The 15in MacBook Pro with Retina Display won us over with its impressive power, slick form and hi-res screen, but the sting in the tail was always going to be that wallet-shattering price. Enter the new 13in MacBook Pro with Retina Display – it’s cheaper, more portable, and possibly the best laptop ever made.
screen and resolution
With this new 13in model Apple might have lopped a chunk off the Retina Display MacBook Pro’s price tag but it’s still 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 13 incher takes home the ppi prize with 227ppi to the 15in model’s 220ppi.
What does this mean when you’ve got your nose pressed up against the screen? Text looks incredible, it’s sharper than anything you’ll have seen on a laptop display before and the experience of typing or reading long articles now becomes a wonderful massage for your eyeballs. Hi-res snaps and even icons in the MacBook’s homescreen dock look mesmerizing, too, with very vibrant colours that put previous MacBooks to shame and excellent viewing angles.
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 to you next time you need to insert an installation disc.
Otherwise, there’s no radical overhaul to MacBook styling – the sexy 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. It’s a tactic that seems to be working again.
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 then, another occasional annoyance – particularly when travelling – but certain features were obviously sacrificed to the design gods.
processing power and gaming
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. Editing 1080p videos is free of the spinning-wheel-of-death, and when playing Portal 2 at 2560x1660 (don’t panic when the settings menu text becomes very, very small) the 13in Retina MacBook Pro doesn’t make a peep.
Available in 128GB and 256GB (flash) storage options – the latter will cost you an extra $280 – you won’t be able to open up the Retina Display MacBook Pro and slot in your own SSD.
If you’re very serious about either playing Mac games in hi-res at speedy framerates or spending a good chunk of your life editing massive video files we’d say go for the 15in version, but for most people the 13in size is more practical for on-the-go computing.
As with its 15in brother, the 13in Retina Display 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 loads. 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 (or Chromebooks?) 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 Retina Display MacBook Pro does offer more processing power, but the 13in size and relatively light weight mean you can take this eye-popping laptop anywhere without thinking about it.
And at $1988, although it is still steep, it’s not actually bad value for money – Ultrabooks like the Asus Taichi ($2998 with Core i7 chip) and Dell XPS 13 ($1599) aren't cheap either – and you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’ve got a pretty futureproof resolution on your hands.
That doesn’t mean the 13in Retina 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 right now.
Review by Sophie Charara