Apple's new 16-inch MacBook Pro gains bigger screen, better keyboard

This is Apple's largest laptop since the 17-inch MacBook Pro of 2006-2012, but the real advance sits just beneath the screen.

By David Flynn, November 14 2019
Apple's new 16-inch MacBook Pro gains bigger screen, better keyboard

The arrival of the 16-inch MacBook Pro will tempt a particular slice of the Apple market pie: people who want (or need) the company's most powerful notebook and all that entails.

But every MacBook user needs to pay close attention to what's sitting beneath that upsized display – a revamped scissor-based keyboard mechanism intended to be more reliable that the Apple's problem-plagued butterfly design, and which should appear in successive MacBook releases and refreshes.

'Scissor' and 'butterfly' refer to the physical mechanism beneath each key. The traditional scissor mechanism consists of two crossed pieces of plastic that fold down when the key pressed. Apple's seemingly never-ending quest for innovation and svelte design saw the company ion 2015 move to an all-new butterfly switch with a lower profile.

Newer isn't always better...
Newer isn't always better...

Unfortunately, the thin butterfly mechanism proved susceptible to getting jammed up with crumbs, dust, and other particles, while some keys became unreliable or stopped working entirely. (Apple described the problem like this: “letters repeat unexpectedly... letters do not appear... keys feel ‘sticky.’")

Many coders and wordsmiths lamented its imprecise feel and lack of 'travel' as each key was pressed. And despite several design revisions, Apple was forced to roll out a free program to replace broken butterfly keyboards.

It proved to be a rare design failure for the proud company, eroding both the brand's design reputation and customer confidence.

In the 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple has returned to the scissor switch by adapting that mechanism from its desktop 'Magic Keyboard' into a slimmer notebook-friendly form, albeit with a slightly longer travel and more positive feel than the butterfly.

Keys to success: the MacBook Pro's revamped keyboard.
Keys to success: the MacBook Pro's revamped keyboard.

Other revamps to the keyboard layout see a physical Escape key return to the left of the OLED touchbar, a separate Touch ID sensor at the right end of the Touch Bar which doubles as a power button, and arrow keys in an inverted-T arrangement.

The footprint of the 16-inch MacBook Pro isn't significantly larger than that of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which actually has a 15.4-inch screen – the new model is barely 1cm wider, with thinner bezels framing the display.

It's much less of a goliath than the original 17-inch MacBook Pro which Apple sold between April 2006 and June 2012, and coupled with a raft of under the hood advancements, Apple is discontinuing the 15-inch MacBook Pro line in favour of its new 16-inch flagship.

The debut of the 16-inch MacBook Pro sees the 15-inch models put out to pasture.
The debut of the 16-inch MacBook Pro sees the 15-inch models put out to pasture.

The display itself has been cranked up from 2880×1800 on the 15-inch line to a stonkingly rich 3072x1920, driven by AMD's Radeon Pro 5000M series GPUs with up to 8GB VRAM. Topping out the tick-a-box list of options is 2TB of SSD storage.

One thing which hasn't changed: the 16-inch MacBook Pro runs the same Intel 9th-gen Core i7 and i9 processors as the 15-inch model it supersedes.

Despite all that grunt, Apple rates the 100Wh battery as being good for "up to 11 hours" of wireless Web browsing or video playback, helped along by improved thermal design which keeps the innards (and your lap) cooler.

Apple is also talking up the six-speaker sound system, featuring "new Apple-patented force-canceling woofers (which) use dual opposed speaker drivers to reduce unwanted vibrations that distort sound."

Available from this week, the 16-inch MacBook Pro models are priced roughly on par with their 15.4-inch predecessors, given the bump in some base specs: for example, the entry-level Core i7 machine opens with a 512GB drive for $3,799, up from the $3,499 15-inch model which had a 256GB drive.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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