Review: Apple's early 2015 13" MacBook Pro with Force Touch trackpad

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited July 2015
While we love Apple's new Force Touch trackpad, you still need to buy an entire computer to get one. For the moment, that means picking up the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro, a tradeoff that's certainly worth it --?unless you need maximum power or extreme portability.




The refreshed 13-inch MacBook Pro, which came into the world alongside the all-new MacBook earlier this month, is largely an evolutionary update. From the outside, it's nigh indistinguishable from its predecessors: it has the same ports, the same aluminum finish, the same dimensions, and it comes in the same box.

It is slightly heavier, with the larger battery -- up 3.1 watt-hours to 74.9 -- or new trackpad or both adding an acceptable 0.3 ounces to its now 3.48-pound frame.

Opening the lid gives us an inkling that this isn't your granddaddy's MacBook Pro. The 2,560-pixel-by-1,600-pixel Retina display is identical, but the Force Touch trackpad doesn't move, and its haptic feedback mechanism won't respond until you turn the machine on.

To get a real perspective on the updated notebook, though, we need to look inside. On our $1,299 review model, such an excursion reveals a 2.7-gigahertz dual-core version of Intel's Broadwell Core i5, 8 gigabytes of 1866-megahertz RAM, and a 128-gigabyte PCIe-based solid state drive.

Each of these parts is configurable upward, maxing out at a 3.1-gigahertz dual-core i7, 16 gigabytes of RAM, and a 1-terabyte solid state drive for $2,699.

Broadwell, LPDDR3, and better battery life, oh my!

Apple has managed to squeeze an extra hour of battery life from the updated MacBook Pro, rating it at 10 hours of "wireless web" use versus just 9 hours for the last version. Our unit actually ran for just over 10.5 hours, so we're comfortable taking Apple's word on the rated 12 hours of power for iTunes movie playback --?itself an impressive 3 hour gain -- which we were unable to test.

These increases are largely attributable to Intel's new Broadwell architecture, which is specifically designed to, among other things, be vastly more power efficient. Intel says Broadwell-based chips use around one-third less power than Haswell parts, while keeping performance the same or slightly better.

Broadwell represents the 'tick' to Haswell's 'tock' in Intel's 'tick-tock' cycle, which sees a process shrink (tick) follow the introduction of a new architecture (tock). The 22-nanometer process used for Haswell production has given way to a 14-nanometer process in Broadwell.




Another contributor to the MacBook Pro's newfound stamina is the shift from DDR3L to LPDDR3 RAM. The technical differences between DDR3L and LPDDR3 are outside the scope of this review, but here's the gist: DDR3L is a low-power version of the DDR3 memory used in desktop computers, while LPDDR3 is an ultra-low-power, architecturally divergent variant that was originally designed for use in smartphones and tablets.

The MacBook Air was actually the first Apple laptop to move to LPDDR3, doing so in 2013. That was part of a bump, along with new Haswell processors, that saw the Air's rated battery life jump from 7 hours to 12 hours.

While the MacBook Pro's increase was not so dramatic, it's still an impressive update for a computer that packs a performance punch and a high-resolution Retina display.

Getting things done

Speaking of performance, the new MacBook Pro continues to more than hold its own against the competition. Running through the industry-standard GeekBench benchmark suite yields a multicore score of 6,680, a moderate improvement over its predecessor's score of 5,975.

Competing models, like Dell's XPS13, routinely post lower scores. The 2.6-gigahertz Core i7 variant of the XPS13, for instance, recently showed a multicore score of just 5,074, much slower than the last-generation MacBook Pro.

A slightly quicker processor (2.7 gigahertz compared to 2.6) and RAM (to 1866 megahertz from 1600 megahertz) contribute to the new MacBook Pro's improvements, but new, speedier flash memory is also a factor.

In fact, Apple says the flash in the new MacBook Pro is twice as fast as it was before. Its new Samsung-built SSD -- which identifies as an Apple SSD in OS X's system profiler -- joins up to the logic board with a 4x PCIe lane width, compared to a 2x lane width for its predecessors.


In the real world, this does lead to significant performance gains. Blackmagic's disk speed benchmark returned read speeds of over 1,333 megabytes per second, with write speeds exceeding 574 megabytes per second.

In comparison, the same benchmark running on our mid-2014 15-inch MacBook Pro, a maxed-out model, shows write and read speeds of just 719 and 672 megabytes per second, respectively.

