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Apple MacBook Pro 16 Review: A LOT of Power is Just One of The Ingredients

Apple MacBook Pro 16 Review: A LOT of Power is Just One of The Ingredients

This is more than an iterative update, yet it isn’t exactly revolutionary. Familiarity isn't compromised either, but its a new direction for the MacBook.

Look, the Butterfly keyboard never failed me. Not even on the trusty 2016 MacBook Pro 13. But it has for a lot of users. I understand their pain. I too would be very annoyed. The MacBook Pro 16 fixes that. In fact, there is a lot more about the new MacBook Pro 16 than just the new keyboard. This is Apple entering into unchartered waters yet carrying along the stuff that it knows well. And you know well. Familiarity is often underrated.

The unchartered perhaps starts with the way the MacBook 16 was introduced to the world. Usually, one would expect a slick event, typical Apple-style, with an Apple executive unveiling it to the world. This time around, no such thing. Instead, Tim Cook announced the newest MacBook on Twitter. Then there is the 16-inch screen size, which replaces the 15.6-inch screen of the MacBook Pro 15 which it replaces—there aren’t many 16-inch laptops out there, no matter how hard you look. The familiar surely has to be the design, which doesn’t look any different from the MacBook Pro 15. Unless you are paying attention.


It is hard to find a flawless product, but the Apple MacBooks come pretty close. Yet, they could have been closer still to perfection over the past few years, if not for the reports of quite a few users complaining about the ‘butterfly’ keyboard failing. Various reasons for that, including dust getting lodged beneath the keys. Therefore, the shift to what Apple now calls the Scissor mechanism is a very welcome change. For me, it felt like a blast from the past, specifically the very first Apple MacBook Pro 13 Retina which I acquired after much creative accounting back in the year 2013. The keys on the MacBook Pro 16 in comparison with the Butterfly keyboards, look chunkier, the travel is more, and it is sufficiently silent too as I furiously type out a document. The springiness and consistency of response ensures the MacBook keyboards remain the best in the business, particularly if you type a lot. Yes, it takes a bit of time to relearn the longer key travel and the sort of softer landing that each key press elicits. But that could just be me, because I actually quite like the sharper response and the less key travel that the various evolutions of the Butterfly keyboards offered all this while. If we talk about specific numbers, the key travel on the MacBook Pro 16’s keyboard is 0.5mm more than the 2018 MacBook Pro and 0.5mm less than the 2016 MacBook Pro.

There are other changes to the keyboard layout too. The arrow keys are now an inverted T, which is perhaps better for the fingers’ muscle memory. The Touch Bar remains as useful as ever, but now, Esc is no longer just an option on the Touch Bar and the Power button which doubles up as the Touch ID sensor as well has been separated from the touch element. Apple insists that the way the redesigned keycaps attach to the scissor-switch improves stability across the key. We have seen no reason to disbelieve that claim. Each key is now also slightly smaller, much like the MacBook Pro Retina from the year 2013 which I keep invoking, which allows for a bit more spacing between each key.

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Now on to the display. The 16-inch Retina Display replaces a 15.4-inch Retina Display. That means the thinning of the bezels has resulted in 0.6-inch more screen real estate for you to work with. At first glance, it doesn’t feel much. The MacBook Pro 15 screen always felt very spacious, and now there is that little more screen space to play with. This slightly larger screen size shouldn’t be the reason to run out to buy the MacBook Pro 16 right away, if you already have a recent MacBook Pro 15. This screen is bright, it does colours more accurately than pretty much anything in the laptop ecosystem (also thanks to the P3 standard support) and the True Tone feature is just very useful. It also has a higher resolution—3072 x 1920 pixels as against 2880 x 1800 pixels of the MacBook Pro 15. This does custom refresh rates as well, which the previous Retina Display couldn’t—that means you can set the rate to 47.95Hz, 48.00Hz, 50.00Hz, 59.94Hz, and 60.00Hz. Perhaps Apple missed a trick here though. An OLED display perhaps, or even HDR support would have really moved the goalposts two notches further, for the rivals to catch. Hopefully that’ll be on the agenda for the refresh next year. For the moment, it is good to see that Apple has got the basics of the first 16-inch display spot on.

In terms of the dimensions, the MacBook Pro 16 measures 0.64 inches thick, which makes it 0.3-inch thicker than the MacBook Pro 15. It measures 14.09-inch wide (as against 13.75-inch) and 9.68-inch deep (as compared with 9.48-inch). Chances are, any laptop bag or sleeve that you may be using with the MacBook Pro 15 will work seamlessly with the MacBook Pro 16 as well—unless you have one of those horrendous looking “skin” cases to wrap around the MacBook or those ghastly “keyboard protectors”. In which case, you are on your own.

The new MacBook Pro 16 has a 100Wh battery. That is actually also the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limit for battery sizes allowed on aircraft. To complement the larger battery, Apple has bumped up the charger to 96W as well. The MacBook Pro 15 made do with an 87W charger for its 83.6Wh battery.

