16″ MacBook Pro Review: Now Do It Again!

Talk to any true Apple fan and they’ll tell you the last great MacBook Pro was the 15-inch model from mid-2015. It had a wide array of ports, a great keyboard and an SD card slot.

There was no butterfly keyboard or Touch Bar to deal with. As the former Tumblr developer Marco Arment put it, “It’s designed for us, rather than asking us to adapt ourselves to it.”

 

Pros

  • Powerful Intel CPU and AMD GPU
  • Excellent new keyboard
  • Gorgeous 16-inch Retina Display
  • Best-in-class speakers and mic
  • Relatively low starting price

 

Cons

  • Still only four USB-C ports
  • No SD card reader
  • Upgrades can get expensive quickly

Summary

Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro is basically every creative’s dream machine, with a ton of power and a vastly improved keyboard. The larger screen makes it more useful than the 15-inch model it replaces, and it even has decent battery life for a workstation.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the closest Apple has come to recreating the glory of that machine. It’s incredibly powerful, and the company finally listened to complaints about its shallow butterfly keyboards and equipped this model with more-traditional scissor-switch keys.

While it doesn’t address every pro-user issue — you’re still limited to four USB-C ports and there are no card slots — it’s hands down the best MacBook Pro available today for creatives.

Let’s get the obvious differences out of the way first: Its 16-inch screen is noticeably larger. Like many PC makers, Apple managed to fit a larger display into a similarly sized case by shaving down the bezels around the sides and top.

The result is a gloriously immersive, 500-nit Retina Display that can finally compete with Dell’s Infinity Edge screens. It’s a legitimate step up from the previous model, and a reminder of the glory days of Apple’s 17-inch notebooks.

Then there’s the new Magic Keyboard — which feels more like a miracle keyboard. Mac users have been complaining about the flat Butterfly keyboards ever since they debuted. While Apple eventually fixed some sound and reliability issues, they never felt great to type on. It always felt like pretend typing on a pane of glass — it’s not satisfying and barely functional.

The Magic Keyboard fixes that issue by going back to the scissor mechanism Apple has been using in its desktop keyboards for years. There’s a millimeter of key travel now, and they aren’t wobbly like they used to be on older MacBook Pros. In comparison, the Butterfly keyboards had a mere half millimeter of travel, and Dell’s XPS 15 offers a slightly deeper 1.3 millimeters.

I’ve almost forgotten what it was like to enjoy typing on a MacBook Pro, but this new keyboard brought me back to my early days of writing on a second-gen MacBook Air.

There’s a responsiveness that makes the keyboard feel inviting, like it’s a world-class instrument waiting to be played. That millimeter of feedback practically makes the notebook feel like an extension of my body instead of a tool that annoys me every time I touch it.

Even butterfly keyboard defenders will have a hard time denying that the Magic Keyboard simply feels better, and it can’t reach other MacBooks soon enough.

Apple even compromised a bit with the Touch Bar: The physical Escape key is back! And there’s a separate TouchID and power button, which makes it easier to find without looking. I’m still not completely sold on the Touch Bar’s usefulness, but at least it feels like less of a hindrance to my workflow.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is a bit taller and wider than the 15-inch model by a few millimeters, and it’s marginally thicker at .64 inches instead of 0.61. It’s heftier too at 4.3 pounds instead of around four. It definitely weighed down my backpack more, and its slightly larger dimensions make it a bit of a chore to fit on cramped coffee shop tables.

But I think the trade-offs are worth it for the sheer power Apple managed to stuff into this machine. It would have been nice to see more of a design refresh, but Apple’s unibody aluminum case looks as sleek as ever, so I can’t complain much.

Under the hood, you have Intel’s latest six- and eight-core i7 and i9 processors, the latter of which can reach boost speeds up to 5GHz. You can also choose between AMD’s Radeon Pro 5300M and 5500M GPUs with 4GB of VRAM.

That more-powerful GPU can even be configured with eight gigabytes of VRAM for heavy-duty 3D-rendering work. Apple claims the 5,300M graphics are 2.1 times faster than the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s, and that makes sense since it’s powered by AMD’s new rDNA architecture.

Apple is breaking new ground for memory and storage in the MacBook Pro as well, with support for up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM and eight terabytes of fast SSD storage. Notably, Apple says this is the largest SSD ever in a notebook, and we haven’t found any evidence out there to prove otherwise. These are fantastic high-end specs for programmers and artists alike. It used to be that you had to settle with a small SSD in a modern laptop and carry around a portable drive for larger files. The 16-inch MacBook Pro gives you the sort of storage flexibility you’d expect from a desktop workstation.

Of course, you’ll pay dearly for maxing out those specs. Bumping up to 64GB of RAM is an additional $800 while the 8TB of storage is an eye-watering $2,200 extra. These aren’t upgrades meant for average users, but I’d bet huge VFX firms wouldn’t think twice about spending $5,899 for a decked-out MacBook Pro to speed up their workflows.

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