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

Performance-boosting upgrades and an overhauled touchpad keep the 13-inch MacBook Pro well ahead of the competition

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Page 1 of 2Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display review (early 2015)


Processor: Dual-core 2.7GHz Intel Core i5 5257U, RAM: 8GB, Size: 314x333x18mm, Weight: 1.6kg, Screen size: 13.3in, Screen resolution: 2,560x1,600, Graphics adaptor: Intel Iris Graphics 6100, Total storage: 256GB SSD

From the outside, Apple's 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro refresh is a minor one; the beautiful aluminium chassis and high resolution "Retina" display are identical to last year's model, and most of the changes are minor hardware specification increases. This is arguably a good thing, as the MacBook Pro is nothing short of iconic. The biggest upgrade is the addition of Force Touch, new touchpad technology (also found on the new 12in MacBook and the Apple Watch) the company hopes will change the way we interact with applications.

Force Touch and Force Click

Existing MacBook owners might initially hate Force Touch for its lack of physical movement. While it may feel like you're physically depressing the touchpad, you're actually getting some clever haptic feedback from magnets placed underneath, with the pad moving very slightly towards you as you touch it. For someone who's never spent a great deal of time with an Apple laptop, the effect is surprisingly realistic, but for others it may take some getting used to.

There are advantages to Force Touch, most notably the Force Click commands it produces. The best way to think of a Force Click is as a pressure-sensitive third mouse button. Press down on the touchpad gently, as you would normally and you get a standard click. Press a little harder, though, and you'll get a second piece of haptic feedback that lets you know you've managed to activate a Force Click.

Force Clicks are contextual, so they perform different actions depending on where the cursor is. Several Apple applications support this already, and while not all the features are hugely useful, they behave in a consistent way so you have a fairly good idea of what you're going to get when you perform one.

Force Click a link in Safari and you'll get a link preview, which can be extremely useful and, thanks to the high-resolution screen, legible too. Perform the action on an image and you'll get a preview, or click on an icon's filename and you'll be able to rename it. You can drop pins in the Maps application and get at-a-glance information about points of interest. Click on an icon in the Dock and the OS will pop up a preview of the application in a similar way to Windows 8's Peek action. It works in Quicktime, too: you can change the speed of a fast forward or rewind simply by changing how hard you hold down the touchpad.

Force Click is less useful when working on documents; select a word on a page or in a document and you'll get dictionary information, but there's no way to customise actions in certain contexts if you wanted to create a hyperlink, for example. The only change you can make is the strength of the touch required to activate it: we found the lightest setting easiest to use, but if you're a heavier clicker you may prefer the middle or heaviest options.

Perhaps the best use for Force Clicks will be in media applications such as video-editing software, giving users more precision when dealing with complicated timelines. Perhaps you could use a Force Click to align two pieces of video or perform quick editing actions, although quite how this is handled is entirely up to the software makers.

While the actions are consistent, we did find occasions where Force Click stopped working completely. All of the problems occurred in the Finder app, with some files refusing to respond to Force Touch actions. Overall, though, Force Click and Force Touch are additions that genuinely changes the way you use a touchpad.

Design, build and Retina Display

Away from the touchpad, the exterior design is unchanged. You get the same 18mm thick, sub-1.6kg chassis that's truly portable, yet despite the lightness build quality remains impeccable and we couldn't find any loose joints or flexible panels.

Connectivity remains the same, too: on the left of the laptop you get two Thunderbolt 2 ports alongside a USB3 connector, a 3.5mm headset jack and the new MagSafe 2 charging port. On the right, there's another USB3 connector, an HDMI port and an SDXC card reader. An SD card will stick out quite a long way from this slot, though, which rather upsets the otherwise sleek design of the laptop. It's about everything you need from a portable laptop, minus a gigabit Ethernet port. You can pick up a USB3 to gigabit Ethernet adaptor for around £17 online.

The keyboard is the same, using the identical grippy black coating and a slightly concave design. There's plenty of feedback and enough travel to keep most users happy.

Compared to the Dell XPS 13, the screen bezels around the Pro are starting to look a bit chunky. They're not ugly by any means and they're perfectly flat next to the screen, but having seen the "Infinity Display" on the Dell, it's hard to go back to conventionally sized bezels.

The 2,560x1,600 pixel "Retina Display" is as bright and punchy as ever, with a glossy coating for added vibrancy, although reflections can still be an issue in direct sunlight. We measured sRGB colour gamut coverage at a wide 91% and contrast levels at 1060:1 so there's plenty of detail in the subtle shading of images and video. There's a very slight amount of backlight bleed at the bottom of the display, but it's minor and only really noticeable when you're looking at very dark images. Black levels are a little high at 0.38cd/m2, which means deep blacks tend to be a dark shade of grey, but these minor complaints don't detract from what is otherwise a superb display.

The high resolution means that text and icons look sharp but, thanks to Apple's clever user interface scaling, still legible. By default, the OS is set to display most user interface elements as if they were on a 1,280x800 screen. You can change this in System Settings, but the native resolution becomes too small to read. Large images and HD video will be shown at their original resolution in supported applications, giving you the best of both worlds.

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