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Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) review: a productivity beast that’s not for everyone

BY:

Sangram Rana

APPLE MACBOOK PRO 16-INCH (2023): TWO-MINUTE REVIEW

The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) is both a surprise and exactly what everyone was expecting. Apple surprised everyone by announcing it, along with the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) and Mac mini (2023), in a couple of press releases at the end of January 2023. This wasn’t a fancy launch led by Tim Cook at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino.

But even though the timing and way of the launch were surprising, it wasn’t a surprise that Apple was making a new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) because the last one was so popular and well-liked. After the M2 chip came out last year, it was only a matter of time before we saw the more powerful M2 Pro and M2 Max. Unlike its predecessor, the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) isn’t a complete redesign that sends a shot across the bows of Apple’s competitors, but rather a refinement of the hardware.

On the outside, it’s almost the same as the last model. It has a 16.2-inch screen, a chunky body with a lot of ports (including a full-size HDMI port that now supports up to 8K at 60Hz and a memory card slot), and a FaceTime webcam that can record in 1080p. It also has the same 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display with mini-LED technology and 120Hz ProMotion adaptive refresh rates for smooth and responsive scrolling and movement. But why mess around? This is still the best screen a laptop can have.

On the inside, the new model has either the M2 Pro chip or the more powerful, but more expensive, M2 Max chip. These are two new chips from an increasingly confident Apple that show that the company’s (sometimes criticised) complete control over its hardware and software has paid off, resulting in devices that are powerful and efficient, with the software optimised to get the most out of the hardware.
During my review of the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023), I gave it a lot of different tasks to do, and it didn’t miss a beat. Even when it was on battery life, which caused a small drop in synthetic benchmark results but no noticeable drop in performance, it didn’t miss a beat. With a battery life of over 20 hours, you won’t have to plug this laptop in very often during the day.

The only thing I don’t like about how the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) performs is that the M2 Pro does such a good job that it’s hard to see what the M2 Max could do better, besides maybe getting higher benchmark scores.

If you need a powerful GPU, the M2 Max might be worth it, but for most people, the M2 Pro will be more than enough. In all honesty, the M1 Pro and M1 Max are still very good. In my benchmark tests, the M2 Pro was clearly better than the M1 Pro, but not by enough to make it worth switching from the old model to the new one. It says a lot that Apple mostly compared the performance of the new MacBooks to that of the older Intel-based 16-inch MacBook Pro from 2019.

The price will be a big factor. The MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) starts at $2,499/£2,699/AU$3,999, which is a big investment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But if you have the money and need the power, Apple has made another great product.

APPLE MACBOOK PRO 16-INCH (2023) REVIEW: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) was released on January 17 without any warning, and pre-orders started as soon as the news came out. People who pre-ordered the new 16-inch MacBook Pro will start getting it on January 24, 2023, which is also the day it will go on sale at many stores.

The previous 16-inch MacBook Pro had shipping delays of up to a few months. Some of this could be explained by the fact that it came out at a time when there was both a global pandemic and a global chip shortage, but if you want to get your hands on the new 16-inch MacBook Pro as soon as possible, I’d still suggest ordering sooner rather than later.

As I was writing this review, I checked Apple’s US store and saw that it still promised deliveries by January 24. Hopefully, there will be a lot of stock and there won’t be many shipping delays.

The good news is that the price of the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) isn’t going up a lot between generations. This laptop starts at $2,499 in the US for the base configuration, which includes the M2 Pro chip, 16GB of unified memory, and 512GB of SSD storage. This is similar to the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) M1 Pro version.

If you want more brain power, you can get a version with the M2 Max chip, which has a 12-core CPU and 38-core GPU, 32GB unified memory, and a 1TB SSD for the eye-popping price of $3,499.

As usual, you can upgrade the specs of the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) in different ways, so you can make it fit your needs and your budget. But these upgrades cost money and can make a laptop that was already very expensive even more so.
If you want the top-of-the-line model with 96GB of memory and 8TB of storage space, it will cost you a huge $6,499. Obviously, only the most intensive enterprise-level workloads will need this kind of power.

The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) is even more expensive in the UK, where the base model costs £2,699, which is about $3,315 based on the current exchange rate. And while Apple kept the same launch price for the base model of the 16-inch model in the US as for the previous model, the new model costs £300 more than the previous model, which cost £2,399 when it first came out in the UK.

Even if some of that rise is because the UK’s economy is in bad shape and the exchange rate is bad, it’s still disappointing.

