APPLE MACBOOK PRO 16-INCH REVIEW: THE ONE YOU’VE BEEN EXPECTING

MACBOOK PRO 16-INCH SPECS

$2,399 base model

  • 2.6GHz 6-core 9th Gen Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo step up to 4.5GHz)
  • 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4
  • AMD Radeon Pro 5300M 
  •  4GB of GDDR6 memory
  • 512GB PCIe-based onboard SSD

$2,799 base model

  • 2.3GHz 8-core 9th Gen Intel Core i9 processor (Turbo step up to 4.8GHz)
  • 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4
  • AMD Radeon Pro 5500M:  4GB of GDDR6 memory 
  • 1TB PCIe-based onboard SSD

All models

  • 16.0-inch Retina display
  • 3072 x 1920, 226ppi, 500 nits, 
  • P3 wide color
  • True Tone technology
  • Dimensions: 0.64 x 14.09 x 9.68 inches
  • 4.3 pounds
  • 100 watt hour battery
  • rated to 11 hours of wireless web
  • 96W USB-C charger
  • Six-speaker stereo with Dolby Atmos
  • “Studio-quality” three-microphone array
  • Intel UHD Graphics 630
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 ports, headphone jack
  • Backlit Magic Keyboard
  • Touch Bar and Touch ID
  • Force Touch trackpad 
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Configurable with
  • Up to 64GB RAM
  • Up to 8TB storage
  • AMD Radeon Pro 5500M
  • 8GB of GDDR6 memory 

Keyboard:

TheThe keyboard is fixed. If Apple did nothing else, that one thing makes the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro better than its predecessor and the other MacBook you’ll buy immediately. The tide definitively turned against Apple’s butterfly keyboard design within the past year, thanks in large part to persistent reporting from Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern, and Apple had to try to do something. Thankfully, Apple did the proper thing: it went back to a more traditional keyboard design.

But Apple’s backtrack on the keyboard isn’t the sole accommodation it’s made to answer complaints about its MacBook line. Apple also altered how the laptop dissipates heat, allowing the processor to run faster and more predictably. It also brought back a physical Esc key and most professional users’ preferred arrow key layout.

There are a couple of other notable updates compared to the 15-inch model — including, yes, the namesake for the laptop itself, the 16-inch screen. But the keyboard and therefore the thermals are the large updates that show Apple is willing to seem back so as to maneuver forward.

As for the keyboard, it’s up there among my favorites. (For the record, the one at the highest of the list is the quiet keyboard on the Pixelbook Go.) Apple’s new keyboard features a full millimeter of travel (about 0.5mm quite the butterfly keyboard and 0.5mm but the keyboard on a 2015 MacBook Pro). And though the keys aren’t especially springy, they are doing land with a satisfying and comparatively quiet thunk.

Redesigning:

Apple says that it redesigned how the keycap attaches to the scissor switch to enhance stability across the key. The backlight also doesn’t bleed out around the fringe of the keys. Finally, the keycaps are slightly smaller than those on the butterfly design, which allows them to be spaced slightly farther aside from one another and — critically — the Touch Bar. The “inverted T” layout on the arrow keys is additionally much easier to use than the old layout.

The physical Esc key shortens the Touch Bar up a touch, but I haven’t noticed any problems stemming from the lost length. That’s probably because, like most people, the Touch Bar is something I endure rather than something I enjoy. Apple believes in it, and there’s still potential there. But generally, it’s less useful to me than a row of function keys. I exploit a utility called Pock to place my Mac’s dock there rather than the default, but even that doesn’t make the Touch Bar a must-have on my behalf.

Inside Apple, I’m sure there are engineers who still believe that the butterfly keyboard is fixable. Perhaps it’s, but hardware design has to take culture under consideration the maximum amount because it does engineering. albeit Apple was ready to end up a wonderfully reliable butterfly keyboard with decent key travel and quiet clacking, nobody would trust it.

The only question now’s when Apple’s other laptops will get the new (old) keyboard design. Apple, of course, isn’t even hinting. But there are clues: the corporate has spent the last year doing the apparent things everybody has been asking for: improved iPadOS USB access, thicker phones with bigger batteries, and a Mac Pro that’s modular again. 

We can get tons of the quality “laptop stuff” out of the way because Apple has done an honest job with the basics. The trackpad remains almost comically big, but Apple does better than anybody at palm rejection. There are still four Thunderbolt 3 ports, and there’s still a fingerprint sensor to log in. But unfortunately, there’s no SD card slot.

