16-Inch MacBook Pro, photo by the author
My Dad has been using a 2009 15-inch MacBook Pro for over ten years now, and it was finally time for him to replace it. After getting a screen repair, a battery replacement, upgrading the hard drive with an SSD, and upgrading to 16 GB of RAM — it was finally time that he lay the monster of a laptop to rest and get something new.
He had been looking at the 2012 15-inch MacBook Pros when they were first released but never took the plunge. Then after seeing the new direction Apple was going in with the new 15-inch MacBook Pros; he was even less enthusiastic due to the port limitations and keyboard changes.
That was until he saw the MacBook Pro 16-inch and saw the smaller bezels and better keyboard that he was finally sold. Also, his MacBook Pro was finally at a point where it wouldn’t even turn on due to a logic board issue. I was also able to get him a USB-C hub to take care of most of his concerns in the limited ports available.
For helping set up his new laptop, he agreed to let me use the MacBook Pro for a few days so that I could get a real feel for Apple’s latest portable powerhouse of a machine. I didn’t get to use the 16-inch in my usual capacity as I would on my MacBook Pro 13-inch due to only have it a few days. But it was enough to get a good idea of the biggest highlights of this new MacBook Pro.
To spoil this review early on, I would say that the three biggest highlights on this machine — the display, keyboard, and performance — are phenomenal. I do have some criticisms, though, and that those criticisms overall outweigh my decision on wanting to get a 16-inch for myself.
As you can tell from my Lenovo X1 Carbon ThinkPad review, the display on a notebook is very important to me. The great thing about the 16-inch MacBook Pro is that it has the same amazing display as the 13-inch MacBook Pro variant but bigger and better.
They both share the same brightness, wide color gamut, and True Tone. The most significant difference is the ability to customize the refresh rate on the 16-inch model to use for video production. The resolution on the 16-inch is a bit higher but still results in the same PPI as the 13-inch, so you don’t see a difference.
What is a vast improvement with the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the much smaller bezels than compared to its predecessor before it, the 15-inch, and the 13-inch model. The sides are beautiful and slim where the top, though a still bit thick, is also much slimmer than my 13-inch.
This wasn’t as noticeable when using the laptop for a few days. I think if I had used a 15-inch model regularly then jumped to this 16-inch, I would see a huge difference. But coming from a 13-inch MacBook Pro, just the bigger screen alone was a big deal.
Though the display is very high quality and a great size, for me, I found it not as necessary for what I do most of the time on my MacBook. Most of the time, I am either in Ulysses, Scrivener, or the editor on Medium, which all don’t need that much space. If anything, I lost a lot of space on the left and right side since most of these apps just displayed text right down the middle.
Where the larger screen did shine was having two applications open side by side. I usually like to have a browser open on each side, like the EveryDollar site and my bank’s website, which will shrink both webpages to an almost unusable state when on my 13-inch. One the 16-inch, though, there was plenty of room to have two windows open on each side without any issue.
If I was a software developer or I was required to have two windows side by side a lot of the time, I think this would be more useful to me. But for the most part, I can live with the 13-inch size, especially once I go over the sacrifice you have to accept in size and in weight to get that large screen.
I have to say that it is great to see Apple go in the direction of improving and making their notebook displays bigger and better. I look forward to the MacBook Pro 13-inch, and MacBook Air to both get smaller bezels around their displays as well.
I think the most anticipated and controversial thing that has come out of Apple for the last few years has to be its an announcement of the butterfly keyboard and it’s eventual rollout to all of its notebooks. Not only has it been criticized for its unreliability and lack of quality, but a lot of people just don’t like how it feels.
Admittedly I am one who sits on both sides of this debate in terms of preference. As I explained in my post about Apple not being able to meet the needs of all of its users no matter what they do, like changing the keyboard, I think it is good to recognize that Apple is willing to make things better, even if it took them four years.
With all that said, this keyboard is a joy to type on. The key travel is fantastic, and even with going back to a scissor-like mechanism, you can still feel the stability that was great in the butterfly mechanism. Since the overall size of the 16-inch is bigger than the 13-inch, it made the keyboard feel a bit bigger since my hands laid more on each side of the trackpad, making it feel a bit more comfortable to type for long periods.
The arrow keys going back to the inverted T was a surprisingly welcomed change; I didn’t realize how much I used the arrow keys, and when I did on this MacBook, it felt good. I also like the design of the Touch Bar sitting in the center of the Esc key and Touch ID power button. It makes the keyboard feel a little more symmetrical and balanced.
I did argue in one of my other posts, the concern in Apple going backward in changing the design of its keyboards based on the Pros complaining. Though I agree with these design changes now that I have used the 16-inch for a while, I do have some reservations about Apple changing things solely on the feedback from a small group. I have no evidence that Apple made these changes just because of a small group of Pros, but the specific modifications can be a bit questionable.