The more powerful model with an M2 Max chip costs £3,749, which is again more than the original M1 Max model, which cost £3,299 when it came out.

In Australia, the base model starts at AU$3,999. When the M1 Pro model came out, it started at AU$3,749. Again, there was an increase, but it wasn’t as big as the one in the UK. The high-end MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) with the M2 Max chip will cost AU$5,599, which is another increase over the M1 Max model, which came out in 2021 and cost AU$5,249.

So, the prices are a bit all over the place. The 16-inch MacBook Pro is made for creatives and professionals who need a lot of power, so it was never going to be a cheap product. However, it is still a big investment that many people should think about carefully before buying. The performance of the previous model really impressed me, so I have no doubt that the performance of this new model will be worth the price.

Even though it’s great that Apple has kept the price the same between generations in the US, it’s too bad that they haven’t been able to do the same in other markets.

APPLE MACBOOK PRO 16-INCH (2023) REVIEW: DESIGN

  • Same design as 2021 model
  • Best screen on a laptop
  • Plenty of ports

From the outside, the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) is the same as the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021). It is 0.66 x 14.01 x 9.77 inches (1.68 x 35.57 x 24.81cm) and weighs 2.2 kg (4.8 pounds) for the M2 Max model (the M2 Pro model is slightly lighter, but not noticeably so).

If you’re already familiar with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, then you know that this is a big, chunky, and heavy laptop. It’s a mobile workstation that’s mostly meant to be used at a desk. If you want something more portable, check out the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023), which has the same specs but is smaller overall.

But it’s good that the new MacBook Pro has the same design as the old one. That’s because the old model fixed some problems I’d had with MacBook Pros in the past, especially with the number of ports they come with.

The MacBook Pro 16-inch comes with three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports, a full-size HDMI port, and an SDXC memory card slot. This is a big improvement over the two USB-C ports that older MacBook Pros came with, and that the MacBook Air (M2, 2022) and MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) still have.

With this variety of ports, you can connect a monitor or projector via HDMI or insert a memory card without having to use an adaptor. When you add in the long battery life (more on that in a bit), this is an impressively portable laptop that you can use to do serious work when you’re moving between offices or studios. In this day and age, when a lot of people split their work time between the office and their home, this can be a real help, since you can use the power of this laptop wherever you go.

Also, the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) is a thick and heavy laptop, but its width and depth are about the same as the MacBook Pro 15-inch, despite having a larger screen. To prove this, I put the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) on top of the 15-inch MacBook Pro I use at work. The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) is a bit thicker (0.66 inches vs. 0.61 inches), but it has a footprint that is very close to the 15-inch model.

When you open up both MacBooks, you can see how this was done: the MacBook Pro 16-inch has much thinner bezels around the screen than the 15-inch model. This makes the MacBook Pro 16-inch look like a much more modern laptop, and it also lets Apple add a bigger screen without making the whole laptop bigger.
As with the previous 16-inch MacBook Pro model and both 14-inch models, the trade-off for the thinner bezel is a “notch” around the webcam that dips down into the screen. When this design came out in 2021, it caused a bit of a stir, with many people saying it was an ugly and distracting choice.

When I reviewed the 2021 models, I didn’t find that to be true at all. Instead, I thought it was a clever way to maximise screen space, and I hardly noticed it in most applications. Two years later, I still agree with what I said then, and the uproar over the notch seems to have died down a bit. It still won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s not as big a deal as it was once thought to be.

The 16.2-inch screen hasn’t changed, which means that this is still the best display you can get on a laptop, period. It is a Liquid Retina XDR display with mini-LED technology. It has a peak HDR brightness of 1,600 nits and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. With P3 wide colour gamut and one billion colours, this is an incredibly bright and colourful display. I used it in an office with a lot of ambient light and strong overhead lighting, and the screen looked great. The bright colours looked lively and real, and the blacks were rich and deep.

At this time of year in Bath, England, there isn’t a lot of bright sunlight, but when I used it outside again, the screen stayed bright and clear.

As for the rest of the design, the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) has a big keyboard that is easy to use. It manages to feel smooth and responsive, and the days of faulty MacBook Pro keyboards seem to be far behind us. As part of my review process, I typed up part of this review using the keyboard, and I had no problems at all. The keyboard is backlit, so even when it got dark and nighttime came, I could still tap away happily.

