Apple 16in MacBook Pro (2020) full review
With the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the company set out to create a laptop that would satisfy user demand—and that's a little different way of doing things for Apple. Most users are used to Apple setting the tone and direction, and expecting users to just go with the flow. But it finally got to a breaking point, and users started to loudly complain about the things they didn’t like about the MacBook Pro.
So, Apple corrected course.
With the prior 15-inch model, there was always a “Yeah, but…” With the 16-inch MacBook Pro that replaces it, there are fewer chances for users to say, “Yeah, but….” The new laptop is a great combination of usability and performance, and it fixes the biggest issues with its predecessor.
Bye-bye butterfly, hello Magic Keyboard
Of all the features offered and promoted on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the one that steals the spotlight is the new Magic Keyboard. The butterfly-mechanism keyboard, introduced in the MacBook Pro in 2016, is gone—and with it, Apple hopes, are the scores of user complaints and problems. It’s not hard to find users who hated the butterfly keyboard; I did, and the internet is filled with articles and forum posts deriding it.
Apple used its iMac Magic Keyboard as the basis for the keyboard in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It uses a scissor mechanism and it feels a lot different than the previous keyboard, with keys that have a bit more give and travel (1 mm versus 0.5 mm). The butterfly keyboard, despite its soft-sounding name, feels hard and uncomfortable, and typing on it is like pounding your fingers against rocks. That’s not the case with the new scissor keyboard. It’s softer on the fingers, and if you had sore fingers after a long typing session on the butterfly keyboard (like me), you won’t have that experience on the Magic Keyboard.
It’s a lot quieter, too. The butterfly keyboard has a distinct, deep-sounding hammer to it that fills a room. It’s noisy. The new scissor keyboard is a lot quieter, and its lighter, crisper tapping sound easily drifts into the background as you work. It’s a sound that doesn’t demand your attention.
The Touch Bar is still a part of the MacBook Pro, whether you want it to be or not. Except this time, Apple changed it so that the Escape key is no longer integrated in the Touch Bar and is its own button. The Touch ID button, on the opposite side of the Touch Bar, is also its own button. The arrow keys on the lower right of the keyboard have reverted back to the inverted-T layout, with the right and left arrow keys now half-height buttons. These are welcome changes and bring back a good amount of intuitiveness.
All that being said about the keyboard—they’re all changes for the better—I can’t help but think about the absurdity of it all. The butterfly keyboard was introduced because the company became obsessed with making its laptops thinner and thinner, but it got to a point where usability was sacrificed to achieve those goals. And the decisions about the Escape and arrow keys were seemingly made without studying the user base. The keyboard is the most vital of input devices, so how could these changes not be carefully considered in the first place? Apple has been making metal Mac laptops for over 18 years; maybe this was a case of taking the keyboard for granted.
Apple said that with this laptop, the company studied the human factors involved to determine what makes a good keyboard. So the company deserves kudos for doing the research to get it right, and for finally fixing these issues. But the butterfly keyboard is still on all the other Mac laptops, and the company has not officially said if the scissor keyboard will be implemented in the 13-inch MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. Let’s hope it will be, eventually.
Big, great-looking display
Until 2012, Apple made a 17-inch MacBook Pro, and I was a big fan of it. Sure, it was heavy and its size made it a little unwieldy, but I loved the big screen, which predated Apple’s Retina display and had a native 1920x1200 resolution. Nowadays, there isn’t a 17-inch laptop in the lineup, but Retina displays offer higher resolutions, and you can use a utility like Display Menu to go beyond the maximum scaled resolution offered in the Displays system preference and get more screen space.
Still, Apple’s research showed that users want a display larger than 15 inches, so it seems like moving up to a 16-inch display is a good compromise. It’s bigger, but it doesn’t move the footprint into the 17-inch realm, where it creates an overall laptop size that’s too big for a lot of folks.
