MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display (early 2015) review

The fastest small MacBook Pro yet is a force of nature

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Our Verdict

The 2014 13-inch MacBook Pro was arguably Apple's best laptop, and the 2015 model is better still. If your next MacBook needs to be reliable, powerful and practical, the newest MacBook Pro is the only way to go.

For

  • Retina Display
  • Faster processor
  • Superb battery life

Against

  • Force Touch underdeveloped
  • Unchanged design
  • Base storage feels small

The New MacBook has grabbed most of the headlines in recent weeks, but Apple has refreshed some of its MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs too — except for one.

While the 15-inch MacBook Pro is waiting for Intel's newest Core i7 processors, the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro has received some changes that make it a significant upgrade. An upgrade to Intel's newest Broadwell CPU, along with a pressure-sensitive Force Touch Trackpad are the most significant of the lot.

Recent developments

Nearly a year and a half after its initial release, the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display (early 2015) is finally due for an upgrade. The MacBook Pro 2016 is rumored to be announced at Apple's September 7 event with a hard release shortly thereafter. Apple's new professional-grade laptops will come fully stocked with more powerful 6th-generation Skylake processors, USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports and potentially even TouchID.

On the other hand, if you would prefer to stick with your current MacBook Pro setup, support certainly isn't slowing down. At WWDC 2016, Apple revealed macOS Sierra, the Siri-enhanced successor to OS X 10.11 El Capitan of yesteryear. The new operating system will be supported by these systems. The announcement was subsequently followed up by a beta released to the public on July 7, 2016.

macOS Sierra comes decorated with a handful of improvements that rethink the way you use your MacBook Pro. The newly open-source Siri, for instance, has been ported over with a few notable differences from its mobile counterpart. Not only will you be able to ask her (or him) the usual questions such as, "What's the weather like?," but now the virtual assistant can help you locate files and manage your disk space in ways that were previously unnecessary or impractical.

Other new features you'll soon be able to experience with your year-plus-old MacBook Pro include Universal Clipboard for copying/cutting/pasting across different Apple hardware, unlocking your MacBook Pro using an Apple Watch, improved photo categorization and – finally – Apple Pay.

Moreover, MacBook Pro excitement from third-party accessory makers hasn't ceased either. While one company has made multitasking a breeze with a triple-monitor expansion for laptops, another startup is aiming to make your present MacBook Pro configuration more capable using an external graphics solution, a useful tool for trying out the best Mac games.

In an attempt to cash-in on the back-to-school season, Apple is finding its own ways to push MacBook sales without the advent of new hardware. With the right credentials, you could save up to 15% on a brand-new MacBook as a student or educator if you buy right now.

Sure, Apple will inevitably phase out the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display (early 2015) at some point, but even then, its legacy will not be forgotten. That's especially the case if you're, for some reason, repulsed by the move to USB Type-C, as we're unlikely to see an alternative to the new interface style on the next MacBook Pro given Apple's recent history with the 12-inch MacBook.

Luckily, you may still have a 5K standalone monitor to look forward to even without buying a new Mac.

Design

On the outside, it's business as usual. The 13-inch Macbook Pro hasn't had a radical redesign, and its shape, dimensions, weight and port configurations are identical to the outgoing model. That means two Thunderbolt 2 ports, a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack and a MagSafe 2 port on the left, and a second USB 3.0 port, SDXC card slot and HDMI 1.4 port on the right.

The screen resolution is 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, but you actually get the screen real-estate of a 1,280 x 800 pixel-resolution display due to the pixel-doubled effect that provides Retina-like sharpness. Apps like SwitchResX allow you to access even higher resolutions than OS X allows, stretching all the way up to 3,360 x 2,100.

Text is too tiny to be legible at that setting, but opting for one in-between, such as 1,920 x 1,200, lets you fit much more of spreadsheets and other apps into the display than any of the default screen resolutions at the expensive of clarity.

Still, even on the four default resolutions there's plenty of room for even the most screen-intensive pro apps, and OS X Yosemite's divisive design looks much better on Retina displays than it does on lower density screens.

It's a shame that Apple hasn't shaved even a millimetre or two off the MacBook Pro with Retina's chassis. The 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina was 25% thinner than its predecessor, and it made a huge difference to that machine's portability and overall appeal. Sure, Apple has outed the new MacBook which will attract the thin-and-light laptop die-hards, but those of us requiring power, ports and all of the rest would have still appreciated a slightly slimmer model.

Feel the force

The only external change is something you can't see: the way the trackpad works. The MacBook Pro has a new, non-mechanical Force Touch trackpad, which provides tactile feedback and can detect various levels of force. For example, you might press to fast-forward a video and press harder to speed it up more.

Screenshot

The new Force Touch trackpad made the new MacBook thinner, but not the MacBook Pro

For now, the haptic feedback simply replicates the feeling of clicking a mechanical trackpad (something it does perfectly – you really feel like you're pressing a real button), but over time Apple is likely to find other uses for the pressure sensitive technology. You can adjust the sensitivity of the trackpad and the strength of its feedback in System Preferences, and while you're there you might want to re-enable the three-finger drag; it's switched off by default now.

Interestingly, Apple hasn't put its new MacBook keyboard into the Pro models just yet, so you get the familiar chiclet keys with a scissor mechanism underneath. To our fingers they aren't as comfortable as the non-chiclet keyboards in the first Intel MacBook Pros, but maybe we're just being nostalgic. Nevertheless, if you're all about the typing, the MacBook Air is a little more comfortable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Contributor

Former lion tamer, Girls Aloud backing dancer and habitual liar Gary Marshall (Twitter, Google+) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to .net, MacFormat, Tap! and Official Windows Magazine as well as co-writing stacks of how-to tech books. "My job is to cut through the crap," he says. "And there's a lot of crap."