Apple MacBook Pro 16in review: A little bigger, a lot better

A sleek, powerhouse of a laptop with incredible upgrade options, but it is a little on the pricey side

IT Pro Recommended
Price
£3,158 exc VAT
  • Powerful and well connected
  • Gorgeous 16in P3 gamut display
  • Amazing speakers and mic
  • Pricier than the Dell XPS 15

When news first dropped that Apple was launching a 16in MacBook Pro, we must admit our heart skipped a beat. After years of testing and reviewing pretty much exclusively 13in, 14in and 15in machines, here was something different. Something with a bigger screen but without the bulk traditionally associated with a big laptop. A laptop with plenty of power and storage, but with good enough battery life to be carted around.

The Apple MacBook Pro 16in is Apple’s flagship laptop and, as such, it’s a pretty aspirational thing. However, it’s not a laptop for everyone. It’s a laptop designed principally for budding film-makers, developers, music producers and photographers – people who need the extra screen real estate and the power to render video projects, compile software and edit the biggest RAW image files without having to wait.

Apple MacBook Pro 16in review: Design

And wait you won't; the MacBook Pro 16in is certainly among the most portable and compact high-power laptops money can buy. It’s a mere 16mm thick, 246mm deep and 358mm wide. It’s no featherweight, at 2kg, but considering what you can squeeze into this thing, we think that’s a hit many potential customers would be willing to take.

It looks smart, too – you can buy one in either Space Grey or Silver – and the layout of the machine is, with a few subtle differences, largely the same as the 15in laptop of 2018 and before. It’s minimalist around the edges, with four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a single 3.5mm audio jack, and nothing else in sight. Those hoping for a re-introduction of the SD card slot are going to be disappointed once again.

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Our excitement fell a little further when we discovered the screen measures 16in exactly across the diagonal, however. To put this in context, the “15-inch” MacBook Pro launched last year wasn’t exactly a 15in laptop. Its display actually measured 15.4in across the diagonal, so the new one is only 0.6in bigger. But even small improvements such as this should be embraced, especially when the chassis of the laptop itself is only a touch larger than the 15in model that predated it.

Apple MacBook Pro 16in (2019) review: Keyboard and touchpad

Open the lid and you’re faced with a standard-sized keyboard flanked by a pair of broad speaker grilles, topped with our old friend the TouchBar and an enormous Force Touch glass topped touchpad immediately underneath. The TouchBar is one of the areas that Apple has improved subtly this time around.

It has re-introduced the physical Escape key on the left side of the bar, something developers have been asking for ever since Apple removed it back in 2017, and it has added a combined Touch ID sensor and power button on the right-hand side. Apple has also tweaked the keyboard layout, reverting to an inverted T arrangement for the cursor keys. All of these are improvements worth having.

These enhancements pale into insignificance, however, next to the new Magic Keyboard, the design of which, Apple says, takes inspiration from the peripheral of the same name supplied with the iMac Pro.

Specifically, Apple has replaced the low-profile butterfly switches in the previous model – a mechanism that, to put it mildly, not everyone got along with – with more traditional scissor mechanisms. It’s an excellent keyboard to type on. Keys don’t quite have the same amount of travel – it’s 1mm this time around – as they did in the pre-butterfly switch days, but typing does feel more comfortable than it does on the current MacBook Pro 13in and MacBook Air.

As for the touchpad, that’s the same as ever: a gigantic 159 x 99mm glass-topped force-feedback touchpad that works brilliantly for touch gestures and general mousing. If you’re coming from a laptop with a more traditional physical click, instead of the pressure-sensing tech on show here, it does take a little getting used to.

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However, the pressure sensitivity can come in really handy, especially with creative apps such as Illustrator and Photoshop that support pressure-sensitivity for brushes and selections. 

