The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Design

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The MacBook Pro’s unibody design is iconic, but Apple proves you can improve even an icon.

While the Retina displays on the new MacBook Pros are understandably attracting most of the tech world’s attention, there’s a lot more to the new MacBook Pros than just their screens: this is a notebook that has been completely re-envisioned for a new era.

With the display off, seen head-on, there’s not a lot to distinguish the look of a last-gen MacBook Pro to a Retina MacBook Pro. The reason for that is simple: Apple’s achieved an iconic purity of form across its laptop line that is hard to improve upon. With the jump to a unibody aluminum enclosure, the MacBook Pro is a seamless machine that is tough, versatile and streamlined. A lot is said about Apple’s incredible design standards, but what it all boils down to is that Apple reduces technology to its essence. A MacBook Pro may look beautiful, but it does so in an understated way, without distraction: it is designed to be a frictionless nexus to the software beyond.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Say goodbye to this. It’s intentional.

As part of Apple’s mission to eliminate distractions from the Retina MacBook Pro, the only completely obvious change when seen head-on is that Cupertino has gotten rid of the “MacBook Pro” label below the display. That’s a smart move, as now more than ever, it’s impossible to use a Retina MacBook Pro and not know what kind of computer you’re using: the incredible clarity of the Retina MacBook Pro’s one-of-a-kind display is all the calling card it needs. There is no mistaking this for any other laptop, or even any other Mac.

From the side, though, the Retina MacBook Pro is a very, very different machine than its predecessors. The most notable change is that the Retina MacBook Pro, at just 0.71 inch deep, is about 25% thinner than the last-generation model. It consequently weighs about a pound less.

This isn’t just cosmetic. Apple is sometimes criticized for an obsessive fixation on thinness, but there’s a reason its an obsession. Apple’s goal isn’t just to make devices that you jack into, but that become extensions of yourself. Thinner, lighter devices decrease the friction of carrying them around, of being a burden on their owners.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The thinness of the Retina MacBook Pro isn’t profound like the MacBook Air, but it’s impressive in a machine without performance compromises.

One consequence of making the Retina MacBook Pro thinner — or, we should say, side consideration — is that the Retina MacBook Pro no longer has an optical drive. For the vast majority of people, this is a win all around. As we move more of our work into the cloud, internal optical drives generally go unused. From a reliability standpoint, they are also one of the most common elements of a laptop to require servicing. Plus, they add unnecessary bulk to provide a functionality which is increasingly of marginal use to owners.

To make up for the lack of optical drive, the Retina MacBook Pro has more (and faster) ports than ever. Apple’s upgraded the Retina MacBook Pro so that you not only have two high-speed Thunderbolt ports — the perfect interface for the video, audio and photography professionals the MacBook Pro line is truly aimed at — but also USB 3. That means you can transfer data from a connected USB 3 device ten times faster than you could under USB 2. In addition, the Retina MacBook Pro features an HDMI port and a high-speed SD reader. If after all that you still need an optical drive, Apple sells an external one for $79.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The T-shaped connector returns for the thinner MagSafe 2.

The last, subtle change in the MacBook Pro’s external design s the new MagSafe 2 connector. With the Retina MacBook Pros, Apple changed the charger to be thinner and wider. Comparing an old 11-inch MacBook Air’s MagSafe port to the Retina MacBook Pro port, it’s clear that the old-style MagSafe charger was too bulky to fit: the MacBook Air is actually thicker at its thickest point than the Retina MacBook Pro’s base. It’s a subtle change, but less subtle is the MagSafe 2 charger’s return to a T-shaped design, instead of new MacBook’s L-shaped MagSafes. Given that the T-shaped MagSafe connector was ultimately changed in design because of constant fraying issues, it seems odd that Apple would revert to a T-shape, unless they didn’t have a choice. The MagSafe 2 might turn out to be a weak spot on the new Retina MacBook Pros, so watch out.

Ultimately, for a professional who needs a powerful machine capable, the difference between the form factor of the Retina MacBook Pro and the last-gen models is very welcome. It’s not only thinner and lighter, with much faster and more robust ways of sucking in external data, but because of the quality of the new display, video and photographic professionals who need incredible color accuracy and clarity to do their work no longer have to hook the Retina MacBook Pros up to bulky external displays.

