Apple's 13in MacBook Pro with retina display is the smaller follow-up to its bigger 15in MacBook Pro sister - with a similarly smaller price.
The sting in the tail with the 15in MacBook Pro retina display is the price, at upwards of $2499. Its 13in sister is cheaper, more portable, and one of the best laptops ever made.
Screen and resolution
Apple has managed to squeeze almost as many pixels into a more compact and lighter body. The 2560x1600 display is arguably a more useful size than the 15in model, and although the larger size keeps its title of highest-res laptop display (at 2880x1800), the 13in takes home the ppi prize with 227ppi to the 15in model’s 220ppi.
Text looks incredible. It's sharper than anything you’ll have seen on a laptop display before. Hi-res snaps and even icons in the MacBook’s homescreen dock also look mesmerising, with vibrant colours and excellent viewing angles that put previous MacBooks to shame.
Mountain Lion’s notifications, Launchpad and built-in Mac apps also look fantastic. But a retina MacBook won’t magically improve the resolution of web images or movies, so not everything will look 4x more glorious than they did on a 1440x900 display– these things take time and the web could be playing catch-up for a while yet.
Design and build
The optical drive is now missing – as it is with the MacBook Air – and while this may prove a pain from time to time, the thin and sleek design will be a comfort next time you need to insert an installation disc.
Otherwise, there’s no radical overhaul to MacBook styling – the aluminium design is still present and correct, only now it’s slimmer (19mm thick) and lighter (1.6kg). Whereas other manufacturers go for light and skinny from the off, Apple has always won the build battle by making something desirable first and then concentrating on making it smaller and lighter.
The keyboard and trackpad are as responsive and easy to use as ever, a feat not to be sniffed at when so many ultrabooks get these key input areas so wrong. Two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI output, an SD card reader and Bluetooth 4.0 are all also on board. No Ethernet cable socket, another occasional annoyance particularly when travelling, but certain features were sacrificed to the design gods.
It might not be as portable as a MacBook Air, but with a 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 running the show, the 13in retina has been built to be the only laptop you’ll ever need. You won’t get the same performance as using the 15in models’ quad-core Core i7 chip (with back-up from NVIDIA GeForce 650M graphics) but it’s still very impressive.
Available in 128GB and 256GB (flash) storage options, you won’t be able to open up the retina display MacBook Pro and slot in your own SSD.
As with its 15in brother, the 13in MacBook Pro is not the most long-lasting of laptops. Battery life is slightly improved over the 15in so you will be able to stretch it to four or maybe even four-and-a-half hours of constant web surfing, image editing, gaming or watching movies, but that’s still not a lot. With all those pixels to push that’s not really a big surprise – just make sure that newly redesigned MagSafe connector is never too far out of reach.
Until the next crop of ultrabooks turn up with better-than-retina displays, it’s safe to say this is the laptop we’d choose if money were no object. The 15in MacBook Pro does offer more processing power, but the 13in's size and relatively light weight mean you can take this eye-popping laptop anywhere without thinking about it.
And at $1899, although it is still steep, it’s not actually bad value for money – ultrabooks like the Asus Taichi, Dell XPS 13 and HP Envy 14 Spectre aren’t too far away price-wise – and you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’ve got a futureproof resolution on your hands.
That doesn’t mean the 13in MacBook Pro is an essential buy right now, but it’s without doubt the way to go if you want a taste of the laptop future.
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Issue: 345 | December 2015