typical workday that involves snapping fingers on the touchpad to switch between email clients, Safari brimming with carelessly opened tabs, multiple documents and Adobe Lightroom or Canva thrown in for good measure, the M3 powered MacBook Pro 14-inch just holds it ground, without betraying any stutters. Nothing less than expected, or anticipated.

At the same time, it doesn’t feel very different from a MacBook Air 15 or a MacBook Pro 13 with M2. The improvements really begin to show up with synthetic benchmarks and gaming. Transcoding a 10GB video file from 4K to 1080p was a minute and 32 seconds faster with the M3 chip compared with 13-inch MacBook Pro with the M2. And more than 2 minutes quicker than the MacBook Air 15.

Also read:Apple’s Mac Mini 2023 is a vehement reassertion of good things in small packages

Battery life is a strong point. As someone who is careful with keeping the browser tab clutter in check and background apps tames when not plugged in, the MacBook Pro 14-inch lasts close to 18 hours and 30 minutes on a single charge. The fine-print here is, screen brightness kept at about 30%.

This illustrates the improvements, better than anything else. And exactly the reason why someone who is a bit more discerning about value and longevity of the expenditure, will find this entry-level MacBook Pro fit perfectly in their office and home use-cases. This is for the demographic that still worries whether the MacBook Air would suffice, or a bit more headroom with performance is the way to go.

That, coupled with a fantastic display, which is essentially the same panel as the MacBook Pro 16-inch – a 14.2-inch mini-LED, Liquid Retina XDR with 3024 x 1964 pixels. Colour accuracy is its biggest advantage over even the best of the OLEDs in the Windows laptop ecosystem. It’s brighter than the previous generation’s display, and that’s only helping enhance the experience you’ve paid for.

Also read:Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Many small steps together compose a giant leap

Gaming is on the agenda, though do not expect it to hold performance at the highest possible settings for the more serious titles. Tone those down, frame rates improve and many games become genuinely playable. That’s still a step in the right direction, though a long way to go before the base Apple Silicon really gets into the mood for gaming.

There will be an inevitable overlap, as you decide. Unlike a MacBook Air 13-inch which is the choice for ultimate portability or a MacBook Pro 16-inch which is for someone who wouldn’t want any performance compromises, the MacBook Pro 14-inch does have some utility overlaps with the MacBook Air 15 (though that’s with the M2 still). The use-case distinction is blurring, fast. At the finish line, it is for you to decide which screen size works better for you. It won’t be an easy decision. The new may be a better for longevity simply as a factor of its later arrival, but the previous generation isn’t always inferior.

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