Overall, I love this keyboard and still find myself in the same boat as I did in my ThinkPad review. Yes, the keyboard feels good, but so does my 13-inch when I used it to finish up this review. Even with the lower key travel, I appreciate the clickiness and solid sensation you get from the butterfly keys.
Since writing this, though, Apple just announced a new MacBook Air that not only has much better spec options on processor and RAM but also comes equipped with the same keyboard as the 16-inch. If I didn’t just get this MacBook Pro, last Summer, I would probably be looking at the MacBook Air as a solid machine.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro was amazingly fast. I shouldn’t be surprised since the base model that I used had a 6-core i7 processor with 16 GB of RAM, but wow was this thing zippy.
Just opening up websites felt faster. Maybe this had to do to it having 16 GB of RAM compared to my 13-inch’s 8 GB, but even comparing it to the X1 Carbon ThinkPad with 16 GB of RAM, it felt faster. I didn’t feel like I had to wait for anything to open, you clicked it and bam it was there to start using.
I especially felt it in using Photos. There are times when editing photos on my 13-inch when the application would hang in editing mode or when trying to swipe to the next picture. Never did this happen on the 16-inch. Everything not only opened quickly and never hang but smoothly went through each photo without delay.
For my Dad, even though he still does some consulting work in IT part-time, this performance is a bit overkill. For those in video, audio, development, engineering, or any other field that requires robust applications or high processor bandwidth, this MacBook will be great. For most of us, it is a huge bonus to be able to have such a powerful machine as a base model.
Of course, the base model comes at a price at $2,399, or $2039 refurbished, so it is no way cheap. Still, with the great processor and RAM, you also get 512 GB of storage, which is a lot. To get something close to these specs in a 13-inch model, you are looking at around the same price, $2100 to $2300, and since it doesn’t have an option for a 6-core processor, the 16-inch seems to be a bit more worth the value.
If portability is important to you, I would say it may be worth the extra cost and loss of a couple of cores. Again, I go back to the size and weight of the 16-inch, even with its excellent performance, because this is the most significant criticism I have for the machine.
Size and Weight
The dimensions of the 16-inch MacBook Pro are substantially more prominent than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, just like the 15-inch MacBook Pro before it. So it is no surprise that when you come from a 13-inch to the 16-inch that it feels a little too big.
If you need the power and screen size for the work you do, the size and weight don’t matter. If anything, the weight and size are a luxury since having something equivalent as a desktop wouldn’t be portable at all. Most, like myself, use their MacBook at a table or a desk, so the weight might not matter as much but for me, the size and weight mattered a lot.
Since it was so heavy, I found it very uncomfortable on my lap for long periods. Because I had to put my hands so far up, it made the laptop feel even more wobbly and unstable. For the most part, I just kept it at my desk when I wanted to use it. I did use it on my Standstand a couple of times, but one slight shift of my wrists and I felt like the whole thing might come down.
When putting it in my backpack, you could also feel the extra pound of weight that the 16-inch carries. It isn’t overly burdensome, but you can feel it over time. I also felt that for a MacBook, it just seems unreasonable if you want something you can use on the go.
Sitting at my desk on a stand, so the display is more eye-level, with an external keyboard and mouse sounds like a nice setup. And if you need to go on a trip or want to take it with you somewhere, it has the ability. But for the most part, it feels more appropriate just to stay home.
Of course, this is all my opinion. The thing I like to do most on my MacBook is to write. So as long as I can use it anywhere with comfort, I am a happy camper. With the 16-inch, it just didn’t do it for me; the size and weight were just too much for what I needed it to do.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is once again a fabulous product from Apple. It is a machine the Pros have been asking for. It is full of great power, quality, design aesthetics that I can’t wait to be shared with the rest of Apple’s MacBook line.
With the announcement of the new MacBook Air, and it only sharing the keyboard design, but not the small bezels on the display makes me sad. But I hope this isn’t an indication that it won’t ever happen or that the 13-inch MacBook Pro won’t get it soon.
As for that keyboard, again, it was a joy to use and can’t wait for it to roll out to the 13-inch MacBook Pros. Though I do love my butterfly keyboard on my 13-inch, I am still a little worried about the reliability. So with just that peace of mind, I think it would be worth Apple to upgrade them.
The 16-inch is a powerhouse of a MacBook and seems like it can do anything you would ever need to do on a computer. If power is what you need most, then this is the machine that you want. If portability and size are essential, I would say this might not be the best for you.
For me, I am happy being able to finish up this review on my couch using my 13-inch MacBook Pro. I have more than enough power, display, and key travel while my legs are up, and my MacBook sits on my lap. If one day I need something more powerful, I might just splurge on an upgraded 13-inch MacBook Pro. Or, if I need more display, I might just get myself an excellent external monitor.
In the meantime, I will leave the 16-inch MacBook Pro for the Pros or, of course, someone who likes the best portable Mac Apple sells, like my Dad.