Screen:

The screen is the namesake of this laptop — is typical Apple, which is to mention it’s great. It’s not actually a full inch larger than the 15-inch version (which actually had a 15.4-inch display), and it doesn’t really feel that far more capacious. It’s an enormous, color-accurate retina screen. I feel on the subsequent iteration of this design — which is presumably quite a couple of years out — Apple should aim a touch higher. But OLED and HDR screens on laptops are still relatively rare, and I think Apple was right to nail the fundamentals.

Size:

The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch model is simply slightly larger than the 15-inch model across all three dimensions, but not such a lot that you’d really notice it unless you compared them side by side. If you’ve got a bag that will fit the 15-inch MacBook Pro, I might be very surprised if it didn’t also fit the 16-inch laptop.

Besides the larger screen, one among The explanations it’s just slightly bigger is that it’s a full 100Wh battery, which is the Federal Aviation Administration’s limit for laptops that are allowed on planes. It also comes with a 96W charger to match. 

Webcam:

If there’s one place where Apple could do better on the hardware, it’s the webcam. It’s still a piddly 720p affair. The opposite place Apple must do better is macOS Catalina. Even now, almost two months from launch, it’s still a touch buggier than it needs to be.

My favorite part of the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch isn’t the keyboard or the improved thermals. (More thereon below.) To be blunt, those are both things Apple shouldn’t have tousled within the first place, so I don’t want to offer it an excessive amount of credit for just hitting par.

Speakers:

It’s the speakers. They’re the simplest I’ve ever heard on a laptop. Apple’s technical explanation for the speaker quality is that it’s three speakers on all sides, two of which are woofers designed to wipe out each other’s vibrations. Which permits the MacBook Pro to urge half an octave deeper bass. It also means the speakers can get much louder without sounding tinny.

Speaker details like that always find yourself just being marketing gobbledegook, but not here. It still won’t fill an area sort of a Bluetooth speaker, but it’ll impress anybody who sits ahead of it.

Microphone:

Apple also has improved the microphone — it’s now a three-mic “studio” array. It certainly sounds better than most microphones including studio mics on the Surface Laptop 3. It’s less hissy and a touch less echoey to my ears. But despite Apple’s claims, it still doesn’t get up to a fanatical USB microphone, sort of a Blue Yeti.

Processor:

After the keyboard, the opposite consensus on the 15-inch MacBook Pro is that it had been thermally throttled. The processor couldn’t run as fast because it otherwise might be due to various design factors. Last summer, there was another initial worry that the processor was much worse than it should be, leading to a quick software update from Apple to supply a so-called “missing digital key” within the firmware.

I think those days are behind us. In both benchmarks and many real-world tests, the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch can maintain higher speeds than before, and — I feel, more importantly — it does so consistently.

That all happens, because of some design changes that Apple made: it added a bigger conductor, changed the fan design to maneuver more air, and made the entire thing slightly thicker. Apple claims that each one of those changes allows it to push 12W more power through the processor under load.

I’ll let others handle in-depth benchmarking, but I will be able to note that, in my tests, the MacBook Pro was slightly better than last year’s model across raw processor tests. Cinebench 20 on my Core i9 review unit hit peak turbo speeds then settled into a really consistent 3.1GHz (800MHz above its “base” speed) across multiple tests — aka it had been an equivalent on the primary test and therefore the fifth when the laptop was warm.

Is your MacBook Running Slow?

Software:

In a more real-world test — a really complex export in Adobe Premiere Pro that took a few half-hours to run — I saw a 3 to five percent improvement over a reasonably comparable 2018 model (which is technically two generations behind, because of a processor refresh earlier this year). That’s a modest jump, but it’s also completely in line with what you’d expect from the year-over-year improvements in Intel’s processors combined with Apple’s improved thermals.

Software that takes better advantage of the GPU will see much bigger gains in performance. Our video team doesn’t use movie X, but Jonathan Morrison has posted a video to YouTube confirming that there are significant speed improvements thereon. Similarly, within the built-in benchmark in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I saw frame rates at the default graphics settings jump from about 30 fps to just about 60 fps very consistently.

In short: the performance is there, but unless you actually know your software can take full advantage of the new GPUs within the new MacBook, you would possibly not see life-changing improvements.