Will Apple’s Mini LED MacBook Pros avoid the iPad Pro’s downsides?

By Chris Welch

Image: Apple

When Apple announced the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Mini LED backlighting earlier this year, I knew it was time to upgrade from my 2018 model. And I wasn’t disappointed. The improved brightness (especially when watching movies in HDR) and superior contrast have made the purchase worthwhile — even if iPadOS continues to underwhelm and disappoint in other ways. It’s a wonderful screen that makes me want to use the iPad wherever I can instead of my laptop.

As a refresher of what Mini LED is, there are thousands of tiny LEDs behind the display — much smaller than those in conventional TVs or LCD displays — that allow for more precise backlighting. In turn, this leads to deeper black levels and all of the other benefits mentioned above. Apple’s iPads and MacBook already had excellent displays with accurate, wide color reproduction. But Mini LED takes their display quality to the next level. Add a smoother 120Hz refresh rate on top of that, plus all those glorious ports, and you can see why people are excited and these machines are already heavily backordered.

But at least with the iPad Pro, this transition to Mini LED didn’t come without any downsides. And with the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros now adopting the same Pro Display XDR (Mini LED) technology, it’s worth tracking whether those same downsides have come along to Apple’s laptops.

Dieter addressed one of the issues, blooming, in his review. Particularly if you’re using the iPad Pro in a dark room, you’ll sometimes notice a halo of light around bright objects on screen when they’re surrounded by a black background. This is a tradeoff that’s inherent to full-array local dimming, and while it bothers some people, I’ve rarely found it annoying in my time using the iPad Pro. Either way, I think it’s occasionally worth dealing with for the other gains you get in brightness and contrast.

Still, blooming might prove more frustrating on a fully-loaded $6,000 laptop designed for professional editing work. I’m curious to see whether Apple has made any adjustments to diminish the issue on its new MacBook Pros.

The other downside of Apple’s Mini LED iPad Pro display is shadowing. As the new iPad made its way to buyers, people noticed a light shadow that runs along the very edges of the display. This shadow isn’t one of those things that’s present on some iPads and not others: it’s visible on every single M1 12.9-inch iPad Pro, because it has to do with how the Mini LED system is designed. Whereas most of the panel has superb uniformity, it falls off at the edges where the dimming zones trail off. Like blooming, this is something I don’t personally pay much attention to: my eyes are usually focused closer to the middle of the screen, where everything looks great.

These edge shadows can also be seen on Apple’s premium Pro Display XDR monitor. Overcast developer Marco Arment has described them as “the really big downside” of the display. Again, this is something that might be a bigger irritation on an expensive, marketed-at-pros laptop. Perhaps Apple has found a way to run the backlighting a little further beyond the bezels to avoid such an obvious falloff in brightness.

The positives of the new MacBook Pro screens should easily outweigh the cons. They’re brighter and sharper than ever with the same eye-searing HDR highlights as the iPad Pro. But if you’re a sticker for the small things, it might be worth waiting until reviews are out to see if Apple has made improvements to its still-new display tech.