The keyboard also has a Touch ID button that lets you log in to macOS and pay for things with Apple Pay by putting your finger on top of the button. As usual, the process is quick, accurate (you can set it up the first time you use your laptop), and most importantly, safe.

The trackpad below the keyboard is big and responsive. Many creative people may prefer to use a mouse, but it works well when you need it.

Overall, the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) doesn’t change anything about its design from its predecessor, but to be honest, it doesn’t need to. The ports are great, and it still has the best screen you can get on a laptop. Apple has resisted the trend of adding touchscreen capabilities, but the truth is that you won’t miss it.

Keep in mind, though, that this is a big and bulky laptop compared to the likes of the MacBook Air or Dell XPS 15.

APPLE MACBOOK PRO 16-INCH (2023) REVIEW: PERFORMANCE

The M2 Pro MacBook Pro 16-inch comes with a 10-core CPU that can be upgraded to a 12-core CPU, a 16-core GPU that can be upgraded to a 19-core GPU, 16GB of memory, and 512GB of SSD storage. The M2 Max MacBook Pro 16-inch starts with a 12-core CPU, a 30-core GPU that can be upgraded to a 38-core GPU, 32GB of memory, and a 1TB drive.

The M2 Pro model can be upgraded to 32GB memory, and the M2 Max model can be upgraded to 96GB memory. The M2 Pro has a unified memory bandwidth of 200GB/s, while the M2 Max has a bandwidth of 400GB/s. Both versions can have their storage space increased to a whopping 8TB. If you have enough money to buy the most expensive MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023), you’ll have a very powerful mobile workstation that can compete with powerful desktop PCs. It feels like the time when you had to sit at a desk to do a lot of complicated computing work is over.

On paper, the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips are big improvements over the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips that came with the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021). Apple says that the M2 Pro has 30% faster GPU performance than the M1 Pro and twice the memory bandwidth of the M2 chip, which came out last year.

Apple says that the M2 Max has 30% better GPU performance than the M1 Max because it has more GPU cores and four times the memory bandwidth of the M2. This is why the company calls it the “most powerful and efficient chip for a pro laptop” in the world.

Efficiency is the key word here. It’s a big theme that Apple keeps coming back to when talking about the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, and for good reason: I think this is the main area where Apple has the edge over Intel and AMD when it comes to making chips.

It means that MacBooks with M2 Pro and M2 Max can do a lot without using up a lot of battery power. Most importantly, the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) doesn’t slow down when it’s running on battery power. Other workstation laptops usually go into a lower-powered state when on battery power to save battery life. This means you might get a few more hours of use before you have to plug it in, but performance is slowed down, which can affect any tasks you want to do on the laptop when it’s not plugged in.

Charged MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023)

The good news is that Apple has found a way to get the best of both worlds. When the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) is unplugged and running on battery, the performance doesn’t change much. I used the new 16-inch MacBook Pro both when it was plugged in and when it was on battery, and the performance didn’t change, even when I was doing complex video editing tasks. Even though the benchmarks on the right were done with the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) plugged in, I ran the same tests with it unplugged and didn’t notice much of a difference in performance.

This has led to a very impressive mobile workstation that you can really use while you’re out and about without sacrificing performance.

Because Apple wants its M2 chips to be as efficient as possible, the MacBook Pro 16-inch is almost silent when it’s running. Because the M2 Pro (which was in the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) that Apple sent me to review) is so good at managing how much power it uses, it doesn’t seem to get hot enough to make the fans on the MacBook turn on very often.

This is good news for people who can’t stand the noisy whirring of fans working too hard. It’s especially helpful for musicians, producers, and film makers who need to hear their work clearly and without interference. If you use the three-mic array that comes with the MacBook to make quick recordings or join video calls, there won’t be any background noise from the computer.

When it comes to the mic array, which Apple says is “studio quality,” I found it to be very good, with great noise cancellation, and on par with the array in the 2021 model. Even though you wouldn’t use it for professional recordings, it’s clear enough to record impromptu jams and podcasts, so you don’t have to carry around an external microphone for those purposes.

The six-speaker sound system also has great sound quality and doesn’t sound tinny like some other laptops I’ve used. Again, the speakers won’t replace studio-quality speakers and monitors, but it does mean that the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) can still play sound very well without being plugged into anything. Another important theme is getting things done on the go.

(Image credit: Future)The FaceTime HD webcam as the same 1080p camera as the older model, and it does a good job of making clear video even when there isn’t much light. As with the M1 Pro, I’m sure the M2 Pro has more processing power to help with video quality, but I didn’t notice any difference between the 2021 and 2023 models’ webcams.