My kingdom for Force Touch

In our first look at the new Force Touch trackpad, we said it was "really cool" and that the adjustable haptic feedback reminded us of something out of a science fiction novel. After using it for nearly a week, our opinion has not changed.

Futurists have for decades called haptic feedback the way forward for touch interfaces, and now that it's polished and in our hands, we agree.

Apple gave us a glimpse at what could be in a recent update to iMovie that added haptic feedback for some basic editing operations. After testing it, we can understand why Apple has pushed their "Taptic Engine" so hard, first in the Watch and now in the Force Touch trackpad.



Even on the deeper Force Click, the trackpad deflects less than half the height of Apple's SIM removal tool.

Done properly, the technology quite simply adds a degree of immersion into the user experience that hasn't existed before. We've long judged user interfaces based on what we see and hear; going forward, we'll judge them on what we feel.

Haptic feedback isn't new, of course, nor is the concept of a force-sensing trackpad. Apple's implementation is just better than anything we've ever tried, and it clearly represents the next great leap for Apple's software experience.

Conclusion

Everything we've ever liked about the Retina MacBook Pro line holds true in the latest 13-inch model. The keyboard is still excellent, OS X is still a fantastic operating system, and while it's not the smallest 13-inch notebook around, it's definitely the most powerful in the class.

That said, it isn't for everyone. If you edit more PowerPoint presentations on airplanes than you do at a desk, the MacBook Air or all-new MacBook is probably more your speed.

On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time in Final Cut, you might find the 15-inch MacBook Pro a better fit with its available discrete GPU. God has turned a blind eye on our repeated pleas for such an option in the 13-incher.

For those who fall in between, though --?software developers who like to move around, or designers who need a little more processor oomph for the Creative Cloud --?the 13-inch MacBook Pro remains an excellent choice, and the astounding Force Touch trackpad is icing on the aluminum-and-glass cake.

Score: 4.5 out of 5
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Pros:
  • Isaac Asimov would be proud of the Force Touch trackpad.
  • Great battery life-to-performance ratio.
  • The most portable "professional" notebook available.
Cons:
  • No discrete GPU option.
  • The display bezel is still enormous.
  • Still gets a little hot in your lap.
How to buy

Apple's refreshed 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display starts at $1,299 for the base model and goes all the way up to $2,699 for maxed out configurations. Readers looking for the absolute lowest net price can check out our Mac Price Guide, which compares current prices from all of Apple's largest authorized resellers. Many of these resellers are already offering modest discounts. Additionally, some resellers only collect sales tax on orders in a handful of states. For instance, B&H Photo will only collect sales tax if you live in NY, while Adorama will only collect if you live in NJ or NY. Similarly, MacMall will only collect in CA, CO, GA, IL, MN, NC, NY, TN, and WI.

MacMall is also currently offering AppleInsider readers an exclusive discount when using the links in our price guides (also below) and applying promo code APPLEINSIDER01, yielding the lowest net prices anywhere for these models as of April 1st, 2015.

Offset the cost by trading in your old MacBook

Readers looking to optimize their purchase should also consider selling back their old MacBook to Gazelle. As the industry's largest electronics buyback service, Gazelle pays several hundreds of dollars for used MacBooks, and allows customers to lock in a cash payout for 30 days, meaning you have a month from when you lock in the price Gazelle will pay for your old MacBook before it has to be dropped in one of the company's pre-paid shipping boxes and mailed in. You can read more about the process here or simply jump right to it and lock in a quote.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 19
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,119member
    A very solid update for an excellent laptop.
  • Reply 2 of 19
    irelandireland Posts: 17,574member
    [QUOTE]icing on the aluminium-and-glass-cake[/QUOTE]
    Philologically sensorily sensual.

    Good review to read. Think Apple should add a dedicated GPU model to the high end here.
  • Reply 3 of 19
    "Isaac Asimov would be proud of the Force Touch trackpad."

    If you're referring to the quote "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That's Arthur C. Clarke.
  • Reply 4 of 19
    pentaepentae Posts: 33member
    How is the heat compared to a fully specced out 13" Macbook Air?
  • Reply 5 of 19
    Do you think they will release an updated Magic TrackPad with the Force Touch?
  • Reply 6 of 19
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 1,879member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by thornwald View Post



    Do you think they will release an updated Magic TrackPad with the Force Touch?

    I'll definitely bet Apple does. It looks like Apple has big plans for this technology.

