The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The Retina MacBook Pro is the best Mac Apple has ever made. But is it the best Mac for you?

The new 2012 15-Inch Retina MacBook Pro marks an evolution of the Mac: it’s the first of presumably the entire Mac line-up to get a Retina display, just like the iPhone and iPad.

Unlike the iPhone or iPad, however, the new Retina MacBook Pro is not aimed at the mass market. This is a professional machine, through and through, and has a price to match, starting at $2,199.

The beauty of the Retina MacBook Pro’s display can’t be overestimated: it’s like living print. Likewise, the Retina MacBook Pro is the most powerful all-in-one professional notebook you can buy off the shelf: it makes every Apple notebook before it look archaic.

It’s a Mac that has been designed by Apple for the first time as they would have it: completely without compromises, using cutting-edge technology that it will take at least a year for the competition to catch-up with.

But is it the Mac for you?

Table Of Contents

Page One: Introduction & Table of Contents
Page Two: Retina Display
Page Three: Design
Page Four: Performance & Feel
Page Five: Experience
Page Six: Should You Buy One?
Page Seven: Conclusion

Next Page: Retina Display

Retina Display

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The new MacBook Pro has a number of impressive features over its evolutionary pregenitors, but the headlining improvement is that it’s the first Mac with a Retina display with a 2,880 x 1800 desktop resolution.

Let’s put that number in perspective. The last-generation MacBook Pro had 1,440 x 900 pixel display. All together, that’s 1,296,000 pixels. The new MacBook Pros have four times as many pixels, clocking in at over five million pixels crammed into fifteen diagonal inches.

It’s true that, despite Apple’s marketing hype, the new Retina MacBook Pros don’t have displays as good as the resolution of the human eye. That said, Apple still pulled out all the stops with their new MacBook Pros’ resolution: in fact, Apple only needed to release a 1920 x 1200 resolution MacBook Pro to technically match their definition of Retina quality.

Why didn’t they? With Apple’s Retina displays, it’s important to understand what Cupertino is actually going for: clarity, not more workspace. Consequently, while a new MacBook Pro in Retina mode might have much crisper image and text quality by dint of the actual size of the pixels being smaller, the desktop is effectively treated the same as it was at half the resolution: 1440 x 900.

It’s a smart move, because for all the talk about pixel size, it’s actually not enough in practice that pixels just be small enough that you can’t separate them. It’s also important for images and text on the screen to be big enough to marvel at, to become immersed in.

That’s where the new Retina MacBook Pros excel. They suck you in. Across the board, the Retina MacBook Pros have displays that seem more like windows to a world inside your Mac.

Across the board, the Retina MacBook Pros have displays that seem more like windows to a world inside your Mac.

A lot of this has to do with the insane clarity that doubling pixel density provides: in a study by NHK in Japan, they found that as you increase pixel density in a display, you also increase the perceived realness of the objects onscreen. At a certain pixel density, on-screen objects actually become indistinguishable from real objects.

But resolution’s not enough, and it’s the quieter things that Apple improved that really put the Retina MacBook Pro displays at least a year ahead of the competition. Resolution doesn’t mean a damn thing if the image is too dim, the blacks all washed out, the display is too reflective and the colors too milky.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Apple really upped the ante on black levels and color accuracy.

In every particular, Apple has improved the last-gen MacBook Pro display so that it doesn’t just have a Retina resolution, but that objects on display look more real. Color gamut and accuracy is so good; the only way you can get a display like this has traditionally been to pick up an expensive high-end display and have it professionally calibrated. The new Retina MacBook Pros do it all out of the box, with deeper and more accurate colors, the blackest and inkiest of blacks, and such wide viewing angles that even from the side, there are no visible color shifts.

These are all hallmarks of the in-plane switching (or IPS) LCD technology that Apple is using in the Retina MacBook Pro, and that’s worth crowing about, too: it’s the same technology Apple uses in the iPhone and iPad to give these devices a very wide view angle with no visible color shifts, and it’s almost unheard of to see laptops with IPS displays.

