The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

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The Retina MacBook Pro is the best Mac Apple has ever made. That doesn't mean it's the best Mac for you.
The Retina MacBook Pro is the best Mac Apple has ever made. But is it the best Mac for you?

Should You Buy One?

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.

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.

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