Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro Review

Apple upgrades, enlarges, and refashions its popular mobile workstation

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4.5

Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro

16-inch MacBook Pro
You're gonna like the typing experience on the new 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Lifewire / Jordan Provost

What We Like
  • Huge screen

  • Magic Keyboard

  • Workstation-level performance

  • Expandability

  • Solid battery life

What We Don't Like
  • No SD card slot

With the 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple’s delivered a professional’s mobile dream system. The screen is gorgeous and they Magic Keyboard is (almost) magical. It has the baseline power and, if you have the cash, the customizability for power-hungry workstation professionals crave.

4.5

Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro

16-inch MacBook Pro
You're gonna like the typing experience on the new 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Lifewire / Jordan Provost

We received a 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro review unit so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.

When I slide the 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro out of its formidable leather sleeve, I get glances and outright exclamations: “That thing’s huge!”

These onlookers have heard tales of the new Magic Keyboard and ask for a touch or a press. “Is it really better than the Butterfly keyboard that let me down?”

They’ve heard stories of the specs, which start out impressive and then, with enough cash, push the boundaries of technical imagination. What more can I tell them of the fabled 8TB SSD?

Most of all, they just want to look at it and maybe brush their hands over the space gray aluminum surface.

Not a Laptop

I think most people realize that Apple’s largest laptop is not really designed for the average office worker, content consumer, or Web Browser. It’s like window shopping for Ferrari of laptops while all they need is a Volkswagen Beetle ultraportable.

And, if I’m being honest, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is even too much laptop for me. I carried the 4.3 lb., 14.08-inch x 9.68-inch x 0.64 inch portable around for a week and seriously missed the pleasure of toting a 1.7 lb. Microsoft Surface Pro 6.

16-inch MacBook Pro
Apple's new 16-inch MacBook Pro has a noticeably larger screen than the 15-inch model, but is not, at 4.3 lbs, that much bigger or heavier.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

I’m also aware that, while I work in Photoshop and dabble in drawing apps, I’m not the target market. Apple made that abundantly clear when they demoed multiple programming, game development, photography, music, and video professionals essentially stress-testing the MacBook Pro across a wide gamut of processor intensive tasks. The system can handle three million polygons and 80 million pixels (likely at the same time), without breaking a digital sweat.

Most will read this review out of curiosity about what real portable computing power looks like and for details on that Magic Keyboard, the physical typing system that will likely one day make its way to the rest of Apple’s MacBook line.

On Key

So, let’s start with the keyboard.

Back in 2015, Apple tried to reinvent the laptop keyboard with something they called the Butterfly design, which really described the unique mechanism under each key. The benefit of this design was the ability to create an incredibly low-profile keyboard in an ultra-thin laptop, in this case the original 12-inch MacBook. However, while the laptop design was applauded, the Butterfly keyboard eventually drew criticism and scorn. It was a magnet for dust and debris that could get under the keys and others complained that the design wasn’t reliable.

Undeterred, Apple incorporated the Butterfly design into the MacBook Pro. Eventually, though, Apple relented and altered the Butterfly design to improve the seal and sound.

Apple’s decision to abandon the Butterfly keyboard (for at least this new MacBook) is a measure of its success.

16-inch MacBook Pro
The new 16-inch MacBook Pro's keyboard mechanism is distinctly different from the Butterfly keyboard design on the last MacBook Pro.  Lifewired / Jordan Provost

The 16-inch MacBook Pro’s Magic keyboard is a reinvention of an Apple laptop keyboard, but not a total reinvention of an Apple Keyboard. As Apple told me recently, the 16-inch MacBook Pro Magic Keyboard is based on the iMac’s popular Magic Keyboard mechanics.

Each key now snaps into a scissor mechanism. Apple connects the two at the top of the key’s travel to reduce wobble. The scissor mechanism also provides more travel over the butterfly keyboard (for a total of 1mm of travel) for a surer typing feel.

In these efforts, Apple is largely successful. I’m currently typing this review on the MacBook Pro's Magic Keyboard and appreciate the touch feel, key separation, response, and relatively diminished noise. Typing on this Magic Keyboard is, overall, a comfortable and pleasurable experience. I might even call it buttery or magical.