There’s another thing Apple did, though, to improve the clarity of the Retina MacBook Pro display. Apple’s been much criticised over the last few years for the “mirror” effect of their glossy screens. Sit in front of a modern Mac and you’re more often than not looking through your reflection. Glossy screens give better color accuracy, but suffer from being overly reflective; matte displays eliminate reflections, but are milkier than glossy ones.

Going back to Apple’s older displays is like taking a step into the murky and unreal.

With the Retina MacBook Pro, however, Apple managed to keep a glossy display while virtually eliminating reflectiveness. They accomplished this by fusing together the protective glass and underlying LCD to mitigate the mirror effect, eliminating the air gap usually found between glass and LCD through a process known as optical bonding. The result, Apple says, is a 75% decrease in reflectiveness, and while we have no way of confirming that, it’s undeniable that the Retina MacBook Pro display is the least reflective glossy Mac screen yet.

Apple just knocked it out of the park with the display on the new MacBook Pros. Let’s just put it out there: the Retina MacBook Pros have displays that are so good, any improvement is pretty much theoretical. Across the board, Apple is using the best technology on the market to make these displays, and the result isn’t one that can just be dismissed as simply “more pixels”: even at half the resolution, the Retina MacBook Pros would have the best displays that Apple (or pretty much anyone) is producing. They are an engineering marvel, and the effect is revolutionary, not just from the way the Retina MacBook Pro takes your breath away the first time you see its display in action, but in the day-to-day reality of using a machine with hyper-accurate color, astonishing contrast, extraordinary viewing angles and minimum reflectiveness. It’s like looking through a glass window from a dark room on a perfectly sunny day. As with the new iPad, you will eventually take for granted the Retina MacBook Pro’s clarity, but once you use one, going back to Apple’s older displays is like taking a step into the murky and unreal.

Next Page: Design

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

Performance & Feel

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Portal 2’s Wheatley in Retina. Can anyone say Apple?

There was a time not too long ago when everything about a computer’s performance was judged by how fast its processor was, how good its graphics card was and how much RAM it had.

When Apple introduced the new MacBook Airs back in late 2010, they finally shifted the way most people thought about how powerful a laptop could be. On paper, the new MacBook Airs were dinky little machines, with wimpy last-gen Intel Core 2 Duo processors, anemic GPUs and RAM that just maxed out at 4GB. Then you actually used one, and you suddenly found yourself using the fastest computer you’d ever used in your life.

The reason the new MacBook Airs feel so speedy, even compared to machines with far better specs, is because they finally ditched the major performance bottleneck that had been crunching away underneath our fingertips for years: spinning, physical hard drives. The new MacBook Airs may not have been able to do as many calculations per second or draw as many polygons as, say, a MacBook Pro, but for 95% of what people do on their computers, none of that mattered; what was really dragging everything down and spitting up so many beach balls and introducing so much friction into our Mac experience was the fact that computers were still recording and reading their data from the computer equivalent of a 78rpm record, when every other element had become as fast as light.

You become divorced from OS X’s spinning beach ball to such an extent that when you do see one, it’s like accidentally running into a nasty ex instead of living with a ball-and-chain.

The Retina MacBook Pros gives the same gift to professionals that the MacBook Air gave to more casual laptop owners: it ditches the spinning hard drive and puts OS X into hyperdrive. The system starts up and goes to sleep faster than ever before. Rebooting the machine takes less than six seconds, and when you log in, all your previously open apps restore almost instantly. Apps open and close more quickly. Large files nearly load up instantaneously. You become divorced from OS X’s spinning beach ball to such an extent that when you do see one, it’s like accidentally running into a nasty ex instead of living with a ball-and-chain. Every single core aspect of using a Mac becomes faster, as if it were greased. The result is that, even ignoring benchmarks, the day-to-day feel of using the Retina MacBook Pro seems as if every spec in the machine had been doubled, or even tripled.

