Skip to content
Thoughtful, detailed coverage of everything Apple for 29 years
and the TidBITS Content Network for Apple professionals
58 comments

New 16-inch MacBook Pro Sends the Butterfly Keyboard Flying

Bye, bye, butterfly. The much-rumored and anticipated 16-inch MacBook Pro is here at last, with a redesigned keyboard. It replaces the previous 15-inch model, starts at $2399, is available to order now in silver or space gray.

Apple also said that the previously announced Mac Pro and Apple Pro Display XDR would become available in December 2019.

Here’s Apple’s announcement video for the MacBook Pro.

Let’s look at the details.

Scissor-Switch Keyboard

Most notably, the 16-inch MacBook Pro dumps the troublesome butterfly keyboard switches that have plagued users for years. The new Magic Keyboard features old-fashioned scissor switches like those found in pre-2016 MacBook Pro laptops. The scissor switches have 1mm of travel, twice as much as the butterfly switches, meaning it will feel less like you’re typing on a flat piece of glass. They’re also reportedly much quieter.

2016 MacBook Pro

But wait, there’s more! The Escape key is back, living alongside the Touch Bar with its Touch ID sensor—alas, there’s still no Face ID on the Mac. Also back are inverted-T arrow keys.

The Esc key in the 16-inch MacBook ProApple gave early access to a few select Apple pundits. Developer and podcaster Marco Arment, who had been one of the most vocal critics of the butterfly keyboards, had this to say:

I absolutely love it—not because it’s the most amazing keyboard in the world, but because it’s completely forgettable in the best possible way. It just feels normal again.

(Don’t miss his graphs showing the difference in key spacing and key travel between various laptop models.)

Of course, it’s possible that flaws with this keyboard design will emerge over time, as they did with the butterfly keyboards, but the initial response is promising.

Long-term resilience is the first question about the new scissor-switch keyboard. The second question, should the new keyboard prove to be as sturdy as hoped, is if or when Apple will replace the butterfly keyboard in upcoming 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models.

Connectivity and Battery

If you were hoping for the return of legacy ports like USB-A, Ethernet, or an SD card reader, you’re out of luck. Expect the same connectivity MacBook Pro models have had for years: four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack. In other words, your dongles are breathing a sigh of relief because they like riding around in your laptop bag.

Also on board are the entirely expected 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connectivity.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro ships with a USB-C charging cable and a beefy 96-watt USB-C power adapter to charge the built-in 100-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery. Apple estimates up to 11 hours of “wireless Web” or “Apple TV movie playback” battery life.

Display and Size

The new MacBook Pro’s 16-inch IPS panel features a 3072-by-1920 native resolution at 226 pixels per inch, with 500 nits of brightness, a refresh rate of up to 60 Hz, P3 color, and True Tone technology. In short, other than some more pixels, it’s not a significant leap over recent 15-inch MacBook Pro models, which had a native resolution of 2880-by-1800.

However, in the real world, you’ll likely run the 16-inch MacBook Pro at one of the supported scaled resolutions, the largest of which is 1920-by-1200, precisely the same as the previous 15-inch models. So those scaled pixels will be a bit larger, but you won’t get more content on screen.

In terms of dimensions, despite its thinner bezels, the larger screen makes the new MacBook Pro a tiny bit larger than last year’s 15-inch model, measuring 0.64 in (1.62 cm) tall, 14.09 in (35.79 cm) wide, and 9.68 in (24.59 cm) deep. It’s also about 7% heavier, weighing in at 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg), up from 4.0 pounds (1.81 kg).

Audio and Cameras

One of the surprises (and probably another reason for the slightly increased size and weight) in the new 16-inch MacBook Pro is significantly improved audio quality. It has a six-speaker sound system with dual force-canceling woofers for less rattle and buzz when the bass is booming, and it supports Dolby Atmos. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber raved about the new speakers:

It’s not simply about being louder, although they are louder at maximum volume. They just sound impossibly better. They don’t merely sound like good laptop speakers — they sound like good dedicated portable speakers, period. In a small room, you can credibly use the 16-inch MacBook Pro to play music as though it’s an entertainment speaker system. And at maximum volume they really are a lot louder — without the sort of distortion we’ve all come to expect from laptop speakers at high volume.

iMore’s Rene Ritchie described them as “almost HomePod level terrific.”

But improved audio isn’t limited to speakers—the new MacBook Pro features a “studio quality” three-microphone array that Apple claims rivals professional microphones. Apple claims that the built-in microphones are good enough for podcasts and music recordings, which, if true, is impressive. Gruber said:

Would I recommend the new built-in MacBook Pro microphone for recording a podcast? No. But would I be willing to use it for my own show in a pinch? Yes. And it should be a great improvement to audio for teleconferencing and FaceTime.

And while Ritchie echoed Gruber’s comments, he recorded his 24-hour review of the 2016 MacBook Pro with the built-in microphones.

Author and podcaster Jason Snell said in his review:

As someone who has had to salvage many a podcast recorded by someone who either didn’t realize they were using their laptop microphone or didn’t have any other alternative, I thank Apple for improving the base situation. I hope this microphone ends up in every Apple laptop.

Unfortunately, while the microphones might be professional-quality, the built-in 720p FaceTime HD camera is not. The iPad Pro, which has a 1080p HD-capable TrueDepth camera, is snickering quietly at its Mac cousin.

Price and Performance

As noted, the new MacBook Pro starts at $2399, but for that price, you get 16 GB of 2666 MHz DDR4 memory, which is excellent, because that’s the minimum we recommend for any production machine. You can upgrade to 32 GB of RAM for $400 or 64 GB for $800.

