Review: Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display

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in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
The new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display brings Apple's much-heralded high-resolution screen to its most popular notebook model. It's a beautiful, powerful machine, but does it justify its $500 premium over the price of the legacy 13-inch MacBook Pro?

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13-inch Retina Pro vs. the rest of the MacBook Pro lineup

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is $1,699 with a 2.5 gigahertz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of RAM, 128 gigabytes of flash storage, and Intel HD 4000 graphics. A high-end model with double the capacity but identical RAM and CPU is $300 more, at $1,999.

Our test machine featured an upgraded 2.9 gigahertz dual-core Core i7 processor with 8 gigabytes of RAM and 256 gigabytes of flash storage. The build-to-order machine has a suggested price of $2,199, which is actually the same price as Apple's entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.

At the $2,199 price, the 15-inch model has a slower clock speed of 2.3 gigahertz, but it's a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, compared to the dual-core i7 in our test machine. And for the same price, the 15-inch model also has a Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics card with a gigabyte of GDDR5 memory.

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While the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro offers more portability than the 15-inch variety, it makes a number of sacrifices in order to achieve its smaller size. Most notably, the 13-inch model is restricted to a dual-core processor and 8 gigabytes of RAM, with no ability to expand the RAM and no quad-core processor options.

What the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display lacks in specs, it makes up for in size. It has a width of 12.35 inches, a depth of 8.62 inches, and weighs just 3.57 pounds ? nearly a full pound lighter than the 15-inch model. The 13-inch model is slightly thicker than the 15-inch variety, at three-quarters of an inch versus 0.71 inch.

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Meanwhile, the older MacBook Pro design, which is still available starting at $1,199 with the same 2.5 gigahertz dual-core Intel Core i5, weighs 4.5 pounds. The legacy model has a height of 0.95 inches, a width of 12.78 inches, and a depth of 8.94 inches.

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Other hardware features

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While it has a smaller footprint, the 13-inch Retina model has enough ports to justify its "Pro" moniker. On the left side are two Thunderbolt ports, a USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack, while the right side of the machine has another USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port and an SDXC Card slot.

In shrinking its footprint, the MacBook Pro did lose dedicated FireWire and Ethernet ports, as well as the SuperDrive, though adapters and accessories are available. The Retina display model has one extra Thunderbolt port versus the legacy design, which features just one high-speed I/O. We view these trade-offs as a plus for the MacBook Pro.

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There are also dual microphones for noise cancelation, and stereo speakers that sound good. The chiclet-style keyboard is backlit, and the glass trackpad is as great as it has been for years.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display also has the new, thinner MagSafe 2 connector on its left side. This is a minor annoyance for anyone who has an accessory like a Thunderbolt display, as an adapter for the MagSafe charger will be necessary.

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Retina display

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Apple has boasted that the Retina display on its new 13-inch MacBook Pro is the second-highest resolution screen available in a notebook. The highest, of course, is the larger 15-inch variety. The display on the 13-inch model is every bit as good as its larger counterpart, with crisp text and graphics that are pleasing to the eye.

The Retina display has a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels in a 16:10 aspect ratio. In comparison, Apple's 27-inch Thunderbolt Display has a screen resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels with a 16:9 ratio.

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Apple also says the Retina display on its new MacBook Pro has a brightness rating of 300 nits. Thanks to in-plane switching technology, the screen also has an impressive viewing angle of 178 degrees.

Glare has also been greatly reduced on the MacBook Pro display, but not entirely eliminated. The glass screen will still show glare in a brightly lit room, and Apple does not offer a matte option for reducing glare.

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Some elements in popular applications like Spotify look still look blurry on the Retina display.


Four months after the debut of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, there are still a fair number of applications that simply look awful on the high-resolution screen. While some major applications like Google Chrome have since been updated to take advantage of the Retina display, other popular options like Valve's Steam or Mozilla's Firefox Web browser are still awaiting an update.

Retina Display MacBook Pro


Thankfully, Apple's own applications and the OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion operating system are properly Retina-fied. For most uses, the MacBook Pro screen is a joy to look at ? but those applications that don't yet support the Retina display continue to stand out.