Even so, the MacBook Pro isn’t a machine for casual computer users. It’s a machine ultimately meant as a portable workstation for users who need to push their computers to the utmost limit: video professionals rendering movies, designers crunching massive Photoshop files, and the hardcore gamer looking for the fastest gaming machine he can carry under his arm. CPU, GPU and RAM count a lot.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The only Macs with a better Geekbench score is the Mac Pro and the top-of-the-line 27-inch iMac.

Luckily, the MacBook Pro is, even in its base configuration, still a powerhouse of a machine.

Testing the baseline Retina MacBook Pro with a 2.3GHz Ivy Bridge Core i7 processor, 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M Kepler GPU, we walked away with a Geekbench score of 12019.

That’s a staggering improvement over the 2011 MacBook Pro, which only boasted a GeekBench score of around 9500. The silicon in this machine is over 20% faster than the last-generation model, and that’s without taking into account the performance boost of the SSD. That makes this the fastest Mac you can buy short of a Xeon-fueled Mac Pro, leaving even the top-of-the-line 2011 Sandy Bridge 27-inch iMac in the dust by a considerable margin.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Diablo III runs pretty well even at 2880 x 1800. Frame rate counts during carnage.

In the real world, we saw huge performance gains on Adobe PhotoShop (which has not been updated for the Retina display yet), iMovie, Aperture and other system-taxing applications. And without a doubt, this is the best gaming notebook out there: Blizzard’s Diablo III ran at an acceptable 20-25 frames per second for us even with a maxed out (and quite unnecessary) resolution of 2,880 x 1800, and reducing it to a still insane but more realistic resolution of 2048 x 1280 gave us frame rates of 45 to 50 frames per second, even when hacking a meat path of carnage through the tormented denizens of the Arreat crater on Hell difficulty.

There’s no point in mincing words. Silicon for silicon, the Retina MacBook Pro is the most powerful notebook you can buy, and a 20% faster machine than last generation. Combined with the new Retina display and ultra-fast flash storage, this is the pretty much the best all-encompassing professional rig you can buy off the shelf.

Next Page: Experience

Experience

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Since the Apple II, what has really set Cupertino apart from other computer makers is fusing software and hardware together into a frictionless alloy that is, at its heart, experiential for a user in the same way that driving a high-end automobile is. Performance and hardware mean absolutely nothing except as it relates to the way the wheel feels in your hand or the engine feels vibrating beneath you. What Apple believes, and spends so much effort and money achieving, is that there should be no difference between using a computer and driving a car: just as in driving, the man, the machine and the software all must become one.

So let’s ignore specs or technology for a second. Let’s just talk a little bit about what it feels like to use a Retina MacBook Pro.

The only thing faster is waking up your iPhone or iPad.

The first thing you’ll notice when you boot up a Retina MacBook Pro will be the speed with which it boots. This is as close to instant-on as you can find in a notebook: a fifteen second boot-up time, and only three seconds to awake from sleep. The only thing faster is turning on your iPhone or iPad (and even then, they’ll take longer to boot up from power down). It’s fast. In fact, it’s so fast that even when restarting the machine with a dozen or so apps and browser tabs open, the apps re-opened in the blink of an eye. The Retina MacBook Pro blurs the line between being powered off and being asleep, which is the way Apple wants it.

Then there’s the display, of course. We’ve already talked about that in an earlier section, but it bears repeating: at its best, reading text or viewing high-resolution images or videos on a Retina MacBook Pro is like looking into a lightbox of vivid, living print. If anything, because of the size of the display, it’s even more of a jump in perceived visual quality than the evolution of the iPhone or iPad to Retina was.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The official Twitter app on Retina. Ugh.

