- Review Date: 8/7/2014
- Bottom line: The latest 13-inch Retina Apple MacBook Pro gives you top-notch performance and more than 13 hours of battery life in a beautifully designed laptop. It's our top pick for high-end ultraportables.
- Pros: 13+ hours of battery life in our tests. Brilliant Retina display with higher-than-1080p resolution. Two Thunderbolt 2 ports. HDMI port. Comes with iLife and iWork software suites.
- Cons: Only upgradeable at time of order. Base 128GB Flash Storage capacity is small. Glossy screen. Ethernet requires adapter
The Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch, Retina Display (2014) ($1,299, as tested) is the newest base model in the line, with a 2,560-by-1,600-resolution screen, speedy Intel processor, and excellent connectivity, particularly with its pair of 20Gbps Thunderbolt 2 ports. It lasted more than 13 hours on our battery rundown test while topping our performance benchmark tests. These improvements help the latest 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro replace the previous version as our Editors' Choice for high-end ultraportable laptops.
Design and Features
Design-wise, if you've seen one 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, you've seen them all. This year's iteration has the same, familiar all-aluminum exterior and glossy glass covering the 13.3-inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen. It still measures 0.71 by 12.35 by 8.62 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.38 pounds.
The high-contrast keys are visible in both bright light and in a totally darkened room, thanks to efficient backlighting. The keyboard feel is very good, with convex keys and solid springs to help ensure that any typos are your own fault. The glass-covered trackpad supports one-, two- and three-finger multitouch gestures, and you can connect most Bluetooth keyboards, mice, and external trackpads to the system in seconds.
The Retina Display has a 2,560-by-1,600 resolution, which translates into a 16:10 aspect ratio. In comparison, the Acer Aspire S7-392-5410's 1,920-by-1,080-resolution display and the Toshiba Kirabook 13 i7s Touch's 2,560-by-1,440-resolution screen both have a 16:9 aspect ratio. The extra pixels can give photo, video, or spreadsheet editors the ability to clearly display images that would overwhelm a screen with a lower resolution. Note that your experience may vary, as apps that haven't been updated for the Retina Display may show blockier text and images. In any case, OS X automatically scales items on the screen by default to make some windows show up in approximately 1,280 by 800, which is a good thing. If it were displaying at true 1-to-1 pixel all the time, then icons, menu items, and text would look tiny.
Port selection remains excellent. There's an HDMI port, a headset jack, an SD card reader, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, and two USB 3.0 ports on its outer edges. You can use the Thunderbolt ports to connect to an iMac and use it as your external display, or connect the MacBook Pro to an external mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt display natively. Apple, along with a wide selection of third-party vendors, make adapters for DVI, Ethernet, VGA, and even external PCIe card expansion chasses (but devices connected thusly would run at the slower interface's speeds). Thunderbolt 2 has a theoretical maximum throughput of 20Gbps, and can be daisy chained through up to six devices per port (12 devices total).
The 128GB Flash Storage module (analogous to a solid-state drive on other systems) has a somewhat low capacity for a high-end ultraportable or ultrabook, but it's sufficient if you tote along a speedy Thunderbolt portable drive for your video files or database files. The drive has about 110GB available when you first set up the system. There's built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi for a speedy connection to the Internet and any network you connect to. If you need more storage, the $1,499 MacBook Pro configuration doubles the storage to 256GB, while the $1,799 model has 512GB and a slight speed bump to the processor. The included 8GB of system memory can be increased to 16GB for an extra $200 before purchase, but not after.
The system comes with Apple's iLife (GarageBand, iPhoto, iTunes, etc.) and iWork (Keynote, Numbers, Pages, etc.) software suites, which means you won't have to buy a copy of Microsoft Office unless you rely on Office's more obscure functions. The MacBook Pro 13-inch comes with a one-year warranty, and 90 days of phone technical support.
The Intel Core i5-4278U processor with built-in Intel Iris 5100 graphics helps the MacBook Pro score some of the fastest multimedia test times, compared with ultrabooks like the Acer Aspire S7-392-5410, the Dell XPS 13 Touch, and the Toshiba Kirabook 13 i7s Touch. It finished the Cinebench R15 test with 279 points, the Handbrake test in a scant 2 minutes 32 seconds, and the Photoshop CS6 test in 4:11. It was able to beat the other systems because its processor has a higher clock speed than even the Core i7 processor in the Toshiba Kirabook. Oddly enough, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet came the closest in terms of scores for these three tests, on account of its relatively fast Core i5 processor.
Performance on the 3D tests was very good, and while the 17 frames per second (fps) the MacBook scored on both Heaven and Valley at medium-quality settings aren't quite playable, the system has enough oomph to beat the other ultrabooks and tablets here on these tests. You can play browser-based games and titles like Diablo III and World of Warcraft, provided you use lower-quality settings.
Battery life was even more impressive than that of the last year's 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, which lasted 11 hours 26 minutes on our rundown test. The current system lasted 13:41. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 2014 Edition scored 11:26, scored 11:26, but most other contenders lasted between 8.5 and 9.5 hours on the same test.
All of these improvements make an already-excellent ultraportable laptop even better. Thus, the new Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina is our Editors' Choice for high-end ultraportables. If the $1,300 asking price is within your budget, this is the laptop to buy.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.