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Performance

Anyone who has used a MacBook Air or the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display already knows the benefits of flash-only storage. Now the 13-inch MacBook Pro gains that same benefit and performs as expected: boot-up time is super fast, applications launch much more quickly, and features such as Power Nap work great.

While flash is a welcome addition, the lack of a dedicated graphics card is a mild disappointment. However, it should be noted that Apple's legacy 13-inch MacBook Pro also lacks a discrete graphics card.

The good news is, for day-to-day tasks, most users will not notice the absence of a dedicated graphics card. Even while pushing graphics to Apple's high-resolution Retina display, the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, part of the Ivy Bridge chipset, perform well. Users can play a high-definition movie, browse a website, and view high-resolution images at the same time without any noticeable slowdown.

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Of course, the same will not be the case for those who do high-end video editing or are looking to play the latest games. Here, the MacBook Pro will perform adequately, but can't compete with the quad-core chip and dedicated graphics found in the 15-inch model ??a machine that, while more powerful, is a full pound heavier.

An OpenGL test with Cinebench 11.5 found that the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 2.9 gigahertz dual-core i7 processor and Intel HD 4000 graphics averaged 20.06 frames per second. Cinebench's CPU test gave the system a score of 3.31.

For a 13-inch notebook, the MacBook Pro with Retina display holds its own. Any fears that the integrated graphics and dual-core processor would not be able to adequately drive the pixel-pushing display are unfounded. But it's a machine also considerably slower than its bulkier 15-inch brethren, at least when it comes to graphics-intensive tasks. For those deciding between Apple's two Retina MacBooks, a choice must be made between power and portability.

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As for battery life, we found that the MacBook Pro could get nearly a full workday's use, meeting Apple's advertised 7-hour battery life, with mid-level brightness, Wi-Fi enabled, and multiple applications running. In a more extreme battery stress test with brightness maxed out, the MacBook Pro with Retina display lasted nearly 4 hours before a charge was necessary.

It should be noted that battery life should be even longer for most users with the default 2.5 gigahertz processor. Our test machine with an upgraded 2.9 gigahertz Core i7 chip draws more power than the standard processor.

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Software and wrap-up

As mentioned before, Apple's applications, including iTunes, Mail, and Final Cut Pro X, are all optimized for the Retina display and look great. All new Macs also come with the iLife suite, which includes iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand.

The MacBook Pro with Retina display also comes with Mountain Lion, Apple's latest Mac operating system. New features in Mountain Lion take advantage of the latest hardware in the MacBook Pro, including AirPlay Mirroring to a networked Apple TV driven by the Ivy Bridge processor, and voice dictation aided by the noise-canceling microphone.

Retina Display MacBook Pro


In all, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is a compelling package. Anyone considering a high-end notebook should absolutely give it a closer look. But that doesn't mean it's for everybody.

While the cost of the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro was tough to swallow, it's an even more difficult sell with the 13-inch variety. The lack of a dedicated graphics card, coupled with no options for a quad-core processor or more than 8 gigabytes of RAM, make the 13-inch Pro a lesser value than the 15-inch model.

However, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display does accomplish more than enough to justify its existence and superiority over the legacy 13-inch model, even if it has a harder time justifying its premium price than the 15-inch Retina. It's a well crafted machine with a beautiful display and ample components that make it deserving of its "Pro" title, and the new king of 13-inch notebooks.

Score: 4 out of 5

4-stars

The Good

  • Thin unibody design
  • Retina display is gorgeous
  • Strong battery life, fast flash-based performance
  • Plethora of ports, including two Thunderbolts and HDMI

The Bad

  • Price
  • Does not have a dedicated GPU
  • Can't add more than 8GB of RAM or quad-core CPU

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 32


    Haswell and 16gb option is a must before it can be considered a good investment.


     


    I still see the macbook air as the best laptop (price/performance/quality) one can buy... it only needs an IPS display and even better battery life.

  • Reply 2 of 32
    I noticed the MacBook Pro Retina panel is quite a bit thicker than the MacBook Air's panel.
  • Reply 3 of 32
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,085member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post



    I noticed the MacBook Pro Retina panel is quite a bit thicker than the MacBook Air's panel.


     


    It's because it includes a sheet of glass, which the Air does not. 


