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Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, 2015) review: Apple's 2015 MacBook Pro is still around for those who want fewer dongles

The smaller MacBook Pro with Retina Display gets a new CPU in 2015, faster flash memory and a new trackpad, but it's still only a minor update from the past few editions.

Dan Ackerman
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
7 min read

Editors' note (June 27, 2017): At this year's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple gave its laptop line a modest makeover. The $1,299 12-inch MacBook and $999 13-inch MacBook Air have been updated with faster, more powerful Intel processors. The new MacBook Pros -- the $1,299 13-inch, $1,799 13-inch with Touch Bar, and $2,399 15-inch with Touch Bar -- have those new chips, too, along with upgraded graphics hardware. 


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

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.

Otherwise, aside from a RAM bump here and a slight price drop there, the 2017 batch is very similar to the one from 2016, with the same enclosures, ports, trackpads and screens. But be forewarned: Buying a new MacBook Pro may require you to invest in a variety of adapters for your legacy devices. Also note that the 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2015, reviewed below, has been discontinued, though the $1,999 15-inch model of that vintage remains available for those who want all the ports and fewer dongles.

Watch this: Apple's MacBook Pro gets an early upgrade

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 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The four sensors make it so you can "click" anywhere on the pad's surface with identical results, and the Force Click effect, which combines the sensors with haptic (or "taptic") feedback, allows you to have two levels of perceived clicking within an app or task. That deep click feels to the finger and brain like the trackpad has a stepped physical mechanism, but in fact, the movement you feel is a small tactile haptic tap, which, even when fully explained, still feels like you're depressing the trackpad two levels.

Watch this: Test driving Apple's Force Touch trackpad

Other companies have experimented with click-free pads and pressure-sensitive surfaces in the past, such as the ForcePad that Synaptics was pitching alongside Windows 8 a few years ago.

The Retina Display is one of the main reasons you might choose a MacBook Pro over the lower-resolution MacBook Air models. Better-than-1080p displays are becoming more common and some Windows laptops now go for even higher resolutions than the MacBook Pro. It's rare, but not unheard of, to see full 4K resolution in a laptop, usually paired with a touch-sensitive display.

The 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution here is more than enough for a 13-inch display (the 15-inch Pro is 2,880x1,800), and looks clear, bright and colorful, even if a Retina Display is not quite the unique selling point it was when these systems were introduced in 2012.

Ports and connections

Video 1x HDMI, 2x Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt 2
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone-out/microphone-in jack
Data 2x Thunderbolt 2 ports, 2x USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Optical None

Connections and performance

For all the complaints about the single port on the upcoming 12-inch MacBook, one need only look to the Pro line to see just how many connections Apple can squeeze into a still-small laptop. Here, you get three total video outs, if you count the Thunderbolt 2/Mini DisplayPort dual-use ports, plus the HDMI. USB and SD card connections are also here but will be missing in the 12-inch MacBook, in favor of a single USB Type-C (aka USB-C) connection.

Sarah Tew/CNET

MacBook laptops, especially the Pro models, which generally have faster CPU options and more RAM, always perform well in our benchmark tests. For this 2015 model, the jump to Intel's Broadwell line of fifth-generation Core i-series CPUs, in this case a Core i5-5257U, didn't move the needle much on application performance, but we didn't expect it to.

These new CPUs have made greater gains in efficiency, which can lead to better battery life. But, both this new model and a 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2014 led in most of our tests (note that the 15-inch Pro from 2014 had a more powerful, but older, Core i7 processor and twice the RAM, at 16GB), although Apple's promise of a faster hard drive didn't help this system in our Photoshop test, where it groups with other Broadwell systems and last year's MacBook Air.

Apple has promised an extra hour or so of battery life from the Broadwell leap, and we were very impressed with the lifespan of this system. In our standard video playback battery drain test, the 2015 MacBook Pro ran for 15 hours and 46 minutes, only 40 minutes behind our all-time leader, the 2014 13-inch MacBook Air. We tried running the same test with the system's Wi-Fi antenna active, and it ran for about 13 hours. Dell's non-touch version of the XPS 13 and HP's Spectre x360 are examples of Windows laptops with Broadwell processors that also score very highly, each running close to 12 hours.

Sarah Tew/CNET


The updates to this 2015 version of the MacBook Pro look minor on paper, and in hands-on testing, it certainly works much like the same MacBook Pros we've been using for a couple of years.

But, by keeping up with improvements in battery life and components, and adding surprises such as the Force Touch trackpad, Apple has kept this system feeling much more up-to-date than the Air (which despite the lower resolution and thick screen bezel is still one of the most universally useful laptops around, even if it's getting a little gray around the edges). Because of that, I can see the 13-inch Pro moving into the lead position in Apple's lineup for anyone who needs to combine long battery life, reasonable portability and the capability to run multiple high-end apps, from Photoshop to Logic, in a single laptop.

Handbrake Multimedia Multitasking test

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2014) 171Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015) 303Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) 428Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen) 441HP Spectre x360 476Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 478
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2014) 190HP Spectre x360 235Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen) 243Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 253Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015) 261Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) 263
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Apple iTunes encoding test

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2014) 63Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 76Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015) 99Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) 112HP Spectre x360 113Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen) 113
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 986Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015) 946Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) 726HP Spectre x360 720Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2014) 561Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen) 422
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015) Apple OSX 10.10.2 Yosemite; 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-5257U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel Iris Graphics 6100; 128GB SSD
HP Spectre x360 13t Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 256GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2,000MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 128GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen) Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-4260U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 128GB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2014) Apple OS X 10.9.4 Mavericks; 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4770HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,536MB Intel Iris Pro Graphics; 256GB SSD

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

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Battery 9
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