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Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2015) review: Old-school MacBook Pro is good for the dongle averse

Editors’ note (June 27, 2017): At this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple gave its laptop line a modest makeover. The $1,299 12-inch MacBook and $999 13-inch MacBook Air have been updated with faster, more powerful Intel processors. The new MacBook Pros — the $1,299 13-inch, $1,799 13-inch with Touch Bar, and $2,399 15-inch with Touch Bar — have those new chips, too, along with upgraded graphics hardware. 

Otherwise, aside from a RAM bump here and a slight price drop there, the 2017 batch is very similar to the one from 2016, with the same enclosures, ports, trackpads and screens. But be forewarned: Buying a new MacBook Pro may require you to invest in a variety of adapters for your legacy devices. Also note that the 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2015 has been discontinued, though the $1,999 15-inch model from that year, reviewed in full below, remains available for those who want all the ports and fewer dongles.

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Apple’s MacBook Air and Pro lines have remained steadfastly rock-solid in their look and feel for several generations. Each year brings a handful of tweaks and updates, typically only to internal components, from better hard drives to faster Wi-Fi to new processors. It’s only because both the Air and Pro designs were so far ahead of the curve when first introduced that these laptops still look so up-to-date.

For 2015, nearly every MacBook has received an update of a some kind, although these have largely been of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety. Both the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro have moved up to Intel’s fifth-generation Core i-series processors, also known by the codename Broadwell, while the 13-inch Pro also added Apple’s new Force Touch trackpad.

That clickless touchpad, which uses four sensors and some haptic feedback rather than a traditional hinge, was one of the highlights of the new 12-inch MacBook , a low-power, 2-pound ultraportable that was Apple’s sole new laptop design in years.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Compared to all the changes listed above, and the entirely new 12-inch MacBook, the 15-inch MacBook Pro feels like it’s been slighted in the update department. The 15-inch Pro gets the Force Touch trackpad, and a faster solid-state hard drive, plus updated graphics in the form of an AMD Radeon R9 M370X GPU. But arguably the most important component upgrade is missing, as the Core i7 CPU here is the same as last year’s model (the fifth-gen Core i7 chips from Intel are only starting to trickle out now).

Despite the lack of major changes, the 15-inch MacBook Pro remains Apple’s biggest and most powerful laptop, and a great all day, everyday productivity machine, especially if you need the extra GPU power for photo or video work, or the generous screen real estate the 15-inch Retina panel provides.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Prices stay the same, at $1,999 for the base model (£1,599, AU$2,799) and $2,499 (£1,999, AU$3,499) for our upgraded test unit, with a bigger 512GB hard drive and the AMD graphics. That makes this a major investment, especially compared with the 13-inch Pro, which can be had for as little as $1,299 (£999, AU$1,799). Unless you specifically need the size, power or features of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, that 13-inch model is our current pick for the most universally useful all-around MacBook.

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2015)

Price as reviewed $2,499
Display size/resolution 15.4-inch 2,880 x 1,800 Retina screen
PC CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4870HQ
PC Memory 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics AMD Radeon R9 M370X
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Apple OS X Yosemite 10.10.3

Design and features

With only some minor internal changes, this MacBook Pro looks identical to the one we reviewed in mid-2014 , and in fact the product design has only slightly changed since 2012.

Aside from being a year older, most of our impressions about the design of the last several iterations of this laptop remain the same.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is slim, but with a wide desktop footprint. Especially compared with newer, lighter laptops, it feels denser than it looks at first glance, but with that comes a certain sense of indestructibility, thanks to the flex-free aluminum construction. It’s not a carry-all-day-every-day package, although one could tote it around to and from work, or on the occasional day trip without much trouble.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard remains essentially the same as seen on the last several generations of MacBook. Other laptops have matched, but not surpassed, the backlit Apple keyboard, with the possible exception of Lenovo, a company that invests heavily in keyboard design and development.

New for this year, however, is Apple’s Force Touch trackpad. Already available in the 12-inch MacBook and the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Force Touch trackpad eliminates the top hinge that previously required you to physically depress the glass top of the pad, usually from somewhere on the lower half to register properly. Instead, the new pad places four sensors under the pad, one under each corner. This replaces a design some describe as a “diving board” with one that’s a simple, flat surface.

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