     


    I'm still trying to understand where the weight difference comes from, between this and the Air. Where is the extra pound from?


     


    Either way my 2011 Air is still serving me fine. Was flirting with the idea of upgrading to this, but I'll wait till the next revision. Can't justify that price.

  • Reply 4 of 32


    Beautiful system but the negatives vastly outweigh the positives in this version for me.  No dedicated GPU, no Quad Core, 8gb max plus the significant price difference over the 13" MBP.  


     


    No performance increase over the 13" MBP other than SSD standard but as most of us know who read this site you can pick up a 128gb SSD drive for <$80 now and put it in a 13" MBP in about 10 minutes.


     


    I wanted a 15" rMBP in a 13" package, this isn't it.

  • Reply 5 of 32
    bigpicsbigpics Posts: 1,353member


    Pass. 


     


    Apple's first to market with a few technologies like Retina that will soon be commodified and available at much lower prices, and it certainly needs more power-sipping electronics, e.g., Haswell and more stuffed into the form factor, plus more powerful graphics (and CPU) processing to make it truly compelling.  At least for those who don't have to buy one now and have specific demands for what it can do compared to the Air.



    What I was expecting though after the 15 (or maybe even a bit less).  The 13" Air certainly seems a better value in 2012 if it meets your user case.  I really don't take my notebook out much any more for the moment, and the new Mac Mini and my old, but totally satisfactory to me 1600x1200 desktop monitor are feeling like a decent price/performance choice to get me through the next year to 18 months.  Especially supplemented by a tablet for being out and about and not needing anything heavyweight (in power and apps) on those sojourns. 



    The 13" MBP is reputed to be Apple's top seller, no?  (or is it the Air, I forget) But if it is, while I can sell Apple selling enough to make it a viable product, I can't imagine this one will be such a huger seller at these prices.

     

  • Reply 6 of 32

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post


     


    It's because it includes a sheet of glass, which the Air does not. 


     


    I'm still trying to understand where the weight difference comes from, between this and the Air. Where is the extra pound from?


     


    Either way my 2011 Air is still serving me fine. Was flirting with the idea of upgrading to this, but I'll wait till the next revision. Can't justify that price.



    Battery battery battery.

  • Reply 7 of 32

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by bigpics View Post


    Pass. 


     


    Apple's first to market with a few technologies like Retina that will soon be commodified and available at much lower prices, and it certainly needs more power-sipping electronics, e.g., Haswell and more stuffed into the form factor, plus more powerful graphics (and CPU) processing to make it truly compelling.  At least for those who don't have to buy one now and have specific demands for what it can do compared to the Air.



    What I was expecting though after the 15 (or maybe even a bit less).  The 13" Air certainly seems a better value in 2012 if it meets your user case.  I really don't take my notebook out much any more for the moment, and the new Mac Mini and my old, but totally satisfactory to me 1600x1200 desktop monitor are feeling like a decent price/performance choice to get me through the next year to 18 months.  Especially supplemented by a tablet for being out and about and not needing anything heavyweight (in power and apps) on those sojourns. 



    The 13" MBP is reputed to be Apple's top seller, no?  (or is it the Air, I forget) But if it is, while I can sell Apple selling enough to make it a viable product, I can't imagine this one will be such a huger seller at these prices.

     



    I believe that this one is a true beta tester for them. Since it's a 13" and it will sell (you can bet on it..), prices for some kwy components will come down, engineering will be perfected and before you know it, regular 13" and 15" models will disappear, and retina models prices will come down (400$, maybe). Only retina models and macbook air will be sold in 2014. Wanna bet?

  • Reply 8 of 32
    cash907cash907 Posts: 893member


    I put a lot of thought into this, and fondled one the other night at the Apple store for a good half hour, but I decided to pass and just get an SSD for my 2009 13" MBP.


     


    While I loved the screen and the size/weight, that price is ridiculous.


     


    Here's hoping things improve with the 2013 revision.

  • Reply 9 of 32
    quambquamb Posts: 143member
    Ordered one yesterday. Can't wait. If you use it for work and can afford it - yes, this is an amazing laptop, almost THE perfect laptop for me.