The Retina MacBook Pros aren’t just “good enough” machines for professionals to work on when they are on the road and away from their main computer, but rather all-in-one notebooks that can be frictionlessly carried everywhere that are every bit as good, if not better, than their main production machines.

Next Page: Performance

  • InternDom

    I’m pretty sure the Retina MacBook starts out at $2199

  • InternDom
  • John Brownlee

    I’m pretty sure the Retina MacBook starts out at $2199

    Doh. Fixed. Thanks for the spot.

  • InternDom

    Doh. Fixed. Thanks for the spot

    No Problem. Either way at that price for the bottom model does 100 bucks matter anyway haha

  • Mystakill

    That fan is one of the weird-looking “speakers” I’ve ever seen :)

  • picky

    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

  • JaredABurnett

    Excellent review John. I’m still waiting on mine to ship, but you’ve got me on the edge of my seat now.

  • John Brownlee

    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Sorry about that. We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t actually support “Single page view” for paginated posts, but I’ve got our tech guy looking into it: if it’s possible to do easily, we’ll introduce it soon.

  • Ed_Kel

    I can always count on CoM to provide great reviews.

  • vctr
    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Sorry about that. We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t actually support “Single page view” for paginated posts, but I’ve got our tech guy looking into it: if it’s possible to do easily, we’ll introduce it soon.

    Now for the more honest and less-bullshity response … it’s so that they get more page views.

  • zviivz

    I’m pretty sure the Retina MacBook starts out at $2199

    Starts at $1999 for education. It pays to stay in school!

  • John Brownlee
    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Sorry about that. We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t actually support “Single page view” for paginated posts, but I’ve got our tech guy looking into it: if it’s possible to do easily, we’ll introduce it soon.

    Now for the more honest and less-bullshity response … it’s so that they get more page views.

    Uh, no, it isn’t. The truth of the matter is that for every page after the first one, we see significant drop-off. We very, very rarely use multiple pages for anything, and when we do, it’s usually for longer, bandwidth heavy content.

  • vctr

    Why was my initial comment deleted? What do you have to hide?

  • Paragraphics

    The real reason for the multi-page article is to get more page views, and every time you click to view a different page, more ads are presented…and more chance that you will click on one of those ads.

    I don’t have any problem at all with sites that do this, but when asked about it they should just admit it.

    It’s how they pay their bills and how they can afford to provide the content we enjoy.

    (Of course it would be nice if they provided a sing-page link, as others have mentioned.)

  • jfc123

    is the resolution of apps not updated for the retina display the same as on the 2011 MBP?

  • John Brownlee

    Why was my initial comment deleted? What do you have to hide?

    It wasn’t deleted. We even responded to it and quoted it.

  • vctr
    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Sorry about that. We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t actually support “Single page view” for paginated posts, but I’ve got our tech guy looking into it: if it’s possible to do easily, we’ll introduce it soon.

    Now for the more honest and less-bullshity response … it’s so that they get more page views.

    Uh, no, it isn’t. The truth of the matter is that for every page after the first one, we see significant drop-off. We very, very rarely use multiple pages for anything, and when we do, it’s usually for longer, bandwidth heavy content.

    The fact that you see a significant drop off after the first page doesn’t even address what I was saying. The page views that you get after the first page are page views you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten if you had put the whole article on the same page.

    Paginating to get more page views is the oldest trick in the book.

  • Derek Martin

    We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections.

    When you paginate it, people on slow connections have to download all of the other assets once for each page (header,footer,sidebar full of different rich-media ads that don’t cache). If anything, it is a worse experience for users on slow connections.

  • Rad_Middle

    I’ve read a number of reviews of the MBPR, and found yours one of the best (if with a bit of over-repetition of the “frictionless” metaphor!) – also the first review of yours I’ve read. A few comments….

    Re: “A lot is said about Apple’s incredible design standards, but what it all boils down to is that Apple reduces technology to its essence. A MacBook Pro may look beautiful, but it does so in an understated way, without distraction: it is designed to be a frictionless nexus to the software beyond.”

