Apple Macbook Pro with Retina display

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

Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina display was a class act when it landed in 2015, and it's still a great buy in 2016

Price when reviewed 

It's been nearly four years since Apple gave its 13-inch MacBook Pro a radical overhaul. And even though 2015 marked the debut of Apple’s Force Touch trackpad, most people wouldn’t have noticed the difference unless it was explicitly pointed out to them. For all the clever technology that went into creating Apple’s new touchpad technology, it would appear that one click is much like any other. 

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (2015): Force Touch

This isn’t strictly true, however. Beneath the touchpad’s familiar layer of frosted glass, Apple has employed a bank of touch sensors, strain gauges and electromagnets, dubbed the Taptic Engine, which monitor every press of a finger, or thumb, and emulate the clicking sensation of traditional touchpads.

Press gently and the pad responds with the solid, familiar-feeling click you’d expect, the touchpad moving just the tiniest bit under the weight of your finger (in fact, it moves laterally rather than downwards – not that you’d notice it).

Apply a little more pressure, however, and although the pad doesn’t physically move any further, the electromagnets provide the feel of a slightly weightier Force Click. It doesn’t feel artificial in the slightest. Despite being nothing more than haptic trickery, it feels completely convincing – just like a mechanical switch clacking into place.

What’s more, since the ‘click’ is generated via haptic feedback rather than physical movement, it’s possible to adjust the click pressure required between light, medium and firm. I preferred the firm setting, which meant I never found myself activating it too easily, or by mistake.

It may not sound like hi-tech stuff, but it works well. Force-Clicking on a file brings up a preview in an instant, a trick that’s incredibly handy when sifting through large audio, video or photo libraries. Force Click also works in Safari, where clicking a hyperlink brings up the linked web page in a preview window. Do the same with a word or selected text on a web page and a balloon notification pops up with relevant Dictionary, Thesaurus and Wikipedia entries.  

Apple’s marketing material offers the example of the touchpad vibrating while aligning annotations on a PDF, but I can imagine the same concept working just as well for aligning audio, video or layers in a Photoshop project. It’s a subtle upgrade, but once third-party app developers take advantage of the potential of the Force Touch pad’s features, I can see it coming into its own. Even taken as a plain old touchpad, it's just that much better than most of its rivals – it's unlikely you'll ever find yourself reaching for a USB mouse. 

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (2015): Performance and battery life

It’s a similar story for the MacBook Pro’s internal specifications; evolution rather than revolution is the order of the day. Intel’s 14nm Broadwell processors have now taken centre-stage, and Apple supplied us with the entry-level £999 model, which comes equipped with a 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-5257U, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB PCI Express SSD.

If that’s not potent enough, it’s possible to move up to a 2.9GHz Core i5 for £80, and a 3.1GHz Core i7 for £250, while upping the storage to 256GB adds a further £200 to the cost. If you want a fully stacked model with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, you’ll need to find a spare £2,129.

If you’re expecting a significant performance bump over the Haswell generation then you’ll be disappointed. There's no significant improvement in our benchmarks. In our standard benchmark suite, the 2015 model achieved an overall score of 0.75, a whisker behind the previous year’s Core i5 model, which scored 0.76. Graphics performance was nigh-on identical, with an average frame rate of 34fps in our Crysis benchmark run at 1,600 x 900 and Medium detail settings, putting it on a level-pegging with the previous generation.

Even the entry-level model Apple sent for testing felt astonishingly nippy, something that you can put down to the PCI Express SSD. In the AS SSD benchmark, our review unit’s 128GB drive soared past last year’s model with sequential read and write speeds of 1,299MB/sec and 625MB/sec respectively. By comparison, last year’s model achieved read and write speeds of 723MB/sec and 616MB/sec. In fact, the only disappointment is in the 4K file performance, where the Apple drive recorded read and write speeds of 21MB/sec and 27MB/sec, which is a fair way behind the best SSDs.

Battery life is one area where the MacBook Pro of 2015 smashes past the Haswell generation. The more efficient CPU and Iris Graphics 6100 GPU made a huge difference in our light-use battery test, where the MacBook lasted for 16hrs 42mins – more than five hours longer than the Haswell-equipped model. Admittedly, that’s with the screen dimmed to 75cd/m2 and Wi-Fi turned off, but it bodes well for battery life in more strenuous conditions.

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