  • Reply 7 of 19
    ds92jzds92jz Posts: 90member
    I bought a Spring 2014 13" MBA...returned it for the Summer 2014 13" rMBP...no regrets.
    The new Macbook is just not compelling for my needs.

    I predict the "Air" name will go away from the Macbook and iPad lines by the end of 2016. With everything getting lighter, there is no reason for the name any more.
  • Reply 8 of 19
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 1,879member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ds92jz View Post



    I bought a Spring 2014 13" MBA...returned it for the Summer 2014 13" rMBP...no regrets.

    The new Macbook is just not compelling for my needs.



    I predict the "Air" name will go away from the Macbook and iPad lines by the end of 2016. With everything getting lighter, there is no reason for the name any more.

    Agreed.

  • Reply 9 of 19
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,756member
    ds92jz wrote: »
    I bought a Spring 2014 13" MBA...returned it for the Summer 2014 13" rMBP...no regrets.
    The new Macbook is just not compelling for my needs.

    I predict the "Air" name will go away from the Macbook and iPad lines by the end of 2016. With everything getting lighter, there is no reason for the name any more.

    Air fills a niche and frankly I wouldn't be surprised if Apple keeps it around for awhile. The new Mac Book, though expensive, is basically filling the niche of an iPad with keyboard. Not that that is bad at all, just that the vast majority of users have need for the additional ports in aa MBA.
  • Reply 10 of 19
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,756member
    This is an interesting article and I tend to agree with the authors conclusions. I can do that because I just purchased a new 13" MBP and frankly I'm very happy with the purchase. As such I can add some comments that people might be interested in. Keep in mind my previous Mac was a 2008 MBP.

    The battery life is really good. The first couple of days I spent a lot of time on battery and got good results working the machine hard. I'm not sure if I would have made ten hours (can't sit that long) but it was decent. Again this was heavy usage, basically setting up the machine, with long down loads (Xcode, Xcode-beta, Tex, Eclipse and a bunch of app store apps), data transfers and the like. All while cruising the net or using other "productivity" apps while the wheels spin. Battery life is impressive!

    The second thing I immediately realized is that I don't need to power down the machine. I can simply close the lid and come back to the machine minutes or hours later and not have to worry about the battery. Of course this was possible on the old machine if you trusted the battery but I didn't. Even if i did trust the battery it still took time to spin up, the new MBP is ready for logon before the screen is opened 100%. I know some will laugh at this as you may have new hardware where this all works well but coming from a 2008 machine this is a revelation. You literally have all the convenience of an iPad minus the LTE connection (iPhone upgrade time). Obviously the machine is bigger and thus can't replace an iPad for everything an iPad does well, but the ability to pick up the machine and "do" immediately is a big big advantage over older machines.

    The third thing is the touch pad. Generally the glowing reviews are well deserved. I have had issues with muscle memory, on the old note book it was common for me to hit the click bar with a downward swipe, this causes problem with the new track pad. Swiping to click just doesn't work right so you have to retrain yourself to tap up and down. That being said the learning curve is real shallow and so far I really like the new pad. Interestingly it seems to be resistant to accidental presses or touches at least compared to my old MBP. So if you are wondering, yes there is a learning curve if you have strong habits associated with older systems.

    The fourth thing is the screen which is gorgeous. Being a 13" i did down size and frankly that is a trade off I'm still trying to live with. I went with the 13" model due to it being cheaper and more portable. There is a big problem with the 15" machines in cramped quarters. In any event the legibility over a matte screen is impressive, as good as fine printed paper.

    The fifth thing (lots of things) is that the machine has ports. I'm happy to say that the improved USB ports where noticeable right away. One of the reasons, the primary reason really, that I didn't go with the new Mac Book was the lack of ports. So in this regard I'm happy with the machine.

    The six thing is performance and is certainly the secondary reason not to buy a Mac Book. We are miles ahead of the 2008 MBP let me tell you! This isn't just the processor of course, the RAM and the SSD play a significant part here. Xcode isn't unbearable anymore and many apps are just plain snappy. No benchmarks which at this point wouldn't matter to me, but supposedly the CPU got a very minor boost will the GPU is vastly improved. All I have to say right now is that I'm very please with GPU performance.