    People might say you’re invoking the “form follows function” aesthetic of the Bauhaus movement – but the difference is Bauhaus buildings are drab, ugly manifestations of efficient materials use with a one-size-for-all-the-folk mentality, while Apple’s gear is beautiful, approachable and varied for many different kinds of people who want to roll their material objects their own way. So more Frank Lloyd Wright (or his fictionalized super-hero avatar of Howard Roark from “The Fountainhead”).

    Re: “…the incredible clarity of the Retina MacBook Pro’s one-of-a-kind display is all the calling card it needs. There is no mistaking this for any other laptop, or even any other Mac.”

    Which is why it barely needs “any steenking badges” – it’s its own identity in what it is.

    Re: “…you not only have two high-speed Thunderbolt ports — the perfect interface for the video, audio and photography professionals the MacBook Pro line is truly aimed at — but also USB 3.”

    One caveat, for many pros stuck either with big investments in legacy gear or in the mindset “this is the way it’s been, so the way it should stay” – and who foam at the mouth at the sound of the words “dongle” or “adapter cable” the wording should be “the perfect emerging and future interfaces”!

    Re: “compared to effortlessly slinging a MacBook Air into your bag, the Retina MacBook Pro feels like an engorged, heavy and massively huge monster.”

    This is why – since I’m transitioning from having a Win desktop and Mac notebook to having a dual OS “notetop” (a capable notebook that becomes an effect multi-screen, large storage desktop when I hook up one or two TB and/or USB 3 cables) and an iPad, my plan is to use the iPad as my daily take along machine for just keeping up with the net, email, social sites and light work, but have the option to take my “mini-monster” out for longer trips or any time I have processing/screen real estate work to do.

    I’m torn in the common “future shock” quandary about possibly waiting until the next rev – the more power efficient “tock” of Ivy Bridge’s “tick” in Intel’s chip cycle – which might garner another hour of battery life with a speed bump, and a likely better buy on 512 (and up) GB SSD’s (and if I understand things, the all-optical version of TB – though I’ve heard this will somehow be backward compatible??). This would make the next rev considerably more cost efficient – at the same price – e.g., if 512 SSD’s are the price of today’s 256, etc. And TB gear is likely to be much more common and down in cost as well. Not to mention that the awkward transition to retina-optimized software will be well in progress.

    This is also a strategic investment for me – being in a category you didn’t mention: frugal prosumers who buy the best machine they can with the notion NOT of taxing it out right out of the box, but rather, with a plan of keeping it as their main digital device for at least 3-4 years, knowing that software and the net is continually going to ask more of all computers. So it’s likely MORE machine than I need today, but one unlikely to be utterly “obselesced” for at least that long.

    Anyway, good work and thanks for your clear writing and good insights!

  • Matthew Gonzales Landry

    I love my new Retina MacBook Pro. Keys feel so much better than the model of yesteryear.

    I’m a writer, but I bought the computer because I wanted Apple’s pure vision of a modern notebook. The Retina Display is beautiful, the OS is solid; I can’t wait to dive deeper into this computer.

    Love at first keystroke ?

  • Rad_Middle

    PS: I would have much preferred to comment via Google – but couldn’t – I kept getting rejected for not putting in whatever your algorithm wants for “Location” – I tried city, city and state, state, zip code, etc. but kept getting bounced back to the log-in screen asking me in red for something I didn’t grok.

    Can you explain how to log in on the GOOG screen???

  • Roman Kuznetsov

    I’m pretty sure the Retina MacBook starts out at $2199

    I think what yes

    http://joomlasecret.ru

  • Andrew Kerr

    Essentially Apple has killed the regular ol’ Macbook in name only. The non-Retina display MB Pros are the new Macbook. But it says Pro, so it’s nicer.
    “This one goes to 11″
    — Nigel Tufnel

  • iBurrisJr

    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Why not just use the Reader feature in Safari.. Merged all 7 pages for me.

  • CameronFenton

    This is a great in-depth review, but I have to take issue with one point. The reviewer says “without a doubt, this is the best gaming notebook out there…” and this is just false. The 650M is on the either the high end of mid-range cards or the low end of high-end cards. It’s certainly not a bad card by any means, but there are gaming laptops out there with 680Ms that blow the 650M away. Sure, they aren’t cheap, but neither is this. It might be the best Macbook for gaming, but it’s definitely not the best laptop for gaming.

