PROS / This MacBook Pro has a battery life without limiting performance.
CONS / It is thicker and heavier than most competitors.
VERDICT / The Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Retina has polish and panache with a combination of high performance and a superb user experience.
The Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Retina proves that Apple can compete with the best of them, ranking well thanks to a blend of category-leading performance, a deep feature set and a highly refined user experience. The term ultrabook may generally refer to slim Windows systems, but the MacBook Pro is a stark reminder that Microsoft and Intel aren’t the only game in town.
The base configuration of the Apple MacBook Pro 13 comes equipped with a 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-5257U processor, 8GB of memory and Intel Iris 6100 graphics, offering a big step up in video and media capability over most ultrabooks equipped with Intel's 5000-series integrated solution. Apple also takes a different approach to storage, opting for flash-based storage that’s similar to the solid-state drives used in other systems but solders the modules directly to the motherboard. Functionally, there’s not much difference, but it means upgrading down the road isn’t an option for most.
If you’re thinking that the base configuration we reviewed might not offer enough horsepower or storage space, you can reconfigure the MacBook Pro 13 with up to a 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor, as much as 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of flash storage.
Though it comes outfitted with aging components – the processor is about a year behind the new Skylake CPUs found in other top-of-the-line models – the MacBook Pro managed to produce excellent performance, scoring top marks in Geekbench 3 (7,113 points) and the fastest time in Laptop’s Spreadsheet Test (208 seconds). The numbers may not look as impressive in the graphics tests, since 3DMark Pro is a Windows-only test and ultrabooks as a category aren’t necessarily built to support gaming, but our real-world use showed it to be extremely capable in image and video editing, and the Iris 6100 graphics mean you’ll have the option of connecting the MacBook Pro to a secondary display with 4k resolution.
If you’ve seen any of the MacBook Pros offered in the last few years, you’ll recognize this model immediately, with its aluminum unibody design and slim 0.71 by 12.35 by 8.62 inch dimensions. At 3.48 pounds, it’s actually one of the heavier systems on our list of the top 10, but it’s hardly a heavyweight and can slip easily into a laptop bag. However, other systems offer lighter alternatives without sacrificing performance.
At least some of that weight, however, can be attributed to the MacBook Pro 13’s large battery, which lasts an impressive 12 hours 4 minutes. That’s one of the longest lasting batteries among the ultrabooks we reviewed, second only to the Apple MacBook Air 13, which sacrifices performance and display quality to stretch battery life further.
Aside from the basic components, the MacBook Pro also has features unique to Apple products, like the ForceTouch trackpad, and an excellent keyboard, with comfortable keys, 1.5mm of key travel (the distance a key must move to register a keystroke) and an adjustable backlight.
Apple’s Retina Display was once one of the best in the laptop business, with its resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, but it has since been supplanted by even higher resolutions in leading competitors. Despite this, the MacBook Pro’s 13.3-inch display still offers some of the best brightness (389 nits) and color accuracy (Avg. DeltaE of 1.2) in the bunch. Two things you won’t find available on any Mac laptop, however, are touchscreens and convertible 2-in-1 designs. If touch and tablet use are priorities for you in your ultrabook shopping, you’ll need to opt for a Windows system.
The laptop boasts two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot and a headphone jack. It also has both a full-size HDMI port and two Thunderbolt ports, offering more video connectivity than any other system we reviewed. As with other ultrabooks, the MacBook Pro 13 with Retina has no optical drive and no Ethernet port. Networking relies on 802.11 Wi-Fi, with Bluetooth 4.0 for wirelessly connecting other devices.
Apple covers the MacBook Pro 13 with a 12-month warranty, but free phone support is only available for the first 90 days after purchase. For an extended support period and lengthier warranty, you can purchase Apple Care and expand the coverage period to three years, which includes phone support for the full three-year period. In addition to phone support, Apple also offers live chat and an extensive collection of online support materials that is relatively easy to navigate and use. Apple does not, however, offer support through social media like Twitter and Facebook. Aside from this oversight, Apple’s support is considered the best in the business, holding the top spot in Laptop’s Tech Support Showdown.
When all is said and done, the Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Retina is a powerhouse of a laptop, and even with its aging components and a look that’s barely changed over several years, it still manages to deliver top performance and a highly refined user experience. It’s a tad heavy compared to the featherweights that make up the ultrabook category, but it makes up for it with long battery life and a deep bench of unique features.