The 2015 update to Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro includes the latest Force Touch trackpad, new Intel Broadwell processors, faster storage, and the promise of an even better battery life.
While the MacBook Pro range is available in a 15-inch variant, the updated model is only available in its 13-inch form with Retina display. There's still no discrete graphics, and there's no leap forward in design terms compared to the last generation, but that doesn't hold it back from being one good looking and powerful laptop.
Does this mean it's the MacBook to own now it sets a wider gap between the MacBook Air, or is there a better choice elsewhere in the market? We've been getting to grips with the 2015 MacBook Pro to see how it fits into our workflow.
Nothing has changed in looks since the introduction of the slimmed-down Pro design in 2013, with the 2015 model comprising a single aluminium shell complete with a chiclet keyboard and large glass trackpad, with the crisp and glossy Retina display mounted in black bezel above.
For those counting it measures 314 x 219 x 18mm and weighs 1.58kg. That's fairly compact, but it's nothing outstanding against its competitors any more. It's not as thin as its new sibling the 12-inch MacBook, but it is a lot more powerful - which is much the point of the Pro series.
In comparison, the MacBook Air is sloped from 3mm to 17mm in depth and weighs 570 grams less, at almost exactly 1kg, but is the slightly wider and deeper device of the two. Only you will know if you are happy carrying the extra weight in your bag or not. In real terms it's about the same as a tub of butter or margarine - a minimal difference when factoring in the extra power and performance the Pro offers.
Overall the design is strong; the MacBook Pro looks as good as ever, although it is starting to date compared to efforts being made elsewhere, such as the slim-bezel Dell XPS 13 or quirky designs from Lenovo in the Yoga range. A smaller bezel encasing the MacBook screen would be welcomed, but we'll have to await a future design for such things to transpire.
Force Touch trackpad
But that's not to say the feature set hasn't progressed. Because it has, and with some very cool tech. One of the biggest lures of the new 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is the introduction of the Force Touch trackpad.
Rather than physically move like a traditional trackpad depresses, Apple has used haptic motors - or "taptic technology" as the company likes to call it - to softly vibrate the trackpad when you press it, rather than the trackpad moving at all. It means that no matter where you press on the trackpad your touch is registered, which helps move you away from the typically lower-area pressing you're most likely used to.
Even more surreal is that when you press physically harder, there's a second response for additional control possibilities, called Force Click. For this "deeper" trackpad press you'll swear that not only is the trackpad moving, but that you are pressing it down into a second deeper level. But that's all in your head: it doesn't move at all.
With this level of control - it's the same tech as found on the company's 12-inch MacBook and the Apple Watch - you get a much greater array of options for controlling things. Pressing harder or softer affects apps in different ways.
Force Touch application
Apple has already baked Force Touch controls into a number of its apps and system-wide in OS X Yosemite, but perhaps the biggest noticeable change is in Mail. Now hard pressing the trackpad with the cursor over a contact reveals that contact's details within the Contacts app; hard pressing on a URL or an attachment gives you a preview; while you can now use an iPad stylus to control your line width and weight when marking up attachments or signing your name in Preview.
Other apps benefit as well. A hard press in Safari when browsing pops up a preview of the Dictionary, while in QuickTime you can fast-forward through your videos faster by pressing harder.
Apple has also confirmed that the mechanics behind the Force Touch trackpad will be available to app developers. You can expect a plethora of new apps that will allow you to, for example, draw straight into an app using a finger or stylus, and because nothing physically moves that will be much easier - especially when it comes to selecting or clicking.
Apple's trackpad has always been not only state of the art, but industry-leading in terms of responsiveness, and the Force Touch trackpad catapults its credentials further. As an advancement of technology, it's hugely powerful, and despite feeling bizarre at first use, it becomes second nature.
Ports and Performance
In addition to the new trackpad, the 2015 MacBook Pro also benefits from new ports and more powerful innards.
On the left side is the MagSafe power, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, a USB 3.0 and a 3.5mm headphones jack; while the right side bares a further USB 3.0 socket, an HDMI port, and SD card slot.
