You can finally get a MacBook with a totally redesigned keyboard — but it’s going to cost you at least $2,399 (£2,399, AU$3,799). The longstanding rumors about Apple’s newest jumbo laptop were nearly all true. The newest 16-inch MacBook Pro, unveiled Wednesday, finally ditches the flat “butterfly” keyboard that has vexed Apple laptops for the better part of half a decade, replacing it with a back-to-the-future design modeled on the more traditional keyboards used by iMacs for the past several years. “As we started to investigate specifically what pro users most wanted, a lot of times they would say, ‘I want something like this Magic Keyboard, I love that keyboard,”http://www.cnet.com/” Apple’s Phil Schiller said in a conversation with CNET.
The new model fits a 16-inch screen into a body that’s barely bigger than the previous 15.4-inch models. Apple is also throwing in a bevy of spec bumps — better graphics, bigger battery, more storage, better microphones and speakers — and charging no more for the bigger, better Pro than the 15-inch model that it replaces in the line.
But even with that long list of upgrades, the thing I’m most interested in is the keyboard — and I bet you are, too. I’ve only gotten to use the 16-inch MacBook Pro for less than a day, but here are my early thoughts.
Read more: Apple’s Phil Schiller on reinventing the new MacBook Pro keyboard
A familiar Magic Keyboard
MacBooks used to be the pinnacle of laptop engineering: cool unibody designs, great battery life, great keyboards and useful extras like the late, great MagSafe power connector. But that smooth sailing hit choppy weather when Apple introduced its butterfly keyboards starting with the 12-inch MacBook in 2015. The butterfly mechanism — so named for the dual-hinged mechanism under each key — replaced the more traditional single-hinged scissor switch design. The butterfly design offered a flatter profile for the keys, which allowed Apple to lean in to its ultrathin design aesthetic.
But many found the redesigned keyboard offered a less pleasurable typing experience because the flat keys barely moved when depressed. Despite the less-than-enthusiastic reception, Apple extended the butterfly keyboard to the full MacBook line — even as it developed a reputation for being unreliable, with ongoing reports of sticky or nonworking keys. The problems were widespread enough that Apple had to initiate an extended replacement program for the entire line, and iterative modifications to the butterfly design never seemed to fully ameliorate the complaints.
Has the new MacBook Pro finally fixed Apple’s keyboard…
But that’s all over with the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. The new laptop incorporates what Apple is calling the Magic Keyboard, adapted from the namesake Magic Keyboards that have come with iMacs for years. Like those older models, it’s a more traditional — and, presumably, more reliable — scissor switch design. Compared to the recent butterfly models, the 16-incher’s keys are definitely quieter, feel more natural, and have a more generous 1mm of “travel” — so when you depress the key, you actually feel it move. It’s not a total throwback to the pre-butterfly MacBook Pros, though — my 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro at home has smaller keys with even more travel, but those now feel more pillowy to my fingers. Think of the new MacBook Pro keyboard as a happy medium between the two.
The key caps on the new MacBook Pro’s keyboard can be removed and replaced, and it seems like the keyboard could be more easily serviced. But with only a day using the new keyboard, it’s hard to tell how it will do over time. Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro was just updated earlier this year with a butterfly keyboard that Apple claimed was more durable. This new keyboard is an abrupt change, and a clear response to those earlier problems.
And while the new 16-incher keeps the Touch Bar, that mini touchscreen across the top of the keyboard that replaces the function key row, there’s an Escape key at the top left now, in addition to the Touch ID sensor on the right. Apple still seems to think the Touch Bar is an essential part of the Pro experience, but I continue to find it confusing. That’s mostly because the touch controls make me want to touch the screen, and the lack of tactile feedback makes it hard to tap brightness or volume controls while working. But the bar is smaller now. Maybe it will keep shrinking.
In addition to that escape key, traditionalists will also appreciate that the arrow keys on the keyboard’s lower right have reverted to the classic “inverted T” design, which is much easier to navigate by feel.
Thicker and heavier, but wow, those speakers
The 16-inch Pro feels roughly the same size as the older 15-inch model, but it’s actually a tiny bit beefier, at 4.3 pounds (2 kg) and 0.64 inch thick — that’s 0.28 pounds heavier and 0.03 inches thicker than the 15-inch models. Apple claims its brightness hits 500 nits like the previous 15-incher, with DCI-P3 wide color gamut and a 3,072×1,920-pixel resolution (up from 2,880×1,800 on the 15). The bezels are smaller around the edges. It looks great.
The laptop’s also heavier because there’s more battery (100 watt-hour), with a promise of an 11-hour battery life. That gives you an hour more of battery charge in everyday use than the older 15-inch model provided.
The keyboard is inset to accommodate a six-speaker array on the edges that sounds excellent, well above anything I’ve heard on a recent laptop. It’s enough for hosting a party, practically. A new three-microphone setup promises audio recording to rival a Blue Yeti microphone, should you choose to record directly from the MacBook Pro, though I can’t imagine real podcasters or YouTubers forgoing a discrete microphone.
Goodbye, 15-inch MacBook Pro; hello, new graphics
The new 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the 15-inch Pro that was just updated earlier this year, and starts at the same $2,399 price. And while the keyboard is a welcome retro feature, Apple didn’t restore old favorites like USB-A ports or an SD card slot. There are still just four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports — one of which doubles as a power jack at any given time — plus a headphone jack. The 16-inch also uses ninth-gen Intel processors like the 15-inch did, and starts with the same six-core Core i7 processor.
The graphics are better, though, moving to AMD Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M chips (instead of the Radeon Pro 555X in the 15-inch model). This is the first laptop to use AMD’s new graphics card. We’re curious about performance, so stay tuned for tests and benchmarks.
The base-model 16-inch Pro starts with 512GB of storage, up from 256GB, and Apple has configurations ramping up to a crazy 8TB solid-state drive (empty your bank account) and 64GB of RAM (16GB comes standard).
- Silver or space gray
- 16-inch, 3,072×1,920-pixel display
- 2.6GHz six-core Intel Core i7 or 2.3GHz Intel Core i9 (up to an eight-core Core i9)
- 16GB DDR4 RAM (up to 64GB)
- AMD Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M, 4GB GDDR6 memory (up to 8GB)
- 512GB SSD (up to 8TB)
- Four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports
- 100 watt-hour battery
- $2,399 starting price
Will that keyboard show up anywhere else next?
But back to that keyboard. I’m fascinated — and relieved — that Apple has moved away from the butterfly and back to a scissor mechanism. The entry ticket to this keyboard, however, is $2,399. Will Apple introduce this keyboard into other MacBooks, too, and when will it happen? I have no idea, and Apple wouldn’t disclose any concrete plans. But for the time being, Apple’s best laptop keyboard will be held captive inside its fanciest Pro model.
How powerful is it?
Stay tuned for testing, where we’ll learn a lot more. Right now, this looks like an overdue upgrade to Apple’s larger-sized Pro laptop, but maybe not in all the ways everyone was hoping for.
Originally published earlier today.
Update, 11: 57 a.m. PT: Clarifies that the new MacBook’s keys are wider than pre-butterfly keys, and quieter too.