Nothing else on the market even compares, and it immerses you in using your Mac in a way that other Macs don’t. In apps designed for the MacBook Pro Retina display, all of the little jagged edges that used to imperceptibly catch hold of your brain and prevent you from sliding into a feeling of seeing something less virtual than real have been smoothed away.

Unfortunately, there’s a catch. This only works when an app has been updated for Retina, or when a video or image is suitably high-def. And while Apple has eliminated almost all of that visual friction in the core OS X apps, the rest of the Internet and third-party OS X library looks beyond terrible, as if everything was covered in a thin layer of mucus and dust.

Google’s Chrome browser, for example, looks as if it’s been ineptly upsampled from a much lower resolution… which, of course, it has (Chrome’s developer builds have already corrected this problem). Another common app, Twitter for Mac, looks so bad, it looks like a video transmission from Voyager passing through a gamma radiation cloud.

Imagine the most beautiful painting you’ve ever seen in your life positioned right next to the filthiest toilet in the world and you’ve got a good idea of what non-Retina apps look like.

To be fair, a lot of the most popular apps will start updating themselves for Retina Macs soon. But not all of them will, and this is going to pose a lot more problems for Retina Mac owners running non-Retina apps than it does for Retina iPad or iPhone owners running non-Retina apps, because of the very nature of OS X.

On an iPad or iPhone, every app takes up the full screen, so if you use a non-Retina app, you might notice it looks fuzzier, but you quickly adjust while you’re using the app because there’s nothing to compare it to on-screen. In other words, using a non-Retina app on a Retina iPhone or iPad, the whole screen switches over to non-Retina resolutions. On a Retina Mac, though, you can use multiple apps side-by-side, and most people do, constantly.

That means that next to a Retina app, a Mac app that hasn’t been updated sticks out like a sore thumb. Imagine the most beautiful painting you’ve ever seen in your life positioned right next to the filthiest toilet in the world, and you’ve got an idea of the problem. And it’s unlikely that this problem is going to go away for years.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

You can opt for a larger desktop instead of retina clarity on the Retina MacBook Pros.

That said, you can make a compromise, and it’s a nice one. The new Retina MacBook Pros default to a HiDPI 1,440 x 900 pixel desktop, meaning that each pixel of a normal 1,440 x 900 display is essentially comprised of four smaller ones, giving unprecedented visual clarity. You can, however, adjust the settings of a Retina MacBook Pro so that it sacrifices clarity for desktop space, “shrinking” the size of apps and UI elements in relation to the desktop, up to a maximum of an equivalent 1,920 x 1200 resolution. We love this mode: it not only makes non-Retina apps look significantly better, it also gives notebook users a lot more desktop space… a huge perk if you work in multiple windows side-by-side fairly often.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The Retina MacBook Pros redesigned speakers sound great, but you won’t mistake them for a dedicated sound system.

Another improvement in the Retina MacBook Pros that isn’t getting the attention it deserves is the new speakers. In a word, they sound great, with clear highs and mids, and decent lows for a notebook. It’s true that there’s no mistaking them for a dedicated external sound system with a serious subwoofer, and they lack even much of the oomph of the iMac’s speaker system, but these are still impressive, room-filling speakers for a notebook this streamlined. If you use your laptop to play a lot of music, you could have a respectable DJ party with these.

When we originally started reviewing the Retina MacBook Pro, we were concerned at first with the compromise in storage that comes with a switch to flash storage, which is much more expensive per gigabyte than a physical hard drive. The base model of the Retina MacBook Pro ships with only 256GB of storage; comparatively, a 2012 non-Retina MacBook Pro starts at 500GB, and for the same price as the base Retina MacBook Pro, you can get 750GB of storage. In practice, though, we found the limited storage space to be a non-issue. So much of our data is now stored in the cloud that we needed much less default storage space, and Thunderbolt and even USB 3 external storage options are fast enough that they can supplement your Retina MacBook Pro’s flash storage with negligible performance hits for all but the most system exhausting of tasks. We even ran apps from our USB 3 drive, and while you wouldn’t mistake their boot-up times or performance to apps that ran on the built-in flash storage, they ran almost as well as they would on a MacBook Pro with a physical drive.