There are two models: the aforementioned $2399 model and a $2799 model. The $2399 model includes a 512 GB SSD, while the $2799 model comes with a 1 TB SSD. You can upgrade the SSDs for the following prices:

  • 1 TB: $200
  • 2 TB: $600 / $400
  • 4 TB: $1200 / $1000
  • 8 TB: $2400 / $2200

The first price is for the $2399 model, the second price for the $2799 model. This is the first time 8 TB of SSD storage has been available in a laptop.

The $2399 model includes a 9th-generation 2.6 GHz six-core Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5 GHz while the $2799 model has a 2.3 GHz eight-core 9th-generation i9 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.8 GHz. You can upgrade either model to a 2.4 GHz eight-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 with Turbo Boost up to 5.0 GHz—it’s a $300 upgrade for the $2399 model or $200 for the $2799 model.

In terms of graphics, the $2399 model has an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4 GB of GDDR6 memory, and the $2799 model includes an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4 GB of memory. The $2399 model can be upgraded to that 5500M for $100, or a 5500M with 8 GB of memory for $200. The $2799 model can be upgraded to the 5500M with 8 GB of memory for $100.

If we’re reading the specs right, these video cards will let you run up to four 4K displays or up to two 6K displays—presumably Apple’s forthcoming Apple Pro Display XDR (see “New Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR Offer Power for a (High) Price,” 3 June 2019).

Overall, as much as it’s a little surprising to see Apple continue to focus on Touch ID on the Mac rather than moving to Face ID, this new 16-inch MacBook Pro seems like a robust, powerful machine and a solid update to the previous 15-inch model. In particular, it’s good to see the company (finally!) listening to user feedback about the horrible butterfly keyboard.

For many people, however, the 16-inch MacBook Pro will be too big, too heavy, and too expensive, so we hope to see Apple bring the new scissor-switch keyboard to the smaller, lighter, and cheaper 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air as well.

Will you be ordering one of the new MacBook Pros? If not, are you waiting for the kinks to be worked out, or is it just too big or expensive? Let us know in the comments.

Subscribe today so you don’t miss any TidBITS articles!

Every week you’ll get tech tips, in-depth reviews, and insightful news analysis for discerning Apple users. For 29 years, we’ve published professional, member-supported tech journalism that makes you smarter.

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

Comments About New 16-inch MacBook Pro Sends the Butterfly Keyboard Flying

Notable Replies

  1. And it’s here.

  2. Better base specs, same entry level price, physical escape key. If the keyboard and power management are indeed improved, this could be a real winner.

  3. With the new updated base specs and the entry price tag left at $2399 this creates an odd comparison with the 13".

    13" 4-core i7 with 16/512 is $2499.
    16" 6-core i7 with 16/512 is $2399.

    So for $100 less you’re getting a bigger and brighter display, more cores on a newer CPU (plus faster memory bus), and superior dedicated graphics. Looks like 13" prices could now use some adjustment. :wink:

  4. Wasn’t that overlap there with the 15 inch & 13 inch MBPs?

  5. IIRC the 15" base model for $2399 used to come with a 256 GB SSD.

  6. And WTF is a “a new Magic Keyboard features a refined scissor mechanism with 1 mm travel for a responsive, comfortable, and quiet typing experience.”

    Is it “Magic,” or scissor, or what?

    I wish they had a 16 in. model without a touchbar, even if it wasn’t labeled “Pro.” Even better, they could knock a little off the price for that model. My guess is that too many people would choose the touchbar free model.

    I’m in the market to replace my very elderly MacBook Pro, and I’m going to be definitely checking this one out.

  7. Both. It is very similar to the Magic Keyboard that sells with the iMac and uses scissor switch mechanisms rather the problematic butterfly switch that the MacBook Pro has used since 2016.

  8. Yes, “Magic Keyboard” is the marketing term, but that hasn’t changed. The key is the return to a scissors switch.

  9. Yes, Adam, that is the… key.

    :innocent:

  10. here, the best new feature is the ‘real’ esc-key! So many times, I touched ‘esc’ unwanted, so many functions (etc) lost in FileMaker…

  11. Packing quad-core into a 13 inch package is pretty impressive. I know many people who won’t consider even 15 inch MBP even if given to them. They won’t carry the weight. Similar situation with the old PowerBook 12 inch models from 2004. There was a premium for size.

  12. I get that. I’m one of those people myself. I lug around my MBP so much at work and I also spend too much time flying wedged into economy seats trying to get work done that I just couldn’t use a 15"/16". I used to, but in 2013 I gave up and transitioned to the 13". I’d never go back.

    That said, I will max out my 13" so with the 16" base config actually looking more reasonable, I end up choosing more expensive BTO options on the 13" than I would on the 16". That drives up the cost of the 13".

    The BTO options for RAM and SSD have become a bit more reasonable lately, so I suppose once the 13" sees an update (and becomes the 14" maybe?), its BTO options will be adjusted and then it will once again be cheaper than a similarly spec’ed 16".

  13. 8TB may be enough for one of those macOS software updates.

  14. If the “surprises” don’t include an SD card slot and more and more varied ports, count me out. In the past, Apple would say “You’re a ’Creative Pro’ and you need this.” A sure sign they we’re getting ready to take away the feature. Now you can carry dongles, and, in some cases, dongles to plug into other dongles. I was humiliated to attend a conference where they said “For speed and security we’re using Ethernet. Mac users, buddy-up with a PC user.” PC users incredulous that Mac doesn’t have Ethernet.