The rest of the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023)’s performance is also very good. The model I’m reviewing has an M2 Pro, 32GB of memory, and a 2TB solid-state drive (SSD). Even though I would have liked to try out the M2 Max model (and maybe I will in the future), the M2 Pro model is going to be much more popular with most people because it’s cheaper and offers the performance most people need. The 32GB of memory is also a good choice for most people. For creative people, I’d recommend getting at least 32GB, since the 16GB model is cheaper but not as future-proof.

Apple has done some good things to make it easier for people to fix their own products, but the fact that the memory on the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips is soldered on means that they can’t be upgraded. If you plan to use your MacBook Pro 16-inch as your main work laptop for the next five to ten years (and at this price, you should really think of it as a long-term investment), you should get as much memory as you can afford.

MacOS Ventura is already on the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023), and it feels fast and responsive. Since the M1 chip came out in 2020, Apple has done a great job of encouraging app developers to make versions of their products that run natively on M1 and M2 chips. In 2023, the new 16-inch MacBook Pro came out with a huge number of applications that had been tweaked to run on the M2 Pro and M2 Max, making for a smooth experience (and one I assume Microsoft is envious of, considering its problems with getting both devs and customers to love Windows on ARM). Even though there are still some Mac apps that only work with Intel, Apple’s Rosetta 2 tool comes to the rescue again. Once you instal it, it will run automatically when you load an Intel-only app and make sure it runs on the new hardware with no noticeable slowdown.

I put the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) through a number of real-world tests to see how well it worked while I was reviewing it. I had Safari and Chrome web browsers open with multiple tabs in each, I edited photos and videos in Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro, I plugged in a MIDI keyboard and recorded several multi-track projects in GarageBand and Ableton Live (I won’t call them songs), using virtual instruments and effects from Native Instruments’ recent Komplete Kontrol package, and the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) kept up easily. You can quickly add effects and instantly play them back to see how they’ll look in your finished project without having to render previews. This could speed up your workflow by a lot.

The HDMI port can now handle 240Hz and 4K, and it can handle up to 60Hz and 8K. So, you can connect the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) to any of the best monitors on the market right now and have a great time.

A studio uses a MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023).

Again, though, the built-in screen is the best part. The Liquid Retina XDR display makes your own work and any media you play look great. (While reviewing the MacBook Pro 16-inch, I loaded up Apple TV+ and watched a bunch of shows in a row.) The 120Hz refresh rate of ProMotion keeps apps and macOS Ventura running smoothly. With this screen, it’s especially fun to scroll through pages with lots of pictures and videos. It’s so good that if you choose the 16-inch model over the 14-inch MacBook Pro, you’ll be glad you did. The bigger screen really shows off Apple’s technology and makes the bulkier design worth it.

Even though I haven’t had a chance to test the 14-inch model yet (again, I hope to soon), I think the performance will be pretty close between the two, since they use the same hardware for the most part.

Overall, performance is great, but you don’t need to upgrade if you already have an M1 Pro or M1 Max from 2021.

5 out of 5 for performance

APPLE MACBOOK PRO 16-INCH (2023) REVIEW: BATTERY LIFE

Apple says the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2023) has a battery life of up to 22 hours, which is four hours longer than the 14-inch model (due to a smaller physical battery).

Normally, a claim like that from a powerful workstation laptop would make me roll my eyes and say, “Yeah, right.” However, the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021), which lasted 18 hours and 48 minutes in TechRadar’s battery life benchmark test, gave me high hopes for the new model.

The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) lasted a whopping 19 hours and 39 minutes in the same test, which involves playing a 1080p video file over and over again until the battery dies. With a few small changes, like turning down the brightness of the screen and turning off Wi-Fi and the backlit keyboard, I can easily see it lasting the full 22 hours.

Even though the battery will drain much faster when doing more intensive tasks, this is still very impressive. It beats the 2019 Intel model and pretty much any Windows 11 competitor.

The MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) is charged by a MagSafe charger that snaps into the proprietary port using magnets. This makes it easy to plug in and safe if it gets pulled out. Using that and the large 140W USB-C Power Adapter, the MacBook charges quickly. It took less than an hour for the battery to go from empty to full.

You can also charge the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) with a USB-C cable. This will take longer, but you can use a regular charger if you forget the MagSafe cable at home or at the office.

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