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Christmas has come early this year for Apple's professional users. Apple has been accused of neglecting its pro audience in recent years, as it single-mindedly focused on the global domination of the iPhone. But, just a few months ago, it updated both the 13-inch and 15-inch versions of the MacBook Pro, while the long-awaited revamp of the Mac Pro tower system is waiting in the wings for its launch in December.
And now, somewhat unexpectedly, Apple has also released an entirely new 16-inch version of the MacBook Pro that represents a significant upgrade over the 15-inch model we reviewed as recently as July. And the good news is that the new 16-inch MacBook sits at the same price points as the 15-inch model. The bad news is that the 'new' 15-inch MacBook Pro has now been discontinued -- barely four months after its introduction -- leaving just the 13-inch and 16-inch models in Apple's new lineup.
Anyone who bought the 15-inch MacBook Pro in recent months will be entitled to feel somewhat aggrieved, but if the rumours of this 16-inch model caused you to delay your purchase then you'll be pretty impressed by one of the most significant updates to the MacBook Pro range since the introduction of Apple's 'unibody' redesign way back in 2008.
At first glance, the 16-inch MacBook Pro doesn't look all that different from its 15-inch predecessor. Bear in mind that the 15-inch MacBook Pro actually had a 15.4-inch display, so stepping up to 16 inches for this new model doesn't drastically alter the size of the laptop. The 15-inch model measured 15.5mm thick, 349mm wide and 241mm deep, but the 16-inch MacBook Pro merely increases in dimensions to 16.2mm thick, 358mm wide and 246mm deep.
Slightly more noticeable is the increased weight, up from 1.83kg to 2.0kg. It does feel heavier than its predecessor, but 2.0kg is still a pretty impressive weight given the increase in the size of the display and other internal components, such as the larger cooling fans, and new 100Whr battery (which, according to Apple, is the largest Lithium battery legally allowed by US safety regulations).
The most noticeable new feature, of course, is the new 16-inch Retina display, which now boasts 3072-by-1920 (226ppi) resolution, compared to 2880-by-1800 (220ppi) for the 15.4-inch model. It's as bright, clear and sharp as its predecessor, while offering around 14% more pixels to play with, and as always, the display supports the DCI-P3 colour standard for professional video-editing.
Apple is also making a direct pitch for the music and audio markets too. The large grilles on either side of the keyboard aren't cooling vents -- they house a new six-speaker audio system that employs two woofers and one tweeter on each of the left and right channels. The sound quality is undoubtedly the best we've heard from a laptop of any size, with a surprisingly satisfying bass kick, and it's matched by an array of three high-quality microphones that are designed to reduce noise when you're recording on the move.
Apple isn't pretending that the new MacBook Pro eliminates the need for external speakers and microphones, but its aim is to provide a quick and easy option for recording and editing on the move, when you don't have a full array of studio equipment sitting on a nearby desk.
Another development that will be welcomed by many users is Apple's long overdue acknowledgement of the poor quality of its 'butterfly' keyboard design. Introduced to Apple laptops in 2015, the butterfly key mechanism enabled slimmer keyboards than those using the traditional 'scissor' mechanism, and satisfied Apple's aesthetic obsession with making its products as slim as possible. However, using the keyboard felt like typing on a wet sponge, and the butterfly mechanism itself proved so unreliable that it led to a public apology from Apple.
Apple's solution for the new 16-inch MacBook Pro was simply to copy the design of its existing Magic Keyboard, provided with desktop Mac models -- albeit with some refinements designed to maintain the slimline profile required for a laptop keyboard. The result is certainly an improvement: the keys still don't travel as much as we'd like, but they do feel noticeably firmer and more responsive when typing.
Apple's UK pricing has risen noticeably in recent years, to the point where there is now parity between UK Sterling and US dollar pricing. But, thankfully, the two standard 16-inch MacBook Pro configurations that are now available have exactly the same prices as their 15-inch predecessors.
Prices start at £1,999.17 (ex. VAT; £2,399 inc. VAT, or $2,399) for a model with a six-core Core i7 processor running at 2.6-4.5GHz, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB solid-state drive and discrete AMD Radeon Pro 5300M graphics with 4GB of video RAM. We reviewed the second standard configuration, which costs £2,332.50 (ex. VAT; £2,799 inc. VAT, or $2799) and now includes an eight-core Core i9-9880H running at 2.3-4.8GHz, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB solid-state drive (rather than the 512GB of its 15-inch counterpart) and Radeon Pro 5500M graphics with 4GB of video RAM.
SEE: Top 20 Apple keyboard shortcuts for business users (free PDF)
There's a 2.4GHz build-to-order processor upgrade available for a further £150 (ex. VAT; £180 inc. VAT, or $200), and Apple seems to finally recognise that pro users require greater customisation options than it normally offers, so the 16-inch MacBook Pro offers a considerable range of (still expensive) memory and storage upgrades, and even includes an upgrade to 8GB of video RAM for the Radeon GPU. This costs £75 (ex. VAT; £90 inc. VAT, or $100).
The 15-inch MacBook Pro that we reviewed in July benefitted from some expensive upgrade options that took its total price to £2,745 (ex. VAT; £3,294 inc. VAT, or $3,349). We were therefore impressed to see that this standard configuration of the new 16-inch MacBook Pro -- priced at a lower £2,332.50 (ex. VAT; £2,799 inc.VAT, or $2,799) -- was more than a match for its predecessor.
There's little difference in raw processor performance, admittedly, as the 15-inch and 16-inch models use very similar 2.4GHz and 2.3GHz processors respectively, with the 16-inch MacBook Pro falling only a few points behind with Geekbench 4.1 scores of 5,580 (single-core) and 29,700 (multi-core).
The 15-inch model that we tested in July also benefited from an expensive GPU upgrade in the form of a Radeon Pro Vega 20. Unsurprisingly, the Pro Vega 20 performed well in the Cinebench R15 graphics benchmark, scoring 145fps, compared to 138fps for the less expensive Radeon Pro 5500M used in the new 16-inch MacBook Pro.
However, the 16-inch MacBook Pro turned the tables when it came to the more demanding Unigine Valley graphics tests, scoring a strong 48.5fps and considerably outpacing the 34.5fps of its expensively upgraded 15-inch predecessor. So even without spending any extra cash on build-to-order upgrades, the 16-inch MacBook Pro offers professional users stronger performance and better value than any Apple laptop we've seen so far.
As mentioned, some of the 16-inch model's extra weight is due to the larger, 100Whr battery. Many people will consider that an acceptable compromise, as the 16-inch MacBook Pro was able to last for a full 11 hours and 15 minutes in our streaming video test, when running on the CPU-integrated Intel UHD 630 graphics, and with the brightness level set to a perfectly visible 50%. That's outstanding for a laptop of this size, and will ensure that the 16-inch MacBook Pro earns its keep when you're on the move.
Although Apple risks alienating some users who bought the updated 15-inch MacBook Pro just a few months ago, there's no doubt that the new 16-inch MacBook Pro raises the bar for Apple's professional laptop range. It's still expensive, of course, but the larger display, and impressive performance and battery life really throw down the gauntlet for its large-screen laptop rivals. And, with features such as the improved audio system, it's clear that Apple has once more begun to focus on the creative users who have always been its most loyal audience.
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