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As had been rumored for months, Apple today redefined the upper end of its laptop lineup with a new version of the MacBook Pro — a 16-inch model with a nearly 6K screen and the internal horsepower to match. But the company saved one big surprise for the official announcement: The new machine replaces its 15-inch predecessor at the same price tag, while bringing major improvements in the video, audio, and keyboard departments.
Available in silver and space gray variants, the new MacBook Pro isn’t quite the wholesale exterior redesign that might have been expected from a new flagship Apple product — instead, it looks a lot like the years-old 15-inch model. The high-resolution 16-inch Retina display is still framed by an obvious black bezel, though it’s noticeably narrower on the top and sides than before, and the bottom chassis is largely similar to prior MacBook Pros, as well.
As compared with the prior 15.4-inch display, which had a native resolution of 2880 by 1800, the new screen has a 3072 by 1920 resolution — just under 5.9 million pixels, compared with slightly fewer than 5.2 million before. Apple has historically touted its MacBook Pro displays as ideal for in-the-field video editing, and this one will have even more room for Final Cut Pro and similar apps. Absent this display is any “XDR” branding: the new screen promises 500 nit brightness and P3 wide color support, but not “extended dynamic range.”
The new machine also boasts substantially upgraded audio: a six-speaker sound system and three “studio-quality” microphones that collectively deliver professional-caliber sonic performance. Audio output is claimed to be both stronger and clearer than in any prior Mac laptop, aided by new noise-cancelling mics that can be used for serious audio recording without the need for accessories.
While the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros have suffered through several generations of failure-prone “butterfly” keyboards, the new model returns to a “scissor” key design that is expected to enhance reliability while increasing key travel from 0.5mm to 1mm and restoring navigational arrow keys in an “inverted-T” shape. Apple is referring to it as a “Magic Keyboard,” just like its standalone accessories, which haven’t been susceptible to MacBook-like failures. Only time will tell whether the new keys fail less frequently than the butterfly versions.
One of the other differences is a tweak to the 15-inch model’s Touch Bar, which previously ran from the left to right edges of the keyboard with a Touch ID sensor on the right. Apple has given the new model a discrete physical Escape key on the left — bowing to complaints from software coders who needed the key to be ever-present — and matched it on the right with a standalone depressible Touch ID sensor. Smaller MacBook Pros don’t physically separate the Touch Bar and Touch ID components.
As with the most recent 15-inch models, users can choose from six- or eight-core Intel Core i7 or Core i9 CPUs — ninth-generation chips — with Turbo Boost speeds up to 5.0GHz. Apple offers the choice of an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU with 4GB of GDDR6 video memory, a 5500M with 4GB of memory (+$100), or a 5500M with 8GB of memory (+$200). The 5300M version promises 2.1 times faster performance compared with the last entry-level 15-inch model, while the 8GB 5500M has a claimed 80% increase over the higher-end 15-inch MacBook Pro. They’re backed by an Intel integrated GPU for improved power consumption when not chewing through video-intensive tasks.
As there were some issues with thermal performance in the last 15-inch MacBook Pros, the new model’s slightly thicker (16.2mm) chassis is said to improve sustained performance with higher-end chips. Apple says it has redesigned the 16-inch model to include a 35% larger heat sink and increase airflow by 28%, enabling the machine to sustain up to 12 additional watt power loads during intense work. The machine also includes a large 100-watt-hour battery, and larger vents than before, though Apple has notably stuck with the old Wi-Fi 5 wireless connectivity standard and a 720p (0.92-Megapixel) video camera, despite stepping up to Wi-Fi 6 and 12-Megapixel front cameras in the latest iPhones.
The new machines also have the option of up to 64GB of RAM (+$800) and 8TB of SSD storage (+$2,400). They’re on sale now, with a 2.6GHz six-core Intel Core i7 model with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage starting at the same $2,399 price tag as the prior 15-inch models. A $2,799 model includes a 2.3GHz eight-core Intel Core i9 chip with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage; the most heavily upgraded version sells for $6,099.
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