Reviews

Apple MacBook Pro 16 reviewed: the biggest and best MacBook

Apple has reinvented big laptops in the MacBook Pro 16, and made its portable powerhouse for creatives that much better, delivering grunt and a return of one of its best keyboards in years.

Much like how some people prefer small computers, others prefer big ones, primarily because they’re made with a different focus in mind.

While an 11 to 13 inch computer is focused on portable computing in the very definition of the idea, a 15 to 17 inch computer tends to shift the idea of portable computing to a portable powerhouse, thanks to the extra space manufacturers have to work with.

A big screen often means more display real estate to work with, but it’s what’s under the hood that helps out, too, with the room to throw in the parts capable of pushing the performance just that much more.

It’s a style of computer manufacturers have long dabbled in, but it’s also one that has felt a little stuck, with brands pulling back from the 17 inch design of the past, instead capping it at 15 inches. You can do a lot with a 15 inch computer, that said, but if you’re hoping for a slightly bigger laptop, you may be disappointed, and may be forced to look at a PC.

Apple has been one of those brands to pull back from the 17 inch laptop form-factor in recent years, but with its most recent MacBook Pro, it’s finding a new middle ground, pushing its 15.4 inch MacBook Pro to a slightly larger form-factor, and offering a 16 inch model that straddles the difference in size, and offers a whole lot more for people who need the power from a desktop in a space that let’s them take it on the road.

Design

Even though Apple’s latest laptop moves to a slightly larger screen size and chassis, the design is something that is all too familiar, and that’s not a bad thing.

Yes, it’s the same fairly thin metal chassis we’ve come to expect of the MacBook Pro range, just made a little larger to support the tech inside, and of course that move from a 15 inch to a 16 inch screen, which doesn’t feel like a full inch at all.

Otherwise it feels identical to what Apple previously offered in the MacBook Pro 15, with a relatively slim full metal body, a full-size keyboard, large and spacious trackpad, and that lovely shiny Apple logo on the outside.

It’s basically what you’ve seen in the MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Pro 15, except slightly larger. Ever so slightly, even.

Apple MacBook Pro 15 on top of the MacBook Pro 16

Features

While the size has changed slightly, the guts can feel like an evolutionary improvement sure to impress folks that need a lot of grunt in their life.

Make no mistake, this is not a computer for everyone, and is built to be big and powerful, plain and simple.

Inside, there’s a choice of either a six-core Intel Core i7 or an eight-core Intel Core i9 depending on how much you want to spend, with 16GB RAM native to either variant, though the latter of these can be pushed to either 32GB or 64GB if you have the cash to spare.

If you do happen to have money to throw around, you might want to push the storage choices, too, with either 512GB or 1TB SSD offered out of the box, but a configuration choice of either 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, or 8TB.

In regards to graphics, Apple leverages both Intel and AMD graphics, relying on either the Intel UHD 630 graphics chip, or either an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M, each with either 4GB or 8GB dependent on how much you want to push the graphics option to.

Wireless is fairly standard, that said, wth 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, alongside Bluetooth 5.0, while wired connections exist in four USB Type C-based Thunderbolt 3 ports, plus a 3.5mm headset jack.

Sound goes beyond wireless and wired audio, too, with six speakers included, support for Dolby Atmos virtualised surround sound, and three microphones working together for sound capture and recording.

A full-size keyboard sits on top of all of this, complete with Apple’s OLED Touch Bar, and a power button with a fingerprint sensor found inside.

And this all sits perpendicular to the 16 inch LED-backlit IPS screen, running the resolution of 3072×1920, with support for the P3 colour space and Apple’s True Tone technology to keep the white balanced for the lighting of the room you’re in.

Display

A key part of the MacBook Pro 16 is that screen, because Apple has moved from a 15.4 inch to a 16 inch model, and the MBP 16 adopts a massive 16 inch display with very slim bezels. We’re not talking a full edge-to-edge design like we’re seeing from rival makers, but we don’t really need to in the MacBook Pro 16, with a massive screen that feels as big as you’d never need it.

Glancing at the beautifully bright and crisp MacBook Pro 16 display, we wonder why we ever loved 17 inch laptops screens when a 16 inch could have been just as excellent.

Of course, it has taken several years to get to this point, and we’d likely not have ended up at a 16 inch screen if we hadn’t have tried 17 inches for so long, but Apple’s shift from a 15 to a 16 inch screen is definitely welcome, particularly with such a small increase in the overall size.

In the screen itself, Apple has delivered a bright display with support for the P3 wide colour gamut, as well as an Apple-patented metal layer to pull back on the possibly of visual artefacting.