Apple MacBook Pro 16in review: Display and audio

Like the touchpad, not much has changed when it comes to the screen, aside from a slight bump in resolution (up to 3,072x1920) and physical size, and a small reduction in the width of the surrounding black borders. It’s a wide-gamut LCD using an IPS panel and has a P3 colour gamut.

As with all Apple products, the display is calibrated in the factory and, in our tests, colour accuracy was pretty amazing. The average Delta E in the P3 colour space was 0.49 and – when anything below 1 can be considered effectively indistinguishable from the real thing – that’s genuinely impressive. Delta E, incidentally is a measurement of colour difference, so the closer to no difference – zero – the better.

Brightness peaked at 471cd/m2 in our testing, which is as bright as you need on a laptop display for general work and most creative things, and the contrast ratio measured 1,364:1. There’s continued support for True Tone, which matches the white point of the display to the ambient lighting, so your brain isn’t having to readjust continually to different colour tones as you flick your eyes off and on the screen.

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Video editors will also be pleased to discover that it’s now possible to adjust the refresh rate of the built-in display to match that of their content so it doesn’t stutter during playback. You can choose between 60Hz, 59.94Hz, 50Hz, 48Hz, 47.95Hz.

The only disappointment here, perhaps, is that Apple’s displays don’t yet support HDR playback. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until Apple introduces OLED displays before that happens.

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However, as far as audio goes, there’s no such disappointment. The six-speaker audio system in the 16in MacBook Pro debuts a technology called force cancellation to reduce “unwanted vibrations” and thus improve sound quality. Effectively, what you have here is a pair of small woofers, both active, arranged back to back either side of the keyboard behind those broad grilles, with a pair of tweeters to deal with the higher frequencies.

The result is audio of quite astonishing quality in a laptop. There’s still not much bass here – at 100Hz there’s around a 10dB drop and it drops off into nothing pretty sharpish after this – but in the mids and above there’s bundles of body, clarity and volume, with no discernible distortion or vibration. For TV shows, YouTube videos, radio, podcasts and the like, you’re not likely to feel the need to hook up a pair of headphones or a speaker at all.

There’s also a new “studio quality” three-microphone array that Apple claims has a signal-to-noise ratio high enough to rival that of some professional-grade digital microphones. The idea is that you can use the built-in mics to record voice-overs and podcasts without having to hook up an external device. And do you know what? They’re right. 

To our ears, the quality matches that on many professionally produced podcasts we've heard. There’s very little hiss that we can discern; voices are picked up incredibly clearly and rendered with an astonishingly full-bodied sound. It's honestly a little astonishing how good it is.

Apple MacBook Pro 16in review: Performance and battery life

You can specify the MacBook Pro 16in with one of three eighth-gen Intel CPUs: a six-core 2.6GHz Core i7, a 2.3GHz eight-core Intel Core i9 or a 2.4GHz eight-core Core i9-9980HK. Memory starts at 16GB and that’s configurable up to 32GB or 64GB. Storage starts at 512GB, configurable to 1TB, 2TB, 4TB or 8TB. And you can choose between either the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M or the Radeon Pro 5500M with either 4GB or 8GB of DDR6 memory.

We were sent a MacBook Pro 16in with the 2.4GHz eight-core Core i9, 32GB of RAM, 2TB SSD and the AMD Radeon Pro 5500M. Compared with the last MacBook Pro 15in – and the rivals we’ve tested – it’s very, very quick, with an overall score of 249 putting it head and shoulders over pretty much everything shy of professional graphics workstations. It’s even starting to encroach on the performance of Apple’s desktop iMacs.

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It’s worth noting that the MacBook Pro 16in is using an eight-core chip - as opposed to rival machines which use four and six-core parts - but there’s no denying how powerful it is. The speed of the SSD is also fast, with Apple claiming read and write rates of up to 3.2GB/sec. Our tests weren’t far off that, making it faster than last year’s MacBook Pro as well as the 2018 Dell XPS 15.

