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[LONG READ w/ TL;DR] Macbook Pro 16 Review for Business Users: great device but not for all business users
I own and run a small digital & technical transformation consulting firm. My own workflow consists of heavy PowerPoint usage (strategy decks, investment decks, analyses, research, senior executive-level presentations, etc.), Adobe XD (more focused on reviewing & signing off on prototypes developed by my UI/UX team), Excel (financial modeling, financial model reviews), Word (writing/editing/review contracts, proposals, memos, and other documentation), Messaging (email, WhatsApp, Zoom, etc.), and relationship management (client interactions, presentations, workshops, etc.). Due to the nature of my work I’m quite mobile within the day, usually moving between 2-3 locations to meet with clients and their teams.
I generally prefer having the best value in the high-end at the time of purchase — I have a couple of mechanical keyboards (my daily driver is a KBD75 with Kaihl Navy Switches which I use at home), a high-end gaming desktop (Core i7-6700K + GTX 1080 Ti bought in 2017, hopefully business does well so I can upgrade!), and a 34” ultrawide Acer Predator X34. I’m iOS/Android & Windows/Mac agnostic; I’ve heavily leaned towards Windows/Android until the past 2 years. More aligned now with Mac/iOS these days given that my wife is on it.
Past MacBook Experience
I’ve been a Windows ultrabook user until my job switch in January 2018. The company-issued device was a 13” MacBook Pro. I moved to a sister company towards the end of 2018 and requested for a 15” MacBook Pro. When I started my company Q4 last year (2019) I bought myself this 16” MacBook Pro.
Model Being Reviewed: Base Model MacBook Pro 16
Final Thoughts: By itself, the MacBook Pro 16 is a great device, but it’s not the right laptop for all types of business users. It is an expensive yet effective tool for users that work with workflows that require as much information on-screen at any given time and want to have a desktop-like experience wherever their work takes them. The huge screen armed with the amazing Spaces feature, excellent trackpad, and iCloud will help keep you productive and focused on the tasks at hand.
- Form Factor: Business-friendly aesthetics, solid chassis, size increase imperceptible
- Screen: Very readable and perfect for having as much information & usable area on-screen
- Software & Hardware Usability: Spaces is a great tool to hack complex workflows, iCloud perfect for switching between devices (regardless of OS), trackpad is the best on a laptop, new keyboard is 'mechanical-like', great microphone
- Content Consumption: Screen is great for high-resolution video, speakers the best on a laptop, can handle AAA games on 1080p and older AAA games at 4K
- Form Factor: Not recommended for ultra-mobile users or those with shoulder problems
- Software & Hardware Usability: Prepare to lose your Microsoft Office shortcut muscle memory if you're used to Windows, Touch Bar still pretty useless, poor camera, must have dongles always
- Price: Expensive compared to Windows alternatives (but we all know this already)
Form Factor: Aesthetics, Build Quality, Weight
Generally, the MacBook Pro in Space Gray looks like very serious machine. Same color throughout the device, looks very professional. No fancy/crazy design elements — bringing this to clients reduce the tendency of being perceived as a nerd/geek (this would be a compliment to me personally, but not so much within the industry). The visceral reaction to when I see someone else pull out the 16” inch device is ‘This guy probably works a lot’.
The build quality is very solid, stable, and strong, which is to be expected for Apple devices. Plop it down on a desk, and it generally transforms the area in front of you and beside you into a legit ‘work space’. I think this has something to do with the Macbook’s ability to cover up your field of view compared to 13” form factors. You also see & feel so much more ‘working' space beside your hands and wrists.
Comparing it to my old MacBook Pro 15, the slight increase in size is generally imperceptible, except when you fold and pick it up. And yes, it feels slightly chunkier compared to the previous model it replaces.
In terms of weight, it’s quite heavy but I’ve learned to deal with it. It's a problem when your role requires you to move around frequently with your laptop in tow - closing, packing, and carrying this becomes a chore. To carry this around comfortably, it’s best to use a backpack (which I do). However, if you use a sling/messenger bag you’re definitely going to feel some pain on the shoulder if you carry this along with documents, chargers, & other personal effects. If you use a briefcase, expect to switch your carrying hand frequently.
Another problem when it comes to mobility is that you'll always need to have a dongle on your person all the time. Most Windows laptops will have an HDMI or VGA port, but the MBP 16 doesn't. Be warned: there have been times where I cause a 10-minute delay in a meeting with a C-level executive because they needed to find me an adaptor.
In summary, this is a solid, stable, and super professional-looking device that comes with a weight penalty (of course YMMV). If you have shoulder problems (e.g. tension headache) or prefer a light device that allows you to conveniently & easily move around, I wouldn’t recommend this device.
The MBP 16 is best suited for mobile professionals who like/need to do serious/deep work in whatever workspace they may be — its form factor helps you get into the ‘zone’.
I’m a bit picky with displays - I’ve been spoiled by my 1440p 34” ultrawide. Since I’ve been using my ultrawide display at home, I’ve preferred having screen space more than portability given the productivity gains.
