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

Apple's updated MacBook Pro with Force Touch is the new no-compromise MacBook

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars 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

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.

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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?

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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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The unibody aluminum frame and edge-to-edge glass display are familiar but still-welcome design touches, and that glass overlay look is coming to the new 12-inch MacBook as well. Still, it's not as tight-looking as the barely there bezel on the Dell XPS 13, which really does move the needle on design.

The island-style keyboard is the same as seen on the last several generations of MacBook. Other laptops have matched, but not surpassed, the backlit Apple keyboard, with the possible exception of Lenovo, a company as involved with keyboard R&D as any. The first real break with the current Apple keyboard standard is coming up in that 12-inch MacBook , which lowers the key height and and changes the underlying mechanism to reduce key wobble.

One new Apple part that is coming to this MacBook Pro before any other system is the new Force Touch trackpad. I suspect we'll see it on every MacBook before too long, but this is where you can try it first.

The Force Touch trackpad eliminates the top hinge that previously required you to physically depress the glass top of the pad, usually from somewhere on the lower half to register properly. Instead, the new pad places four sensors under the pad, one under each corner. This replaces a design some describe as a "diving board" with one that's a simple, flat surface.

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