    And “Our new cross-platform web interface via Ethernet makes this formerly Windows-only [scientific instrument] controllable from all platforms. It is recommended that Mac users find a way to secure their adapters to prevent losing their connection while moving about.” Another thing to carry: gafffer tape.

  15. Whoever made that snarky announcement at the conference you attended hasn’t checked the marketplace lately. Plenty of Windows laptops — notably the Dell XPS models often considered as the most direct competitors to MacBook Pro models — have lacked Ethernet ports for years, and for the same reasons.

  16. I totally dig it. Be that as it may, out of 18 conference attendees in April, 2019, only the three Mac people lacked built-in Ethernet.

  17. Well if Ethernet was really that important to them for “speed & security” reasons they could have told everybody ahead of time to bring a $5 Ethernet dongle or just supply a few to those with a modern notebook. With just 18 participants not a real issue.

    It’s dumb snark neglecting the roll of inertia in tech if there’s no trailblazers. Along those lines we’d still have 2" thick notebooks with parallel ports. Apple might have many issues today, but their choice of ports has always revealed to be correct. 5-10 years later their competitors will have made the same call. Just years late. :wink:

  18. True enough. What ticks me off is that only Mac users needed the dongles. But maybe the organizers don’t know Apple and don’t know about the curious ways in which Apple shafts its customers.

    It’s dumb snark neglecting the roll of inertia in tech if there’s no trailblazers. Along those lines we’d still have 2" thick notebooks with parallel ports. Apple might have many issues today, but their choice of ports has always revealed to be correct. 5-10 years later their competitors will have made the same call.

    I’m not convinced that Ethernet is a serial-port or floppy-disc analogue. That Ethernet is still on all desktop Macs tells me they are designing portables with form over function. And then there’s the SD slot. Really, Apple? You took that away from “the photographer’s laptop!?” And MagSafe.

    My niece’s old 13” MB Pro had MagSafe, five ports, SD card slot, audio in/out. Her new one has two ports, one of which is occupied by the power connector. Call it what it is: one port. With the very large DVD drive gone it looks like they could have managed a few more ports. Does any other brand have a “pro” model with a single I/O port and no card slot?

  19. I hear that as, “Unlike every other conference you’ve been to in the past 10 years, we weren’t able to set up a Wi-Fi network with WPA2.” For 18 users, they could probably have gone with a single access point. :slight_smile:

  20. I heard it as “Like every other such conference you have attended in your career, federal law bars the use of WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, and all other forms of radio communication in this secure conference room.” What is it called when multiple witnesses to the same event from nearly the same vantage point, each sees or hears something different? I mean, besides a Brit TV mystery?

  21. Hah! I’ve never been in a secure conference room, much less been to a conference without Wi-Fi (for decades, anyway). So yeah, I wouldn’t immediately think of a conference as needing that level of security.

    Oh wait. I once did give a Mac user group presentation at Los Alamos, and they didn’t allow Wi-Fi for security reasons. So I take that back—I have had one instance where this was the case.

    But I’d assume anyone who was accustomed to that world would have an Ethernet adapter handy at all times.

  22. Rashomon, the crux of Japanese director/screenwriter Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant, groundbreaking movie classic. To quote critic Roger Ebert:

    "Recalling this day in Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa explains the movie to them. The explanation is reprinted in the booklet that comes with the new Criterion DVD of “Rashomon.” Two of the assistants are satisfied with his explanation, but the third leaves looking puzzled. What he doesn’t understand is that while there is an explanation of the film’s four eyewitness accounts of a murder, there is not a solution.

    Kurosawa is correct that the screenplay is comprehensible as exactly what it is: Four testimonies that do not match. It is human nature to listen to witnesses and decide who is telling the truth, but the first words of the screenplay, spoken by the woodcutter, are “I just don’t understand.” His problem is that he has heard the same events described by all three participants in three different ways–and all three claim to be the killer."

  23. It’s been 6 years now… I’ve been debating when to finally upgrade my 2013 MBP. I have these gift certificates for Apple burning a hole in my pocket, so cost isn’t an issue. The new 16-inch model seems exciting for many reasons, including the new keyboard.

    Hesitation points:

    • The extra weight. I have the 13" model now. However, I’m leery of the extra weight of the new 16" MBP vs my 13" model. The weight difference is 430 g = almost a pound. On the other hand, I rarely carry my MBP anywhere. I just take it with me if I go on trips. For daily outside stuff when I need something portable (e.g. giving a class lecture or emergency server access)I bring my iPad with a keyboard case. But on trips I imagine the extra weight is pretty noticeable.
    • Do I need a 16" screen? A long time ago I had the 17" PowerBook and enjoyed the size. But these days I use my 13" model with an external monitor anyway, so wonder if the bigger screen is worth it. In fact, I’m staring at the external monitor now. On the other hand, I’m getting older, and the larger, better screen might be easier on my 63 year-old eyes. Anyway, one thought is maybe I should wait until an upgraded 13" model with the new keyboard comes out. Or maybe it will be 14"?
    • No real problems with my 2013 MBP. My current MBP works just fine. My main issue is that my 512 GB SSD is almost always nearly full. I’d sort of like to have a 1 or 2 TB SSD already. I have plenty of external backups (CCC, TimeMachine, BackBlaze), so if my MBP fails I could place a rush order for a new one. On the other hand, I could keep this one around as a backup if my new one has a problem!
    • The ports. My 2013 model has all the “normal” ports - the magsafe adapter, the SD card slot (which I actually use, for my Photos library). But there’s no going home again as far as the ports are concerned. I get that. So this is a moot point already.

