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Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro is here, and it has a good keyboard

Goodbye, Butterfly

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Apple has launched a new 16-inch MacBook Pro today, available for pre-order now and in stores later this week. The starting price of $2,399 is the same price as the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, which this one replaces. It has new processors, better speakers, and (obviously) a larger screen. But I know the most important question you have is whether the keyboard is any good.

Reader, it is good.

I shouldn’t be that definitive in this hands-on with the laptop since I’ve only been typing on it for half a day, but I don’t expect my opinion to change with more time. Apple has dropped the butterfly mechanism it has used on MacBooks for the past few years and gone back to good old reliable scissor switches. Apple has enough faith in this new (old) design that it won’t be including this MacBook Pro in its extended keyboard repair program.

I will get to the rest of the laptop but truthfully most of it is going to be what you’d expect (though there are a couple of happy surprises). But let’s spend some time just basking in the subtle, resonant sounds of this keyboard.

The keyboard

There’s about a millimeter of key travel and the whole thing is blissfully quiet (though it’s not as silent as the keys on a Pixelbook Go). It has a more muted thumpy sound and feel compared to the 2015 MacBook Pro with the older style keyboard — which now feels overly springy to me. I prefer this keyboard. It may have a little less travel than those 2015 models but the backlight doesn’t bleed out the sides of the keys.

The whole thing feels just a little stabler than the 2015 model, too. Apple says that it has done extra work to stabilize the keycaps, made them slightly smaller so there’s more space between the keys, and that if a key breaks you can just replace that one key without taking apart the whole laptop.

There is a real, honest-to-god Esc key in the upper left. The Touch Bar is still here, just shorter, and it is still flanked by a fingerprint sensor on the right. The other major improvement is a return to the “inverted T” formation for the arrow keys, which makes finding the right one by feel a thousand times easier than before.

Unfortunately, Apple has nothing to say about the rest of the MacBook lineup. Hopefully each of them in turn will be updated to this design, because it is clearly superior. Apple says that it took inspiration from the Bluetooth Magic Keyboard it sells alongside the iMac Pro, and so this keyboard also is called “Magic.” Okay. It is just gratifying to see Apple finally do what everybody has been asking for.

15-inch MacBook Pro (2018) left vs 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) right
15-inch MacBook Pro (2018) left vs 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) right

Thermals and specs

With the 15-inch MacBook Pro specifically, there has been another request that Apple is trying to meet: improved thermal performance. Thermal throttling of the processor was a significant issue last year, and even after Apple issued a software fix, the conventional wisdom is that the thin body Apple had designed kept the processors inside it from running at full tilt for as long as they could on other laptops.

I can’t tell you that Apple has resolved that issue, but it certainly seems as though it has tried very hard to do so. This 16-inch MacBook Pro is 0.7mm thicker than the last version, but more importantly the entire thermal system inside has been redesigned. Apple says the heat sink on the main CPU has 35 percent more surface area and the fans inside can push through 28 percent more air. The logic board and even the speakers have apparently been optimized to ensure heat escapes this chassis as efficiently as possible.

We’ve only done a couple of quick video export tests today and our results are so preliminary I hesitate to share them — but I will say that we saw bigger differences compared to last year’s model in our second test, which could point to improved thermals.

Apple is offering two base configs with Intel 9th Gen processors. There’s a 6-core Core i7 and an 8-core Core i9, but the processors aren’t actually the most important specs. That would be the RAM and storage. The base for each is fairly normal: 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 RAM and 512GB or 1TB SSD (depending on the model). Where it gets interesting is the maximum available for RAM and storage is much higher than before.

You can spec this machine up to 64GB of RAM and 8TB (not a typo) of storage on the SSD. That’s just a massive amount of storage, and it will cost $6,099 to get a fully loaded 16-inch MacBook Pro.

The other important spec is the battery: it’s 100Wh. Apple says that it noted the FAA’s regulation that “Lithium ion (rechargeable) batteries are limited to a rating of 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery” and just made its battery the maximum available size. Since it has to power a larger screen and processors that can now run hotter, not all of the increased size goes to longevity. Apple rates it for 11 hours of “wireless web,” which is just one hour longer than last year’s model.

16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) on top, 15-inch MacBook Pro (2018) underneath
16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) on top, 15-inch MacBook Pro (2018) underneath

The speakers and mics

Apple’s “6-speaker sound system” is easily the most pleasant surprise on this machine. Apple says that on each side there are two “force cancelling woofers.” In essence, they’re designed to cancel out the other’s vibrations, which allows for more bass with less distortion (and less keyboard rattling).

Whether the force cancelling is legit or not, the speakers themselves are incredibly good in my early tests. Stereo separation is remarkable, mids and clear, and the bass is better than I’ve heard on any laptop before.

I’m more skeptical of Apple’s claims around the three-microphone array — which is supposed to be on par with USB-powered podcasting mics. In a couple of recordings it was better than your bog standard laptop mic, but we’ll want to do more real testing.

The camera above the screen, by the way, is still a ho-hum 720p sensor that produces ho-hum image quality. I know most people just use it for video conferencing, but even the compression you get in Zoom or Skype probably won’t hide the mundanity of this webcam.

The screen

The fact that I’m talking about the screen last on a product whose literal title is a reference to the screen size, “16-inch,” is not lost on me. That’s because unless something catastrophic comes up in my testing for the review, you can take this screen for granted as another typically great Apple laptop screen.

It has a resolution of 3072 x 1920 and supports the P3 wide color gamut with support for Apple’s True Tone color shifting. It can get up to 500 nits of brightness but it is not, unfortunately, HDR. That last bit is a bummer, but not too much of one.

Apple fit the 16-inch screen into a 15-inch body by slimming the bezels down on the left and right a lot and the top and bottom a little. And when I say “15-inch body” I should be clearer: I mean the 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro. This 16-inch model is very nearly identical to that older model’s size, which makes it very slightly bigger than last year’s model.

Wrapping up

Really, that 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro is the benchmark here. That may have been the last MacBook that was nearly universally beloved: it was powerful, had a great keyboard, screen, and plenty of ports. That’s the level Apple needs this 16-inch model to get back to.

Sadly, if you’re judging on ports, it won’t. There are still just four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack (thank god). I know it’s too much to ask for Apple to include HDMI or even USB-A, but the lack of an SD card slot when there’s this much space to work with seems downright spiteful.

That probably won’t matter, though. Because Apple has almost surely delivered the thing people have been asking for: a MacBook Pro with a good keyboard and (hopefully) sufficient thermals.

I’ll be reviewing it over the course of the next week or so and I’d like to base the review on your questions — please do let me know what you want to know in the comments below.

Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch /

Available November 15th starting at $2,399

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