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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

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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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.

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.

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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.

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Conclusion

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



Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2014)
190
HP Spectre x360
235
Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen)
243
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
253
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015)
261
Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch)
263

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)



Apple iTunes encoding test

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2014)
63
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
76
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015)
99
Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch)
112
HP Spectre x360
113
Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen)
113

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)



Video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
986
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015)
946
Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch)
726
HP Spectre x360
720
Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2014)
561
Dell 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

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