    Though for any other circumstance I'm not so sure, as ignoring any of it's industrial design innovations and looking just at its specs - yes this is a very expensive machine for what you get.
  • Reply 10 of 32
    I returned my MBP 13 Retina today to the apple store for a refund. It is a true machine of compromise. It runs hot compared to my MBA 13 even browsing simple webpages (too hot for your lap) and its noticeably heavier and bulkier. For that you get the same performance as the MBA and you're paying a whole lot extra. If it had quad core and a dedicated GPU I could justify the extra cost, weight and heat. But it does not. This article makes a big assumption stating that they didn't have room in the machine, when only a few days ago did we look at the iFixit comparison noting all the 'void/empty space ' inside the machine. Really disappointed with Apple on this one, this machine is basically a rip off.
  • Reply 11 of 32
    I bought this machine and then I configured the 15"rMBP and the prices were too close for comfort. It delivers tomorrow and I will return it and order the 15".
  • Reply 12 of 32


    It would have been nice if the person that dumped this onto the AI site would have removed the many "Jump To" comments from the article. 


     


    All the "Jump To this" and "Jump To that" got me feeling jumpier than Steve Ballmer at a MS Board Meeting.

  • Reply 13 of 32


    Originally Posted by Macky the Macky View Post

    It would have been nice if the person that dumped this onto the AI site would have removed the many "Jump To" comments from the article. 


     


    Done, on the forums at least.

  • Reply 14 of 32

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by pentae View Post



    This article makes a big assumption stating that they didn't have room in the machine, when only a few days ago did we look at the iFixit comparison noting all the 'void/empty space ' inside the machine. Really disappointed with Apple on this one, this machine is basically a rip off.


     


     


    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Pujones1 View Post



    I bought this machine and then I configured the 15"rMBP and the prices were too close for comfort. 


     


     


    As many have opined, the pricing of the 13" rMBP is too high.  My guess is that Apple will not sell these in high volumes.  It could be that Apple is unable to get the component prices low enough, especially SSD prices.  I was surprised to learn from iFixit's teardown that there is almost enough space under the trackpad for an HDD.  So, my guess is that very soon Apple will offer a Fusion Drive for the 13" rMBP (and maybe for even the 15" one).  After all, the new Mac mini has that as an option.  And if they can get the cost of the display down sufficiently, you may see 13" rMBP prices approach those of the regular 13" MBP.  This may require redesigning the internals.  The first versions of the unibody MBP (the 13" was called just Macbook) had removable batteries.  Subsequent versions with non-removable batteries had different internal designs.
  • Reply 15 of 32
    zozmanzozman Posts: 391member


    After seeing the keynote & reading reviews/people opinions, it makes me feel better about having ordered the 15 rMBP when it launched, knowing that the 13 was around the corner & the size that i really wanted, I felt that apple where going to leave out a few key things i needed, So i got the 15, I love it, its the best computer i have ever owned (& i have owned & do own alot of computers).


    In the future if they put in a dedicated GPU & up the max ram, im spoilt by having so many quad i7 & xeon machines its hard to spend heaps on a dualcore , id be happy to replace my 11 air with the 13 rMBP for portablility ( i know its not as portible but photoshop & maya would run better on the 13 rMBP than on an air)

  • Reply 16 of 32


    Nice review! Unlike others that are kind of boring. I'm really considering this laptop. I hope it could run FCP X, Premiere Pro and After Effects smoothly.

  • Reply 17 of 32
    How's the image quality when set to the "uneven" resolution of 1440 by 900?

    (I really like that my 13" MBA has the same amount of pixels as the regular 15" MBP)
  • Reply 18 of 32
    aizmovaizmov Posts: 988member
    I can get a quad core CPU on the Mac mini but not this?!!!
  • Reply 19 of 32
    v5vv5v Posts: 1,357member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by vikpt View Post


    Nice review! Unlike others that are kind of boring. I'm really considering this laptop. I hope it could run FCP X, Premiere Pro and After Effects smoothly.



     


    On a machine with HD4000 graphics? That seems pretty optimistic...

  • Reply 20 of 32


    what about the IMAGE RETENTION PROBLEM?


    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4034848?start=0&tstart=0


     


    nobody seems to care about it.

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