    That about wraps it up for now, I doubt many will be disappointed with this machine.
  • Reply 11 of 19
    magman1979magman1979 Posts: 1,122member
    I just finished playing with the new rMBP at my local ? Store, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't even initially realize I was using a model with Force Touch! The responsiveness of the trackpad's taptic engine is REALLY amazing! The pad still has a bit of downward flex, so it's not a completely stationary flat surface. This goes a LONG way to letting you ease right in, and also makes the experience much more enjoyable for those accustomed to the old clickable device.

    This model might finally be the MBPS I've been looking for to replace my 2011 model! Well done Apple!
  • Reply 12 of 19
    magman1979 wrote: »
    I just finished playing with the new rMBP at my local ? Store, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't even initially realize I was using a model with Force Touch! The responsiveness of the trackpad's taptic engine is REALLY amazing! The pad still has a bit of downward flex, so it's not a completely stationary flat surface. This goes a LONG way to letting you ease right in, and also makes the experience much more enjoyable for those accustomed to the old clickable device.

    This model might finally be the MBPS I've been looking for to replace my 2011 model! Well done Apple!

    I played with the Force Touch trackpad at Best Buy today. I had to verify that I was using the new model because it works so well.

    It really is crazy how it simulates a clickpad without clicking at all.

    As another test... I turned off the machine to see if it really is a stationary pad. It is!
  • Reply 13 of 19
    Can someone with experience in the matter compare using ForceTouch with the physical click of the previous generation touchpad? On both of my Macs I have taps disabled and use the actual click that comes from pushing down on the bottom quadrant of the touchpad as my click. Is this what ForceTouch does for me? Can I click on things by pushing harder on the touchpad and feeling a "click" sensation from the haptic feedback, or is it something entirely different?

    I personally HATE tapping on touchpads, I always wind up activating it inadvertently, so I'm really hoping the new gen isn't taking my "clicky" sensation away from me.
  • Reply 14 of 19
    Can someone with experience in the matter compare using ForceTouch with the physical click of the previous generation touchpad? On both of my Macs I have taps disabled and use the actual click that comes from pushing down on the bottom quadrant of the touchpad as my click. Is this what ForceTouch does for me? Can I click on things by pushing harder on the touchpad and feeling a "click" sensation from the haptic feedback, or is it something entirely different?

    I personally HATE tapping on touchpads, I always wind up activating it inadvertently, so I'm really hoping the new gen isn't taking my "clicky" sensation away from me.

    You can turn off the taps if you want... they are still optional. You can still rely solely on clicks.

    And I found that the Force Touch clicks feel the exact same as the traditional clicks on older trackpads.

    It really is amazing.

    And the best part is... you feel those clicks ALL OVER the trackpad. Top-right corner, bottom-left corner, in the center, etc... it all clicks the same.

    Yet it's not a click... it just fools your brain into thinking it's a click. But it feels the same.

    When you push on the trackpad, you feel a click. But when you press harder, you actually feel a 2nd click. I didn't try the Quicktime demo where you press harder to make the video fast-forward. But I did Force Click a word in Safari and the definition popped up... and I Force Click on an icon on the top and it pops up a preview. You get the feedback of pressing harder to reach that 2nd click.

    Basically there are two stages: a regular click... and a 2nd click that then works like a gas pedal. The harder you press in that 2nd stage... the more it does what it's supposed to do.

    I played with two machine in the store side-by-side. One with Force Click and one without. I couldn't tell a difference.

    I had to turn off the machine with Force Click just to make sure the pad wasn't moving. It's not. Apple made a clicky touchpad that does not click.

    In short... it works. And works well. I know Apple gets blasted for using the term "magical" but this really is some sort of magic.
  • Reply 15 of 19
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,214moderator
    Apple made a clicky touchpad that does not click.

    In short... it works. And works well. I know Apple gets blasted for using the term "magical" but this really is some sort of magic.

    This is also a rare occasion that we knew it was coming well in advance, the following is from over a year ago:

    http://forums.appleinsider.com/t/161662/apples-new-trackpad-patent-replaces-click-button-with-force-sensors-adds-tactile-feedback
  • Reply 16 of 19
    Marvin wrote: »
    This is also a rare occasion that we knew it was coming well in advance, the following is from over a year ago:

    http://forums.appleinsider.com/t/161662/apples-new-trackpad-patent-replaces-click-button-with-force-sensors-adds-tactile-feedback

    There are so many patents Apple applies for and is granted... who can keep up with them?

