Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display returns for 2015, this time with the power of the Force. This refreshed MacBook sports the company’s innovative Force Touch trackpad, which can perform a host of pressure-sensitive commands. It also packs an optional AMD Radeon R9 R9 M370X GPU, which Apple says can deliver up to 80 times the graphics performance as last year’s model.
Apart from those changes, you’re getting the same speedy Core i7 processor, slim and sturdy design, and gorgeous Retina Display that come standard with Apple’s professionally minded laptop. Is this MacBook Pro worth the upgrade?
Second verse, same as the first: The latest 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display is identical in design to last year’s model, packing the same slim aluminum chassis and black-bordered display that have defined Apple’s highest-end notebook for years.
The MacBook Pro continues to be one of the most seamless-looking notebooks in its category, with two subtle stereo speakers flanking the laptop’s signature black chiclet keyboard. The MacBook’s underside sports a set of barely noticeable vents on either side, with the iconic glowing Apple logo adorning the lid.
Measuring 14.13 x 9.73 x 0.71 inches and weighing 4.49 pounds, the MacBook Pro is pleasingly skinny and fairly easy to carry. Dell’s latest XPS 15 (14.6 x 10 x 0.7~0.3 inches, 4.6 pounds) is just a bit heavier and taller than the Pro, while workstations such as the MSI WS60 (15.4 x 10.5 x 0.78 inches, 4.36 pounds) and HP ZBook 15u (14.8 x 10 x 0.84 inches, 4.23 pounds) are slightly lighter but have bigger footprints than Apple’s notebook.
Display and Audio
There’s a reason “Retina Display” is part of the MacBook Pro’s full name. The laptop’s gorgeous 15.4-inch, 2880 x 1800 screen impresses the second you pop it open, with app icons and images that burst with color, and text that practically looks handwritten.
The trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens looked vibrant and detailed on the Pro’s Retina Display, from Finn’s debris-covered face to the shiny, silver Stormtrooper armor of Captain Phasma.
The MacBook Pro’s display registered a satisfying 303 nits on our brightness test, outshining the MSI WS60 (216 nits) and our 254-nit mainstream notebook average. However, the XPS 15 and ZBook 15u were both brighter, at 320 and 307 nits, respectively, as was the 2014 MacBook Pro (317 nits).
The MacBook Pro is capable of rendering 86 percent of the sRGB color gamut, offering better color representation than the MSI (78.1) and the 83-percent mainstream average, but not as good as the XPS 15 (88 percent) or the ZBook 15u (103 percent).
Still, Apple’s notebook exhibited strong color accuracy, with a Delta E score of 2.11 (closer to 0 is better). That’s far more accurate than the MSI (11.6) and XPS 15 (7.2) and better than the 2.84 average, though not quite as close to ideal as the ZBook’s 1.68.
The MacBook’s speakers are crisp, clear and loud enough to fill a small meeting room. The rocking bass, thumping horns and soaring vocals of Fall Out Boy’s “Irresistible” came through cleanly, as did the iconic orchestral score that played during the Star Wars trailer.
Force Touch Trackpad
The 2015 MacBook Pro with Retina’s biggest addition is its Force Touch trackpad, which is also featured on both the new 12-inch MacBook and the latest 13-inch Retina Pro. This new 4 x 3-inch trackpad doesn’t actually physically click, instead using force sensors and haptic feedback to simulate the sensation.
One of Force Touch’s main benefits is the ability to perform a Force click, which activates special functions when you press extra-hard on the pad. For example, Force clicking a link on a website lets you preview that page in a small window, while doing so on highlighted text will pop up a dictionary definition or Wikipedia entry.
Force click also allows for pressure-sensitive commands; you can fast-forward through iMovie or QuickTime videos at different speeds based on how hard you’re pressing the pad. This also applies to pressing the touchpad to zoom in and out of maps.
Overall, I found the Force Touch functions handy and responsive. Performing a standard click felt a little too resistant to me at first, but I was able to adjust that easily by switching the click sensitivity from Firm to Light in the Trackpad settings menu. After a while, it was easy to forget that the trackpad lacked a traditional click button.
The newest MacBook Pro retains its predecessors’ satisfyingly snappy island keys, complete with a handy function row with keys for adjusting brightness and volume, toggling music playback and pulling up Mission Control to view all open apps.
As a longtime Mac user, chopping away on the new MacBook Pro was like riding a bike. Thanks to the keys’ fluid 1.34-millimeter travel and 56 grams of actuation (required force), I blazed through the Key Hero typing test at a zippy 104 words per minute, and did so with no errors.
Ports and Webcam
The MacBook Pro with Retina sports two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, an SDXC card slot and two Thunderbolt 2 ports, the latter of which allow you to perform superfast file transfers and connect to high-resolution external displays. Despite borrowing the 12-inch MacBook’s Force Touch pad, the new Pro lacks that model’s USB Type-C connection.
Apple’s newest MacBook Pro retains the company’s dependable 720p FaceTime webcam, which captured my skin tone and the strands of my scraggly beard with accuracy. If you want to spice up your photos, the notebook’s Photo Booth app offers a handful of filters, silly effects and custom backgrounds.
Even without Intel’s latest Haswell processors, our MacBook Pro’s 2.5-GHz 4th-generation Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM allowed for consistently speedy performance. I multitasked with ease on the notebook, edited an iMovie video and streamed some Netflix with a dozen Safari tabs open, and experienced no notable slowdown in the process.
