4.7

Performance
Overall Design
Mobility

Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is a workhorse MacBook with plenty of computing power and performance to spare. If you depend on your laptop for serious work, the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is for you. Apple last updated its 15-incher in mid 2015, with the biggest change being the inclusion of a new Force Touch trackpad.

So why should someone choose the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display?

The key reason is the screen size, which gives you plenty of screen space to get serious work done. If you live in spreadsheets, the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is worth it. Alternately, if you’re into editing photos and video, the size of the Retina display makes the job easier. And games? A bigger screen usually delivers a better experience, especially when paired with the better graphics processors that Apple puts into its flagship MacBook Pro.

For everything else, like email, web browsing, iTunes, and social media, you don’t really need the size and performance that’s packed into the 15-inch MacBook Pro — but you’ll probably enjoy it.

So what are the downsides?

Size and weight. The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is 14.13 inches wide and weighs 4.49 pounds. It’s not awful to pack around, but it’s a lot more MacBook to carry than the much smaller 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (read my review or compare the 13 vs 15 MBP) and it’s a monster compared to the 13-inch MacBook Air or 12-inch MacBook.

In fact, if you follow my line of thinking, I recommend that people buy MacBooks based first on form-factor — the core size and display — and second on storage, followed third by computing performance. Why? Most people’s performance needs are easily handled by most MacBooks. With only 128GB of storage in some models, choosing not enough storage is a clear gotcha for some photo and video-loving users. And screen size and weight, it turns out, are factors far more likely to affect your satisfaction over time.

If you know you want a big display, what else do you need to know about choosing a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display?

16GB of Memory and Quad-Core Processors

One of the nice things that come standard on 15-inch MacBooks is 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3L memory — and 16GB is plenty of memory for the foreseeable future for the vast majority of situations.

In addition, you get a quad-core processor in Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, which lets you process more tasks, more quickly than in typical dual-core processors. For light computing use, quad-core processors vs dual-core processors aren’t a big deal, except when you think of your MacBook in terms of cars vs pickup trucks. While a car can get you from point A to point B as quickly as a pickup, it will never be able to get you from point A to point B faster than a pickup when you want to do something like carry a refridgerator or pull a boat.

A quad-core processor gives you the ability to do more — whether you end up using it to its full potential or not.

MacBook Pro Ports, Storage, and Graphics

15-inch-macbook-pro-review-keyboard

The keyboard on the 15-inch MacBook Pro is fantastic, and the new Force Touch trackpad is blissfully accurate.

Another nice benefit of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is that it still comes with plenty of ports. You get two fast and versatile Thunderbolt 2 ports, 2 USB 3 ports, an HDMI port, and an SDXC card slot. What you don’t get is the new USB-C type port, which is the only port you get on a 12-inch MacBook. Until USB-C becomes ubiquitous (not for a while yet) this is a non-issue with the current MacBook Pro lineup.

What about storage?

The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (Mid 2015 models and earlier) come with 256GB of built-in flash storage or 512GB. Because this storage is non-upgradable, you need to pay attention to how much storage you need. Is 256GB enough for you? That’s your key question. If it’s not, you’ll have to step up your order, and in the world according to Apple, that means you’ll pay more.

Interestingly, if you do decide that you need 512GB, the stock 512GB model also includes the AMD Radeon R9 M370X (with 2GB of GDDR5 memory) graphics processor. It works with the built-in Intel Iris Pro Graphics, switching back and forth depending upon what you’re doing with your Mac. Unfortunately, Apple removed this discrete processor option from its 256GB models, saving them only for the beefier versions. Does this matter? For graphics-using professionals yes; for most everyone else, not really. The Intel Iris Pro Graphics processor is still capable enough to drive the built-in display in addition to two, yes, two 3840 x 2160 4K displays. (If you want to power a 5K display, you’ll need the model with the AMD Radeon R9 M370x graphics processor.)

15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review Conclusion

All-in-all, the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display offers a roomy and gorgeous screen. The overall fit and finish is excellent, and the TrackPad is joyfully accurate and responsive. The keyboard is fantastic — you get just the right amount of key travel, feel, and sound. The battery does its job well — you get about 9 hours of wireless web usage. The MacBook Pro 15-inch models come with plenty of memory standard — 16GB — and the solid-state storage is wicked fast.

In my mind, the overall performance of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display makes it perfect for serious work that occurs primarily at your desk — and every now and then travels out and about for fresh air or new perspectives. While I don’t believe it is “the best overall MacBookfor most consumers, it is Apple’s most powerful MacBook, packed full of pure awesomeness. If you need the power or lust after the big Retina screen, it’s the right MacBook for you.

Get the Gear:

Note: B&H offers fast and free 2-day shipping on MacBooks.

  • 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, 256GB . . . at B&H . . . or Amazon
  • 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, 512GB . . . at B&H . . . or Amazon
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, 256GB . . . at B&H . . . or Amazon

About the author

Chris Maxcer

Twitter Website

I've been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and I still remember the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. I'm a big fan of elegant gear and sublime tech, but there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. Online I like to call out cool stuff on Wicked Cool Bite, share Apple-focused opinions on TechNewsWorld, and blog with my buddies at Man Makes Fire. For something different, check out If They Mistake the Moon for the Sun. To catch me, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at the url of this site.