Apple just refreshed its laptop lineup with a new 16-inch MacBook Pro, and it’s kind of a big deal. The company has made changes to the design in response to criticism from both critics and users, including a new keyboard mechanism and a larger battery.
We have a 16-inch MacBook Pro here at How-To Geek, and we love it. Even if you don’t want a 16-inch model, we imagine the design changes in this latest MacBook will come to future 13-inch MacBooks, too.
A More Reliable Keyboard
The last generation MacBook Pro generated plenty of controversy for Apple over its “butterfly” key switch mechanism. Users were plagued with problems, including keys that triggered multiple inputs, wouldn’t depress properly, and often skipped keystrokes. The problems were primarily caused by dust particles gumming up the mechanism, and Apple even created a guide to help frustrated users out.
Apple’s intention with the butterfly design was to create a thinner keyboard, capitalizing on keys that required less movement to register a press. Even after several revisions, spanning two families of Apple laptop (the MacBook Air was also affected), the butterfly design was never perfected, and now the company has ditched it for the latest models. The old design is still in use on the MacBook Air and 13″ MacBook Pro at present, and Apple is still replacing affected models with new butterfly switch keyboards (rather than redesigned scissor switches).
The new “scissor” design more closely mirrors the keyboard mechanism Apple was using before the ill-fated butterfly keys. iFixit went as far as describing it as “a do-over, a throwback, almost an apology,” considering how similar the new design is to the pre-butterfly one. Those keyboards were traditionally pretty reliable (mine’s lasted seven years so far). The new scissor design is also virtually identical to the Magic Keyboard that ships with the iMac and iMac Pro.
According to 9to5Mac, the latest keyboard is also considerably quieter than its predecessor. In testing a MacBook Air with a butterfly keyboard registered 41.9 decibels, while a MacBook Pro with the redesigned keyboard reached only 30.3 decibels. That’s even quieter than Apple’s 2015 scissor design.
The Keyboard Layout is Fixed Now Too
One of Apple’s more confusing design choices in the previous MacBook Pro was the removal of the Esc key in the top-left corner. The Touch Bar filled in for some of this functionality, but you just can’t be a nice solid key—especially considering the Esc key’s common “get me out of here” function. Developers, in particular, lamented the lack of a physical Esc key. According to John Gruber, Apple even mentioned the Vim text editor beloved by many developers by name during a developer tool demo. The Esc key is used to switch between modes, a function that developers will be using a lot. No more will developers need to rely on a software-based key that occasionally freezes or lags.
The new 16-inch revision sees the return of the Esc key in its old position. The Touch Bar persists across the top-row of what used to be function keys, with a separated Touch ID sensor in the top-right corner of the keyboard. This is important too since the Touch ID sensor is now a clicky button that functions just like a power button.
The Touch ID sensor at the top-right corner of the keyboard is now separate from the Touch Bar, which makes it easier to press without looking down.
Finally, Apple’s “inverse T” arrow keys make a return in the bottom-right corner of the keyboard layout. Not everyone loves this design, but evidently, Apple received enough feedback about it to reimplement it this time round.
The Biggest Battery You’ll Ever See in a Laptop
For the first time ever, Apple has stuck a 100 watt-hour battery in a MacBook Pro. This is significant because 100 watt-hours is the largest cell allowed on a plane in the US (and most other jurisdictions) according to FAA rules. We won’t ever see a bigger battery in a laptop unless those restrictions are lifted, and that’s unlikely.
One hundred watt-hours translates to 11-hours of “wireless web” battery life as quoted by Apple, up from 10-hours in the previous model. Tests conducted by Tom’s Guide saw the new model manage an impressive 10 hours and 55 minutes, just five minutes short of Apple’s marketing. This could potentially be improved upon with software updates, as Apple tinkers with macOS Catalina and future OS upgrades.
With battery capacity maxed out, future energy improvements are going to come from more efficient hardware, smaller batteries, and smarter charging solutions. Apple is going to have to make clever use of its 100 watt-hour battery in future revisions if they want to make further improvements.
Bigger Display and Smaller Bezels
The new 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the 15-inch model entirely. The larger chassis provides enough room to house an improved panel with a native resolution of 3072×1920. Not only do you have more physical space dedicated to the display, but a larger resolution that packs in a higher pixel density of 226 ppi. Apple’s usual Pro specs, like 500 nits peak brightness, P3 wide color gamut, and True Tone Technology, are all here too.
The previous 15-inch MacBook Pro display had a native resolution of 2880×1800, with a pixel density of 220 ppi. The new 16-inch MacBook Pro has a maximum scaled (equivalent) resolution of 2048×1280, up from 1920×1200 on the previous model. It’s a small bump, but any additional screen real estate is appreciated in this form factor.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new display is the reduction in bezel size around the edge of the panel. It’s not going to make you more productive, but it will make the time you spend staring at the laptop a little more pleasant. Compared to the football pitch-sized bezels on the 2019 iMac, the new MacBook Pro display looks cutting edge.
Despite those smaller bezels, Apple managed to include a “six-speaker sound system.” They’re the best laptop speakers we ever heard.
What About the 13-inch MacBook Pro?
So what if you prefer smaller laptops? The old 13-inch model is still available for sale on Apple’s website, though it hasn’t seen any kind of refresh yet. That means it’s still using the old butterfly keyboard, with the old keyboard layout, and a screen with considerably larger bezels than the new model.
Our advice is to wait for the impending refresh. According to DigiTimes (which has a spotty reputation for Apple rumors), the new 13-inch MacBook Pro will arrive “in the first half of 2020.” The rumor states that it will use the new scissor keyboard switch, and the same 13.3-inch display. MacRumors postulates that a 14-inch model isn’t entirely ruled out given DigiTimes’ track record.
The important take-away is that many of these improvements will make their way into the new smaller models when they are eventually released. It might be the best possible time to buy a 16-inch MacBook Pro, but it’s also the worst time to buy a 13-inch model given the widespread keyboard issues.
The MacBook Still Isn’t Perfect
Despite fixing many gripes that customers and critics had with the old 15-inch MacBook Pro, the new model still comes up short in some departments. First and foremost is the price, which sees the 6-core model starting at $2,399 and the 8-core model starting at $2,799. That’s expensive considering the specs, especially compared to Windows ultrabooks and Apple’s other desktop machines.
If you don’t like dongles, you’re not going to like the new MacBook Pro. There was a rumor that Apple would be adding an SD card reader this time around, but that’s not the case. You’ll have to make do with four USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and a bag full of adapters.
Yet another MacBook Pro where even the people in the hype video are using dongles. I guess this is just the life we live in now.
— Dan (@dyladan) November 14, 2019
Despite the last three models of iPhone having facial recognition, the new MacBook Pro completely lacks Face ID. This was a surprise to many who expected Apple’s flagship laptop to lead the way in this department. If you have an Apple Watch, then you likely won’t mind, since the wearable can unlock your computer and be used to approve admin-level requests on your wrist.
And while we’re here, it’s also slightly heavier than last year’s model at 4.3 pounds (2.0 kg) compared to 4.02 pounds (1.83 kg) in the 15-inch model. It’s not a huge difference, but the fact remains that when you buy a MacBook Pro, you are purchasing a hefty laptop by any standard.