Battery life is up to Apple’s promises, as well. In fact, running a video at half brightness on a loop with WiFi on, we got more than an hour more battery life than Apple’s seven-hour claim. This is in keeping with Apple’s new way of measuring battery life, which is to underpromise. That’s refreshing, given the fanciful, hyperbolic battery claims of some of Apple’s competitors.

Compared to the MacBook Air, the Retina MacBook Pro feels like an engorged monster.

Finally, there’s the weight, the heft, the feel in the hand and in the bag. The Retina MacBook Pro feels like the most solidly and seamlessly constructed MacBook yet, but in practice, the thinner, lighter build isn’t profoundly different than the older, unibody MacBook Pros. It’s better, but this isn’t the same kind of obvious upgrade in form factor that switching from a MacBook to a MacBook Air was, and compared to effortlessly slinging a MacBook Air into your bag, the Retina MacBook Pro feels like an engorged, heavy and massively huge monster.

Next Page: Should You Buy One?

Should You Buy One?

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

This isn’t necessarily for you, but if it is, you can rest assured that it’s the best Mac on the market.

They said it. We’re going to say it, too. The Retina MacBook Pro is the best Mac Apple has ever made. That doesn’t mean you should buy one.

That’s a curious thing to say at the tail end of a review that doesn’t ding Apple once for the way the Retina MacBook Pro has been constructed, and in truth, this feels like the device that Apple poured its heart and soul into: a notebook without any compromises, which is as powerful, as beautiful, as slim, as light and as technologically advanced as a 15-inch laptop possibly can be without being sent back from the future.

But chances are, Apple didn’t build this laptop for you. They built it for professionals. And they meant it.

For years, the suffix of the MacBook Pro brand has been increasingly de-emphasized. What started out as a notebook line meant for video, photo and design professionals became an attractive brand to Mac lovers sick of spinning beachballs and upping their system specs in the hope that it would make their experience with a laptop more frictionless. Less time loading files or videos. Less time booting up, or powering down. Less time waking from sleep. Fewer freezes and crashes.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

For most customers, this is the problem with their computers, not the processor or RAM.

When Apple released the 2010 MacBook Air, they revealed the true cause of friction for most users, and for almost everyone, it wasn’t the processor or the graphics card or even the amount of RAM in the machine anymore… it was that crunching, whirring, clattering hard drive clogging everything up, like a tapeworm in the gut.

There’s a reason the MacBook Air is the fastest selling Mac ever: it’s all the laptop most people need, as fast as they need it. It manages this in an 11-inch or 13-inch footprint, 0.3 inch at its thickest point, and with significantly lower system specs than what people have been accustomed to except for one: blindingly fast flash storage. All starting at just $999.

Once you have gotten used to a MacBook Air, the truth of the matter is that, across the board, the Retina MacBook Pro is overkill for almost everyone. Starting at $2,199, it’s twice as expensive as a MacBook Air, and short of the incredible Retina display, most people will never notice a difference in performance. The 2012 MacBook Airs may not be as fast as the Retina MacBook Pro, but they are just as frictionless. And that’s leaving aside the fact that the MacBook Air has also redefined most users’ expectations of how portable a fast notebook should be. Taking a MacBook Air on the road with you is as effortless as chucking it into a small bag, but a MacBook Pro — even the more svelte Retina ones — are still notebooks you have to lug.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Apple may not have given the Mac Pro this year, but the Retina MacBook Pro proves Apple is still serious about the professional market.

