Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, 2015) review:

Apple's 2015 MacBook Pro is still around for those who want fewer dongles

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CNET Editors' Rating

15 user reviews

The Good Apple adds new Intel CPUs, faster memory, longer battery life and its new Force Touch trackpad to the standard 13-inch MacBook Pro, which keeps its generous selection of ports.

The Bad The 2015 updates make only a minor difference to the hands-on experience, while similar high-end 13-inch laptops continue to get thinner and lighter.

The Bottom Line While the upcoming 12-inch MacBook has all the buzz, this 13-inch system gets a handful of updates to remain a top choice for combining power and portability.

8.5 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery 9.0

Late 2016 update

In October 2016, Apple updated its laptop portfolio, delivering an overdue refresh of its 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. Considerably slimmer and lighter than their predecessors, the new models come equipped with larger Force Touch trackpads and Apple's new, dynamic Touch Bar. (A 13-inch model without the Touch Bar was also announced.) And the Touch Bar is very cool: the mini touch strip contextually changes to icons in different apps and sliders, hot keys, and function buttons emerge on the fly as needed.

The new models make some potentially difficult tradeoffs, however. Perhaps the most significant one is that the new MacBook Pros have far fewer ports than the older ones. The previous generation had a total of seven: two USB, two Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, SD, MagSafe and headphone. Besides a headphone jack, the new 15-inch model has four -- and they're all of the Thunderbolt/USB-C variety. The new 13-inch Touch Bar model also has four (all Thunderbolt) but the 13-inch model without Touch Bar has only two!

Be warned: Buying a new MacBook Pro will likely force you to invest in a variety of adapters for all your legacy devices. (Ironically, you won't be able to connect Apple's own iPhone 7, with its Lightning Connector, to any of the new MacBook Pros without an adapter.)

The new 13-inch MacBook Pros have Intel Core-i processors that are faster than the older 12-inch model's Intel Core-m series; they also support Thunderbolt 3 and come equipped with more USB-C ports. But they're a full pound heavier and cost at least $200 more. The new 13-inch model with the TouchBar starts at $1,799, £1,749 and AU$2,699; the 13-inch model without it starts at $1,499, £1,449 and AU$2,199; and the new 15-inch model starts at $2,399, £2,349 and AU$3,599. The older MacBooks, which remain available, start at $1,299, £1,249 and AU$1,999 (12- or 13-inch Pro) and $1,999, £1,899 and AU$2,999 (15-inch Pro).

The Apple laptop portfolio still includes the 13-inch MacBook Air -- with specs unchanged -- but the 11-inch MacBook Air is now available only to the educational market; to buy one, you'll need to be associated with a school or university or find one online somewhere.

Not sure which one is right for you? Consult CNET's full head-to-head comparison of the entire lineup of MacBooks, including the Pro and Air models, as well as Apple's new MacBook lineup: What you need to know.

Editors' note: The review of Apple's 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, originally published in March of that year, follows.

Over the past couple of generations, we've noted that Apple's MacBook Pro line has received only minor spec updates, while keeping the same basic aluminum unibody chassis. Other premium laptops have shaved ounces and millimeters from their bodies, and added touchscreens and hybrid hinges, new graphics cards and even 4K displays, while the MacBook Pro, like the MacBook Air, looks and feels the same as it has for the past few years.

For spring 2015, the 13-inch MacBook Pro keeps the same body and high-resolution Retina Display as before, while adding some spec upgrades that run from minor to meaningful. As expected, the system moves to Intel's fifth-generation Core i-series chips, also known by the code name Broadwell. The performance jump from this is small, but the battery life gets a modest boost, and Apple's soldered-in flash memory, similar to the solid-state drives (SSDs) found in other laptops, gets a speed boost as well.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But the most notable update is the addition of Apple's new Force Touch trackpad. This new design looks and feels a lot like Apple's standard well-regarded trackpads, but trades the top hinge and clickable surface for a new click-free design that mimics the feel of physically depressing the pad by way of haptic feedback.

That new trackpad is also coming to the highly anticipated new 12-inch MacBook, where the extra-slim body will truly benefit from the thinner, click-free design. In the 13-inch Pro, it's more of a party trick, and aside from some contextual pop-ups offered when you press down hard, you may not even notice the difference.

So, with nothing in the way of game-changing updates and the same $1,299 starting price (£999 in the UK and AU$1,799 in Australia), why is it that more and more people are telling me that the 13-inch MacBook Pro is now the Mac they most want to buy?

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's perhaps because this model has best kept up with the changing laptop landscape. The current Air models are held back by aging designs and low screen resolutions, and the 15-inch MacBook Pro has not received the same updates or new trackpad, and is simply too big to lug around more than once or twice a week (although it's great for a desk-bound system). The classic non-Retina-Display MacBook Pro is surprisingly still hanging on as the last MacBook with an optical drive, but it has little else to recommend it. There's a lot of buzz around the new 12-inch MacBook , but its low-power Intel Core M processor, lack of ports and low-res webcam mean it likely won't be the workhorse that other Macs are.

That leaves this 13-inch Pro as the best balance of performance, battery life, portability and expandability in the current Apple laptop lineup, and one of the first places you should look if you're looking to buy a premium-priced laptop.

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, 2015)

Price as reviewed $1,299, £999, AU$1,799
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 2,560x1,600 screen
PC CPU 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-5257U
PC memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 1,536MB Intel HD Iris Graphics 6100
Storage 128GB SSD
Optical drive None
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Apple OS X Yosemite 10.10.2

Design and features

The exterior design of the MacBook Pro remains unchanged since the 2013 model we reviewed (and essentially unchanged from the 2012 original, as well), so much of our analysis of the previous models carries over. As it's the biggest difference, we've already done a separate hands-on analysis of the trackpad.

At 18mm thick and 3.5 pounds (1.6kg), this is far from the slimmest or lightest 13-inch laptop around. That's become even more evident over the past several months, with lightweight but powerful systems such as the Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo LaVie Z taking up less space and weighing less, while still offering standard Core i5 processors.

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