    At what point did you decide you waited long enough and upgraded?

  24. I, similarly, have a 13" retina 2014 MBP. I sort of need more RAM and sort of need a larger SSD. A couple years back, I bought another 13" MBP but the butterfly keyboard is just too horrible for my use case, so I’ve stuck with the 2014. My plan was to wait until Apple changed to a decent keyboard, then give it another year so I could pick up a refurb.

    I originally got a 13" as an emergency stand-in for a larger (15"?) machine that died when the handle on the case broke and it fell on concrete. The fix wasn’t expensive, but I found that I liked the 13" form factor much more and have stuck with 13" machines since. I’m hesitant to go back to a larger machine. I do take the machine back and forth between home and office several times a week, and I frequently use it on my lap and carry it around the office, so the difference in size and weight will matter.

    I think the USB-C/lightning connector would be an improvement for me. Whenever I unpack the laptop at home, I have to plug in MagSafe power, video, and USB cables. That would reduce it to a single cable, though I would have to buy two or three adaptors (one for home and one for work +/- travel). (My SD card slot died long ago, as has every SD card slot on every SD-equipped Apple laptop I have owned. Congrats on the longevity of yours.)

    So I haven’t yet decided to pull the trigger, mostly because I just don’t want the larger form factor.

    –Ron

  25. I’m with a lot of the people here in being too interested in the 13-inch form factor. As compelling as the 16-inch MacBook Pro is, I just don’t need the power and would prefer not to have to deal with the size or weight, and don’t really want to pay for a beefier machine than I need for travel and testing.

    My 13-inch MacBook Air from 2012 needs a new battery and possibly a new fan, but I think I’ll replace those now to get another 6-9 months out of it in the hopes that Apple will bring the new keyboard to the next revision of the MacBook Air.

  26. Hi there, I have a 2012 MBP with a 15" retina display that I bought used at Chicago Experimac. As everyone else has said, it has an Escape key, I can use external monitors, it has all the ports I want, the keyboard works great, and it’s very fast because it has 16GB of RAM with a 4-core processor.

    The new MBP would mean I would gain very little that I need, and lose quite a lot that I use every day, at a cost of several thousand dollars. It’s not worth it to me. I need a lot more from a laptop that I’m not getting from my old MBP before I’ll put down that kind of hard earned money.

  27. I have been a faithful user of a 17" MBP for years and was sad to see the 17" format dropped. I found / find the large screen excellent for working on two documents side by side. It’s also more than handy for large complex diagrams. I’m still using a 2011 17" MBP (which is stuck at High Sierra) and I’d love to see a modern replacement.

    I also tend to buy the biggest, fastest, bestest configuration, in the hope that it will remain useful for a long time (eg the 2011 MBP!).

    Which brings me to the price. For me, no longer with professional requirements, I can’t justify the price. No way.

    I can’t get excited about an escape key or not, and I wish Apple would offer a model without touch bar (which seems to me to be adding something new just for the sake of adding something new). I understand the connectivity decision, legacy connections will eventually fall away, but it’s a bind having to carry dongles.

  28. Aha, Adam is living the high life without dongles too. I’ve got three 2011 MBP (2 x17 inch, 1 x 15 inch) here. One is basically worn out (keyboard, battery, screen) but serves as a decent backup/kitchen computer. The 16 inch is the first to interest me. The base price is okay as is that configuration but I’d want at least 32 GB of memory and 1 TB of hard drive space (I have 2 TB in two of the 2011 MBP). The upgrade of graphic card is something you might want to pass on, as graphic cards run very hot and that heat causes long term fan and reliability issues (based on past MBP).

    In terms of dongles and ports, four Thunderbolt ports beats the heck out of one USB-C port. One could buy a dock for home and a couple of dongles for road. I recommend buying third party docks and dongles where compatible as Apple uses flimsy cables with very poor joins (which wear out fast).

    Finally though Apple has built a MBP again which I might want to own (first one since 2011). Large screen, high screen resolution, decent keyboard (with physical escape key, most used key), lots of memory on board. Very nice. Hopefully fan noise is not an issue, at least in the lower specced versions.

  29. Another vote for waiting for the 13 inch. This looks lovely but just too big.

  30. My 2011 MacBook pro 13” (upgraded with 16 GB RAM and 1 TB SSD by me) is still going strong. I find I do not use it much anymore, doing most of my work on a 2018 Mac mini at home.

    On the road, I mostly use an iPad. So I’m more into debating if I should get a new MacBook or iPad for my portable needs. If I would decide on a MacBook, it will certainly be a smaller and lighter 13” (or 14”) model.

  31. Well, sort of. :slight_smile: The only thing I do with my MacBook Air that requires connecting to anything is projection, when I’m giving talks. So I’ve always traveled with video adapters for Thunderbolt to VGA, DVI, and HDMI. And depending on the situation, I sometimes bring a cable or two in case there’s only a TV and I don’t know what ports or cables will be available. I also have a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter that I carry, just in case.

    That said, if I was traveling with a Thunderbolt 3-only device, I might feel more worried about the “what if?” situations and add in a few more adapters.

    For me, it’s really about the size, weight, cost, and keyboard.

