Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2013) review

Pros

  • Brilliant Retina Display
  • Almost nine hours of battery life
  • Excellent performance
  • Impressive integrated graphics
  • Two Thunderbolt 2 ports

Cons

  • Glossy screen

The Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2013) is the Retina Display-equipped system that power users have been waiting for. Take last year's excellent Retina Display upgrade and thinner chassis, then add a powerful Intel Core i7 processor with integrated graphics that performs on a par with discrete graphics, and what do you get? It's the pinnacle of laptops designed for über-picky power users who need to take their time-sensitive projects with them. This is, quite simply, a marvel of a notebook.

Design

The new MacBook Pro 15in (which starts at £1,699 for the base model we reviewed here) looks identical to the previous incarnation, and it's no wonder, since last year's MacBook Pro was a new design. The 2013 model has the same aluminium and glass construction, the same 15.4in, 2,880 x 1,800 resolution IPS display, and the same chiclet-style backlit keyboard.

The MacBook Pro 15in has a pair of speaker grills flanking the keyboard. Aesthetically, it is a more balanced design, though number crunchers may miss not having a keypad for spreadsheet data entry. The sides of the chassis are vented to let air flow through the base of the laptop, cooling the processor and batteries. The large multi-touch trackpad is centrally located and responds instantly to commands. The keyboard is as comfortable to type on as previous models, and it’s solid, and evenly backlit.

The 2013 MacBook Pro has the previous model's excellent Retina Display. The screen isn't touch enabled, but then again OS X isn't optimised for touch, so you'll hardly miss it. Many more apps have been updated to take advantage of the Retina Display than last year, so you'll only run into blocky looking UI elements if you use a really old version of a program.

This laptop’s 2,880 x 1,800 screen was novel last year, but now other systems have got in on the better-than-1080p-resolution act. There’s the likes of the Toshiba KIRAbook with its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution screen, the Google Chromebook Pixel (2,560 x 1,700), and the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (3,200 x 1,800). The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus wins the pixel count sweepstakes at this point, although we probably won't hear too many high-end Mac users who complain about being short changed.

The 2,880 x 1,800 display on the MacBook Pro 2013 is physically larger than the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (15.4in plays 13.3in respectively), which explains the MacBook's larger overall dimensions. The MacBook Pro supports up to 4,096 x 2,160 resolution on an external display via HDMI. About the only nit we have to pick with the Retina Display is that it doesn't have a matt finish option, which disappeared when Apple recently discontinued the previous generation of MacBook Pro 15in models.

The system's fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4750HQ processor with Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics is an improvement over last year's model, which had a third-generation Core i7-3615QM processor. The system's 256GB of Flash storage is now PCIe-based instead of SATA-based, which helps speed file transfer and app loading operations.

On the exterior, the system has HDMI, USB 3.0, and the SD card reader on the right (see the image above), with another USB 3.0 port, MagSafe 2 connector, headset, and two Thunderbolt 2 ports on the left (see below). Thunderbolt 2 supports double the bandwidth of the Thunderbolt ports which have appeared on Macs since early 2011 (20Gbps versus 10Gbps). Thunderbolt devices are fully compatible with the Thunderbolt 2 port, but it remains to be seen how quickly users and device manufacturers will adopt Thunderbolt 2 when the selection of regular Thunderbolt products is still somewhat limited. As in the past, the Thunderbolt 2 ports can be used for either Thunderbolt or mini-DisplayPort monitors.

The system comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking, but you'll have to use a USB to Ethernet adapter or a Thunderbolt-based docking station to get wired Ethernet connectivity.

One of the big news stories from Apple’s October press event was the inclusion of the updated Apple iLife and iWork software suites along with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple's updated operating system for Macs. This means that you can use the MacBook Pro 2013 right off the bat with fully functional business, content creation, and entertainment software suites. This flies in the face of systems that come with Microsoft's Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, which don't include Office, unless you count the time-limited trial you get with every new PC.

The other additions to OS X 10.9 Mavericks work well, and so does the integrated 720p FaceTime HD camera. Like the latest crop of MacBook Air models, the new MacBook Pro 15in has a new dual microphone array to help with FaceTime conversations. The MacBook Pro comes with a standard one year warranty with 90 days of 24/7 technical support.

Performance

The Intel Core i7-4750HQ processor has Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics built in, as we’ve already mentioned. This quad-core processor is speedy and energy efficient, and this is reflected in the system's class-leading Photoshop CS6 test time (3 minutes and 14 seconds) and its class-leading battery life (8 hours and 52 minutes). Other systems in this price category like the Toshiba KIRAbook are hours shorter on battery life (it managed 6 hours), and are left behind on the multimedia benchmark tests.

What's notable about the Iris Pro graphics is that the new MacBook Pro 15in is able to almost match last year's MacBook Pro 15in on the Heaven 3D gaming test – hitting 42 frames per second on medium quality, compared to 45 frames per second for the older laptop – even though last year's model had discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics. This means that for light to moderate gaming, the Iris Pro 5200 is more than adequate. The new PCIe-based Flash storage was quick on booting up, software installations, file operations, and launching apps.

Verdict

The Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2013) earns its title as one of the best high-end desktop replacement laptops you can buy. It has the power of a desktop Mac, and the battery life to carry you through a full workday. The screen resolution is higher than most all-in-one desktop PCs and desktop replacement laptops, and the MacBook Pro 15in compares very well to other high-end laptops – even those with similar mega-resolution displays.

Upcoming professional-grade Windows mobile workstations have the potential to challenge the MacBook Pro in terms of thinness, screen resolution, and performance, but right now the new MacBook Pro 15in is the one to beat. It's a worthy successor to last year's MacBook Pro 15in, and it grabs one of our coveted Best Buy awards.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2013)

Operating System

OS X 10.9 Mavericks

Weight

2.02kg

Graphics

Intel Iris Pro 5200

Processor

Intel Core i7-4750HQ

Type

Media, Business, Desktop Replacement Laptop

RAM

8GB

Networking Options

802.11ac

Processor Speed

2GHz

Screen Size

15.4in

Storage Capacity

256GB

Storage Type

SSD