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Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro review: A return to form?

By Kenny Yeo - 28 Dec 2019

Introduction, design, and specifications

Note: This article was first published on 11 December 2019.

Righting wrongs

Say hi to Apple's new 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple recently announced a new 16-inch MacBook Pro and it did so with very little fuss. There’s no special event hailing its arrival, just a simple newsroom update alerting everyone that it was here and that it would be replacing the old 15-inch model.

From the outset, it looks like nothing much has changed. The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is still very obviously a MacBook Pro. But the context in which it was announced and the updates that Apple has chosen to make is a sign that we could be entering a new era of Mac notebooks.

 

Design, display, and specifications

No radical new design here, the new 16-inch MacBook Pro looks just like any other MacBook Pro.

There’s no mistaking the new 16-inch MacBook Pro for anything other than a MacBook Pro. The display might be slightly bigger and the bezels slightly thinner but the overall design is similar. The display is surrounded by black bezels and the body is still crafted out of a single piece of aluminium. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t say if it’s made out of 100% recycled aluminium like the MacBook Air.

Build quality is superb, the 16-inch MacBook Pro feels rock solid. There's no flex in the body or any odd gaps that might suggest the person putting it together was dozing off at his or her job.

Because of the larger display, the 16-inch MacBook Pro has a larger footprint than the 15-inch model that it replaces. Also, improvements to the thermal system and a larger battery also mean this new notebook is heavier. Their dimensions are below:

Size comparison
Model Width (in mm) Depth
 (in mm)
Thickness
 (in mm)
Weight (in kg)
15-inch MacBook Pro 349.3 240.7 15.5 1.83
16-inch MacBook Pro 357.9 245.9 16.2 2.00


If you are wondering if the difference can be felt, the answer is yes. Some reviewers say the two are about the same but I beg to differ. Maybe it's because I'm intimately familiar with the 15-inch MacBook Pro, having used it as my daily machine for the past year or so and even took it with me to WWDC earlier this year. The bottom of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, in particular, feels stuffed and I suspect it has got to do with its larger battery.

The 16-inch Retina display is expansive and brilliant.

In true Apple tradition, the 16-inch Retina display is gorgeous. It's expansive, sharp and crisp. Colours look great, and most crucially, it gets bright enough (500 nits). Resolution is now up to 3,072 x 1,920 pixels, which means you get the same 226ppi pixel density as the outgoing 15-inch model. It has TrueTone technology and it supports the DCI-P3 colour space. The bezels aren't as slim as the ones on Dell's InfinityEdge displays, but they are less chunky than older MacBook Pros and that's worth celebrating.

At any rate, the 16-inch MacBook Pro marks a change in tradition for Apple because for the first time in a long time, Apple has actually replaced a model with one that is thicker and heavier. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because improvements have been made in other areas such as the battery and thermals. I talk more about these later. Just know for now that if portability is crucial to you, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is just slightly but appreciably larger and heavier than the model it replaces.

New 16-inch MacBook Pro has four USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports. There's no SD card reader but Apple, thankfully, has decided to keep the headphone jack.

As for ports, you still get the same four USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports ― two on each side. I can live with that because I have already embraced the dongle life but what I don’t understand is Apple’s stubbornness at refusing to include a SD card reader. As much as I would like to wirelessly transfer photos from my camera to my Mac, we have to concede that most cameras just aren’t good at that. And, given the increased thickness of this new MacBook Pro, surely there’s space for a SD card reader?

Now specs. Inside, the 16-inch MacBook Pro features the same 9th generation Coffee Lake Core processors used in mid-2019 15-inch MacBook Pro but memory and storage limits have been increased. You can now spec the 16-inch MacBook Pro with up to 64GB of fast 2666MHz DDR4 memory and have up to 8TB of SSD storage. I believe this is the largest storage option I have seen on any notebook. Unfortunately, it is unclear how this 8TB is configured in the MacBook Pro and if it’s possible to run them in, say, RAID 0 for even faster storage performance.

The big change internally is the new AMD graphics. This notebook uses AMD's newest Radeon Pro 5000M series GPUs.

As for graphics, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is powered by AMD’s newest Radeon Pro 5000M series. This GPU is based on AMD’s new RDNA architecture and Apple says it will provide over two times faster performance compared to the Radeon Pro 500X series GPUs found in the old 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Connectivity is a little curious because this new MacBook Pro doesn't support Wi-Fi 6. Most new notebooks do and so does the latest iPhones.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro will come in two off-the-shelf configurations and discerning users will have the option of upgrading the CPU, memory, storage, and even GPU. As usual, upgrades cost a pretty penny and a fully decked out system with the top-of-the-line octa-core Core i9-9980HK processor, 64GB memory, 8TB SSD, and a Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 framebuffer will set you back — get ready — S$8,619.

Fortunately, the two off-the-shelf configurations are much more affordable (relatively speaking) and have decent specs. Here they are:

16-inch MacBook Pro configurations
Model Core i7 model Core i9 model
Processor 6-core Intel Core i7-9750H 8-core Intel Core i9 9980HK
Memory 16GB 2666MHz DDR4 16GB 2666MHz DDR4
Storage 512GB SSD 1TB SSD
Graphics AMD Radeon Pro 5300M 4GB GDDR6 AMD Radeon Pro 5500M 4GB GDDR6
Price S$3,499 S$3,999
  • Design 8
  • Features 8.5
  • Performance 9
  • Value 7.5
  • Mobility 8
The Good
Gorgeous display
Improved keyboard, peerless trackpad
Incredible speakers
Great performance
Excellent build quality
Four USB-C Thunderbolt ports
The Bad
Still no SD card reader
Fans loud under load
Touch Bar is superfluous
No Wi-Fi 6 support
Heavy
Pricey