New 16-inch MacBook Pro Sports a Redesigned Scissor-Switch Keyboard

Responding to customer complaints and media mocking, Apple has introduced a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that features improves on its predecessor in several ways, most notably with a scissor-switch keyboard in place of the flaky butterfly-key keyboard. The 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro at the top of Apple’s notebook line and starts at $2399. The 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air remain unchanged.

Apple also announced that the new Mac Pro (starting at $5999) and Apple Pro Display XDR (starting at $4999) will ship in December 2019—we’ll have more details once those are available.

New Keyboard Provides More Key Travel

Apple says the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s new Magic Keyboard features “a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel.” That’s a positive way to say that many people disliked typing on the previous keyboard’s butterfly mechanism. Plus, keys failed frequently, causing Apple to redesign the keyboard multiple times and offer a repair program for out-of-warranty devices.

Although the new 16-inch MacBook Pro still features a Touch Bar with a Touch ID sensor in place of the classic F-keys, another important keyboard enhancement is the return of the physical Escape key and the reinstatement of the traditional inverted-T layout for the arrow keys.

Initial reviews from pundits who received early access to the new MacBook Pro were positive, with several vocal critics of the previous keyboard saying the new one feels the way a keyboard should.

About That 16-inch Display… and Other Displays

You might expect the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s display to be its most notable feature, and it is legitimately bigger, with that 16-inch diagonal measurement and a slightly higher native resolution. That translates to a scaled default resolution of 1792-by-1120, up from 1680-by-1050, so the new MacBook Pro will show more content on the screen than the previous model. And it’s still gorgeous.

To drive that larger screen, the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer both integrated (for better battery life) and discrete (for faster performance) graphics. On the latter side, you can choose from the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4 GB of memory, or the Radeon Pro 5500M with either 4 GB or 8 GB of memory. Those graphics chips simultaneously support up to four 4K external displays or up to two 6K displays.

More Power, More RAM, More Storage

Apple claims the 16-inch MacBook Pro is up to 80% faster than the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, thanks to new 9th-generation processors: the 6-core Intel Core i7 and the 8-core Intel Core i9.

16 GB of RAM is the base level, which is good10 since we don’t recommend any less than that. For those who need a higher RAM ceiling, Apple offers 32 GB ($400) and 64 GB ($800) build-to-order options.

When it comes to SSD storage, the base level is 512 GB, but you can upgrade to 1 TB ($200), 2 TB ($600), 4 TB ($1200), or a whopping 8 TB ($2400).

Radically Better Audio

Apple clearly had audio professionals in mind while designing the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Along with the beefy processors, high RAM ceilings, and massive storage options, all of which will be popular with the audio crowd, the new notebook features significantly improved audio input and speakers.

For input, the MacBook Pro relies on a three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming that Apple claims delivers a 40% reduction in hiss. Podcasters have praised the new mic array, though without suggesting that it competes with dedicated mics.

Equally compelling for anyone who listens to music is the new six-speaker, high-fidelity sound system. Its force-canceling woofers with dual opposed speaker drivers reduce unwanted and sound-distorting vibrations and enable the bass to go half an octave deeper than the previous model. There’s still a 3.5mm headphone jack too.

Slightly Larger Physical Package

Between the larger screen, the six-speaker sound system, and the 100-watt-hour battery that Apple says provides up to 11 hours of battery life, the company had to increase the size of the 16-inch MacBook Pro slightly compared to the previous 15-inch model.

It’s only about 8mm wider and 5mm deeper, which likely won’t be noticeable. However, it also weighs 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg), which is noticeably more than the 4.02 (1.82 kg) pounds of the previous model.

802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 remain standard for wireless connectivity, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer four Thunderbolt 3.0 ports for charging and connectivity. You’ll still need a collection of dongles for connecting to USB-A peripherals, HDMI and DisplayPort monitors, Ethernet networks, and so on.

Price and Availability

You can buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro now, in either silver or space gray. The base model starts at $2399 with 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, and the AMD Radeon 5300M graphics chip. That’s a totally legit Mac, but if you need more power and can pay for it, a maxed-out configuration with 64 GB of RAM and an 8 TB SSD  would set you back $6099.

Note that the 16-inch MacBook Pro ships with macOS 10.15 Catalina and almost certainly cannot be downgraded to 10.14 Mojave.

Frankly, this new MacBook Pro is a solid upgrade, particularly for those who have been delaying due to the problems with the butterfly keyboard. The only real problem is that the smaller, lighter, and less expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are still saddled with that keyboard. We hope 2020 will bring the redesigned scissor-switch keyboard to those models as well.