  • Zoomerdog

    John, this is the best, most thoughtful and insightful review of the MBP/wRetina Display that I’ve seen. Nicely written, too.

  • iBurrisJr

    From an Apple Expert at the number 3 selling Best Buy in the company, thank you for this. This is one of the best product reviews I’ve read in a long time.

  • dzolve

    Sadly, a lot of this review is quite dreadfully written and very flabby. Why on earth didn’t you get someone to look over it before you published it? However, John, despite it being very one eyed, I really enjoyed your enthusiasm. Overall, a great bit of friction!

  • dragosani

    A very “real” review and not a review that sounds like an advertisement. Well done John! I was on the fence about the MBP Retina and if it was for me. Heck I’m getting one!

  • Anthony Flores

    Sensational article. I’m a writer and I understand how much work and thought you put into this. It shows.

    I may get one, but I’m an “early adopter” type — in 2009 I got a 17 inch MBP with the fastest processor AND 128gb SSD for $3500. It has served me well, used 8-10 hours a day, every single day since I purchased it.

    But with this new one, I get significantly better specs for less money — and I’ve been “lugging” around a much bigger, heavier 17 inch laptop…which I’ll no longer have to do.

    Yes, $3,000+ for a computer is a lot (which is what mine will cost) but well worth it if you make your livelihood from your laptop. I do, and will use this computer for years.

    I just wish it were fully 4k resolution, for the wave of movies that will be coming out next year in that format :(

  • APPL13D5C13NC3

    Great review John. I fully enjoyed last week’s cultcast too. I must know where you got that cute chipmunk wallpaper! :-D

  • MarioWario

    Someone in the apple universe must be a real ASSHOLE:
    a) when you solder RAM on a mainboard you should deal with determination: choose 16GB on MBP-R & 8GB on MBair (100% cheapskatelish dorky decision to make it an upgrade)
    a1) it would be much more easy for logistics just to pick the machines by SSD-config (how stupid is that to manage MBair-Config’s with 2-4-8 GB of RAM)
    a2) in the long run a better customer expierence (see MBair with 2GB RAM)
    a3) solder one kind of RAM on a specific motherboard should reduce the cost of organizing the workflow (even when the chip price is higher (in reality it should cost Apple round about $ 50 to solder any RAM Chip on a mainboard)

    b) SSD-sizes: A MBP-R with a 256GB SSD sounds like a Maybach with a messenger bag instead of a trunk.
    b1) On the MBair they shouldn’t offer a 64GB-SSD Config for private customers at all – the only config where it’s useful is on CORPORATE-MACHINES (quick custom-made setup’s with OS & DB)

    Apple is doing many things right – but on obviously transparent sales points like RAM & SSD they miss the boat (compare a $1,000 Notebook with a MB-R @ first sight both get similar spec’s on RAM & SSD ;-) )

  • Asger

    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Did you notice the “Read as a single page” in the bottom right corner? :-)

  • Emiliano De Laurentiis

    Storage is an issue because iTunes automatically downloads purchased TV shows and movies. So if like myself you get all your media from AppleTV, and this is your main Mac, then you will need additional storage.

  • Chetan Kalia
  • BobWolf_WDP

    John, thanks for the comprehensive, insightful review! One of the better written reviews of Apple or any tech I have read in a while.

  • Montleewireless

    Awesome review John. Thank you!

  • Macnetar

    Great review and a great read John, loved the line “it is designed to be a frictionless nexus to the software beyond.”

  • BullockGlen

    like James implied I am stunned that a mom can earn $5423 in 1 month on the computer. did you read this site link(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/V6QuL

  • MccrayAgnes

    like Jacqueline replied I’m shocked that anyone able to profit $4877 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this web page (Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/FoCij

  • ReyesIvy1

    just as Angela responded I’m impressed that a stay at home mom can earn $4950 in one month on the computer. did you look at this web link(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/gCXCq

  • ReyesIvy1

    just as Angela responded I’m impressed that a stay at home mom can earn $4950 in one month on the computer. did you look at this web link(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/gCXCq

  • Dpkform

    Seriously? This is not a review, this is an irrational Mac fan-boy having a mac-gasm.

