I'm a professional software developer. For the last six years I've been using my late-2013 MacBook Pro Retina 15″ as my daily driver. It's a gorgeous machine with a phenomenal keyboard and track pad, a beautiful display, and adequate (though not very powerful) speakers. I have all the ports I need including USB-A, MagSafe, and an SD card reader. The machine has proved reliable apart from some RAM corruption in year 6 and the AR coating issue, and over the years literally everything has been replaced by Apple apart from the SSD. It looks brand new, but it's slow by modern standards.
I was very excited to pick up my MacBook Pro 16″ on Friday. Here are my initial impressions. Most reviews I read before purchase told me „this is the laptop you have been waiting for.“ I do not agree.
Keyboard – 5/10
I hated the butterfly keyboards, with their miniscule key travel, high volume, and haptic-level feedback. The best description I've found for what typing on them feels like is having your fingers concussed by tiny hammers. I have never developed RSI but I'm very aware of early symptoms, and after an hour of typing on a butterfly keyboard, I can tell my fingers aren't happy. This is the main reason I am still using a 2013 laptop in 2019.
The new scissor-switch keyboard is better than the butterfly, but I still hate typing on it. The keys require too much force to press, there is too much tactile feedback, and there still isn't enough key travel. My fingers feel tingly after typing on it, and I can feel the hate after just a few keystrokes.
Even worse, I find that keys don't always register properly – you can press a key with enough force to move the key cap and get the tactile feedback, but the key press didn't actually register and no character appeared on screen. This makes the tactile feedback pointless, because it's not a 100% guarantee that the keystroke registered.
But finally, a physical escape key. About time.
Touch Bar – 2/10
Wow. This is my first laptop with a touch bar, and this thing sucks. It's annoying, bright, and mostly useless.
I'm absolutely shocked that after so many years of Apple making laptops with touch bars, they haven't provided any way to manually adjust the brightness – you are entirely at the mercy of the OS. You can adjust the brightness of the keys, the brightness of the display, heck you can even set the OS to adjust the color temperature of the display automatically at night, but there is apparently no way to adjust the brightness of the touch bar. Not even slightly. That means that at night, when you turn down the display brightness, the touch bar sits there glaring brightly at you, distracting you from what you're doing. There's also no way to turn it off – if you're watching a movie, this illuminated strip of useless wasted space will spoil your experience until it automatically turns off after a few minutes – but if you move your mouse, pause, adjust the volume, etc., it comes right back on again.
I am seriously considering covering the entire thing with a black sticker. However, it's the only convenient way to adjust the screen brightness and volume.
In terms of usability, I don't think I would ever get used to it. Physical keys can be found by touch and pressed without taking your eyes off the screen. The touch bar, by definition, requires an eye movement to locate a virtual button. It doesn't help that the buttons move around so much as you switch from app to app. Concepts like showing previews of tabs in Safari are cool and might sell laptops in Apple stores, but realistically I'm not going to be looking down at my touch bar when switching tabs, I'm going to be keeping my eyes on screen and using keyboard shortcuts, watching the actual tabs flick by one by one.
I would pay $100 extra to have this thing ripped out and replaced by a row of function keys.
Trackpad – 8/10
Apple's trackpads have always been the best, and that's still true. It is unnecessarily big and I find that annoying, but otherwise works just as well as my late 2013 model.
Speakers – 8/10
The new speakers are an absolutely amazing technical feat, by far the best I've heard on any laptop. The stereo separation, bass, clarity, and volume are phenomenal. However, I find them hard to listen to. There's something about the imaging that my brain can't get used to. The bass and mid frequencies are almost too loud and booming. When watching videos, I find speech harder to understand, and I get a slight headache. The stereo balance feels off and biased to the right side. It may be a side-effect of the „force cancelling“ subwoofers. Using a graphic EQ and cutting frequencies <200Hz by ~6dB improves it substantially, but that's annoying: Apple doesn't provide any OS-level way to adjust the EQ on these speakers, and software methods (e.g. eqMac2) introduce latency and are buggy.
Hopefully someone with the right equipment will measure the frequency response and THD to help figure out what's going on here.
Display – 7/10
It's amazing how much of a difference the 15.6″ -> 16.0″ screen size increase does make. I can immediately tell that the screen is bigger and feel constrained going back to the 15.6″ screen.