(Featured image by Apple)

Get a Higher Wattage Power Adapter to Charge Your iPhone/iPad Faster

By default, most iPhones and iPads ship with Apple’s tiny 5-watt power adapters. They work, but not quickly. However, the iPhone 8 and later, all models of the iPad Pro, and the most recent iPad Air and iPad mini models support fast charging when connected to higher wattage power adapters. You may have an older one of these around, or you can buy a new one. Apple has bundled with iOS devices or sold 10-watt, 12-watt ($19), and 18-watt ($29, USB-C) power adapters, and the company has also produced 29-watt, 30-watt ($49), 61-watt ($69), and 87 or 96-watt ($79) USB-C power adapters for Mac laptops. Plug your compatible iPhone or iPad into one of these chargers with an appropriate cable (for a USB-C charger, you’ll need a USB-C to Lightning Cable, $19), and it will charge significantly more quickly. Look for a wattage rating on the adapter itself, or multiply the output volts and amps together to get watts.

(Featured image by Matthew Henry on Unsplash)

What Does Having a T2 Chip in Your Mac Mean to You?

If you own an iMac Pro, or a Mac mini, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro model introduced in 2018 or later, your Mac has one of Apple’s T2 security chips inside. On the whole, having a T2 chip in your Mac is a good thing, thanks to significantly increased security and other benefits, but there are some ramifications that you may not realize.

What Is a T2 Chip?

Let’s step back briefly. In late 2016, Apple introduced the T2’s predecessor, the T1, in the first Touch Bar–equipped MacBook Pros. The T1 offered three primary capabilities:

  • Management of the Touch Bar’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor and storage of sensitive biometric information
  • Integration of the System Management Controller, which is responsible for heat and power management, battery charging, and sleeping and waking the Mac
  • Detection of non-Apple hardware

The T2 builds on the T1’s foundation, adding four more important capabilities:

  • Real-time encryption and decryption of data on built-in SSDs
  • Support for invoking Siri with “Hey Siri”
  • Image enhancement for built-in FaceTime HD cameras
  • Optional protection of the Mac’s boot process to prevent it from starting up with an external drive

All these functions become possible because the T1 and T2 are essentially separate computers inside your Mac, much like the A-series chips that power iOS devices. They have their own memory and storage, and run an operating system called bridgeOS that’s based on watchOS.

Some of these features enhance performance by offloading processing (like enhancing FaceTime HD and listening for Siri) to a separate chip. Others increase security by ensuring that they can’t be compromised by an attack, even if macOS itself has been infiltrated.

How Does a T2 Chip Increase Your Security?

There are four basic ways that the T2 chip increases security, two of which apply only to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models.

Secure Boot

The T2 chip ensures that all the components involved in the Mac’s boot process, including things like firmware, the macOS kernel, and kernel extensions—can be cryptographically verified by Apple as trusted. That prevents an attacker from somehow inserting malicious code at boot and taking over the Mac.

There are two gotchas, however. First, Secure Boot trusts only code that’s signed by Apple, with one exception: a specific bootloader signed by Microsoft to enable Windows 10 to work with Apple’s Boot Camp technology for running Windows on a Mac. That means you can’t boot from Linux in Boot Camp, for instance.

Second, with Secure Boot in its default settings, you can’t boot from an external drive at all. That’s great for security but can make troubleshooting internal drive problems tricky. To control these settings, Macs with T2 chips have a Startup Security Utility available in macOS Recovery (boot while holding down Command-R). You can use it to allow booting from an external drive for troubleshooting reasons and to turn down security if you need to install an older version of macOS or install macOS without an Internet connection available.

Encrypted Storage

Because the T2 contains both a crypto engine and the SSD controller, it enables on-the-fly encryption and decryption of all data stored on the internal SSD. It uses the same technology as FileVault and requires a password at startup. Macs with internal hard drives and external hard drives don’t receive the T2’s protection but can still be encrypted via FileVault.

The big win from the T2 encrypting all stored data is that there’s no way to decrypt the data without the password—as long as your password can’t be guessed, there’s no reason to worry about your data if your MacBook Pro disappears. The potential downside here is that it’s impossible to recover data from a damaged Mac without the password.

The T2 chip also controls what happens with failed password attempts. Fourteen tries are allowed without delays, and then tries 15 through 30 are permitted with increasingly long delays (1 hour between tries for the last three). After that, more attempts are possible, but after 220 total attempts through various approaches, the T2 chip will refuse to process any requests to decrypt data, rendering it unrecoverable. In short, back up your data!

