Is it Finally Worth It to Upgrade to the 2019 Macbook Pro?
Apple’s Macbook Pro line hasn’t been in the best of states. What used to be a mark of Apple’s excellence has been soiled with a few missteps along the way. We’re currently on the 4th generation of the Macbook Pro, and we’ve been stuck with the same design principles since 2016.
Many Apple users have been hoping for an update to the Macbook Pro’s design. Since its inception, the 4th generation Macbook Pros have had widespread keyboard issues due to the butterfly switch design. Apart from that, the lack of ports and upgradability has been a common complaint, and the Retina display’s excellent visuals are marred with thick bezels that seem at odds with the otherwise modern aesthetic.
Even worse, the 2018 Macbook Pro suffered from thermal throttling issues. Turns out an ultra-thin chassis isn’t conducive for a 6-core i9 processor. While the marketing materials claimed a maximum clockspeed of up to 4.8Ghz, users found themselves averaging below the advertised minimum!
While firmware updates have attempted to remedy the issues, there’s only so much one can do without changing the hardware. As such, many hoped the 2019 update would be the paradigm shift people wanted.
So, is the 2019 Macbook Pro finally worth the update? Let’s find out.
Specs and Variants
Straight out of the box, the 2019 Macbook Pro looks exactly the same as its 2018 counterpart, even down to the unboxing process. However, looks can be deceiving.
The often-berated keyboard has been iterated upon yet again, this time switching up the materials used to combat the consistent problems. Whether or not these fixes work remains to be seen, though this laptop is also included in the Apple keyboard replacement program, meaning you at least have a free safety net to fall back on.
The Retina display is still excellent here, and it has added True Tone support, which adapts the screen’s colours based on ambient lighting. While the wide bezels are still jarring, the display itself still manages to deliver beautiful visuals with 500 nits brightness and a splendid 2,880 x 1,800 resolution.
Apart from that, the main differences lie in the internal hardware. The top-of-the-line version of the 15” Macbook Pro can now have an 8-core i9 processor, 32GB of DDR4 RAM, and a Radeon 560X or Vega 16. On paper, these specs mean a significant upgrade in performance, but as last year’s model has shown, actual real-world performance is what truly matters.
Surprisingly, Apple fixed the new 2019 model. Naturally, the i9-9980HK won’t ever hit the advertised Turbo speeds of 5.0GHz, not without a completely overhauled cooler, but performance here is significantly improved across the board, never falling below the advertised speeds.
The firmware updates to the 2018 model achieve the performance fixes through under-volting, a self-explanatory process where less power is supplied to the CPU, resulting in lower temperatures and power-draw. The same process is replicated natively in the 2019 Macbook Pro.
Combine this with other under-the-hood improvements, and the Macbook Pro performs admirably in all tasks.
What’s the catch? Well, the processor is more geared towards short bursts of work, rather than extended periods of activity. This results in slowdown when repetitive tasks are done, specifically when said applications aren’t optimized for multithreaded performance.
Also, it’s worth noting that performance benchmarks show significantly better results on native Mac OS. Running the same benchmarks on Windows through Bootcamp show decreased performance. This could be due to the previously mention undervolting settings being Mac OS specific, so keep this I mind if you’re a Bootcamp user.
Regardless, no matter what you do, chances are the 2019 Macbook Pro will give you significant performance gains. Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Lightroom, Logic Pro… Everything runs faster, and if you’re after Mac-based system with uncompromising performance, this is the way to go.
Let’s be honest, you can get the same amount of computing power for less by going with Windows, but Apple products often come with excellent build quality and a certain experience that justifies the Apple-tax.
Despite our previous complaints about the outdated design cues on the Macbook Pro, there’s no denying the terrific design. The Macbook Pro is still one of the best slim form-factor notebooks out there, with an aluminium chassis that has zero flex even with force applied.
The trackpad is also the largest you can get on a laptop, and is very responsive, arguably one of the best trackpad experiences you can get. The keyboard might feel like a downgrade to the 2013-era Macbook Pros, but that’s down to personal preference. While we can’t attest to the butterfly switches’ durability, they do feel solid with a decent amount of tactile feedback and travel despite their size.
The OLED touchbar was a feature no one asked for, but it’s here, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll ever use it. Similarly, the limited amount of ports were another unaddressed complaint. The early adoption of USB C ports was bemoaned in the past, but in 2019, it turns out to be a good decision.
The soldered-on SSD presents a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, its arguably the fastest SSDs you can find on laptops, which is great. Yet, the flipside is that you can’t replace it. Originally, this was remedied with a Lifeboat port, allowing you to access your files even after a catastrophic motherboard failure. This port is no longer present as of 2018, which means you’ll need to rely on Time Machine for your backups.
Speaking of backups, Time Machine is reliable and excellent, and thanks to the T2 security chip, all your files will be encrypted for security and privacy. Regardless, I’m still not too happy with the trade-off here, and would like the peace of mind that comes with on-demand access.
The Macbook Pro line began life as a laptop for professionals who needed the power, and as we’ve discussed above, 2019’s 15-inch variant delivers on that promise beautifully.
However, there is also a 13-inch Macbook Pro that comes with a similar design but different specs. The configurations max out with a 4-core i5 processor, 8GB of DDR3 memory, and integrated Intel graphics. While these specs aren’t as incredible as those on its bigger brother, there is something worth considering.
If you’re after a thin and light laptop, this could be the choice. This variant of the Macbook Pro has a slimmer height than the latest Macbook Air (though the Air’s wedge-shape might seem misleading). Even when compared cost-wise, the negligible price difference makes the Pro a valid choice.
As for why we've devoted more focus to the 15-inch, it's because of the massive improvements its brought over since last year's disasterous launch. The 13-inch Macbook Pro was perfectly alright the way it was, and the minor upgrades to the 2019 variant are subtle at best.
In conclusion regarding the Macbook Pro variants, go with the 15-inch for power, and the 13-inch if you’re after portability (though don't rule out the Macbook Air from your selection).
The 2019 Macbook Pro is an excellent entry to the series, and is at the time of writing, the 15-inch version is the definitive Apple laptop, and is definitely worth the upgrade if you’ve been holding off for a while. The amount of power you’re getting is impressive, and the optimizations help justify the Apple product premium in this case. A word of advice though, don’t bother with the extra-large SSD sizes, those just increase the price to ludicrous amounts ($10,000+ for a laptop is just unreasonable).
Of course, this still depends on whether you need/want the upgrade. If you’ve already got a main workstation computer for heavy workloads, there’s no real need to upgrade. Similarly, you can also find better deals if you can live with Windows.
Also, it might be worth waiting for the inevitable design refresh. People are theorising a redesign as soon as 2020, so if you can afford to wait, why not?
Overall, the 2019 Macbook Pro is excellent. Specs and build quality are spectacular, and are well worth the money. Minor complaints aside, this is the best 4th generation Macbook Pro ever made. If you were waiting for an opportunity to jump into the Apple ecosystem, this is as good a time as any.
Answering the question we posed early on, yes, the 2019 Macbook Pro is worth it.
Check out the 2019 Macbook Pro and it’s metascore here. Critics are nearly unanimously pleased with the new Macbook Pro and its improvements to the previous entry in the series. There's no doubt about it, this is hands down the best Macbook you can buy right now.
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