The colors on this display are fantastic, very vivid. Compared to the 2013 model the color temperature is slightly warmer, and colors appear more saturated, but those are welcome changes. It's also very, very bright at the maximum setting.
My main bugbear here is no improvement in contrast ratio or black levels since the 2013 model. In fact, to my eyes, the black levels appear slightly worse. I hope Apple adopts LED or OLED technology soon to fix this.
Also, it's not native 4K. What the hell, Apple? This is a major blow to any media creator developing 4K content. It's annoying as a media consumer who enjoys watching 4K videos, knowing my videos are being downscaled by a few percent. As a developer, it's not really an issue. This seems like a major oversight, however.
Performance – 10/10
Absolutely no complaints here, this machine is very fast and the thermal management is excellent. The fans are quiet and don't turn on much. I have the i9 2.4GHz model, and I get a Cinebench R20 score of 3200. For comparison, my desktop machine (an i9-9900K) gets around 4800. Pretty good for a laptop, but no desktop replacement for serious work.
Ports and WiFi – 3/10
No WiFi 6. Shocking. Probably nobody will care for a few years, but still, Apple is a year or more behind every other laptop manufacturer here.
The ports. Four USB-C ports. Yuck. No USB-A. There is no excuse here! This chassis is exactly the same dimensions as my late 2013 with two USB-A ports and an SD card reader. This immediately presented a problem – I used a USB-A external HDD to transfer my files from my old laptop, only to discover of course that I could not even plug it in to my laptop. Luckily, I had a USB-A to USB-C adapter included with my Pixel 3 which works nicely, but Apple doesn't even provide one in the box (of course, they sell one for $20). Unbelievably stupid. Almost every peripheral I have uses USB-A, and that will continue to be true for many years, so at least one port would have been useful.
The lack of ports and MagSafe make this laptop look cold and unfriendly, like it just doesn't want to be plugged into anything. „Leave me alone,“ says the MacBook Pro, „I'm going to be as awkward to connect to your peripherals as I could possibly be.“ Perhaps it's a reflection of Apple's closed overall approach to the ecosystem.
Size and Weight – 8/10
This machine is almost identical in form factor and weight to my late 2013 model. That's perfectly satisfactory to me. I don't need my laptop to be wafer thin or impossibly light. This size fits conveniently into a small backpack and just „feels right“ to my hands and eyes.
What is slightly disappointing is that after 6 years, for an equivalently modern specced MacBook, there has been no improvement in either size or weight (except for the larger display, of course).
Looks – 7/10
This is the least important thing for me. I find this laptop ugly compared to the 2013 model. I got the darker shade of gray, and it shows fingerprints and smudges very easily, especially on the track pad. The illuminated Apple logo on the 2013 was a nice touch, but now we have a shiny mirrored, cheap looking Apple logo on the back, which also shows smudges easily. This laptop is going to be hard to keep clean. The gigantic track pad looks plain weird, too, and my hands feel the need to position themselves around it to avoid accidental presses.
Value – 3/10
Here, the machine really falls down. Mine is configured with various upgrades I need as a developer (32GB RAM, 2TB SSD, etc.), and came to a total of $3900. For comparison, an equivalently specified Dell XPS 15 including an upgrade to a real 4K OLED comes to just $2800. A Lenovo P1 Gen 2 with 4K OLED comes to $3020. Both have entirely user replaceable internals, and selecting more basic configurations and doing upgrades yourself would reduce the price.
How can Apple justify such a high price given this laptop's glaring flaws? I could see the price being justified IF all the obvious bugbears above were fixed – if the keyboard was pillowy soft, the display was 4K, there were more ports, the touch bar was actually configurable and adjustable, and so on – but with these flaws, paying $1000+ more than an equivalent PC laptop doesn't make sense.
Overall Conclusions – 5/10
I am genuinely disappointed, and will likely return the laptop before the holiday return deadline in January.
I'm considering getting a Dell or Lenovo laptop with an OLED panel instead, either going the Hackintosh route, or switching primarily to Windows and using a VM to run Mac OS when needed for development purposes. I may even just keep using my ancient 2013 MBP. Apple seems to have permanently lost its way when it comes to laptops.
Pros: bigger display, improved keyboard, very good speakers, excellent performance and thermals.
Cons: keyboard still sucks, no 4K, touch bar is a disaster, poor selection of ports, very poor value.