Touch ID

The T2 chip manages the Touch Bar’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor that lets you log in to your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro without entering your password. Even so, the password is required after turning the Mac on or restarting, and the Mac also requires the password if you haven’t unlocked it in 48 hours, if you haven’t provided the password in the last 156 hours and used your fingerprint over the previous 4 hours, or if the fingerprint read fails five times.

Mic Drop

This isn’t exactly related to the T2 chip, but all T2-equipped MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models feature a hardware disconnect that disables the microphone whenever the lid is closed. That prevents any software from turning on the mic and eavesdropping on you. No disconnect is necessary for the FaceTime HD camera when the lid is closed because its field of view is completely obstructed in that position.

So there you have it. The T2 chip significantly increases the security of your Mac, but it comes with tradeoffs that make it harder to boot from external drives or run other operating systems.

(Featured image modified from an original by ahobbit from Pixabay)

Winter Weather Warning: Keep Your Tech Toasty!

When it’s cold out, you can always throw on a sweater to stay warm. But your electronics are more reptilian—they can get sluggish or even fail to work in freezing weather. (No, that’s not what iPod Socks were designed to fix.) Worse, charging batteries at low temperatures or moving tech gear between extreme temperature ranges can cause damage.

There’s a difference between temperatures your devices can withstand when you’re actively using them and when they’re just being stored. Manufacturers usually publish the environmental requirements for devices, though it may take a little searching to find the details. Here are the ranges for the devices you’re most likely to care about:

  • iPhone/iPad: Operating temperatures from 32° to 95° F (0° to 35° C) and nonoperating temperatures from −4° to 113° F (−20° to 45° C)
  • MacBook (Air/Pro): Operating temperatures from 50° to 95° F (10° to 35° C) and storage temperatures from −13° to 113° F (−25° to 45° C)

It’s easy to imagine wanting to use an iPhone in temperatures below freezing or a MacBook outdoors on a crisp autumn day. And in fact, they probably won’t stop working entirely. After all, putting your iPhone in your pocket next to your body will keep it warmer than the outside air, and it will take a while to cool down. But you shouldn’t be surprised by crashes, shutdowns, or other unusual behavior if you do use your device below its recommended operating temperature for a while.

Batteries Hate Working in the Cold

The main problem is that batteries prefer to be used in moderate temperatures (they hate heat even more than cold). When batteries get cold, they appear to discharge more quickly. That’s because the chemical reactions that generate electricity proceed more slowly at lower temperatures, and thus produce less current. The weak discharge fools the device’s power management circuitry into thinking that the battery is nearly dead; hence the shutdowns. Once your device has had a chance to warm up, the battery should revive.

However, don’t charge batteries when it’s very cold, as in −4° F (−20° C). Doing so can cause plating of the graphite anode in the battery, which will reduce battery performance.

Other Technologies That Dislike Cold

Two other standard bits of technology don’t like operating in the cold either: hard drives and LCD screens.

Hard drives aren’t nearly as common as they used to be, particularly in laptops that are likely to be left outside in cold cars. Most have a minimum operating temperature of 32° F (0° C), and you’re unlikely to want to use a laptop in temperatures lower than that. In very cold temperatures, the lubricant inside the drive can become too viscous to allow the motor to spin up the platters. Although solid-state drives have no moving parts, most are rated for the same minimum operating temperature, oddly enough.

LCD screens can also have problems. Extreme cold can slow their response times, leading to slow or jerky screen drawing. OLED displays, such as in the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, withstand cold significantly better—some OLED displays are rated for temperatures as low as −40º (which—trivia tip!—is the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius).

Avoid Temperature Swings

Regardless of whether you want to use your devices in cold weather, you’ll extend their lifespans if you don’t regularly expose them to significant temperature swings. There are two reasons for this: condensation and thermal expansion.

Those who wear glasses know that when you come into a warm house from the cold, your glasses immediately fog up with condensation. That’s true even though most houses are quite dry in the winter. Wait a few minutes, and the condensation evaporates back into the air. The same can happen with any electronic device that’s open to the air, and moisture inside electronics is never good. It’s thus best to let electronics warm up slowly (and in their cases or boxes) to reduce the impact of condensation.