The MacBook Pro racked up a whopping 14,423 on the Geekbench 3 performance test, surpassing 4th-gen Core i7-powered competitors such as the XPS 15 (11,816) and the WS60 (13,003), the 5th-gen Core i7 ZBook 15u (6,892), and our 9,455 mainstream notebook average.
Apple promises exponentially better flash performance with the refreshed MacBook Pro’s next-generation PCIe-based flash storage, and the computer delivers. Our review unit’s 512GB SSD transferred 4.97GB of mixed media in a ridiculously quick 8 seconds, for a colossal transfer rate of 636 MB per second. Having this kind of flash storage will make finding files amidst huge libraries a snap.
The new MacBook Pro’s flash performance crushes the 282.7 MBps we churned out of last year’s model, though that unit had a smaller 256GB SSD. The latest MacBook also topped the XPS 15’s 512GB SSD (154.2 MBps), the ZBook’s 256GB SSD (175.5 MBps) and even the WS60’s dual 128GB SSDs, which finished the test at an impressive 365.2 MBps.
The MacBook Pro took 4 minutes and 14 seconds to match 20,000 names to their addresses, outpacing our 5:05 average while nearly tying the ZBook 15u (4:15) and falling behind the XPS (4:09) and the WS60 (3:53).
Packing an AMD Radeon R9 M370X GPU, the newest 15-inch MacBook Pro is designed to deliver 80 times the graphics performance as last year’s model. A lower-cost configuration with integrated Intel Iris Pro graphics is also available. Our AMD-powered unit certainly doesn’t disappoint; 3D titles rendered instantly in Final Cut Pro, allowing me to preview them as soon as I dropped them into a video.
It took just 7 minutes to analyze and convert 1 minute and 48 seconds of 1080p footage into a half-speed slow-motion clip using Optical Flow. This intensive Final Cut Pro feature adds frames to a video to give the illusion that it was recorded with a high-speed camera.
While our 2014 MacBook Pro (with integrated Iris Pro graphics) was similarly quick to render 3D titles, the notebook took a notably longer 10 hours and 46 minutes to perform the same Optical Flow conversion.
The MacBook Pro with Retina is suitable for mainstream gaming, running World of Warcraft at 1920 x 1200 at a smooth 66 frames per second and a still-playable 37 fps with the graphics kicked to Ultra.
The MacBook even handled the game at a manageable 40 fps at its native 2880 x 1800 resolution an auto settings. By comparison, the Nvidia GeForce 750 M-powered XPS 15 achieved 34 fps on medium settings, though at a higher 4K resolution, while the WS60 (Nvidia Quadro K2100M) netted 29 fps on autodetect mode at 4K. The ZBook (AMD FirePro M4170) achieved a lower score, 22 fps, at its maximum resolution of 1080p.
You can count on the MacBook Pro to stay relatively cool while you work. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video, the notebook’s touchpad reached 74 degrees Fahrenheit, while both the center of the keyboard and the notebook’s underside grew to 85 degrees. The MacBook’s monitor hinge was its hottest spot, at 88 degrees, which is safely below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The new MacBook Pro is built to deliver 9 hours of battery life, and that’s exactly what it gave us. The notebook endured 9 hours and 8 minutes of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi on our battery test, outlasting the XPS 15 (6:59), the ZBook15u (6:44) and the WS60 (3:05). It also beat out our 2014 MacBook Pro (8:29) by half an hour, and toppled our 6:07 mainstream notebook average.
The latest MacBook Pro with Retina Display ships with OS X Yosemite, which brings an attractively flat, iOS-like aesthetic to Apple’s desktop operating system while boasting deep integration with your iPhone or iPad.
One of Yosemite’s standout features is Handoff, which lets you switch between your Mac and iOS device in the middle of tasks. For example, when you start composing a note, email or text message on your iPhone, you’ll receive a prompt that allows you to finish writing it on your Mac. When both devices are logged into the same iCloud account and Wi-Fi network, you can take your iPhone’s calls and texts right from the laptop.
With GarageBand, iMovie, Pages, Keynotes and Numbers, the MacBook has plenty to offer creatives and business users out of the box. If you want to step up to programs such as Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro X, you can purchase them from the built-in Mac App Store.
The 2015 MacBook Pro with Retina Display starts at $1,999, which gets you a 2.2-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 256GB of flash storage and integrated Intel Iris Pro graphics. You can boost this model’s CPU up to 2.8-GHz for an extra $300, and upgrade to 512GB or 1TB of storage for $300 or $800, respectively.
We reviewed the pricier $2,499 model, which sports a 2.5-GHz Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of flash storage and both Intel Iris Pro Graphics as well as a discrete AMD Radeon R9 M370X GPU. You can opt for a 2.8-GHz processor for an extra $200, and upgrade the SSD to 1TB for an additional $500.
The 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display ($1,999 starting, $2,499 as reviewed) maintains the gorgeous screen and slim design of its predecessors, while gaining some handy new upgrades. The notebook’s optional new AMD Radeon R9 M370X GPU and improved flash storage offer fantastic performance, and its added Force Touch trackpad allows for a host of useful new click functions. The extra half hour of battery life over last year’s model certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
If you’re long overdue for an upgrade or want to go Pro for the first time, Apple’s latest 15-inch Mac Book Pro is its best yet.