With a native 3072x1920 resolution, the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s Retina display has smaller bezels than the 15-inch model—the top bezel is 25 percent smaller, and the side bezels are 34 percent smaller. Like other MacBook Pros in the lineup, the 16-inch model has a brightness of 500 nits, and supports the P3 color gamut. Video editors will appreciate a new feature that allows the user to adjust the refresh rate in the Displays system preferences.
We have a full comparison of the 15in and 16in MacBook Pro here.
The MacBook Pro has always had great-looking displays, and the 16-inch version doesn’t disappoint. Images look fantastic, text is clean, and there wasn’t any noticeable unevenness in the backlighting.
CPU, GPU, and performance
The ninth-generation (codenamed Coffee Lake) Intel processors in the 16-inch MacBook Pro are the same as the ones found in the recent 15-inch MacBook Pro. The model in this review was configured with high-end parts, so the processor in our test unit is a 2.4GHz 8-core Intel Core i9. In the standard configurations, the $2,399 model has a 2.6GHz 6-core Core i7 processor, and the $2,799 model has a 2.3GHz 8-core Core i9.
The graphics subsystem, however, gets an upgrade for its discrete GPU. Our review unit comes with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 video memory. A 4GB version is include in $2,799 standard configuration, while the $2,399 model has a 4GB AMD Radeon Pro 5300M. The older 15-inch MacBook Pro that we used in this review for comparison’s sake has a 4GB AMD Radeon Pro Vega 20 GPU. Both laptops also come with the Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated GPU.
Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro models come standard with 16GB of memory, upgradable at the time of purchase to 64GB. Apple uses 2666MHz DDR4 RAM that’s part of the motherboard, so you can’t upgrade the RAM later. Our review unit came with 32GB of memory.
To gauge the performance of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, we ran a series of benchmarks tests. We also ran the tests on the 15-inch 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9 MacBook Pro, the predecessor to the 16-inch model. Both laptops are using the same processor and have 32GB of memory, but the 16-inch model has the Radeon Pro 550M GPU, while the 15-inch model has the Radeon Pro Vega 20.
Geekbench 5: Single-Core CPU
Geekbench 5: Multi-Core CPU
Not surprisingly, the two laptops have similar scores in both the Geekbench 5 Single CPU and Multi CPU benchmarks. The same happens when running the Geekbench 5’s Compute benchmark on the integrated Intel GPU: In OpenCL and Metal testing, the 16-inch MacBook Pro posted scores of 5231 and 4889 respectively, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro had scores of 5243 and 4882.
Geekbench 5: Compute OpenCL (discrete GPU)
Geekbench 5: Compute Metal (discrete GPU)
The performance change becomes more apparent when testing the discrete GPU. In the Geekbench 5 Compute benchmark, the Radeon Pro 5500M GPU in the 16-inch MacBook Pro gives that laptop about a 15 percent boost over the Radeon Pro Vega 20 in the 15-inch MacBook Pro in OpenCL, and about a 5 percent increase in Metal.
Cinebench R20 CPU
The Cinebench R2 benchmark is a CPU multi-thread stress test that is more intensive than Geekbench 5’s Multi-Core CPU test. Here, we see that the 16-inch MacBook Pro is about 12 percent faster than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, even though both laptops have the same processors. The main difference: Apple redesigned the thermal architecture in 16-inch MacBook Pro to allow for better airflow and a larger heat sink. This allows the CPU to perform at higher speeds for longer periods of time.
The Unigine Heaven and Valley benchmarks are graphics intensive and focus on the discrete GPU performance. The 16-inch MacBook Pro outperformed the 15-inch model significantly in this test; it was 24 percent faster in Heaven, and 15 percent faster in Valley.
Handbrake 4K to 1080p video encode
In our Handrake test, we took the 4K video Tears of Steel and converted it using the Fast 1080p30 preset. This is a test that gets the laptop’s fans running, and based on the result, the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s new thermal design helps it outperform the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
We ran several other benchmarks tests. You can take at the results on the results page.