Finally, as you remember from high school science, objects expand when heated and contract when cooled. The amount they expand and contract may be very small, but the tolerances inside electronics are often extremely tight, and even the tiniest changes can cause mechanical failures, particularly with repeated cycles of expanding and contracting. Try to avoid subjecting devices to significant temperature swings on a regular basis or you may find yourself replacing them more frequently than you’d like.

In the end, our advice is to keep your gear warm whenever possible, and if you must use it in temperatures below freezing, be aware that battery life and screen responsiveness may be reduced.

How To Use Your Mac Laptop Closed with an External Screen and Keyboard

Those of you who use a Mac laptop—a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro—probably know you can connect it to a large external display for more screen space. But sometimes it’s not convenient to have your Mac open on your desk next to the big screen. If you’d like to close your Mac’s screen and just use the external display, you can! The trick to enabling closed-display mode is that your Mac must be plugged into an AC outlet and you must connect an external keyboard and mouse or trackpad—either USB or Bluetooth. (If you’re using any Bluetooth devices, go to System Preferences > Bluetooth > Advanced and make sure “Allow Bluetooth devices to wake this computer” is selected.)

New MacBook Pros Provide More Speed & RAM +New Keyboard and Hey Siri

As students prepare to head off to college, Apple has updated the Touch Bar-equipped MacBookPro line to provide even more powerful options for students and professionals alike. The changes are primarily under the hood, focusing on faster performance, more RAM, and larger SSD-based storage, but there are a few modest physical changes too, including a quieter keyboard and a True Tone display.

Despite these improvements, pricing remains the same as for last year’s models.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro that has function keys instead of a Touch Bar remains the same, as do the 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Air.

Performance Boosts

The new MacBook Pros move to Intel’s 8th-generation Core i7 and Core i9 processors. Previously, the 13-inch MacBook Pro used dual-core CPUs, but they now get quad-core chips. And the 15-inch models jump from quad-core chips to processors sporting 6 cores. More cores are better because more tasks can be split up between them, preventing one processor-intensive task from bogging down others.

Processing power is just one aspect of overall performance. If your Mac doesn’t have enough RAM for the apps you’re using, it has to fall back on much slower virtual memory. For those who use memory-intensive apps, the new 15-inch MacBook can now take up to 32 GB of RAM, up from a maximum of 16 GB. RAM in the 15-inch models is also DDR4, which is faster and uses less power than the DDR3 RAM used before.

Finally, if you don’t have enough fast SSD storage in a MacBook Pro, you may be forced to store large items like your Photos library and Parallels Desktop virtual machines on a slow external hard disk. The new MacBook Pros can have a lot more built-in SSD storage, but it’s pricey. The 13-inch models max out at 2 TB, which will add $1400 to your bill, and the 15-inch models can go to 4 TB, assuming you have $3400 to spare. The 512 GB ($200) and 1 TB ($600) upgrades are more reasonably priced.

Physical Changes

Apple continues to tweak the controversial butterfly-switch keyboard. Some people haven’t liked the shallow key travel and how much noise it makes, and its keys have a tendency to stick. The new MacBook Pros feature a keyboard that’s quieter and hopefully more reliable.

You’ll also notice the new Retina displays with True Tone. First introduced with the iPad Pro and added to the iPhone in 2017, True Tone adjusts the white balance of the screen based on ambient light to make the screen more comfortable to view. It should be particularly appreciated by students working late into the night.

Other Improvements

You know how you can issue commands to Apple’s virtual assistant on your iPhone or iPad by saying “Hey Siri”? That’s possible in the new MacBook Pros also, thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s new T2 chip. The T2 also manages the Touch Bar, facilitates a secure boot feature, and encrypts files on the fly to increase security.

These MacBook Pros are the first to support Bluetooth 5.0, which is backward compatible with Bluetooth 4.2. As Bluetooth 5.0 peripherals become more widespread, they’ll be able to communicate with the MacBook Pro at higher data rates and longer ranges—think of Bluetooth working across your entire house, rather than being limited to a single room.

Price and Availability

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1799, and the 15-inch model at $2399. With both models, you can choose between silver and space gray, and they’re available now. Contact us to purchase

Our take is that, like most of Apple’s speed-bump upgrades, these new MacBook Pros are simply better than the previous models—who turns down better performance for the same price? The True Tone display is also welcome, as is the quieter keyboard. And it’s nice that we can finally talk to Siri without having to hold down a key or click a button.

Deals on Previous Generation MacBook Pro’s

With the introduction of the new MacBook Pro models, we have some deep discounts available on the previous generation models. Pricing and availability is available here

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