If the new ultra-slim 12-inch MacBook is about showing you how few ports you need (it only has one USB Type-C after all), the MacBook Pro is all about how many you can still get into a small laptop. However, there's no USB Type-C - which is perhaps a strange move considering Apple is trying to push the standard.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro now ships with Intel Broadwell, meaning the latest dual-core Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors are available. In the Core i5 configuration of our review sample, it's easily coped with all of the tasks we've chucked at it, from light video editing, to heavy photo editing, and even watching 4K movie just for fun (even though the screen isn't 4K - more on that in a moment).
There are dual-core 2.7GHz (Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.1GHz, starting at £999) or dual-core 2.9GHz (Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3GHz, starting at £1,199) options for the Intel Core i5, while those wishing to push the boat out can opt to upgrade to a 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 chip (with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.4GHz, starting at £1,399). If you want then the 8GB RAM standard (which at 1866MHz is nippier than the 1600MHz offering of before) can be doubled to 16GB for an additional £160.
The new MacBook Pro 2015 also features flash storage twice as fast as the last-generation model, now capable of 1.6Gbps, ranging from 128GB through to 1TB capacities - but as it's hard-wired to the body you'll have to select this definitive choice at purchase, as it's not possible to add at a later stage.
Things can get pricey. Go all-in with 16GB RAM and 1TB flash storage on the 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 model and it'll cost you £2,129.
Although there's no discrete graphics available - something we've not seen for some generations, given the Nvidia GPUs caused issues back in 2012 and the new form-factor devices were slimmed down - there is Intel Iris Graphics 6100 as standard. It's not an Iris Pro arrangement, and doesn't position the Pro as the most powerful gaming tool, but on balance the integrated graphics solution means less power-intensive operation.
With everything being more efficient - from the RAM and flash storage, to those latest processors - comes improved battery life. Claims of 10-hours for wireless web browsing and up to 12-hours of iTunes movie playback on a single charge are a proficient nudge forward compared to the last-gen model.
That's more than enough for most people for a long flight or a regular working day. Obviously the more strenuous the tasks the quicker the battery depletes, but we've certainly found no issues with it in our testing both in the office and on the road.
Like the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air, which is our normal machine in the office, you don't have to worry about dragging around a charger with you - which is handy as the one in the MacBook Pro box is slightly larger than the Air's equivalent.
The Retina display on board the 13-inch MacBook Pro means a 2560 x 1600 (227ppi) resolution, just like last year's model. It's not the highest resolution on the market, but it's still ultra crisp to look at. Even up close you'll struggle to spot any jagged edges in fonts thanks to that resolution.
But it isn’t really just about making your fonts look prettier, this is a laptop designed for photographers and videographers looking to work in the field and wanting the resolution to make work both easier and more accurate. There's enough resolution, for example, for video editing at native 1080p while leaving enough additional space around the preview for your editing tools.
Or why not plug into external screens? Thunderbolt 2 allows for dual display at up to 3840 x 2160 pixels on up to two external displays, mirrored simultaneously from the full native resolution on the Pro's built-in display.
The array of ports deliver plenty of other options too, with support for native Mini DisplayPort output including DVI, dual-link DVI, HDMI, and VGA output (via an adapter). The HDMI video output supports 1080p resolution at up to 60Hz, 3840 x 2160 resolution at 30Hz, and 4096 x 2160 resolution at 24Hz, making this ideal if you find yourself needing to hook it up to a screen in a presentation or meeting.
Whatever you've chosen to do on the MacBook Pro, the screen is as lovely as it was previously. If you've been using a MacBook Air then you'll instantly notice the difference from non-Retina to Retina display - and it'll be hard to switch back after that.
We've been bigger fans of the MacBook Air than the MacBook Pro in recent years, opting for lightness over the chunkier powerhouse, but that's changing with the release of the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro. The gap between the two is now more defined, making the Pro the more exciting option in many areas.
The marriage of the new Force Touch trackpad and the quality Retina display are an appealing prospect - both of which the Air lacks at present - and certainly worth the extra 500g payload you will be expected to carry around instead of a MacBook Air option.
Even though the ongoing design format hasn't evolved to compete with some outside competition, such as the Dell XPS 13 and its infinity display, we still find the iconic design makes the Pro one of the best looking devices on the market. The new hardware inside also means performance enhancements that are noticeable, taking tasks big or small in its stride and boasting longer-lasting battery life than before too.
Until the MacBook Air gets the Force Touch trackpad and Retina display, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the Apple laptop to opt for. You won't be disappointed.
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