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Review: Apple MacBook Pro 13 inch with Retina (2015)

By Leigh D. Stark | 4:30 pm 24/03/2015

Now that Intel’s latest generation of processors is out and has been for a few months, Apple is ready with an update, refreshing its line of computers to take the new chips, as well as a dash of something else. Could this be your next computer purchase?

Features

Apple is almost always among the first to update its computers with the latest and greatest from Intel, and while it was a little late getting the new chips — Lenovo paid for that exclusive with the Yoga  — it is now ready to show its wares to the world, starting with the MacBook Pro.

Specifically, Apple is starting with the 13 inch Retina model of the MacBook Pro, with the 15 inch variant keeping the previous generation of processor for the moment (generation four, “Haswell”) and the 13 inch getting generation five of Intel’s Core processors, also known as “Broadwell”.

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In this refresh, you’ll find dual-core Intel Core i5 processors are offered with either 2.7 or 2.9GHz of power, though a version can be selected with the 3.1GHz dual-core Core i7 chip, too. Memory for these machines comes with 8GB out of the box, though 16GB can be configured, with the storage for Mac OS X 10.10 “Yosemite” starting at 128GB, with options for 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB of PCI-e flash-based storage offered, a little faster than the typical solid-state hard drive options computers may well come with.

Intel’s graphics are relied on for most of the graphical work needed here, with no option for a heavier graphics chip like in the 15 inch MacBook Pro with Retina, but the display does come with the same resolution as its 15 inch counterpart, the Retina-labelled 2560×1600 13.3 inch screen offering 227 pixels per inch of clarity.

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Ports are much the same as they were last year, with two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, a 3.5mm headset jack, SDXC card slot, and a single HDMI port, as well as the Apple proprietary MagSafe 2 power port, and as usual, there’s a 720p FaceTime HD webcam in the frame above the screen. Two microphones are build into the computer, as are two speakers.

Wireless connectivity is included, too, regardless of which version you buy, with 802.11a/b/g/n and even 802.11ac, with Bluetooth 4.0 included as part of the package.

Casing for the machine is made of aluminium, with the machine featuring a thickness of 18mm when closed and a weight of 1.58 kilograms.

The review model was the starting model, which includes a 128GB PCIe flash drive, 8GB RAM, 2.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor, and a price of $1799, which is also the starting price for Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 with Retina.

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Performance

In 2015, the biggest reasons for updating to a MacBook Pro 13 with Retina are the processor change — because Intel’s fifth-generation “Broadwell” chips are now here — and the inclusion of the Apple “Force” trackpad, a new style of trackpad that we’ll see on the upcoming ultra-thin MacBook when it gets released.

Beyond these changes, it’s the same typical MacBook Pro with Retina we’ve seen before, and loved before, for that matter, so let’s get stuck into it.

From a design point of view, nothing has changed, and that is okay by us. In the 2015 edition of MacBook Pro, Apple has stayed with the tried and tested aluminium unibody, black plastic screen hinge, and relatively thin design that we’re only now just seeing some proper competitors for in the PC arena.

We’re told it’s a little heavier — marginally — but for the most part, you’ll still see it and feel it as much the same 13 inch machine from last year, and that’s because it looks pretty much the same, coming with two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, a lone HDMI, the one 3.5mm headset jack, and of course an SDXC card slot in case you want to stick a card in the computer and copy images.

But while it looks the same, the two changes are inside, with the new guts — a heart, if you will — and the new trackpad.

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For most of the machine, it’s the same typically excellent MacBook Pro we’ve come to expect out of Apple, and much of our praise for these machines in the past is echoed in this generation, starting with a solid typing experience with just enough travel accompanied by a soft clicking sound as the keys drop in and out.

The screen is just as good as it ever has been, the Retina’s 13.3 inch display running the very high and fuller-than-Full HD resolution of 2560×1600 making images and text look impossibly clear and stunningly bright.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: more screens need to be this good, because this display is bloody superb. Simply, the 13 inch MacBook Pro with Retina is Apple doing the engineering thing it does brilliantly, with a display that keeps your eyes locked onto what you’re doing because it looks so good and never tries to hurt your eyes in the process.

While you should always take a break every couple of hours from viewing a computer screen, this is one that you’d probably get away with continuing to look at, because it’s just that good, and doesn’t require any strain whatsoever.

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Performance is the next thing, and it’s one of the reasons to move to this generation of MacBook Pro, because inside here you’ll find Intel’s latest and greatest, the fifth-generation Core processors from the series known as “Broadwell”. If you’re not caught up with the lingo or the codenames, anyway, this generation is smaller, less power hungry, and generally can run fan-less and without as much heat.

In the 2015 MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch, you’ll still find a little bit of heat when the processor starts to really work, with a feeling that it gets a little toasty on your lap, but it’s not a huge amount of warmth in the way the old MacBook Pros had before the Retina screens turned up, and we never felt uncomfortable.

That said, the MacBook Pro isn’t fan-less like you might expect, and while we mostly had the machine running quiet without the fan, every so often when we wanted to push the graphical power of the computer, we heard the fan spin up and start cooling the system aggressively. It’s not a surprise, that said, to see that happen, or to hear it happen anyway, as this isn’t an Ultrabook-styled computer, not like the MacBook Air, but you still have to push the computer pretty hard — games, graphics, etc — to get the fans to spin up and start exhaling loudly.

Overall performance beyond this is pretty strong, and we had few speed issues as we ran Evernote to write the review, nor as we worked with Safari or Chrome for web surfing, or playing games via Steam.

As a sidenote, gaming isn’t going to be the chief use of this machine, with no option for a discrete graphics card in anything but the 15 inch MacBook Pro Retina. With only Intel graphics on-board, you might still get a little bit of 3D gaming done, with 2D gaming having no problems, just don’t expect the MBP 13 to tackle “Bioshock Infinite” as it’s just not made for that.

We’d like to see a graphics chip option in this model, as without one, this computer is kind of like an Ultrabook with a little more grunt. Kind of, sort of.

Relatively thin and fairly light, only half a kilo heavier than many of the Ultrabooks, including the MacBook Air.

Relatively thin and fairly light, only half a kilo heavier than many of the Ultrabooks, including the MacBook Air.

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Price (RRP)

$1799 (starting price);

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

More of the same excellent Apple design; Built very well; Still a fantastic screen; Spec’d very well, even though it lacks a discrete graphics chip; Superb battery life; One of the better keyboards you’ll use; Force trackpad is an interesting inclusion that could open up to some useful additions long term;

Product Cons

Trackpad can take some getting used to; Trackpad might pick up on wrist movement and there’s no way to control it;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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