The 16" MacBook Pro - a game changer?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019 at 7:43 PM UTC

After almost 5 years with We4IT it was time to renew my daily driver. I used to use a Lenovo Thinkpad T540p with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. This machine still is quite good. It wasn't as reliable as it should be (external projectors never worked well) and the major problem is the OS: Windows 10. It got better over the past months with all those upgrades but I am still a Mac user. Anyway, for internal reasons I needed a Mac. I used one during the past 6 months in addition for any iOS and XCode related work - which wasn't too much to be honest. But as a full-time macOS user in my spare time I am happy to now using the new MacBook Pro 16". It's just beautiful.

I got the Core i7 model with the middle Radeon 5500 option that ships with 4GB. Storage is more than enough for me: 32GB RAM and 1TB SSD. The main purpose is coding in tools like WebStorm, Android Studio and running VMs with Windows. Notes/Domino Designer is still my main tool that I use, so a Windows VM is mandatory. Since 2017 I use Parallels as I really like the coherence mode and the integration in macOS. I need this as I am going to use a multi-monitor setup. VirtualBox so is not an option - I only use it with one special VM. VMWare Fusion is a tool I never used before. I also have to run several customer-optimized VMs with old Windows versions like Windows 7 - which is quite challenging with the Super Retina display.

The hardware

Hey, this is a MacBook Pro. You know what this means. It's sturdy, very well crafted, the display is awesome, the SSD is ridiculously fast (2.5-3 GB per second). The "new" feature on this machine is the keyboard which Apple called "the new Magic Keyboard". For f***s sake, this is nearly the keyboard we loved until 2015 when Apple dropped it. It's using the old scissor mechanism instead of the bad butterfly one. It has more key travel and an overall better tactile feedback. It almost feels like my MBP from early 2013 - and it sounds like it, too. As I am working with IBM/HCL Notes, I really appreciate the dedicated ESC key :-) I don't care about the touch bar which seems to be always built-in with new MacBooks. I don't use it. One thing still is very old-fashioned: the camera. It's good enough for Facetime but, Apple, why the hell don't you integrate at least a 1080p camera for small video captures?

Software

Catalina is quite good though it has its problems. I updated also my old MBP to it and it worked quite well, but if I had to choose for the new one, I'd have chosen Mojave instead. Of course the new MBP comes with Catalina pre-installed. One killer-feature is Sidecar though - I love to use it with my iPad Pro! A second display while traveling is so great! I used Duett before but Sidecar is better and faster.

Sound

I also use music production software in this machine. I didn't do that much yet but from what I heard from the internal speakers blowed my mind. These are by far the best sounding speakers in a laptop that thin.

The "Pro" - or not

This new model claims to be more "Pro" than ever. The battery is the biggest ever built into a laptop with nearly 100 Wh - the highest allowed on flights. The charger also is the biggest available (96W) to charge this baby. I currently testing the battery with running Netflix constantly. After about an hour I can tell that you might be able to watch Netflix stream for about 5h - which is not that much than I expected. The fans are not even spinning but streaming seems to drain the battery.

I guess the real "Pro" comes with higher equipped models that creators use for video production, rendering or other media-centered usage. For video production I use my iPad Pro 12.9 from 2018. I don't have Final Cut Pro. I did not test it with Ableton or Machine, yet.

What is still missing to be a "pro" device in other usage scenarios: an eSim option (or a real SIM card slot) to always stay connected like you do with all your iOS devices. I really would appreciate the same connectivity as I have with my iPads when I need it.

Some users claim that there is no SD card reader. I am not a content creator with video data but I fully understand that. There is room enough in the big model to integrate the SD card reader. Instead you have to deal with USB-C dongles.

USB-C is also a good point: I really like this kind of "standard" but the way Apple integrates it is far from being optimal. After 6 months of using the MacBook Pro 13" model and the USB-C for charging is up showed me the weaknesses: the port is somewhat "worn-out", the plug does not stick there tight anymore. I hope this is just a mechanical issue and not an electrical one at some point. I don't know if this is a general issue with this plug or if it's just Apple's way to design hardware.

What's next?

I expect an updated 13" model for 2020 with the "new" old keyboard, Radeon 55xx cards and the fast SSDs - which then may be a 14" model. I really love the form factor of the small MacBook Pro (I am typing this text on it despite the crappy keyboard). Make it thicker and heavier like the 16" model, we can live with that. Who knows, maybe we will get the 17" class back one day. It wouldn't be the worst decision.

Price

This device is not cheap. The model I got is about 3500 bucks. I don't think it's too expensive but you might get Windows based laptops that are cheaper. It's all about the ecosystem, the design and the quality of materials used. I've never seen a device with that kind of high quality in materials and build strength - except for the USB-C ports. You have to appreciate the SSD speed, the graphics built in and the display which is one of its kind.

Resume

I really love the new machine. It took about 10 hours to set up everything I need (I installed and copied approximately 500GB of stuff here). Some fine tuning is still needed and the dock I got today has to be installed to drive my dual monitor setup. I will proceed during my winter holidays and start over completely in the next year.






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