Speaking of which, the battery life of the MacBook Pro 16 hovers between 8 hours to 10 hours, depending on the number of apps you use, the screen brightness and how much of video streaming is involved in the process. Apple claims about 11 hours of battery life, and I did get quote close to that. For a laptop of this size, this sort of battery life is nothing short of excellent. We usually say this for 13-inch laptops with ultra-low power processors, but it perhaps holds true for the MacBook Pro 16 as well—you can leave the charger at home and head to work, and you’ll get through the day without any pangs of battery anxiety. Assuming you aren’t expecting 8+ hours of battery life while doing video editing.

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Under the hood are the 9th generation six-core Intel Core i7 and eight-core Intel Core i9 processors. These are paired with 16GB RAM and depending on which variant you pick, its either the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M or the AMD Radeon Pro 5500M graphics. There is still time before we see the 10th generation Intel Core processor powered machines in stores. That is a lot of power under the hood. But with power also comes a great deal of responsibility. What helps in keeping the MacBook Pro 16 cool is the redesigned thermal architecture, which now allows for 28 percent more airflow and a larger heat sink that allows for a 35 percent improvement in heat dissipation. There is a redesigned heat pipe as well. All this, Apple says, allows for up to 12W of more power when the machine is stressed heavily.

But what does that mean? When a laptop is being used for processor-intensive tasks, including running games or some serious multitasking, the processor, RAM as well as the graphics are working extra hard to keep everything running smoothly. This means they generate more heat, and since the innards of a laptop are really thin, the heat is often not able to escape quickly enough. The hotter the insides of the laptop, the more the processor clocks down to reduce heat generation and prevent damage to the components. The trade-off is performance, at least till the processor clocks back up. This is something that the MacBook Pro 15 last year struggled from, on some units. That was before Apple discovered and fixed a bug which was causing this occasional slowdown in performance on those machines. Still, hardware design changes simply add to the other improvements that are under the hood, including the newer Intel Core processors. In my experience, the MacBook Pro 16 became quite warm in the first couple of days when Spotlight was doing its indexing magic, but the heating has been well managed in most other usage scenarios with the fans kicking in when need be. The extra space that those millimeters offer across the footprint clearly do make a difference, because at no point does the MacBook Pro 16 become uncomfortably warm when used on the lap. More important is the fact that I haven’t seen any performance depreciation because of the thermal protection kicking in.

If your workflow includes apps such as Adobe Lightroom, Logic Pro X, Final Cut Pro X and Autodesk Maya, you probably wouldn’t have a machine that handles these software better than the Apple MacBook Pro 16.

Security remains a focus for Apple, and the T2 chip is the core element for that. This piece of hardware manages the Touch ID fingerprint authentication, the Touch Bar itself, the ambient light sensor and also the secure boot as well as encrypted storage features on the MacBook.

This is the first time you can configure a MacBook Pro with as much as 64GB of RAM, and up to 8TB SSD for storage. These options will be available at an Apple authorized reseller near you—while not a part of the default line-up, it is good to have this option to re-spec the machine you intend to buy.

The one area where the MacBook Pro 16 really should have done better are the front cameras. It is still a 720p camera sitting above the display, and when you are using a computing device as powerful and cutting edge as this, this just looks out of place.

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Sound is an area where Apple has really taken things up a notch. Inside the MacBook Pro 16 resides a 6-speaker system, which is loud and certainly does a better job with bass than whatever came before it. The Dolby Atmos capabilities were perhaps to be expected, but what you have now is a computing device that doesn’t really cry out for external speakers or a nice pair of headphones. Some of the performance boosts have been achieved by how Apple has placed the audio drivers—the back to back arrangement of these drivers cancel out the vibrations. There is also the 3-microphone array that Apple claims rivals professional-grade standalone microphones, which is most certainly an upgrade over anything we have seen so far. FaceTime calls and audio recordings will be clearer than before, and that’ll include better ambient noise isolation as well.

By default, there are two specs of the MacBook Pro 16 that are listed. The Core i7 powered variant is priced at Rs 1,99,900 while the Core i9 option costs Rs 2,39,900. If you are one of those who may entertain the thought of a Microsoft Windows 10 based laptop, similarly spec-ed of course, then the Dell XPS really is the only alternative that is in the same league albeit without a 16-inch display. The Dell XPS 15 entry spec variant priced at Rs 1,41,990 also runs the 9th generation Intel Core i7 processor with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Where it perhaps has a slight advantage is the OLED display, 15.6-inch real estate. The top-spec variant costs Rs 2,21,490 and that has a 9th generation Intel Core i9 processor, but 32GB RAM to go with that. Dell sticks with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics, also 4GB VRAM variants. In a way, the Apple MacBook Pro 16 doesn’t really have any direct competition. That’s called being in a league of its own.

In the end, it is very clear that the Apple MacBook Pro is definitely taking a couple of interesting steps forward. The switch to the 16-inch display, the scissor mechanism keyboard, the 9th generation Intel Core processors, really good speakers and excellent battery life from a computing device of this size are things that cannot be ignored. That being said, the display could have been OLED, the FaceTime camera could have seen an upgrade and perhaps a slightly different design would have set it apart from the predecessors. Still, this is more than an iterative update. Yet it isn’t exactly revolutionary. At the same time, it is also giving us a sneak peek at the future of keyboards across the MacBook line-up. There is tremendous power under the hood for everyone. All usage scenarios can apply. Except perhaps struggling creators.