Apple released its latest MacBook Pro, the 16-inch model, towards the tail end of 2019 without holding a big public showcase as it often does. If that has you worried about a lack of upgrades, rest assured that Apple has launched one of the best laptops (opens in new tab) on the market. Offering a bevy of 'course corrections' when compared to the previous 15-inch models, it’s the best MacBook Pro you can buy right now, and the best Apple has produced in almost half a decade.
As we've come to expect from premium Apple laptops, the MacBook Pro comes with a whole suite of fancy gadgets and extras, backed up by some seriously impressive performance. All of that tech wizardry then comes wrapped up in Apple's signature minimalist design to leave you with a high-end laptop that looks the part, but also has the power under the hood too. But how does it stack up against its competition like the Surface Laptop 3 (opens in new tab)?
CPU: 9th Gen Intel Core i7 or I9
Memory: 16GB to 64GB of DDR4 2666MHz
Storage: 512GB to 8TB SSD
Display: 16-inch 3072 x 1920 resolution screen
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5300M to 5500M
Ports: 4 x USB-C Lightning
Dimensions: 14.09" x 9.68" x 0.641"
Weight: 4.3 lbs
Operating System: macOS
MacBook Pro review: Design
- Aluminum finish with Space Grey and Silver color options
- Gorgeous screen, but not quite 4K
- Only a 720p webcam
If you’re coming from the 15-inch MacBook Pro, you’ll be surprised at how much heavier the 16-inch is. It’ll still fit in the majority of bags and sleeves that the previous generation could, but it’s now slightly deeper and slightly wider than the last generation.
Its aluminum finish still comes in both Space Gray and Silver colors, but unlike older MacBooks, there’s still no light-up Apple logo, something that really separated it from the pack in the past.
Whichever color you go for, you’re getting four USB-C ports (two on each side) which we’ll discuss later, as well as a new keyboard, a huge trackpad, and the divisive touch bar (which thankfully now has a separate escape key. There’s also a TouchID fingerprint reader which doubles as a power button, and speakers on either side of the keys.
When it comes to the retina display, the 16-inch model still has the same distinctive black bezels around the screen but the left and right ones are much narrower than before, while the top one still houses a 720p webcam for video chat and the like. The screen still doesn’t offer 4K resolution, but it remains sharp as well as impressively bright – and able to auto-adjust based on the light in your current setting.
All in all, the MacBook Pro 16-inch feels like a premium device, which is just as well since you’ll be spending north of $2000 to get your hands on one.
MacBook Pro review: Performance
- Powerful hardware with plenty of options
- Magic keyboard is a huge improvement
- Excellent speakers
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is available in both a six-core and eight-core options, and while our review unit is the former, it still boots up and performs the majority of tasks in an instant. While anyone using their laptop for video editing might want to opt for the more expensive version with the extra cores, increased storage, and better graphics card, the base 16-inch will offer more than enough power for most.
Storage options start at 512GB (no more measly 256GB options), and is configurable all the way up to 8TB – which is likely to be overkill for all but the most hardcore of tech users.
In terms of RAM, the base is 16GB but is configurable up to 64GB – but again most users will be more than ok with the most affordable option. In fact, when rendering fairly complex Photoshop images on the device, it was able to export dozens of layers within what felt like a heartbeat. Your mileage may vary, and your use case and workflow will likely dictate the specs you require, but there are really no bad options here.
Both versions offer an integrated and discrete graphics card, too. So while the basic Intel graphics within will be perfect for the majority of standard tasks, a more powerful version will kick in when you’re working with photos, videos, or playing a game or two. And, with improved airflow (an issue that plagued the most recent 15-inch models), the MacBook Pro is much more efficient when it comes to dissipating heat.
