I once hoped that the iPad Pro could be my portable work/play device, with the iMac serving as my daily workhorse. Even with some cool enhancements in iPadOS, that hasn’t happened.
So Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro is now my on-the-go computer and — supplemented with an external display and a mouse — has replaced the iMac as my “desktop.” (The iPad Pro remains my preferred entertainment/media/gaming ebook device and serves as my backup work system should my MacBook Pro ever go down.)
The 16-inch MacBook Pro isn’t perfect, but it’s arguably the best laptop Apple has ever made — with the price tag to prove it. It boasts a 16-inch Retina Display, the latest 8-core processors, up to 64GB of memory, next-generation graphics with up to 8GB of VRAM and a new advanced thermal design.
The Magic Keyboard
Let’s discuss the most-talked-about feature: the new Magic Keyboard and its redesigned scissor mechanism. I never had any problems with the controversial butterfly keyboard on any Mac laptops I owned. Heck, I even liked the way they felt. Not everyone felt this way, and Apple has addressed concerns about the keyboard in the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
The new Magic Keyboard reminds me of the (standalone) one available with iMacs. It has a full millimeter of travel (about 0.5mm more than the butterfly keyboard). The keys feel sturdy and typing is quieter than on the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro models.
The new Magic Keyboard also features a physical Escape key and an inverted-“T” arrangement for the arrow keys, along with Touch Bar and Touch ID. Almost everyone loves the latter, while the former has lots of detractors and lots of fans. Count me among the latter.
The new MacBook Pro’s display is, as you’d expect, gorgeous. At 16 inches, it’s the largest Retina notebook display ever. Featuring a resolution of 3072×1920 and a higher pixel density of 226 ppi, the 16-inch Retina display delivers nearly six million pixels. Apple says each display is individually calibrated in the factory for accurate gamma, white point and primary colors.
One big difference (no pun intended) between the 15-inch MacBook Pro and 16-incher is an extra inch of screen real estate that provides the aforementioned higher pixel density. To add that extra inch without adding too much bulk to the laptop, Apple reduced the size of the borders around the screen.
The new laptop measures 0.64 by 14.1 by 9.7 inches and weighs 4.3 pounds, versus the 0.61 by 13.75 by 9.5 inches and 4 pounds of its 15-inch predecessor.
Otherwise, the new MacBook Pro offers the same excellent features as Apple’s previous Pro-level Retina Displays. They include a 500-nit brightness and support for the entire P3 color gamut and Apple’s True Tone color shifting.
On the downside, the FaceTime camera atop the screen is still a measly 720p. It should be 1080p at least, and preferably 4K. There’s no reason for such an excellent laptop to have such a disappointing camera.
New sound system
The 16-inch MacBook Pro introduces a completely redesigned six-speaker, high-fidelity sound system that’s shockingly good. New Apple-patented force-canceling woofers use dual opposed speaker drivers to reduce unwanted vibrations that distort sound.
The bass can go half an octave deeper than on previous models; it truly thumps. Listening to your music and watching movies is a satisfying listening experience. It’s hard to believe the audio you get is coming from a laptop. The 16-inch MacBook Pro’s speaker system blows away, for instance, the speakers on the LG UltraFine 5 display that Apple promotes as the ideal monitor to pair with the portable.
Apple says that the 16-inch MacBook has “support for Dolby Atmos playback,” which I think means the laptop is beefy enough to decode and render Dolby Atmos, the surround sound technology developed by Dolby Laboratories.
However, don’t think you’ll get three-dimensional audio from the MacBook Pro alone. It will need to be connected to a Dolby Atmos–compatible sound system with an array of speakers.
Speaking of sound, Apple says the upgraded high-performance mic array delivers a 40% reduction in hiss and an improved signal-to-noise ratio that “rivals that of popular professional-grade digital microphones, delivering super-clean recordings that capture even the quietest details.”
The new laptop may have the best mic array ever in a portable (though I can’t attest to that). However, I doubt podcasters will record their shows with it except in extreme circumstances.
The battery and thermal cooling
The battery on the 16-inch MacBook Pro is 100Wh. Since it has to power a larger screen and more powerful processors, Apple rates it for 11 hours of “wireless web.” That’s just one hour longer than the latest 15-inch MacBook Pro. However, it charges fully in 2.5 hours. There’s also a new power brick, which is the same physical size as the 15-incher’s adapter, but supplies 96w; that’s up from 87w.
Apple says the 16-inch MacBook Pro uses the most advanced thermal architecture ever in a Mac notebook to enable the system to run at higher power for sustained periods of time. The fan design features a larger impeller with extended blades along with bigger vents. This purportedly results in a 28% increase in airflow. The heat sink is 35% larger, enabling more heat dissipation than before. Apple says that new laptop can sustain up to 12 more watts during intensive workloads than the previous design.
In my use of the new MacBook Pro, it was rare that I heard its fans rev up. They mostly hummed quietly in the background — if I could hear them at all. And the supersized laptop never got hot enough to be uncomfortable in my lap.
What about power?
I’d bet that the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the (at least maxed out) as powerful a laptop as can be found. It packs the latest 6- and 8-core 9th-generation processors with Turbo Boost speeds up to 5.0GHz.
It features new AMD Radeon Pro 5000M series graphics, the first 7nm mobile discrete GPUs for pro users, and is paired with GDDR6 video memory. There’s an 8GB VRAM option for the first time on a Mac laptop.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro doubles the SSD storage to 512GB and 1TB on standard configurations. For the first time, a MacBook Pro can be configured with 8TB of storage, the most ever available in a notebook.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro comes standard with 16GB of RAM. You can upgrade that to 64GB. Of course, all these upgrade options come with a high price tag.
I upgraded mine to 32GB and the VRAM to 8GB. I’m usually running six or seven apps at a time, and the laptop never hiccuped in my daily chores.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro still includes a headphone jack. There are two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support on the right side, and there are two more USB Type-C ports on the left. Some folks want more slots and ports, but I don’t find it an issue, especially with all the adapters/hubs available.
In addition to the underwhelming FaceTime camera, the 16-inch MacBook Pro doesn’t have WiFi 6 though the 2019 iPhones have it. And I still want a Mac laptop with a built-in cellular option, a la the iPad Pro.
Some folks have complained that the new Mac laptop doesn’t have options for OLED and micro LED displays. Be patient; that’s coming. Perhaps next year, perhaps 2021.
All these great new features come at a price. The 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,399. Still, that’s lower than the $2,999 price tag the rumor mill was predicting before the laptop’s debut. If you can afford it, Apple’s beast of a laptop is an excellent, powerful computer.
Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★1/2