/Hands on: MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) review

Hands on: MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) review


The MacBook Pro is kind of a titan in the computing world. Everyone knows what it is, and a lot of people want to get their hands on it, whether or not they’re actually pros. So Apple launching a new 16-inch MacBook Pro is kind of a big deal – not just because it’s faster, but also because it has a new form factor.

The biggest difference here, and one that will likely be greeted by cheers of praise, is the new keyboard. The problematic Butterfly keyboard is gone, and replaced by the new Magic Keyboard, modeled after the beloved iMac Pro keyboard. And, of course, there’s a bigger screen, too. 

This MacBook Pro, then, is Apple implementing changes we’ve been requesting for a while, and may go a long way to making it one of the best laptops in the world once more.

Price and availability

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is available right now starting at $2,399 (£2,399, AU$3,799). That entry-level configuration is actually fairly powerful, rocking a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. For most people, for once, we actually recommend this model – it will have more than enough power for most users without breaking into the higher echelons of price.

MacBook Pro 16-inch

(Image credit: Future)

However, if you’re a pro looking for the kind of performance that’s the namesake of the MacBook Pro, you can obviously fill this laptop with incredibly powerful hardware. For an extra $300 (£310, AU$440), you can bump the processor up to an 8-core, 16-thread Intel Core i9 processor. And, if you need a bunch of RAM and storage, you can get up to 64GB and 8TB, respectively. 

Of course, if you do choose to absolutely max out the MacBook Pro, you’ll be paying a hefty $6,099 (£5,769, AU$9,679). That’s a lot of money to ask for any piece of kit, but this laptop is aimed primarily at pro users and studios that need that extra horsepower, so price will likely be less of a factor. 

Design

The most immediately striking thing about the 16-inch MacBook Pro before we even get into the new display and keyboard is the laptop’s footprint. Now, don’t get us wrong, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is bigger, but it’s not a noticeable increase in size. We even got a chance to put the 15-inch MacBook Pro we use for work next to this new model, and the only difference we really noticed at a glance was the bigger screen.

MacBook Pro 16-inch

16-inch MacBook Pro (left) vs the 15-inch MacBook Pro (right). Nearly the same footprint.

(Image credit: Future)

That screen, by the way, is a 16-inch Retina display with a resolution of 3,072 x 1,920, with a P3 color gamut and a peak brightness of 500 nits. It’s not quite a 4K display, but if we didn’t go in knowing the resolution beforehand, it would have fooled us. It’s an incredibly bright, detailed and colorful display – something Apple has made a name for itself for. 

It would have been easy for Apple to just leave it at that, but it made improvements elsewhere, too. The keyboard is all-new for the first time since 2015. This “Magic Keyboard” is using a new keyboard switch which shouldn’t get jammed up by dust as easily as the Butterfly Keyboard. Reliability isn’t all there is, though: it’s also extremely comfortable to type on. 

Over the last few years, we’ve spent a lot of time typing on the Butterfly Keyboard, so we’re pretty familiar with how it feels. We also have spent a lot of time reminiscing on the MacBook keyboards of old, thinking about how quiet and comfortable they were to write on. The Magic Keyboard feels like a happy medium between the two. Now, this is something that we’ll have to test in a more robust fashion latter in our full review, but our early impressions of this keyboard are wholly positive, and it may end up being one of the best keyboards on a laptop today.

MacBook Pro 16-inch

The keyboard has been refined with the escape key, a separate Touch ID button and inverted-T arrow keys. But the real story is the scissor system underneath the keys.

(Image credit: Future)

The keyboard also sees a physical escape key return to the MacBook Pro, which is excellent news for pretty much everyone, along with a dedicated Touch ID button, similar to the one found on the MacBook Air. Of course, in between the Touch ID button and the escape key is the Touch Bar – it’s back, and still does everything it did on previous MacBook Pros. 

On either side of the keyboard are front-facing speakers, which isn’t really anything new. What is new, however, is how those speakers are built. There are six speakers in the MacBook Pro, with Force Feedback-enabled woofers. This allows the MacBook Pro to produce bass sounds without extraneous vibration causing unwanted distortion. That’s a lot of impressive-sounding words, but they sound amazing in the flesh. Much more than we’d ever expect in a laptop. 

The only real bugbear we still have with this new MacBook Pro is the port selection. Thunderbolt 3 is incredibly flexible and powerful, but some legacy ports or an SD card slot would be a nice touch. Professionals use a lot of external tools, and we would have liked to see more flexibility here. But, we don’t think Apple will ever go back to its pre-Thunderbolt 3 days. Hey, at least there’s still a headphone jack. 

Performance

Until we get the new MacBook Pro in our labs for testing, we won’t be able to definitively judge the performance of this new device. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at the internals and make some educated judgements. 

MacBook Pro 16-inch

Apple has designed the 16-inch pro for performance, starting with thermal artitecture.

(Image credit: Apple)

The 16-inch MacBook Pro, by default, has a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, which already puts it in a pretty good place. Most people will never really use a full 16GB of RAM, and that 6-core processor will absolutely destroy everyday computing workloads. If you’re just after a MacBook Pro as your daily driver, you should have no worries on the performance front. 

If you’re a professional, however, the upgrades come into play in a major way. Having up to 64GB of RAM and 8TB of SSD storage is frankly amazing, and pros in pretty much every industry are going to be able to do a lot of work on the go. Apple showed us some demos of programmers, video editors, musicians and photographers working on this machine, and we were very impressed. We can’t wait to run the laptop through its paces to see just how much it can put up with before it starts to chug. 

And, we think this iteration of the MacBook Pro might be a touch more resilient than earlier models, thanks to a redesign of Apple’s thermal solution. Again, this is something we’ll have to test ourselves, but the Cupertino colossus claims that the new cooling solution has a 35% bigger heatsink, so maybe this means the Core i9 model will be able to hit its Turbo speeds more often. 

MacBook Pro 16-inch

The inverted-T arrow keys are easier to find without looking down at the keyboard.

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

Making a judgement call on a device like the MacBook Pro based on a short hands-on opportunity is difficult. These are devices you kind of have to live with and work on to see what they’re capable of. However, even based on our short time with the new MacBook Pro, we’re impressed. 

The improved display, the very comfortable keyboard and the nearly audiophile-grade speakers are enough to make a very good impression. Apple really has been listening to the complaints from its customers, and it’s easy to tell here. However, the limited port selection and high price may keep some people from making the upgrade. It’s a classic Apple dilemma then – the performance is there if you need it, as is the design, but is it worth the higher price and the slimmed down design? If you ask yourself that question and answer yes, the 16-inch MacBook Pro may be one of the most promising computing products we’ve seen from Apple in years. 

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