That said, I still prefer my Surface Pro 6’s Type Cover keyboard. The Surface Pro 6's Type Cover is 11-inches wide like the Magic Keyboard on this MacBook Pro, but the key travel is greater for a more satisfying typing experience. I started typing this review on the Surface Pro and then switched over to the MacBook Pro, which I am using as I type these words.

To be clear, the keyboard you choose is a personal decision. I have no doubt some would prefer the Magic Keyboard and I am certain that most MacBook fans will prefer the Magic Keyboard over the Butterfly design.

Not Just the Keys

The Magic Keyboard is not just the redesigned keys, it’s also the reintroduction of the Escape key, a new inverted, “T” design arrow key array, and the surviving Touch Bar Touch ID/Power-sleep button.

Ever since the earliest days of the desktop PC, the computer keyboard has featured an Escape key, invariably in the upper left-hand corner. I always assumed it was there to help tech newbies quickly back out of whatever they were doing on the still somewhat exotic personal computer.

16-inch MacBook Pro and a 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro
The 16-inch MacBook Pro's screen (left) is larger than the 15-inch MacBook Pro's, but the chassis isn't much larger (2015 MacBook Pro, right). Lifewire / Jordan Provost

I use the key infrequently, but know that programmers rely on it heavily, which made Apple’s decision to remove it from the 15-inch MacBook Pro in 2016 that much more perplexing. With the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the Escape key returns and harbors no ill will (kidding!).

The redesigned arrow keys simply make it easier to navigate them without looking at the keys. I found them useful during Apple Arcade gameplay.

I’m a big fan of the Touch ID/Power-Sleep combo button. I registered my index finger and used it to quickly unlock the MacBook Pro (later I used my Apple Watch) and to complete App Store purchases.

Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro
For as much as the MacBook Pro has changed, it's still utterly familiar.  Lifewire / Jordan Provost

As for the Touch Bar, I mostly ignore it, but occasionally find its fungible interface useful during short typing stretches (it has word suggestions) and in some apps where it surfaces often-used tools. For example, in iMovie, I appreciated that when I selected a video clip, the “split” icon appeared on the tiny display and I could reach out and tap that and then continue working on the video. Ultimately, the Touch Bar is most useful for quick access to things like screen brightness, volume control, and Siri.

Screen Time

Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro Retina display is a thing of beauty. By significantly shrinking the bezel, Apple takes full advantage of the 16.5-inch (when measured diagonally) chassis. The screen is bright (500 nits), sharp (3072x1920), and colorful (wide color gamut). The resolution is so high (226 ppi) that some interface text could appear tiny. Obviously, I can use the giant, 7-inch touch pad to pinch and zoom in on most text and projects (without actually impacting the interface size).

There’s still room along the top edge of the 16-inch MacBook Pro screen, by the way, for a 720p FaceTime camera.

Pro Audio

While many people use a MacBook Pro for audio projects, the laptop has never had pro-level audio components. The 16-inch MacBook Pro changes that.

The 6-speaker system, which lives under a pair of wide grills on either side of the keyboard, provides for robust, loud, and crisp audio output that also has relatively strong base (for a system of its size) and manages to produce those deep tones without any hardware buzz or vibration. Apple explained that the audio quality is due in part to woofers (dual-opposed drivers) that produce special sound to cancel out any vibration sounds coming from the laptop.

16-inch MacBook Pro
The 16-inch MacBook Pro now has six speakers and three studio-level microphones.  Lifewire / Jordan Provost

Apple also replaced the previous MacBook Pro’s three microphones with a trio of studio-quality and directional beamforming mics. The idea is pros could, in a pinch, record podcasts and even music without the background hiss normally associated with direct-to-PC-recorded audio.

Recording quality is impressive. I actually recorded the audio for my brief MacBook Pro hands on video and was shocked at the almost total lack of background noise or even typical room echo I get when recording through a laptop mic.

Ports and Sidecar

There are, by the way, 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports (the only other port is a 3.5mm headphone jack) which you can use to connect the charger, external storage, and additional screens, including Apple’s new 6K, 32-inch Pro Display XDR. I used the ports and Sidecar, however, to connect my iPad Pro to the MacBook Pro. Apple’s Sidecar utility extends the MacBook Pro display across to the iPad Pro (I also used an iPad Mini).