  32. I prefer a single, multi-port, USB-C adapter over multiple adapters. I like the Dell DA300 for its compact, “hockey puck” design and tidy storage of the built-in cable. However, most people probably would want more USB Type A ports and would be happy with only HDMI for video out (until they encounter a projector or display that doesn’t have it). I’ve bought one Sanho HyperDrive Power 9-in-1; it seemed fine but I only performed minimal testing of the Ethernet port and USB ports. I only consider such adapters for portable use, in part because their power pass-through can’t deliver the full power for even a 13-inch MacBook Pro; at a desk I go for true Thunderbolt 3 docks.

  33. I’m in the same camp as @ace. Since I often use my MBP for presenting stuff, I usually carry around dongles for VGA, DVI, DP, and HDMI. And since there was some space left in my dongle pouch I threw in a Gigabit adapter, but that rarely sees much use these days.

    I have to admit, to me the dongle issue is really not a big deal. For business trips, or if I’m away from my desk for longer, I need to bring along my charger anyway. Compared to its weight, those few dongles are nothing. I think the fact that we can get four ports that we can use for whatever we want and that have so much bandwidth we indeed can do pretty much everything over them, far outweighs the dongle thing. Plus, dongles are only going to get better. We’ll need fewer as we migrate towards more modern standards (to play devil’s advocate just mention VGA here :wink: ). And swapping older cables (eg. USB-A -> USB-C) also means fewer dongles.

    Of course at the desk I want a proper desktop experience so I have a TB dock with my mouse/KB, big screen, Gigabit, etc. I arrive at my desk, plug in one cable and done. Again, this extra convenience is courtesy of the great Thunderbolt port.

    MagSafe, I agree, was a loss. It would have been great if Apple would have found a way to preserve MagSafe functionality for their implementation of the USB-C charger.

  34. I have had a number of MBP varieties over the years, large screens, smaller screens, etc. I have a plastic bag in my travel bag with a wide variety of dongles and can connect almost anything to almost anything, greatly appreciated by colleagues who forgot theirs when we’re at a conference or meeting. I’m with you Adam about the size and weight factors. However, now that I’ve retired, I’m looking to simplify my gear. So I am considering the new 16-inch MBP and reconfiguring my home office so I don’t have a 27-inch iMac to maintain. (and my 2011 iMac is stuck on High Sierra). So my home office will be transformed to a walk-in station waiting for me and the new 16-inch MBP with a larger wall-mounted secondary screen, a Thunderbolt Dock, and a passel of dongles in a desk drawer. Any comments on this “downsizing” strategy? Are there pitfalls I haven’t considered?

    p.s. Anybody out there looking for an original bondi blue iMac in its original box with matching serial numbers? :wink:

  35. 16" MBP First Impressions

    I received my 16" MBP yesterday afternoon and here are a few of my first impressions. Note that I’ve spent most of the time getting it set up, so I haven’t really “used” it yet. So few comments about performance, etc.

    Also note that I’m mainly coming from 2015-era MBPs, with the older keyboard. I have a 2016 MBP, but it works as a desktop with an external keyboard (meaning I use the TouchBar about once a year). My daily use machine is an older MBP which I use for writing and programming, and I carry it around the house or even outside on nice days, and literally use it on my lap. The 16" will replace that one, which I’ll keep for 32-bit app use.

    Setup

    to set up the new one I used Superduper to clone my 2015 MBP to an external HD, then plugged that external drive into the 16" and used Migration Assistant to set up the new computer. It worked quite well, though the process took about 4 hours (including cloning), and there were a few oddities due to Catalina being on the new machine. Then I spent several more hours upgrading various apps (like 1Password) to work with Catalina.

    Specs

    The machine I got is: 512GB/32GB/8-core 2.4GHz/base graphics

    (Most of my files are text so I don’t need/want a huge drive and basic graphics are fine – I hope – but I decided to get the faster CPU just to future-proof it a bit.)

    Thoughts (in no particular order)

    • The screen is awesome. Much bigger. For some reason, early reviews focused on the keyboard and said little about the screen. I’d heard several reports that the new screen is bigger but provided no extra real estate, which disappointed me, but when I booted up into the 16" and my old apps were running, there’s a lot more real estate.

    For instance, Apple Mail’s main window previously filled about 80% of my screen (I keep some margins so I can drag files into emails from the Finder) but on the 16" it’s more like 60%. I actually made my Mail window bigger and I love all the extra room. It turns out my display setting is on scaled, but it’s at the default setting for that and says I’m 1792 x 1120. That’s not the maximum, which is 2048 x 1280, but this setting is great for me and I notice no scaling artifacts. I must have had it set similarly on the old machine and it remembered the setting. (I do use control+scroll to zoom in for small text as I get older, but I like having UI elements like menus be less obtrusive and giving me more room for content.)

    • So far, no big issues with Catalina other than the lack of 32-bit apps. I recompiled a couple of my own apps that weren’t 64-bit and that worked well. I’d already switched from Interarchy to Transmit recently, since Interarchy wouldn’t even run under Mojave. Mail seems fine, though I haven’t used it much or done searching (no gmail or exchange accounts, just IMAP through Pair).

    • I can’t get Apple Pay to work because my “security settings have changed” – apparently some setting involving the T2 chip I have to turn on. I’m supposed to reboot under the Recovery Drive and turn on maximum security for Apple Pay to work on this computer. Not a huge priority; I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, though I’m puzzled why that setting isn’t turned on automatically.

    • I did bite the bullet and subscribe to 1Password so I can use it in the web browser (the old 1PW6 extension doesn’t work in Safari 13 and I doubt I can downgrade Safari on the new Mac). Not a huge deal since I haven’t paid Agilebits any money since 2010 when I bought the standalone version, but I don’t like the idea of being locked into a subscription for such a critical tool, so I probably will explore other password managers in the future. (I partly wanted the subscription since I’m playing around with a cheap Chromebook I bought and the version for that is web-based and requires a subscription.)