A bigger laptop and a bigger battery
As the name implies, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is bigger than the 15-inch model. The 16-inch model is 14.09 by 9.68 by 0.64 inches, while the 15-inch model measures 13.75 by 9.48 by 0.61 inches. The 4.3-pound 16-inch MacBook Pro is also heavier by about 0.3 pounds.
If you have accessories designed to fit the 15-inch MacBook Pro, they may not fit the new 16-inch model. And if you have a smaller bag or backpack that snugly fits the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the 16-inch model may be too big. As for the heavier weight, I didn’t notice it while lugging the new laptop during my work commute, but I’m also bigger than the average person and probably not as sensitive as someone who is smaller than me.
Fortunately, Apple took advantage of the extra space to make the battery bigger—the company said that more battery life was another top demand by customers. This laptop has a 100Wh battery, which hits the limit allowed by the FAA. Apple states a battery life of 11 hours (based on wireless web browsing and video playback), which is an hour longer than the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
To go along with the new battery is a new power adapter that’s bundled with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The adapter is rated at 96 watts, which is more than the 87-watt adapter that came with the 15-inch model, and is available for purchase separately for $79. (Even though Apple showed a willingness in the 16-inch MacBook Pro to reinstate features that worked in the past, you’re not going to see the revival of the cable wrap prongs on the MacBook power adapter. Since the cable is now removable, the wrap prongs are deemed unnecessary.)
Six speakers and three mics
Recent MacBook Pro models have sounded very good compared to most PC laptops. With the 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple goes a few steps further, outfitting the laptop with a six-speaker sound system and dual “force cancelling” woofers. The sound from this laptop isn’t just louder than most other laptops, it’s fuller, and the woofers create a rich bass effect that gives the sound a lot of depth.
You might be one of those users who don’t really care about the speaker output quality of a laptop. After all, laptops are mostly used while on-the-go, so most of the time, people plug in headphones. A lot of Mac users, though, do use a MacBook with an external display at their work or home office, and that setup could also include connecting an external set of speakers. Depending on the size of the room and how loud you like your sound, you may not need those external speakers anymore with the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Also consider that Apple thinks of the 16-inch MacBook Pro as a media production machine. A great set of speakers can help a producer make the video or audio that they are striving for.
Speaking of production, Apple thinks the 16-inch MacBook Pro is capable of recording studio-quality audio. Both the 15- and 16-inch models have three-microphone arrays, but the 16-inch model’s array is an improvement. The person speaking sounds much more in focus, and background hiss isn’t as prominent. It’s not quite up to par with a proper microphone setup that a professional would use, but the quality is good enough to be used if such a setup can’t be done.
With the new mic setup, it seems like it would be a good opportunity to update the built-in camera. Nope. We’re still stuck with a 720p FaceTime HD rig. So while Apple thinks you can create professional-quality audio with this laptop, you’ll still need an external camera if you want to make a high quality video. Granted, even if there was a better camera, you’re not going to shoot video with it like you would with a handheld camera. It would primarily be used for talking head videos or making FaceTime calls. But wouldn’t it be nice if even those videos had better image quality than what you get with the 720p FaceTime HD camera?
Apple aimed to satisfy its user demands with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and it has produced a laptop with a lot to like. Most people won’t mind the overall size increase, especially since it pays off with a bigger screen and a larger battery that provides a longer run time. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that no one will miss the butterfly keyboard, especially since the new scissor keyboard is so satisfying. The performance boosts, while not overwhelming, are still impactful—you’ll notice them more if you’re into media production.
Where the 16-inch MacBook Pro might disappoint is with people who are ready for Apple’s next big thing. There’s a growing sentiment with longtime users that the upgrades Apple releases are too iterative. They are ready for a new design, ARM processors, a next-generation display, Face ID, and more. While no one outside of Apple really knows the company’s plans, you can bet that they’re working on the next big thing and it’s just a matter of time. The waiting is the hardest part.
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