2015 13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display Review

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2015 13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display Review

Apple has updated the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro with some major improvements, including fifth-generation Intel Core processors, Iris 6100 graphics cards, PCIe-based flash storage that can manage up to twice the transfer speeds of the previous generation, an extra hour of battery life and faster RAM.

The marquee feature on this computer, though, might be the Force Touch trackpad, which combines Force Touch input and Apple’s unique ‘Taptic’ haptic feedback engine – it’s the first Mac to ship with the new trackpad, and the first chance users have to try it on for size.

Video Review

Basics

  • 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600, 227 PPI IPS LED display
  • 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
  • 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM
  • 128GB PCIe-based flash storage
  • Intel Iris Graphics 6100, supports 3840 x 2160 on two external displays
  • 2x Thunderbolt 2, 2x USB 3, HDMI, SDXC, 3.5mm audio in/out
  • Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
  • 10 hour wireless web, 12 hour iTunes movie playback
  • MSRP: $1299 (as tested)
  • Product info page

Pros

  • Portable and powerful
  • All-day battery
  • Force Touch trackpad is extremely cool

Cons

  • No RAM upgrades post-purchase

Design

The new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro keeps the same design that Apple has been offering since 2012, but while the case’s novelty may have worn off, the quality of its construction has not. The slender shell measures only 0.71 inches thick, and weights under three and a half pounds. It still, in other words, feels remarkably portable for the power it’s packing, especially considering that Retina display and the all-day battery.

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That said, the design is beginning to feel a bit less exciting given the advances in the rest of the industry, and especially framed against the dramatic portability of the new MacBook design that Apple unveiled alongside the announcement of the new Retina MacBook update. Whereas the Retina MacBook Pro used to stand in stark contrast to the beefy MacBook and non-Retina MBP, it’s now the heftiest of Apple’s notebooks.

Still, the unibody aluminum shell hasn’t lost any of its appeal from an aesthetic perspective, and the 13-inch version especially still doesn’t add much in the way of pack weight or occupied bag space. And while the MacBook Air might be smaller still, the difference is not going to have a practical effect for most users. Plus, the performance and spec benefits more than justify a bit of additional heft when compared to the Air. And from the perspective of someone who uses a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the 13’s size and weight savings feel positively luxurious.

Features

The 13-inch MacBook Pro’s most apparent new feature, for most users, will be the Force Touch trackpad. This input device resembles Apple’s previous trackpad, and the one found on all of its other current MacBook offerings, but its outward appearance and tactile feel hide the fact that it’s actually a trackpad with virtually no motion whatsoever – there’s no actual mechanical click when you press the trackpad down, but it will still feel 100 percent like a physical click is taking place thanks to Apple’s new ‘taptic’ haptic physical force feedback technology.

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The Force Touch trackpad does feel slightly different from existing MacBook trackpads, but the difference is one you’ll easily adjust to, or not even notice if you’re new to Macs. Apple’s trackpad with this 13-inch MacBook Pro is still the best in the business, but now it offers even more features thanks to the Force Touch input options, and Taptic settings. You can dial in how ‘clicky’ the trackpad feels in your notebook’s software settings, choosing from one of three levels depending on your preference. And Force Touch adds a new layer of input options across the OS.

Using Force Touch, you can use a deeper, secondary press to institute a range of actions, including looking up dictionary and Wikipedia definitions for words in Safari and other native OS X apps. You can also force click on links to see a preview of the site they’ll take you to without actually opening said site, preview documents in finder and on the desktop, and even see songs and albums in iTunes. Force clicking on an address will bring up a Maps preview, and using it on Dock icons reveals an Exposé view of all your open windows for the corresponding app.

It’s a great feature already, but it’s also available to developers to build upon. This means that apps like Chrome could take advantage of it in the future to offer similar features to those currently available in Safari, but it also means you can expect drawing and creative apps to take advantage of the pressure sensitive input options also made possible with the Force Touch tech. Already, you can use a simple iPad stylus to control your line width and weight when marking up documents or signing your name in Preview, so developers like Adobe should be able to do even more.

Performance

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro has a number of new hardware features that lead to big gains in performance vs. previous generation machines. These include new Broadwell fifth generation dual-core Intel processors, which come standard at 2.7GHz and are upgradable to a 2.9GHz or 3.1GHz version. The processors hold up well when working with just about any software, including taxing apps like Final Cut Pro X (the video review above was edited on the laptop, for instance, and the notebook remained fast and responsive throughout).

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display offers a perfect balance of power and convenience.

A lot of the work when it comes to tasks like video editing that hit your on-board storage hard also benefit from Apple’s use of new PCIe-based flash. It can offer up to twice the read and write speeds of the previous generation’s flash, and up to 17 times that of a 5,400 RPM platter hard drive, and the difference really shows. My main production machine is a 2012 iMac with a 7,200 RPM 500GB drive, and the difference is night and day. In most cases, the difference is small vs. recent machines, but it’s enough of a bump when doing things like browsing big clip libraries that it’s something anyone doing video editing on the go will appreciate.

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You can also power up to two additional monitors running at 4K resolution from the Thunderbolt ports on the MacBook Pro, thanks to the new Intel Graphics 6100. I tried it out with a single Monoprice 4K monitor and found it to be an excellent way to gain some additional productivity out of a mobile machine. Plus, that display still offers a great combo in terms of resolution, quality, color balance, and flexibility for scaling up the screen real estate when you really need it on the road.

I could easily swap out the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro for my 15-inch model from last year and not notice any appreciable difference in terms of lost performance, given my workflow, which includes light video editing and heavy photo editing from time to time. And the 13-inch seems to last for days when used in normal conditions, and those new 10-hour estimates seem on point when used during continuous lengthy sessions with only light or moderate browsing.

Bottom Line

Apple’s newest Retina MacBook Pro packs a punch: The under-the-hood improvements add up to big gains for tasks like mobile video editing that have traditionally proven fairly frustrating, and the added screen real estate you’ll get make it even better in these situations. You could get more portability by going to the 13-inch MacBook Air (or waiting for the new 12-inch MacBook) but Retina and horsepower do a lot to recommend this machine instead.

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For my money, the best notebook currently available is this 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. It has the oomph needed to engage in video editing, with a form factor that’s still very portable and aesthetically pleasing. The screen gives you real estate when you need it, and optimal text rendering when you don’t, and the new Force Touch trackpad offers some very cool additional tricks now (while preserving all the left- and right-click features you’re already used to) and promises even more to come from third-parties in the future.

If you use your notebook for any kind of real work, in addition to general browsing and movie watching, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display offers a perfect balance of power and convenience.

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