    • One annoyance: I got the 32GB of RAM, which was one of my main reasons for getting the new machine. I do a variety of different projects all the time, switching between them frequently (mainly writing and programming) and 16GB just wasn’t enough (typically I had 7-10GB of disk swap). But already, with just a few standard apps open (Mail, Dropbox, Xojo, Safari, BBEdit) the 16" is showing it using 22GB of RAM and even using a tiny bit of disk swap! Sigh. Still, it can’t be worse than 16GB. Maybe I should have gone for the 64GB. Apps today are ridiculous RAM hogs.

    • The new trackpad is gigantic. Like bigger than an Plus-sized iPhone. No idea why it needs to be so big. It seems like it might get in the way and I’d hit it accidentally, but I haven’t notice anything so far. One annoyance is that the metalic sheen is already (in just a few hours) showing signs of wear. Maybe I have oily fingers, but it makes the brand-new machine seem worn and I’ve barely touched it.

    • Oh, the keyboard. What can I say? I woke up this morning and realized I’d forgotten all about testing it. I mean, I used it to type in passwords and do a few things last night, but didn’t even think about the keyboard (the screen and Catalina distracted me). This post is my first real use of it. The bottom line is It Just Works. Not noticing it is fantastic. I love the inverted-T arrow keys (my number one problem with the butterfly), the key feel is great, very similar to 2015 MBP but even better, and the layout of the TouchBar and TouchID is great: Siri is on the TouchBar and I don’t hit it accidentally any more (I turned it off on my 2016 since I hit it so often by mistake). TouchID is awesome.

    • Size/weight: pretty much identical to 2015 for all practical purposes.

    Conclusion: me like it. The 16" is not ground-breaking or a completely new experience, it’s just more refined. It’s definitely great for pros who need extra resources/power, or for those who’ve been putting off getting a new MBP for way too long (like me).

    It is for people who don’t mind the size/weight/cost of a bigger laptop. The sweet spot for most, however, is when the new keyboard gets put on the 13" (or rumors say a 14") version. Hopefully that will happen next spring.

    I have a 2015 12" MacBook I use for traveling, so the 16" is great for my daily use machine. It would be a tight fit for use on an airplane in an economy seat, that’s for sure!

    If anyone has any questions about the 16", I can to try to answer them.

  36. So this is strange—maybe Apple didn’t update the MacBook Pro’s tech specs page properly, but I was certain that the resolutions maxed out at 1920x1200 when we were writing that article. That was the entire reason I said that it wouldn’t show more content on the screen, but now it’s showing a completely different set of resolutions.

  37. Curses! Indeed, the Wayback Machine reveals that Apple didn’t get the specs correct on the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s specs page until November 19th. As you can see here on the 18th, it’s still showing the specs for the 15-inch model. Hence my confusion and our now-incorrect comments in the article.

  38. Wild that the specs were wrong. You weren’t the only one to say this – I saw/read it on several video and printed early reviews.

    At any rate, I’m glad the 16" does provide more real estate without being visually much smaller than my old 15" setup.

  39. The CalDigit TS3 Plus is my choice of Thunderbolt dock for 15-inch+ MacBook Pros; it’s also been The Wirecutter’s pick for Thunderbolt dock. It delivers up to 85W of power, many others deliver only 60W which is fine for 13-inch models but is insufficient for larger models under heavy load. However, I see the 16-inch MacBook Pro has a 96W USB-C power adapter so you may want to look for (or wait for) a Thunderbolt dock that delivers that much power; the Wirecutter says the HP Thunderbolt Dock 120W G2 delivers up to 100W.

    If you decide you’ll use the Apple power adapter and the dock for connections only, you can save some money and get a lower-power dock; the Wirecutter lists a number, I’ve purchased the Plugable TBT3-UDV for 13-inch MacBook Pros. With any dock, pay attention to which built-in video port it has; I prefer DisplayPort but some have HDMI.

  40. I’m still deciding. First I was waiting for >16GB RAM. Then for the butterfly keyboard debacle to go away, then for the ESC key to return. 16" is really a bit to big to lug around, so I’ll wait now to see if there’s a 13" (or 14" ?) refresh with a proper amount of RAM. I’d really like a better ports solutions too :-/

    edit: pleased to read I’m in the same camp as @ace !

  41. Marco Arment was talking about this on ATP episode 353 last night (episode is not out yet, I was listening live). He’s still waiting for the return of the SD card slot on the MacBook Pro.

    It’s just not going to happen.

    The 16" is Apple’s “apology” computer: the keyboard, the escape key, the inverted T arrow keys… these are all the concessions that we’re getting.

    There won’t be USB-A ports. There won’t be SD card slots. There won’t be more ports. There won’t be MagSafe.

    This is it.

    The sooner we accept that, the easier it will be.

  42. I agree. It was surprising enough to see Apple finally backtrack on the keyboard issues, and I can’t see the company backtracking on anything else at this point.

  43. I agree about not expecting any backtracking on “legacy” ports. MagSafe was pretty innovative when introduced, I wouldn’t rule out Apple innovating on connectors again but I would expect it to still involve the USB Type-C interface.

