Macbook Pro 15" Retina Display: Definitely awesome

Jun 15, 2012 (Updated Jun 22, 2012)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Stunning display; excellent performance in all respects; beautifully designed and engineered

Cons:Increasing storage capacity almost doubles the cost of the machine.

The Bottom Line: Not just a pretty face, the Retina display MacBook pro delights with its super-clear high resolution display and speedy performance.  A practical thoroughbred.

What is it?

The Macbook Pro with Retina Display is Apple's top of the line notebook computer. It is also a radical redefinition of what a high-end notebook is meant to be.

There is no spinning hard disk, not even as an option. You can't add to or replace the memory. There is no optical drive, Ethernet port or even FireWire. These omissions make the computer much more usable - more compact, lighter and easier to carry. Although Steve Jobs is tragically no longer with us, you can almost feel his impact on this as perhaps the ultimate expression of his and Jonathan Ive's vision and wisdom.

Purchasing Experience

When I visited the Apple Store in the Wellington Green Mall a few days ago, the rep suggested I contact the business office where I would get more responsive answers to my difficult questions. A few days later, they gave me a call. The rep was very nice, so when it came time for me to buy one of these things, I called her and asked her to look out for one in stock when they started to arrive.

"What would you think if I said I had one right here," she said. Other than the floor models, it was the only one in the building. Since the Apple Online Store was showing a 4-5 week delivery delay, I decided to snap it up straight away.

The lesson is, then, if you want a just introduced computer that 5,000 people want ahead of you, you just might want to try the business reps. It won't necessarily work, but it's definitely worth a try. Obviously having a pre-existing relationship with a business rep will help.

Why get something like this? You could buy about ten Google Chrome Netbooks for the price

This is a complex product, with a lot of interesting features, so there are actually quite a few reasons. Let's start with...

The Display

If you are artistic and creative, and want your web sites and those of your friends to look beautiful, you need to buy one of these, now. Or, if this is too rich for your blood, the iPad with Retina Display will give a very similar feeling. Trust me, this display is absolutely stunning. My 27" iMac looks like a piece of junk by comparison. It is just sad, truly.

But perhaps you're not an artsy type. Perhaps you scorn beauty and just seek practicality. This computer might be for you, too.

If you have a tough time reading text on a screen, this computer could literally be a lifesaver and an eyesaver. Before I got this system, I often had to increase the type size of web sites in respect for my lamentably aging eyes. With this system there is no more need for that - all of a sudden I can view the tiniest web site without any eyestrain or problems.

So we have covered beauty, and we have covered practicality and clearly this display is a winner. Cost? Well, the best things in gadget land aren't free. Sorry :(.

Applications programmed using standard Apple practices - that is, most of what you're going to use - will automatically work fine with the new display.  But Adobe Flash and some other development environments use custom coding that still produces old-style, ugly text.  You could say that it's not any different from the pre-Retina display Macs, but it really stands out like a sore thumb.

Fortunately, developers, including Adobe, are working to make their software Retina display compatible, and once they do we will have a wholly beautiful world.  So I don't consider this a reason not to get the new machine, particularly with its other advantages.  Just don't expect perfection right away with every program you use.

Size & Weight

This computer is both significantly thinner and lighter than the previous MacBook Pro model.  This makes it feel easier to carry than the old model - it is less clunky and clumsy.  At the same time, the height and width have not changed.

Before the Pro was introduced, I was really enchanged by the Macbook Air's form factor.  I even flirted with getting an 11" Air for its supreme portability.  Once I saw the Macbook Pro's display and recognized its much higher usability for what I wanted to do, there was no question which model I'd buy.


The keyboard feel is a bit different from previous MacBook Pros - specifically, the keyboard travel seems to be a bit shorter than previous models.  I found that I could type exceptionally quickly on the new keyboard, but the feel felt a little odd until I got used to it.

The keyboard layout is pretty much Apple standard, except that the moved the power button from the upper right of the case to the upper rightmost key on the keyboard.  I think this was done to make more room for the speakers.

There is a camera, and quality is decent, but nothing to write home about.  It's above average compared to other webcams, but this is not exactly a demanding market.

The trackpad is smooth and very easy to use.  It is essentially identical to the trackpad on older MacBook Pros.


This computer seems even more powerful than my quad-core i7 27" iMac. They really pulled up all the stops to get a super-fast CPU and ultra-fast solid state drives. If you want a fast computer, this will not disappoint you, either.

Previous Macbook Pros have been so hot in operation that they can double as ovens in a pinch. Assuming you don't like your legs fried, you'll appreciate that the new model is a little warm, but (so far, anyway) never gets hot. And so far I haven't been able to hear the new fan at all.

USB 3 is considerably faster than the older USB 2 in getting pictures into Aperture.  I blinked and it was done already!

Solid State Storage

This is really a dual-edged sword. Solid state storage is quiet. It's long-lasting. It has no moving parts to make funny noises or wear out. However, it is mind-bendingly expensive. The base 250gb unit is $2,200. Upgrading to 512gb is $500. Upgrading from 512 to 765 gb is another $500. So all of a sudden you are spending well over $3,000 for a computer everyone says is $2,200.

The reliance on solid state storage is the one reason you might not want this computer. You can get a similar machine with 1 terabyte of spinning disk for under $2,000.

Fortunately, this computer supports the fast USB 3.0 standard which lets you connect standard $150 drives instead of $599 Thunderbolt drives. Sorry, La Cie, I'd love a 4GB piece of stainless steel Thunderbolt art as my drive but $600 is just a shade expensive. It's too bad having a drive hooked up to this machine ruins its stylish lines and makes it less portable.

Sadly, this machine, even in its $3,750 top-line 768gb model with the .1 ghz faster processor and 16gb RAM guize, just doesn't have enough storage for me. So I cheaped out and got the least expensive model. I probably will wind up attaching an external drive, or (more likely) using it only for current projects.

So if you have a lot of legacy data you probably want to hold on to your legacy machines to edit it on and use this only for short-term storage of current projects. Then you can get the cheapest model and save quite a bit of money.

Battery Life and Practical Improvements 

Battery life is one of the few disappointments I've had using this computer. You are supposed to get 7 hours, but I'd estimate five hours at most. Maybe as the battery breaks in I'll do better; the computer has only gone through one charge/discharge cycle so far. (In my use case, it's very easy to keep the computer plugged in and continuously charged.)

Other reviewers have gotten much better battery life than I, and they are normally performing more demanding functions than I have been.  The most likely reason is that I've used my MacBook Pro outdoors most of the time, with the display on maximum brightness.  This is unusually punishing for battery life, and if your operating environment is more normal - i.e. indoors pretty much anywhere - you'll get better results.

Earlier MacBook Pros have been notoriously hot in operation, often coming close to burning people's laps and legs.  This unit has solved the problem.  It is slightly warm to the touch but never gets hot.

The display is far brighter than earlier models.  I won't say you can use it in bright, direct sunlight, but if you have a bit of shade like a tent, the display is still easily readable outdoors.  This is something I could say about no previous MacBook Pro model I've used.

Build Quality, Design, etc

It's beautifully made, looks rock solid and so far has performed flawlessly. Of course since I've had it for less than 24 hours, this is to be expected.


Right now, if you are in the market for a high-end machine, and if you don't mind the low disk capacity, this is definitely the machine to buy. Beautiful to look at, fast to use, and with some surprising benefits for your eyes' health, I can't think of a nicer computing experience.

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