The 16" note-taking Machine
I’ve been using a MacBook Pro 16" for about 7 days now, and I think I’m ready to put out some thoughts about this machine.
What do I do with a computer
I’m a software developer, and I do whatever developers do with computers: running software to build… other software.
Specifically I use Jetbrains Goland as my IDE, iTerm 2 as my terminal emulator, Slack for work communication1, Telegram Desktop (AppStore version) and Textual for personal stuff.
Firefox is my choice of world-wide-web browsing program.
I’m also getting back into the iOS development ecosystem, so I’ll sprinkle some Xcode and Simulator.app in there too.
My computing background
I can’t say I’m new to the whole macOS ecosystem.
I possess a late 2013 MacBook Pro Retina 13", not the most powerful machine out there, but it helped me getting stuff done during the almost 7 years of continuous daily usage2.
Apart for macOS-related things, I’ve been a Linux guy for the better part of 15 years, and I still am.
My desktop workstation is what could be referred to as a BFG3, sporting a 16-threads AMD Ryzen 1700X, 16 gigabytes of DDR4 RAM, a 30" 1600p Dell plasma monitor, mechanical keyboard and e-Sports mouse, running either Gentoo or Ubuntu.
Why the 16"?
I bought the base configuration: half a terabyte SSD, 16 gigabytes of RAM, AMD Radeon Pro 5300M 4GB and an unnamed Intel i7 CPU.
The first thing a couple close friends asked me as soon as I told them I pulled the plug on a 2700€4 notebook is why?
Why buying another overpriced Apple notebook instead of going for a more conventional Windows-based notebook? After all, I’m a Linux guy right?
I’m growing “old”, I can’t stand the instability of Linux-based distributions on modern notebooks anymore, and quite frankly Apple did an amazing job with macOS with 10.14 and 10.15.
The 13" Retina MBP I used until last Monday was considerably full of thermal and performance issues5, though.
I remember using 10.8, 10.9 on what supposedly should’ve been top-notch hardware: seeing it thermal throttle just because it was running on non-default retina resolutions didn’t make me happy about what I just bought.
Luckily, the 16" MacBook Pro looks like the complete opposite of what I experienced in the past.
What’s so good about it?
For starters, the 16" display is astonishing for both work and recreational activities.
I’m not a dual/multi-monitor person so the real work benchmark for screen real estate would be how much time I would scream “I NEED A BIGGER SCREEN!” after a long day of coding.
I’m happy to report that a 16" 16:10 monitor with a retina-scaled 1792x1120 resolution is more than enough for me to stop complaining about small notebook screens.
I can get work done on this thing without scrolling too much, or getting blind because of the More Space setting I used to run on the 13".
It’s a great screen to watch movies on, although I’m not that much into video-based entertainment content except for a handful of YouTube channels, so don’t quote me on that.
I’d disable TrueTone if you’re searching for seemingly accurate, reproducible colors though.
What I’m really into is music though and let me tell you, Apple did something truly special with the sound system on this thing.
It’s powerful and detailed at the same time.
Maybe it’s a little bit too heavy on the lower frequencies but to me it’s better than any laptop I’ve ever listened to, even those who sport high-end audio certifications or dedicated subwoofers.
I didn’t had a chance to test the “podcast-quality” microphone array just yet6, but everyone online seem extremely ecstatic.
The keyboard is okay-ish.
I’m used to a mechanical keyboard7 and to old-style Apple keyboards, I’ve expressly avoided 2015-early 2019 ones because I like typing on keys, not simil-touchscreens.
The 16" keyboard is almost identical to the old Apple keyboards in a lot of ways: the travel distance is there, but it’ll never be the same as a first-gen MacBook.
It feels compact in a good way, and it doesn’t seem it will crack or break after enter-smashing it for an entire evening.
esc button is now on its own instead of being embedded in the almighty TouchBar: no more excuses, time to learn Vim.
Battery life is incredible.
I’ve worked with multiple Goland instances running, an entire blockchain network crunching data, with Slack and IRC communicatin' away on a single charge.
This is the kind of machine that will not let you freak out because you left your charger on the kitchen countertop, which is now 30 minutes of public transportations services away.
Performance-wise, I’m not disappointed.
I knew I wouldn’t have the gargantuan power my home workstation would deliver in similar situations, but the machine is capable of getting things done.
It doesn’t seem to throttle as much as my 4th-gen i5 under similar workloads, but that’s expected: a jump from 4 threads to 12, smaller threads is big.
A sweet surprise was seeing that the thermals are well-handled by the two big fans, cooling the CPU and GPU.
I’ve never ever experienced burning legs or fingertips, even in computation-heavy debugging sessions.
This machine is also capable of pushing modern games to medium details at 1080p via BootCamp, assuming one proceeds to uninstall the integrated Radeon Pro drivers and replace them with the latest release from Bootcampdrivers.com.
I’ve been re-playing DOOM 2016 with great joy and never under 85-90 FPS.
There must be something wrong, isn’t it?
Not wrong, rather uncomfortable or puzzling.
The touchpad is big, the biggest trackpad I’ve ever used on a notebook.
I’m a fan of the ThinkPad TrackPoint8 but I like a good trackpad, and this is definitely one of them: glass-made, tracks great and it’s positioned right in the middle, where every tracking device should be.
The issue I have with it is palm rejection: it’s not 100% accurate, and sometimes I can see the pointer moving while typing.
Nothing major, just a small quirk.
What I really cannot understand is the (in)famous Apple TouchBar.
It’s an interesting feature, an OLED screen which can display app-based, context-aware informations.
You could play DOOM on it or even run Linux!
But the thing that the TouchBar does best for me is getting in your way.
More often than not I end up invoking Siri when all I wanted was to press backspace, or invoking a debug build when pressing esc.
To me the TouchBar is a solution seeking for a problem, I can’t think of an action or command that’s easier to do/invoke on it than with conventional keyboard combo.
But it’s also a problem provoking… other problems.
The TouchBar is deeply tied with Apple’s T2 chip, which aims to be the all-in-one solution for the machine’s hardware bus, security and authentication.
This means that running Linux on this machine is harder than ever, since the lack of documentation means a black-box approach for driver development
Not that I would do that anyway, but it’s a thing to keep in mind for the future of macOS: maybe, it’ll get worse with time, and at that point my only hope is to sell this machine.
The only alternative I see out there might be the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Extreme (second generation), which comes out at a nice 2300€ MSRP configured with a 15.6" 1080P IPS display, 16 gigabytes of RAM, an Intel 9th-gen i7, half a terabyte SSD.
Dell’s offering surely looks nice (and cheaper!), but after seeing 4 high-end XPS 13 and 15 fail in a timespan shorter than 2 years, I decided against buying one.
All in all considering what Apple is giving to their customers with this 16" MacBook Pro, I think the “Apple Tax”9 is more than justified, despite some quirks.
This is a solid machine, with solid specs, which inspire… solidity.
As of today, I do not regret buying it.
Tomorrow? Who knows.
sad reactions only. ↩︎
I kick-started my amateur CS:GO career on that thing! ↩︎
in DOOM terms :-). ↩︎
I got lucky and bought it for about 2400€ off Amazon, though. ↩︎
most of which due to bad thermal design on Apple side, although some issues have been mitigated or outright fixed in newer macOS releases. ↩︎
I much prefer inline, high-quality headset microphones, but I might be wrong on this one. ↩︎
click clack, Cherry MX Blue or nothing. ↩︎
a surprisingly low one, this time. ↩︎