    Don’t hold your breath, but I don’t know that the Touch Bar will stay forever. It doesn’t seem that successful, it’s a “Pro only” feature (i.e. not included on the MacBook Air), and they haven’t introduced an external keyboard with the feature. In 2016, when they embiggened the TrackPads on the MacBook Pros (same year they introduced the Touch Bar), there was some speculation that Apple was laying the groundwork for it to become a touchscreen (at least I speculated). If that actually happens, I think there’s a good chance the Touch Bar would go away.

  44. I’m thinking the opposite. The fact that it’s there on the 16, despite Apple’s backtracking on numerous other unpopular aspects of the design, makes me think they’re committed to the TouchBar.

    Yes, it might remain a Pro-only feature, but that is a nice Pro distinction and just because it’s not in consumer-level products doesn’t mean it’s going away.

    I just hope that this means Apple will expand support for the TouchBar, make it better and more useful, and make it easier for developers to add support for it. Right now it still isn’t used in enough apps to make it an essential feature.

  45. I got the 32GB of RAM, which was one of my main reasons for getting the new machine. I do a variety of different projects all the time, switching between them frequently (mainly writing and programming) and 16GB just wasn’t enough (typically I had 7-10GB of disk swap). But already, with just a few standard apps open (Mail, Dropbox, Xojo, Safari, BBEdit) the 16" is showing it using 22GB of RAM and even using a tiny bit of disk swap!

    I’ve read that Safari tabs can use huge amounts of RAM. You say most of your files are text only, so I’m puzzled why you need so much RAM. I have 16 GB on my 2016 MacBook Pro and only 8 on my 2017 iMac, and I notice that a few apps that load their entire presence into RAM when launched (SEE Finance, for one) can take more than a minute just to display a single data window on first launch. I think that’s because my 1 TB internal drive is formatted as a “Fusion” drive coupled to a 28 GByte PCI-e stick on the motherboard, and next week I’m going deep inside the iMac to replace the Fusion Drive with a 1 TB OWC Aura Pro 2x SSD stick, which will become my boot volume (I’m told that when no longer logically fused with the SSD stick the 1 TB internal rotating platter drive will function as a bootable stand-alone slower volume). While I’m in there, I’ll quadruple the RAM to 32 GB

    Oh, the keyboard.

    That’s the sole reason I’m waiting to get my fingers positioned on one of these old/new keyboards (according to iFixit, virtually the same as what we had in 2015 and earlier). If I had an MBA and an Apple employee ID card, I’d be advocating for an extraordinarily bold repair program for ANYONE afflicted with butterfly-keyboard disease. This would require engineering some way to get a scissors keyboard mechanism into their existing chassis, and offering that replacement at a price point at or below $750. I don’t need a new laptop, but I do need to be able to make the “.” and “>” glyphs appear in my documents without the musculature of my right hand ring finger slowly morphing into a sad parody of Rod Laver’s forearm size disparity. This repair would be offered regardless of whether, when, or how a user spilled something on the keyboard. I know that Cervantes and Dr. King had less “impossible” dreams, but a whole generation of MacBook Pro users have suffered the indignity of the butterfly keyboard,

    The new trackpad is gigantic . Like bigger than an Plus-sized iPhone. No idea why it needs to be so big.

    That’s so that your cursor can bedevil you when the base of your hand moves it to some different point in your document. Coupled with Siri’s capricious autocorrect choices, it can lead to interesting outcomes.

    Having moved recently from the Bay Area (where Apple’s stainless steel facades are almost as prevalent as Peets and Starbucks) to rural Montana, where the nearest Apple emporium is 275 miles away (and where not even the University of Montana bookstore sells Apple equipment) I’m googling the local Best Buy inventory pages almost daily!

    Reviewers have endorsed Apple’s claims for vastly improved sound output. I’m not sure that’s a big deal: If I want sound to fill a room, I’ll most likely get it from another source, and if I’m watching an epic movie on my 16" laptop in seat 34F, I think I’ll be getting the sound from Bose (or perhaps from AirPods Pros), but I’m still curious.

    Thanks so much for your post!
    Jim Robertson

  46. A lot of my writing projects require web research, so I’ll typically have 5-20 tabs open for just that one article. Since I work on 4-10 projects simultaneously (sometimes over months), I typically have about 100 tabs open. I try to keep them to the bare minimum, but it’s very hard to cull them down and saving bookmarks for temporary stuff is a hassle.

    I watch Activity Monitor’s RAM usage constantly and I force quit tabs when they grow huge (over 1GB). Freshly loaded most pages use about 200MB (still absurd, but somewhat reasonable). What I don’t like is that even just sitting in the background they will grow. It must be javascript and ads that cause it.

    Ha! I’m sure that’s it.

    After I sent my post I realized I hadn’t even tried the speakers, so I did, and wow, I must say, I’m blown away.

    I’m certainly no audiophile, but these sound like HomePods. Not the same volume or room-filling sound, but when your laptop is in your lap the sound is targeted just right at your ears. It’s really nice. (It’s definitely more for personal use, not for a whole room.)

    I was listening to a favorite song that I’ve probably heard 1000+ times and I heard a faint rhythmic tinkle sound in the background, some sort of background instrument I’d never heard before. I didn’t even have the volume above 40%, either. Crazy.

    Not sure if it’s relevant, but when I play music on the 16" my dog gets all excited and runs over and looks around and seems very interested. I’ve never seen him pay attention to music before (except for my mom’s piano playing, but’s different).

    Also: with iTunes broken up, the music app is only using 200MB of RAM in the background while playing. I didn’t used to like to use iTunes to play music because it took too many resources. It’s nothing at all on this machine. So another win!