Readability is top notch, screen can get very bright, and the colors pop. Subjectively, I think this display is even more vibrant than my ultrawide. All in all it’s a nice display to keep your eyes glued to for hours.
What I find most useful is the space that this screen size affords. I like having at least 2 windows open on screen. Briefly switching to my wife’s MacBook Pro, I found it very hard to configure it to my preference — while you can resize windows to achieve the same configuration, it comes with text/image warping or you have to resize the fonts which makes text harder to read comfortably.
Some samples of my configuration below:
As you can see, super comfortable having a browser open for research, notes, and editing a deck. Shaves off valuable minutes when you’re rushing to push out deliverables for your clients.
I have my iMessage and Franz apps side by side, giving me access to my iMessages, SMS, WhatsApp, and FB messenger after a 4-finger slide. My Zoom and Viber windows are also easily accessible behind the main windows.
Mail & Calendar
My mail and calendar configuration allows me to read mail comfortably, check my schedule without extra clicks, and reply easily. Some people may be saying that this is over-optimizing (‘a few clicks more wouldn’t hurt!’), but a big part of my job is orchestration & relationship management, which requires quick & strategic communication. Having X clients with 2-3 projects each, all in different stages, it is very important for me to have as much information on screen so I can communicate with impact in less time & disruption to focus.
The bigger screen helps me review and comment on Adobe XD with minimal warping. Makes it easier to imagine it in a full browser.
I can easily review documents side by side for a comparative analysis while still having comments visible.
The screen and size is excellent overall. If you like optimizing your workflow, having the most usable space, and do semi-creative work, the screen is perfect for your needs. However, if you’re not the type to care about having to switch windows and don’t utilize large-screen productivity hacks, this is not for you.
General Usability (Software (MacOS, Microsoft Office Suite, iCloud, others) + Hardware (trackpad, keyboard, Touch Bar))
Disclaimer: Some of the points that I’ll make here, particularly on software, may apply to Macs in general, and not just for the MBP 16”. This section also comes from a person who uses both Windows and MacOS on a daily basis.
I believe MacOS, plus its accompanying software and 3rd party versions has its pros and cons. You get some productivity gains and you lose some as well.
The first feature that I absolutely adore is the very intuitive Spaces functionality. My approach is to make sure that each Space has a specific high-level function. My configuration has a Space dedicated for each: Instant Messaging/Calls (iMessage, Franz, Zoom, Viber), Notes (Evernote), Browser (Chrome with X tabs), Productivity (2 Spaces: Each space has 1 of Excel/Powerpoint/Word + Finder)
My configuration gives me 2 primary productivity gains: it reduces multiple cmd + tab presses by replacing it with one to two 3-finger swipes and less short-term mental memory usage.
For the former: unfortunately the cmd + tab function is inferior to Windows’s own alt + tab. Upon pressing cmd + tab, it doesn’t display screenshots of open windows but just shows live programs. However, the Spaces functionality more than makes up for it. If I was to, say, reference another window for something I’m working on, I just have to swipe once or twice to the left or right. If it’s already open, I find it immediately. If I have multiple windows open, I immediately follow up with an upward 3-finger swipe to activate Mission Control.
For the latter: The core principle behind this is ‘chunking’ and force-multiplied by Spaces. If I need to message somebody, I don’t need to tap the program or cmd + tab and pay attention, derailing my focus. I just use my habit of swiping to my Messages space where my messenger apps are already front and center. Same with the other use cases.
iCloud is another feature that I absolutely adore. I’ve been an avid Google Drive user and use Dropbox to keep old files that I’ve been too lazy to port over to iCloud. I haven’t used the desktop client of Google Drive and not a power of Dropbox, but I have a feeling that these cloud storage services are quite similar. What I am about to say about iCloud may also be possible for GDrive and Dropbox, so please disregard my feedback as you see fit.
iCloud is a big help for my workflow continuity between devices and on the road. It’s simply a drive that just follows me around, no matter what device I use! It’s just so good — when I’m on the office, I’m on my Mac. When I arrive home and still need to put in a few hours, I just sit down on my home desktop and continue working from there. Client calls you saying that he can’t find your latest deck and is about to step into a board meeting in 10mins while you’re in a cab? No problem — head to mail on my iPhone, add file, access iCloud, attach file, and send in less than a minute. Crisis averted!
iCloud is a product that if well-designed and working properly, is something that you shouldn’t notice. And I’m happy to say that I NEVER notice it. It’s so good.
The native Mail client is also preferable to me over Gmail. Its first key feature is that it’s service-agnostic - I can have my Gmail, Outlook, and other accounts on one client. Versus Gmail it’s much better in terms of editing since I have problems with its bullet point functionality. If there’s one feature I’d like to add, it's GMail’s Undo Send: that feature has saved me from sending in mistakes or strongly-worded emails many times.
The biggest negatives in software are the different shortcuts on the Microsoft Office Suite. If you were trained to only use your keyboard for Excel and memorized Powerpoint shortcuts (both on Windows), you’re going to have a hard time. I’ve reached the point where I don’t use Excel with a mouse — everything done on the keyboard. Excel does have some of the intuitive short cuts (cmd + arrow key is equivalent to ctrl + arrow key, etc.), but you’ll have to relearn all the shortcuts. This is made worse by having no dedicated function keys and that the shortcuts are not displayed by hovering the cursor over the buttons.