16-inch MacBook Pro
The 16-inch MacBook Pro has four Thunderbolt 3 ports. They can be used for, among other things, to connect external displays and, with Sidecar, iPads. Lifewire / Jordan Provost 

With the screen attached via a cable, I was able to drag and drop windows from one display to the other. This let me, for example, keep my Twitter window open and out of the way on the iPad Pro while I worked on a Lightroom screen on the MacBook Pro. Sidecar lets you use your Apple Pencil on the iPad screen’s MacBook Pro extended interface, but also disables a lot of the typical touch gestures.

MacBook Pro and iPad Pro
All you need to connect your MacBook Pro to an iPad Pro and extend your desktop is a cable.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Raw Power

No matter how you slice it, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is a performance beast, but it’s also got a range of beast-like performance. If you purchase the $2399 base model, you’ll get:

  • 2.6 GHz 6-core 9th Generation Intel core I7
  • 16 GB of RAM
  • AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4 GB of GDDR6 memory
  • 512 GB SSD

The system I tested is in the mid-to-high-range of capabilities with

  • 2.4 GHz 8-core 9th Gen Core i9
  • 32 GB of RAM
  • AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8 GB of GDDR6 RAM
  • 2 TB SSD

This system would run you roughly $3,899.

If you've got the cash, you can expand the memory up to 64 GB and storage to 8TB.

Geekbench numbers are, as you might expect, strong, especially the Compute scores.

    • CPU tests:
      Single-Core: 1175
    • Multi-core:   7427
    • Compute OpenCL Score: 25717

Just for the sake of comparison, a typical MacBook Air running a Core i5 CPU and integrated graphics got these scores:

    • CPU tests:
      Single Core: 712
    • Multi-core:    1487
    • OpenCL Score: 1233

However, most of the more aggressive OpenGL benchmarks I wanted to run on the system, including GFX OpenGL and Cinebench, could not yet run on the new machine.

In anecdotal tests where I opened dozens of Google chrome browser windows, Apple Arcade Games, and Adobe Lightroom, the system didn’t hesitate. It’s way more power than my meager tasks need.

For those who do push the system to its limits, Apple redesigned the thermal architecture to create better, more efficient airflow and heat dissipation. During the course of my tests and day-to-day use, the top where I rested my hands felt just a little warm. When I lifted the system and ran my hands along the base, especially toward the back of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, I noticed much more significant heat. If I placed the MacBook Pro on my lap, then I really felt the warmth on my knees.

Battery Life

The 100 Wh battery (the largest, by law, Apple is permitted to include) promises 11 hours of battery life. In my experience, that’s accurate, though I could shorten the battery life by a couple of hours by simultaneously turning the Retina screen brightness up to 100-percent, running multiple apps, and streaming live video. I’m sure, depending on your activities, your battery life will vary.

Apple now ships a rather large 96 Watt USB-C charging brick with the 16-inch MacBook Pro which is capable of fully recharging the laptop in a couple of hours.

Pro Dream

I don’t understand why a mobile, pro-level system, especially one designed for on-the-go professional photographers couldn’t include an SD card slot and even just one USB-3 Type A port. Apple’s been shedding ports for years, though, and often appears to favor clean design over what others might consider completeness. On the other hand, that 3.5 mm headphone jack did survive this latest update.

With the 16-inch MacBook pro, Apple’s delivered a professional’s mobile dream system. The new Magic Keyboard is, in fact, almost magical, the return of the escape key is laud-worthy, and that screen is just plain gorgeous. It has the baseline power and, if you can afford it, the customizability power-hungry workstation professionals crave. It’s also the portable alternative to Apple’s upcoming Mac Pro, which weighs almost 40 lbs. and starts at almost $6,000.

In the end, though, the Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro is also a signal about the kinds of MacBook Pros and MacBooks Apple may deliver in the future, with a new Magic Keyboard, awesome audio, and pro-level microphones.

Specs

  • Product Name 16-inch MacBook Pro
  • Product Brand Apple
  • Price $2399
  • Release Date November 2019
  • Weight 4.3 lbs.
  • Product Dimensions 14.09 x 0.64 x 9.68 in.
  • Color Space Gray