    Since my HomePods are stationary and I like to move the laptop to different rooms for working, being able to play music that sounds this good is very nice. I can’t wait until next spring/summer when I can work outside in nice weather. I bet these speakers will still sound great outdoors.

  47. I bought a MBP last year, and it took awhile to get used to the butterfly keyboard. When the space bar on it failed a few weeks ago, I went back to using my old 2013 MBP, and I was surprised to find I had grown to prefer the feel of the butterfly keyboard. The keys on the 2013 MBP felt loose and wobbly.

    Last week, I decided to trade in the repaired 2018 MBP and buy the 16-inch MBP in the hopes of avoiding keyboard problems in the future. After the trade in and the educational discount, I spent about $1500 for a bigger screen, better keyboard, twice the internal drive space, and much better sound. The 16-inch also feels noticeably faster.

    I do like the feel of the new keyboard. It didn’t take any getting used to. I think Gruber’s description is good: it’s like a cross between the old scissor-switch keyboard and the butterfly keyboard, taking the best from both. To me, the biggest improvement was moving the Touchbar slightly away from the Touch ID sensor. I was constantly activating Siri accidentally on the 2018 MBP, and I don’t think I’ve done it yet on the 16-inch MBP. I appreciate the return of the traditional arrow key layout as well.

    Setting up the new computer was pretty straightforward. Most of my documents and my photo library are in iCloud, so I didn’t have to worry about those nor with the contents of my Dropbox. I copied the rest of my data, about 160 GB, manually over a Thunderbolt 3 cable, and that was done in around ten to fifteen minutes total, if I recall correctly.

    I can’t say I miss the legacy ports. The only port I used regularly was the HDMI port, but I just use a USB-C-to-HDMI cable now. I never used the SD card slot on the 2013 MBP and used the ethernet and Thunderbolt ports infrequently. I prefer having a laptop that’s thinner and lighter, characteristics which benefit me every day, over a thicker, heavier laptop that has ports I rarely need. The only dongle I carry around these days is a USB-A to USB-C adapter, which I leave connected to a thumbdrive (which has the added benefit of making the drive easier to find in my backpack).

  48. Wow. I just dropped by an electronics store and saw, held, and tried the new 16-inch model for the first time. I think I’m in love. I even liked the much-maligned Touch Bar. It feels nice, and provides useful word choices when editing.

    I sort of feel I wish you could touch the screen as well. It’s easier than moving the cursor and clicking.

    But all-in-all it seems great. The weight also “isn’t too bad.” Not as bad as I expected.

    And it’s … beautiful.

  49. What do you think of problem reports about the new 16" MBP? Things like reported freezing when hooked up to external monitors, sounds from the SSD, etc?

  50. I’m curious as well.

    There is a 16" MBP in my future—the question is when, not if. TidBITS always suggests waiting after new software releases, but I don’t recall seeing such precautions on hardware. I’ve always been reluctant to buy a new model of any hardware, assuming there are manufacturing kinks to work out.

    Am I being pragmatic, or overcautious?

  51. I haven’t noticed any problems nor was I aware of reports of widespread problems.

  52. Same here.

  53. For those here who have purchased a new 16-inch MacBook Pro, when you migrated your data to it, did you do it directly from the older Mac via Thunderbolt, Wi-Fi, or Ethernet, or did you migrate from a Time Machine backup on an external hard drive?

    I’m tracking a problem with the latter approach, so I’m curious if anyone has experienced issues with Time Machine-based migrations.

  54. I did mine via a Superduper clone on an external HD. No issues that I’ve seen (except my 32-bit apps don’t work ;-).

    It does bring up a question, though: in the old days I loved doing upgrades like that via a Firewire cable between the two Macs with one in drive mode. I’m vaguely aware that you can do that via Thunderbolt, but I’ve never tried and the whole cable mess of USB-C and Thunderbolt has obsoleted all my ancient knowledge.

    I did look to see if I could find some sort of cable to hook the two Macs together, but we’re talking a 2015 MBP with regular USB and a 16" MBP with USB-C and I couldn’t find anything remotely like what I needed. Does such a cable exist and would that work? Or do you need an adapter or something? Can you only hook two UBS-C Macs together with a USB-C to USB-C cable?

  55. Your 2015 MacBook Pro will have Thunderbolt 2, so you can connect it to a new Mac with a Thunderbolt 3 cable and a Thunderbolt 2 to 3 adapter. And yes, Target Disk Mode absolutely supports Thunderbolt.

    USB-C is largely irrelevant, since only the tiny MacBook is limited to USB-C. Everything else that has a USB-C port is actually Thunderbolt 3, which subsumes USB 3.1. But Target Disk Mode will still work.

  56. Ah, that’s what I was missing. I’ve never used Thunderbolt for anything. Didn’t even know it was on the old laptop. I’ve only used USB.

    The only adapter I can find is an Apple one and it’s $50. That’s pricey for a one-time use. Way easier to just use an external hard drive the way I’ve been doing.

    I guess there’s no way to use USB to connect the two computers?

  57. My son migrated the Mac side via an Cat 5e cable connecting both MacBooks.

    The BootCamp partition didn’t go so well. He used WinClone to back it up and tried reinstalling it a few times. When the Restore in Winclone worked (we made a number of errors earlier which I won’t blame on WinClone) he would boot up into Windows 10 and it would blue screen. I assume a driver problem. He decided to just set up Windows from scratch and reinstall everything.

    One problem with the WinClone speed is probably our use of a USB 2 hard disk.

Join the discussion in the TidBITS Discourse forum

Participants