Apple’s MacBook Pros present a conundrum. On the one hand, the iconic design is a few years old, yet they still command your attention because they’re the best looking laptops made today. Plus, they continue to pack a lot of power into that sleek format. On the other hand, the drawback of trying to pack so much into such a small format is compromise.
The biggest compromise of all has been the butterfly keyboard that resulted in an uncharacteristic high level of dissatisfaction even from Apple’s most devoted fans. Now, however, the newest MacBook Pro tries to fix some of those compromises.
Here’s how the 16-inch and 13-inch MacBook Pros compare, and which you should choose:
This is hardly a fair comparison, but let me start by saying that I use the 2019 13-inch MacBook Pro as my primary laptop (though I actually prefer my iPad Pro most of the time). The smaller MacBook Pro is plenty powerful, with an option to upgrade to the eighth-generation 2.8 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7. That seems pretty powerful (and it is) until you realize that the 16-inch version allows you to choose the ninth-generation 2.4GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 processor, with turbo boost up to 5.0GHz.
The 16-inch version is clearly designed for people who need professional-grade power on the go. Video editors, photographers, and designers won’t have to compromise in any way in terms of processing power.
The greatest feat here is that Apple managed to put a 16-inch display inside the same form factor as the previous version by reducing the bezel in a dramatic fashion. And the screen is beautiful with a native resolution of 3072-by-1920. That’s not 4K, which will be a disappointment to some because there are PCs that already feature that resolution.
But, we’re not comparing this to PCs, we’re comparing it to the 13-inch model, which has a 2560-by-1600 native resolution. The smaller screen actually has a higher pixel density, though only by a smidge. Either screen is going to perform well with P3 wide color, 500 nits of brightness, and Apple’s True Tone technology. Really, the only question is how much of that screen do you need?
Another of the most dramatic changes to the new flagship laptop is that it has abandoned the controversial butterfly-keyboard. That keyboard has been around since 2015 and has garnered more criticism for Apple than just about anything it has created.
The change to the Magic Keyboard in the 16-inch model actually accounts for the slightly thicker body, which may be the surest sign that the Jony Ive period is over at Apple. It even gives you back the escape-key.
If you’ve grown used to the butterfly keyboard, that’s what you still get on the 13-inch model, though the newest model there has been slightly improved by adding a layer of silicone that is supposed to quiet the key action and prevent debris from getting under the keys.
The difference in the size of the batteries is actually pretty substantial, though the end result is much different. The 16-inch packs a 100 watt-hour lithium battery, while the 13-inch has a 58.2 watt-hour version. Despite that size difference, the former only gains about an hour of use over the 10 hours you get on the smaller laptop. That’s largely due to the amount of power used to drive that larger display, as well as the high-performance processors.
Despite the fact that the new 16-inch model is still a pretty slim option for such a large display, there’s no question that the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best option if what matters is carrying it with you. In fact, that model is barely a quarter-pound heavier than the MacBook Air, coming in at a shade over 3-pounds. Unless you need to retouch photos or edit and color correct 4K video in the field, the 13-inch is a far more portable option with plenty of power.
The entry-level 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,399, compared to the 13-inch versions starting price tag of $1,299. Those numbers are quite deceiving though when you start to compare them on specs. The 16-inch includes a minimum of 512 GB of SSD storage and 16 GB of RAM. If you price out a 13-inch with those specs, you’re looking at at least $1,899 and that still only gets you a 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5.
In fact, the pricing for the 13-inch doesn’t make much sense when you try to spec it close to the 16-inch. If you upgrade to the fastest processor, the 2.8GHz quad-core i7, you’re actually looking at $2,499, which is more than the comparable 16-inch version. Then again, the 16-inch gets pricey very fast if you upgrade the storage or RAM. The top-end version will run you more than $6,000 for 8TB of storage, 64 GB of RAM and the fastest processor.
If high performance and enormous storage capacity are a requirement and cost is not a high concern, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is a no-brainer. You can’t get a more powerful overall laptop right now, especially compared to the 13-inch model.
On the other hand, for most people, the 13-inch is a better buy considering that it’s a much more portable device that still packs enough power for just about anything you might want to throw at it. It’s far easier to stash in your backpack, is light enough to carry around, with enough battery to work all day even when you’re away from an outlet.