On Powerpoint, making quick and refined adjustments via shortcuts (e.g. font resize, using the auto align functions, etc.) is not intuitive.
Intuitively I’d say that I’m 40-50% slower in Mac Excel while 10-30% slower in Mac Powerpoint (depending on slide complexity) vs. the Windows version. This has relegated the MBP 16” as a review device for spreadsheets — for actual modeling I use my Windows PC. For PowerPoints, the penalty is acceptable for the advantage of being mobile.
For my own usage, the redeeming factor is the amazing trackpad. Sorry detractors, the MacBook trackpad is the undisputed best trackpad on a laptop so far. It’s very precise and its multi-touch functionality helps offset the problem with shortcuts. Let’s take one of my very common use cases, aligning 2 objects:
Windows: Drag-select both objects, ALT + JD + AA + R
MacOS: 2-finger zoom, drag-select both objects, click Picture Format > Align > Align right
Windows still has the advantage here for me because I’m a touch typist and I can do this across multiple groups mechanically. On MacOS I have to drag my mouse a distance every single time I have to do this across multiple groups, but the precision of the trackpad really helps.
Going back to the trackpad, it’s amazing. The way that it feels to the touch, the haptic feedback when clicking, the size, feeling of precision, it’s the best! Across my 3 MacBooks, I’ve never had to use a mouse.
Moving on to the keyboard. I use Kaihl Navy switches on my home mechanical keyboard that require — if I’m not mistaken — double the force needed to actuate vs. cherry switches. I’d say that the MBP 16” keyboard ‘kind of’ feels like a mechanical keyboard. The travel distance of the butterfly keyboards were a problem because I’m a heavy typist - my fingers start to hurt over an extended typing session because the lack of travel makes it feel like I’m heavily tapping a metal plate.
Comparing this with previous Windows laptop keyboards (my last was the 1st Gen Razer Blade Stealth), this new keyboard is superior. My complaint with the Razer Blade keyboard was that it was mushy and wobbly, probably because I believe it uses a membrane mechanism. The MBP 16” keyboard is very stable and feels consistent even when the key is hit off-center.
The Touch Bar is the most disappointing component from a hardware perspective. I don’t see its utility and ruins my touch-type workflow because you'll have to look down, away from the screen, to use it. For example, I use option + backspace to erase entire words, which is much quicker than looking at the Touch Bar to use the predictive text function. It looks cool but I’d rather have a set of dedicated function keys. Good thing that the Escape key is now physical.
Aside from adjusting volume and screen brightness, the only use I’ve had for it is for emojis. This being said, this is the only time I used the Touch Bar for this review: 😂😂😂
Some other minor thoughts on hardware: webcam is poor and the built-in mic is great.
Let’s not kid ourselves, even business users need to watch some Youtube and Netflix on their downtime (maybe even play a few rounds of Halo). And this is something that the MBP 16” does well.
The screen is phenomenal for watching videos. I also appreciate about that the MBP 16 handles 4K content really well. My 13” MacBook struggles with 4K content and it shows by stuttering and heating up. This machine handles it really well with no excessive noise and heat.
On the gaming side, I haven’t tested it because I’m worried about the productivity hit when I have games on the MBP. I’m more of a AAA gamer but have recently been playing classic shooters and modding them (e.g. Doom, Half Life 2). Since the mentioned games are decades old, this machine will undoubtedly handle it well. For other games, here’s a great Youtube video where the creator tests 7 games on an MBP 16” base model. Looks like it can handle 1080p AAAs and 4K older games on the go.
Finally, this machine has the BEST speakers in the laptop world right now. I usually listen to rap/EDM/progressive metal while working and when I’m alone in the office, I like crank it up. Bass is great (for a laptop) with no discernible distortion at max volume. It can get quite loud - my guess is that it can go to 60-70% of the max loudness of the Bose Soundlink Mini II. While it can be loud, I’ve noticed that playing music via the Spotify Web Player at ~50% loudness causes a significant battery hit.
By itself, the MacBook Pro 16 is a great device, but it’s not the right laptop for all types of business users. While pricing for the specs and form factor is fair, it’s a fact that it is more expensive compared to the base models of Windows alternatives in the category.
Users that are highly mobile and sensitive to the weight of their backpacks, briefcases, and messenger bags should consider a Windows ultrabook (e.g. XPS 13), MacBook Air, and the MacBook Pro 13.
If your work primarily revolves around sending emails, building financial models in Excel, and basic Powerpoint & Word, this machine is too expensive to recommend over a Windows ultrabook.
The MacBook Pro 16 is an expensive yet effective tool for users that work with workflows that require as much information on-screen at any given time and want to have a desktop-like experience wherever their work takes them. The huge screen armed with the amazing Spaces feature, excellent trackpad, and iCloud will help keep you productive and focused on the tasks at hand.