The exception to all this is the class of customers the MacBook Pro was originally meant for. Video, photo and design professionals actually need the performance of a fast Ivy Bridge processor, a powerful graphics card, the fastest RAM out there. These are the people who will truly be able to make use of a Retina display, not as a marvel, but to create amazing things. And these are the customers who, up until now, have been left behind as Apple revolutionized the way we thought about our laptops and the true speed and portability which they are capable of.

The Retina MacBook Pros are a love letter from Apple to professionals: we care so much about you. Though the new 2012 Mac Pros are lackluster at best (largely due to problems beyond Apple’s control), the Retina MacBook Pro is a promise to professionals that Cupertino hasn’t forgotten about them, or forgotten how important they are to the Mac. The works professionals create on Apple’s top-of-the-line machines are what drive the success of the entire brand, trickling down to the MacBook Air, the iMac, the iPhone and the iPad. Pro designers are the people who gave Apple its initial foothold when Macs were just a niche, and it is the evangelism of design professionals that have turned the Mac and iOS platforms into platforms to be feared.

Ultimately, if you’re a design professional, buying a Retina MacBook Pro is a no-brainer. But for everyone else, the question is full of ‘ifs’.

Ultimately, if you’re a design professional, buying a Retina MacBook Pro is a no-brainer. But for everyone else, the question is full of ‘ifs’. If you can afford one. If the MacBook Air isn’t good enough for you. If 15 inches is really the bare minimum size of a notebook you can stomach. If you don’t mind lugging it around. If you want a notebook as a desktop replacement. If you absolutely must be on the cutting edge. If you don’t mind paying a premium to be a part of the future. If you’re a serious hard-core gamer. If you don’t mind dealing for the foreseeable future with a Retina experience that is half the clearest, crispest, brightest and most colorful thing you’ve ever seen, and the other half made of shit.

For everyone else? Wait. Wait until Apple brings the Retina display to the iMac and MacBook Air. It will happen, and when it does, it’ll be for everyone, at prices they can afford, without compromises. Just like the Retina MacBook Pro.

Next Page: Conclusion

Conclusion

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The first Mac Apple has ever designed without compromise.

There’s a common theme in this review: eliminating friction.

That’s what Apple sets out to do. When you use one of their devices, they don’t want you to see yourself as a person using hardware which is in turn running software. They want the distinction between the brain, the machine and the software to be imperceptible when you’re using one of their devices.

That, in turn, is what the Retina MacBook Pro does. It eliminates friction. It gives users a machine that is utterly without compromise: a Mac that not only encompasses and embraces the most advanced technology on the market, but which leaves behind the cruft of the past by slimming itself down, speeding itself up, and abandoning the obsolete to embrace the future.

Using a Retina MacBook Pro makes the virtual seem real.

The Retina display is a huge part of that. Thanks to a display technology so far ahead of the competition it may as well be from the future, the Retina MacBook Pro sucks you into the experience of using a Mac and creating with it in a way that no other computer has ever done. At its best? Using a Retina MacBook Pro makes the virtual seem real.

But despite all of this, there is still friction in the Retina MacBook Pro. There’s the friction of its $2299 starting price. There’s the friction of how bad low-resolution apps look on a Retina display. And finally, there’s the friction of the Retina MacBook Pro’s much larger size compared to the MacBook Air, a computer that feels just as speedy as the Retina MacBook Pro for a vast majority of customers, while being so much less of a burden to carry around that its weight and size count as an afterthought.

The Retina MacBook Pro is the best Mac Apple has ever made, but it’s not necessarily the best Mac for you. If you’re a design professional, you should buy this machine right now, without any questions or compunctions. But if you’re not, you should wait, and take comfort in the fact that this, right here, is the prototype of the Mac of the future. In a year’s time, you’ll have a Retina display in a Mac that has been designed right down to its core just for you.

Anything we missed that you’d like to know? Hit us up in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer your questions.

  • 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.

    • g unit

      nob

  • 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.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in Featured stories, News, Reviews, Top stories | Tagged: , , , , , , |