Perhaps more remarkably, battery life isn’t terrible, measuring 7hrs 22mins in our tests. That’s understandable when you realise how big the battery is in the first place. It has a gargantuan capacity of 99.8Wh – a mere 0.2Wh shy of the US Federal Aviation Administration's maximum limit on personal electronic device battery capacities. Beyond this, you’d need approval from the airline to take it on a flight.

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In our test, it fell a little short of last year’s 15in MacBook Pro; a long way short of the Surface Book 2 with its twin batteries; and about level with the Dell XPS 15 from 2018. However you slice it, it's impressive given the performance on display.

Apple MacBook Pro 16in (2019) review: Verdict

Say what you like about Apple, but it certainly knows how to put together a high-quality, high-powered laptop. The MacBook Pro 16in is up there with the very best we’ve reviewed. It’s solidly built, sensibly put together and fast across the board, and it comes with some genuinely welcome improvements.

The new keyboard is great, the display is a fabulous thing, and the audio systems are out-of-this-world good for a laptop of any calibre. Some might bemoan that Apple hasn’t seen fit to reintroduce the SD slot and, yes, it would be nice to have one or two regular USB Type-A ports around the edges, if only to make older peripherals easier to connect. 

Understandably, perhaps, given the high level of the specification, the price is also high. The lowest configuration, which gets you a six-core Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M and 512GB of PCIe SSD storage, will set you back £2,399. This rises to £2,709 for the lowest-specification 2.3GHz eight-core Core i9 laptop, and the most expensive MacBook Pro 16in is £5,769. This configuration includes the 2.4GHz Intel Core i9, 64GB of RAM, the AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of RAM and 8TB of PCIe SSD storage. For the record, the configuration on test here tots up to a grand total of £3,789.

That sounds like a lot of money initially, so how does it stack up against the competition? Let’s look at the Microsoft Surface Book 2 15in first. Ignoring the fact that you simply can’t specify a machine as powerful as you can with the MacBook Pro 16in, the value simply doesn’t stack up. You can configure a Surface Book 2 with an eighth-gen, quad-core Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage and it’ll cost you £3,149; the closest config of MacBook Pro costs £2,579 – nearly £600 less, and that gets you a six-core, eighth-gen Core i7.

The Dell XPS 15, on the other hand, is significantly cheaper. For the equivalent specification to our review machine, the Dell comes in at around £2,700 – just for confirmation, that gets you the same eight-core Intel Core i9 CPU with 32GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU with 4GB video memory, and a 2TB SSD. Plus the display is a touchscreen OLED unit, where the MacBook employs a wide-gamut IPS LCD panel.

If you want a laptop much more powerful than this, though, in a slim and portable chassis, the MacBook Pro 16in is your only choice. Even Dell’s range of workstation laptops can’t match the top-spec MacBook when it comes to outright power. Objectively, the Dell XPS 15 2019 makes more financial sense, but there’s just no denying the quality of the MacBook Pro 16in. It’s a mighty fine machine, especially for the most demanding of users.

Apple MacBook Pro 16in (2019) specifications

Processor

8-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i9-9980HK

RAM

32GB

Additional memory slots

No

Max. memory

64GB

Graphics adapter

AMD Radeon Pro 5500M / Intelo UHD Graphics 630

Graphics memory

8GB / 1.5GB

Storage

2TB

Screen size (in)

16

Screen resolution

3072 x 1920

Pixel density (PPI)

226

Screen type

IPS

Touchscreen

No

Pointing devices

Touchpad

Optical drive

No

Memory card slot

No

3.5mm audio jack

Yes

Graphics outputs

USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 3)

Other ports

3x USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 3)

Web Cam

720p FaceTime HD

Speakers

Stereo

Wi-Fi

802.11ac

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 5

NFC

No

W (mm)

358

D (mm)

246

H (mm)

16.2

Dimensions, mm (WDH)

358 x 246 x 16.2mm

Weight (kg) - with keyboard where applicable

2

Battery size (Wh)

99 .8

Operating system

MacOS

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