    Whether we knew about it in advance or not... it's in a shipping product now and it works great.
  • Reply 17 of 19
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,119member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Chris Skinner View Post



    Can someone with experience in the matter compare using ForceTouch with the physical click of the previous generation touchpad? On both of my Macs I have taps disabled and use the actual click that comes from pushing down on the bottom quadrant of the touchpad as my click. Is this what ForceTouch does for me? Can I click on things by pushing harder on the touchpad and feeling a "click" sensation from the haptic feedback, or is it something entirely different?



    I personally HATE tapping on touchpads, I always wind up activating it inadvertently, so I'm really hoping the new gen isn't taking my "clicky" sensation away from me.

     

    It's pretty much identical feeling- so identical in fact, that I didn't believe the Apple employee when he told me its the new one. Pretty fucking impressive, I must say. 

  • Reply 18 of 19
    n0nsens3n0nsens3 Posts: 2member
    I need Xcode and other apple things for my work so I had to choose MBP. My unit is MBP 13" 2015 i7 with 16GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.
    The good things are design, look and feel, awesome battery life and a very speedy SSD.
    What I don't like about HW is the lack of ethernet port. I spend 9hrs at the office, Wi-Fi is nowhere as good as gigabit ethernet. While I can live the thunderbolt adapter, the lack of normal docking station is absolute bump. I move around the office (meetings and other things) and every time I have to reconnect: power, ethernet, 2 monitor cables, usb hub cable, audio cable - a total of 6! and they make my desk pretty messy. I wish I could use 3 external displays like before, but I can't since one thunderbolt goes to ethernet. And this trackpad ... While it's nice for some sort of tasks, it's awful for other. It is nowhere near to be as comfortable, as oldschool trackpiont with 3 little buttons from IBM. I don't like to move my hands out of keyboard too much, and this trackpad forces me to. The lack of middle click on it is also annoying. I do like to use it to open links in new tab or close the tabs. I like to use middle click to paste selected text (unfortunately works only in terminal).
    The OS X is nice. Second best after Linux IMHO. Lack of system wide middle click to paste selected text from any program to any program. No maximize window (only full screen), no convenient window management not with mouse and not with keyboard (will see if El Capitan fixes it) like in Gnome or in Windows. And this stupid restriction that you can not create a keyboard shortcut out of modifier keys only.
    Also, there is no fingerprint reader to easily perform login. And it get's hot. Too hot from just typing.
    Honestly, I'd go with something like X250 with Linux if I could do all my work on it.

    Overall, macbooks are good laptops. They are just not great for work with multiscreen setup and geeks like me. That know what they want and don't like to be told how to hold their phone :)
  • Reply 19 of 19
    n0nsens3n0nsens3 Posts: 2member
    Well ... that's nice shiny toy.
    Unfortunately I had no choice since I need Xcode and other apple things for my work. So I had to choose MBP. My unit is MBP 13" 2015 i7 with 16GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.
    The good things are design, look and feel, awesome battery life and a very speedy SSD.
    What I don't like about HW is the lack of ethernet port. I spend 9hrs at the office, Wi-Fi is nowhere as good as gigabit ethernet. While I can live the thunderbolt adapter, the lack of normal docking station is absolute bump. I move around the office (meetings and other things) and every time I have to reconnect: power, ethernet, 2 monitor cables, usb hub cable, audio cable - a total of 6! and they make my desk pretty messy. I wish I could use 3 external displays like before, but I can't since one thunderbolt goes to ethernet. So hardware wise, MBP is for amateurs - shiny toy like most apple products. And this trackpad ... While it's nice for some sort of tasks, it's awful for other. It is nowhere near to be as comfortable, as oldschool trackpiont with 3 little buttons from IBM. I don't like to move my hands out of keyboard too much, and this trackpad forces me to. The lack of middle click on it is also annoying. I do like to use it to open links in new tab or close the tabs. I like to use middle click to paste selected text (unfortunately works only in terminal).
    The OS X is nice. Second best after Linux IMHO. Lack of system wide middle click to paste selected text from any program to any program. No maximize window (only full screen), no convenient window management not with mouse and not with keyboard (will see if El Capitan fixes it) like in Gnome or in Windows. And this stupid restriction that you can not create a keyboard shortcut out of modifier keys only.
    Also, there is no fingerprint reader to easily perform login. And it get's hot. Too hot from just typing.
    Honestly, I'd go with something like X250 with Linux if I could do all my work on it.

    Overall, macbooks are good laptops. They are just not great for work with multiscreen setup and geeks like me. That know what they want and don't like to be told how to hold their phone :)
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