    This is the kind of crap that gives so many mac people a well deserved bad name. Delusional idiots who could care less about the facts, just gimme more kool-aid, yes please, I like it, I like it, i… ooh ooh ahh ahh….

    Now before you dismiss me as anti-mac – nothing could be further than the truth, though ranting orgasmic idiocy like this make it harder for me to explain to my non-mac friends that going Mac can be an intelligent, rational, kool-aid free and even wise decision.

    For reference, my two person household is all Apple, with a top of the line i7 quad core 27 inch 2011 iMac, 2011 MacBook Air, 2011 Mac Mini running lion server, an iPad 2 and an iPad 3, both the 64GB cellular versions, a 32GB iPhone 4, 64GB iPhone 4S, Apple TV2, Apple TV3, and July 2011 latest version Airport Extreme router. So don’t even think of calling me Anti Apple, as I have more Apple equipment than probably 99% of fan-boys.

    Here’s the idiotic, delusional comment, in the review that really set me off.

    “The MacBook retina is the best gaming laptop ever”

    Here’s a major reality check of just how insanely idiotic that comment is

    Go check for yourself, in the notebook graphics card benchmark list at notebookcheck.net

    The GT650M GPU in the retina macbook is a respectable mid-range mobile GPU, but it is FAR FAR FAR behind the leader. The GT650M is in 51st place on the list, with a score of 2,078 on the latest 3Dmark11 GPU benchmark. First place goes to the GTX 680M SLI mobile dual GPU with a whopping score of 11,119 on the same benchmark. In other words, it is FIVE TIMES faster – nearly 500% faster than the GPU on the latest retina Macbook!!

    This GPU is available in several ultra high end gaming laptops, and faster CPUs as well. Now granted these massive laptops are up to 4 times heavier and more than double the size of the retina macbook, and in most cases even cost substantially more. So not even close to being as portable and elegant as the retina macbook, but they are FAR FAR FAR superior gaming notebooks.

    Further to this – games running under the Mac OS X generally run twice as slow as the very same games running in Windows. Try it sometime with bootcamp. I am a former hardcore PC gamer who used to build my own systems. I know this stuff cold. So in reality – the retina Mac, running OS X is TEN TIMES SLOWER graphics performance than a top of the line WIndows gaming laptop.

    Oh, and in case you think I am not a fan of the retina MacBook – I am planning to buy one as soon as I can get my hands on one. I love the display. The graphics while being 40% slower than the 2800 3DMark11 GPU score of the 6970M in my 2011 iMac are enough for basic modern 3D game performance at lowered resolutions, running in bootcamp to use the vastly superior performance of Windows 7 for gaming vs the crappy performance of Mac OS X.

    Gaming is the only thing I do in Windows these days, the rest I do in Mac OS X, though I think both operating systems are essentially equal overall. I can do everything else I want in OS X and it runs more optimized on a Mac, so I use OS X for everything else.

    See, that is how a rational person who loves Apple products, but is not a kool-aid drinking Mac addict can still appreciate Apple’s awesome engineering, while recognizing its limitations.

    If I was still a hard core gamer, no question I would still have a dedicated gaming PC, but I find myself these days doing most of my gaming on a far less hard core platform – my retina iPad.

    A case can certainly be made that the retina MacBook is the best mainstream performance highly mobile laptop ever, but best gaming notebook? May I suggest at least an edit and a mea culpa? No wonder so many anti-Apple people think all Apple fans are brainless delusional sheep.

    But damn, that is one fine display, and a lot of power for such a rigid relatively compact laptop. Can’t wait to get one of my own. I plan on selling my 27 inch iMac and 11 inch MaBook air and replacing them with the retina MacBook.

  • Dpkform

    deleted…. duplicate

  • KnoxDeanne

    what Diane replied I am startled that any one able to make $4302 in 4 weeks on the internet. have you read this web page(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/C31W7

  • DJ_JesseJames

    Patience will pay off for those who can wait.

  • Josiah Owinyo

    Great review. Makes me want one more than ever!

  • Vebhav

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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