It’s such a lovely screen reminiscent of the screens Apple uses in its larger computers, and one that is an absolute joy to look at and use.

In-use

Speaking of using this Mac, Apple has made some changes to help make the MacBook Pro 16 one of its best laptops to date.

There is of course macOS, which in Catalina feels very solid, but it’s more than just about the operating system.

Apple includes a truly spacious glass trackpad that stretches across much of the length of the keyboard, providing one of the nicest spots for you to control the computer.

And then there’s the keyboard, which is actually one of the newest features, believe it or not.

Keyboard

One of the most important aspects of the new 16 inch MacBook Pro is the keyboard, and that’s because it sees a change from the butterfly mechanism used in previous generations for the past few years, and a return to the scissor mechanism Apple long relied on before it.

This might come across as jargon, but the mechanism used in the keyboard can make a staggering difference for a typing experience.

For Apple, the scissor mechanism was one of the aspects that helped give the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro the among the best keyboards you could find on any computer. They were comfortable, reliable, and offered enough travel, with the scissor mechanism of older Mac laptops being one of the best notebook keyboards around.

And then Apple reinvented things. Back when the first super-slim MacBook was announced, Apple also announced it had changed things, shifting to a different mechanism that could bundle in a similar experience into a slimmer design.

For the past few years, the butterfly mechanism has been a major part of Apple’s computers, but not everyone has liked it. You might have been fine with it, but some people would have had to throw their computers into an Apple store for repairs for a week, waiting for a fix and a return to normalcy.

Even New Zealand’s Taika Waititi has complained about them, referencing Apple’s keyboards in his Oscar speech this year.

So with the MacBook Pro 16, Apple is focusing on that, including a keyboard closer to the style people have loved from Apple for yonks, and with a clearer amount of travel as you type.

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Jumping between the MacBook Pro 15 before it and the MacBook Pro 16 here, the keyboard difference is clear, with the 16 inch model delivering a much more apparent amount of travel, which in turn is a hell of a lot more comfortable to use either on your lap or on a desk.

In our experience, the previous butterfly mechanism tended to absorb the feeling of whatever you would type on. If you typed on a wooden desk, the typing would feel stiff and firm. If you typed on your lap or pillow, it would feel softer.

With the MacBook Pro 16, the keyboard feeling is more uniform across the board, regardless of surface material, and the result come across like a good and proper MacBook keyboard, practically the way it used to be.

Performance

“The way it used to be” is something that matters for the usability of the MacBook Pro, but what you really want from the performance is “the way it should be”.

Fortunately, it’s an approach Apple has delivered with the MBP 16. In spades. Oh my, has Apple delivered.

Armed with some of the best hardware a machine in its class could deliver, you’d be hard pressed to find a more capable machine than the MacBook Pro 16. Built for folks who need the gargantuan amounts of grunt to go, it’s not just a bit of a beast, it’s a lot of one, too.

Regardless of whether you opt for the starting model or switch to something a little higher end, you’ll find a solid performer, thanks in part to the minimum inclusion of 16GB RAM, plus a minimum of 512GB solid state storage, but as much as a terabyte or eight capable from customising the computer.

Much like the 15 inch MacBook Pro, there’s a graphics chip capable of some strong graphics for development, workstation, or even a bit of gaming, using either the Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M.

This combination of parts puts the MacBook Pro 16 up there, and yet brings it all together in a body that measured a paltry 1.62cm thick with a weight of 2kg.

It’s certainly a lot thinner than you might expect a big computer this well spec’d to be, but it definitely delivers the performance.

In fact, whatever we threw its way, the 16 inch MacBook Pro handled beautifully, from needing to render audio out in Logic Pro X, to exporting video quickly from Adobe Premiere.

Listening to the files back, we were treated to some excellent audio by way of the six-speaker system inside, which is one of the surprisingly useful additions in the MacBook Pro 16.

Armed with an eight-core Intel Core i9 in the model we checked out, the system was decked as well as it could ever need to be, delivering a performance that makes it about as capable as we could ever want.

Battery

Alongside that solid performance is a pretty impressive battery, capable of up to 11 house of standard usage, though if you’re using the MacBook Pro as more of a workhorse and happen to be a creative, expect a little less runtime.

In our time with the MacBook Pro 16, we found closer to six or seven hours when we pushed it a little harder, which is still a pretty solid effort for the size of the machine.

Machine with this much grunt don’t always hit far past the five hour mark when all is said and done, so to get a little more juice while doing the heavy lifting — and even more when you’re not — well, let’s just say you’d be hard pressed to be unhappy.