Where we’d recommend the MacBook Pro 16-inch wholeheartedly over the previous generation is if you tend to do a lot of typing. Apple’s recent laptops switched to a ‘butterfly’ mechanism, causing issues with accuracy and reliability that has seen the company replacing devices at an uncharacteristically constant rate. Thankfully, the 16-inch takes cues from the iMac’s excellent Magic Keyboard to offer just the right amount of key travel, as well as switching the arrow keys back into an ‘inverted T’ formation. Combined with the aforementioned physical escape key, it’s infinitely more usable than previous models and should last longer, too.
The touch bar remains a ‘love it/hate it’, but its utility is largely down to apps that support it. The majority of Apple’s do, as well as plenty of third-party options like Chrome, Photoshop, and plenty more.
One thing Apple’s laptops have never had to worry about is in the quality of their Trackpads, and we’re pleased to confirm that the 16-inch’s monolithic effort (about as wide as the iPhone 11 Pro Max is long) remains best in class. Multi-touch gestures can take some time to get used to, but they’re worth learning to maximize the options available in any given app. There’s also really nice haptic feedback that can make it feel like you’re able to prod and poke your content without actually doing so.
One of the biggest surprises about the new MacBook Pro is its speakers. People tend to excuse speakers on laptops for being lackluster for the most part, but Apple’s latest stereo sound effort sets a new (very high) benchmark. With six speakers, three on each side, the laptop’s woofers that emit bass are calibrated to cancel each other out – thus preventing any vibrations you might get.
Another big boon for anyone taking calls or recording audio (such as a podcaster or even just as voice memos) is the new three-mic array. In our testing, it wasn’t quite as clear as something like Blue’s Yeti mic, but it’s a big improvement on what was there before. Unfortunately, the 720p camera remains almost laughably outdated, especially when Apple seems to have changed a little bit of everything else on the 16-inch MacBook Pro. If you use Google Hangouts, Skype, or even Apple’s own FaceTime, you might be better off doing so on your mobile instead.
It feels like the MacBook line is ready to adopt FaceID recognition for unlocking the device, but instead, the Apple T2 chip can securely unlock the MacBook Pro using your fingerprint and works well, allowing you to skip password entry if you choose to do so.
Finally, we need to talk about ports. USB-C looks to be the future, as more devices (including Apple’s own iPad Pro) adopt the reversible tech, but it will mean that anyone looking to plug in an old USB-A thumb drive, ethernet connection, SD card reader or more will need a dongle – and those don’t come cheap, at least not from Apple themselves. On the plus side, it does mean you can charge the battery via whichever port you choose.
MacBook Pro review: Battery life
Speaking of, the battery in the MacBook Pro 16-inch is a 100Wh one – the largest battery that airplanes will let passengers take on their carry-on luggage. With a bigger battery comes more power, and while Apple suggested the MacBook Pro 16-inch offers 11 hours of wireless web browsing and video playback, we clocked it closer to 10.
Still, that’s a full day’s work in many instances, and it charges quickly too. Even if the battery is dead, plugging the MacBook Pro into a power socket will emit a subtle chime, just like when you plug your iPhone or iPad in.
MacBook Pro review: Price/Value for Money
There’s a lot to love about the new MacBook Pro, but the price isn’t one of them. While Apple deserves some kudos for keeping the prices in line with the previous 15-inch models, despite offering so many new and improved features, the base model will set you back $2,399. That's significantly more than the HP Elite Dragonfly (opens in new tab), which is our top ultrabook, and well in excess of better specced rivals like the Dell XPS 13.
The 8-core version doubles the storage and ups the graphics potential for $2,799, meaning that while this is the best MacBook Pro you can buy, it really isn’t the easiest of purchases to make.
Should I buy the MacBook Pro?
If you’re desperate for plenty of power for creative work, or the ability to work all day without charging, then the MacBook Pro 16-inch will tick either of those boxes. For the most part, however, it’ll be overkill – especially at such a high price. Our advice would be to wait for the expected 13-inch MacBook Pro revisions which could see that device receive a boost up to a 14-inch size while also improving the keyboard.