Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015) review
Apple updates the MacBook Pro with Intel Broadwell and Force Touch trackpad – the best just got better
You’d struggle to tell the new 13in MacBook Pro apart from last year’s model. Placed side by side, the two look identical, right down to the very last millimetre. And even though 2015 marks the debut of Apple’s Force Touch trackpad, most people wouldn’t notice the difference unless it was explicitly pointed out to them. For all the clever technology that’s gone into Apple’s new touchpad, it would appear that one click is much like any other. See also: The best laptops of 2015
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (2015) review: 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. We preferred the firm setting, which meant we never found ourselves 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 we 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, we can see it coming into its own – it may even be enough to stop us reaching for the USB mouse every time we crave pinpoint control in Photoshop or Logic Pro X. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (2015) review: performance and battery life
It’s a similar story for the MacBook Air’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. We didn’t notice any significant improvement in our benchmarks. In our Real World Benchmarks, 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 we had for testing felt astonishingly nippy, something we 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.
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (2015) review: display, ergonomics and connectivity
In other areas, the MacBook Pro is much the same as ever. The display remains a thing of beauty and, with a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution providing a pixel density of 227dpi, the MacBook Pro delivers pristine image quality across every one of its 13.3 inches. And, practically speaking, the MacBook Pro holds one major trump card over Windows laptops equipped with high-DPI screens – OS X Yosemite handles the scaling duties far more deftly than Windows 8.1 currently does.
The numbers tell an impressive story. Brightness tops out at 400cd/m2, contrast hits an impressive 994:1, and the panel covers 97.7% of the sRGB colour gamut. Colour accuracy is superb, too, with an average Delta E of 1.61 and a maximum of 4.43 proving this display is ready and raring to take on colour-critical photo- and video-editing duties. If there’s a bone to pick with the Apple’s display, it’s a tiny one: the darkest grey does tend to disappear a little too readily into black – we’d be tempted to reach for our X-Rite colorimeter and perform a full calibration if we were working on professional projects.
Elsewhere, essentials such as the backlit keyboard are free from any shortcomings: the keys are well spaced and flick back with a lovely crisp bounce. Even traditional weak points such as the internal speakers and webcam are surprisingly capable by laptop standards. If we had to pick fault with the MacBook Pro’s design, we’d wag a displeased finger at the SD card reader: SD cards stick out by 15mm, which is an annoyance.
The clincher, though, is connectivity. You might struggle to upgrade the MacBook Pro’s internals – the soldered RAM and proprietary SSD make life difficult – but with twin Thunderbolt 2 ports, two USB 3 ports, HDMI output and an SD card reader, there’s plenty of scope for expansion, whether that's through high-speed storage or extender boxes allowing the addition of external PCI Express graphics cards and video accelerator cards, such as RED’s Rocket-X.
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (2015) review: verdict
Taken as a whole, 2015 sees the 13in MacBook Pro become an more attractive proposition than ever. It’s light, powerful and obscenely long lasting. The high-DPI display and all-round quality alone are enough to make us wonder why we’d spend £1,000 on any other laptop, and the innovative Force Touch trackpad simply adds to the attraction.
Gamers should definitely look elsewhere – they’re increasingly well served by laptops such as the Gigabyte P34G anyway - and there's little reason for owners of last year's model to upgrade, but for everyone else the 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display is as good as it gets. Now, where did we leave that credit card?