Mind you, we’d still likely carry the beast of a battery brick with you, all 96W of power it has. This isn’t a small charger at all, and it adds to the two kilograms the MacBook Pro 16 sits at, so just be aware, and find a nice 16 inch friendly laptop bag to help you deal with the weight accordingly.

Value

As grand as the whole laptop is, value is one word that we’re not sure you can easily account for, because computers this size rarely fit the focus of that word.

Starting at a price of $3799 (our review model was the $4399 Core i9 variant), the 16 inch Apple MacBook Pro doesn’t make a case for affordability. Rather, it’s about having the most power you could possibly want on the road with you, and at all times.

It’s for the developer working in Unity or Unreal Engine who needs to work in code and load some 3D visuals to build their game. It’s for the creative looking for a bigger screen and more horsepower for those massive Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects files. It’s for that person who needs the biggest and best they can find, and isn’t thinking about money as a whole.

And even still, the MacBook Pro 16 is fairly competitive.

Compared to the 15 inch Microsoft Surface Book 2 and Dell XPS 15 inch, it sits near the prices of each, giving you an idea that while the MBP 16 isn’t cheap, it’s also not overly expensive, at least in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, it’s pricey, but if you need the power and grunt on offer, you’re probably going to be paying it regardless of which computer you buy.

What needs work?

One of the biggest laptops around, the Apple MacBook Pro 16 is close to being perfect as far as big and portable computers go, simply because of the combination of power, performance, and a proper keyboard.

Armed with the right combination of parts, the MacBook Pro 16 is a genuine achievement for Apple, and one of the best in class machines we’ve ever played with. Whether you’re a photographer, a video editor, or someone who desperately needs the power in a portable environment for your workstation-class system, the MacBook Pro 16 is one of the best computers to look at.

But it’s not without its caveats, small as they are.

Simply put, it’s hot and heavy, but not in the romantic kind of way. While you might be inclined to move in closer to the machined aluminium body, holding the MacBook Pro 16 close to the skin while the hardware is doing something is likely to leave you feeling a little hot under the collar, thanks to the heat it outputs.

Only when you’re doing light work — web surfing and typing, mainly — will the system feel more like a normal amount of heat, so maybe make sure to use it on pants or a desk.

There’s also only four Type C-based Thunderbolt 3 ports, which is a little bit of a surprise given this is now Apple’s biggest computer, and you’d kind of hope for either two more, or maybe an SD card slot.

Four is likely going to be enough for most, but with creatives targeted by this computer, returning the SD card slot (or offering a microSD instead) would have been most desired.

The 16 inch MacBook Pro (bottom) is actually bigger than the older 15 inch MacBook Pro (top).

Final thoughts (TLDR)

If our feelings throughout this MacBook Pro 16 review haven’t come across abundantly clear, let this make the statement: the 16 inch MacBook Pro is a return to the best of the MacBook for Apple, and has spoiled us moving forward.

Dead set, we’re going to have a hard time going back to anything else after this.

Without doubt, this is the biggest and the best MacBook, and a fantastic choice, too. Even though it can get a touch hot and feels heavy, the 16 inch MacBook Pro is a really solid workstation-class machine, delivering a sizeable-yet-slim system that packs in the performance and gifts the grunt.

It’s not just about the system capabilities, either. The extra large screen with its tiny bezels, as well as that new keyboard that harks back to the good ol’ years helps to cement the MacBook Pro 16 as one of the best big laptops around.

Seriously, Apple has delivered with this big boy, and it’s about the best big laptop you could ever want. Highly recommended.

Apple MacBook Pro 16 (Late 2019]
Design
Features
Performance
Ease of use
Battery
Value
The good
Incredibly fast
Big and clear screen
A genuinely lovely keyboard
That typically excellent Apple design
Six speaker setup is excellent
Microphone is surprisingly capable and clear
Depending on how much money you have, the options can get seriously impressive
The not-so-good
A little on the heavy side
Can get warm
Expensive
4.5
Leigh :) Stark

One of Australia's well regarded technology journalists working out of Sydney, Leigh Stark has been writing about technology for over 15 years, covering phones, computers, cameras, headphones, speakers, and more. Stylising his middle initial with an emoticon, he aims to present tech in a way that makes it easy for everyone. While he founded Pickr in 2016, Stark's work can be seen in other publications including The Australian Financial Review, Popular Science, and many more. His award-winning podcast "The Wrap" is syndicated on Southern Cross Austereo's LiSTNR network weekly, while he can be heard on radio via ABC Brisbane and ABC Canberra, and seen on TV's Nine. Check out Leigh Stark's most recent media appearances.

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