I’ve never been one to race articles to print. I don’t tend to rush out and get my hands on the latest technology just to be the first one to review it. Instead, I tend to find great pieces of gear and write about them. And that’s where this review is coming from.
The 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display has been around for a while. According the MacTracker the first Retina Display MacBooks appeared in June 2012. That was about 3 months after I bought my 11” MacBook Air. While the Air was a faithful traveling computer for two years, I found myself squinting at the screen a little more than I liked. And while the i7 processor was solid—faster than my 2009 15” MPB in fact—the smallish 128 GB SSD and 4 Gigs of RAM was starting to feel limiting.
So I upgraded to what I now consider the ultimate traveling computer. I was able to pick up a top level 13” MBP w/ Retina with the help of a friend who works for Apple. It has a 512 GB PCI SSD, which is considerably faster than the SATA SSD in my Air. With 8 Gigs of RAM, I feel like I’ll be good for a while. The 2.6 GHz Haswell Core i5 processor is quite snappy. And then there is the screen.
The Retina Display is Amazing
I was pretty stunned when I first opened the lid on this computer. The screen is so sharp, so bright and so clear it was almost unreal. Next to the 13, the Air’s 11” non-Retina display looks coarse. In fact, even my 24” 1920x1080 studio display looks pretty ugly.
While I’ve clearly reached “old guy” status (I wear progressive lens glasses, after all), I think even younger eyes would appreciate the clarity this screen brings. I do a lot of typing, and the screen renders type beautifully. When set to the “Best for Retina” setting, there is enough screen real estate for me to do what I need to do, and plenty of resolution. If I switch to “More Space,” things get a little small, but are still crystal clear.
The Big Reason for the Change: Battery Life
While I loved the tiny form factor and light weight of the Air, the short battery life kept my long-form writing sessions to a minimum. I had to be strategic on an airplane to manage battery life, and sometimes I just ran out. While the MBP is a little thicker and heavier, the tradeoff is vastly longer battery life. In the three weeks I’ve owned it, I find I’m charging it every two or three days. I’m not using it all day, every day, but the claim of 8-9 hours of runtime seems accurate.
The Best Mobile Form Factor?
Design is all about compromise. You can save weight, but you’ll likely cut battery life. A less powerful processor will save battery life, but reduce performance. A small screen is easy to carry around, but it’s harder to see. I’ve owned a PowerBook G3 with a 14.1” screen, a MacBook 13”, two MacBook Pros with 15” screens, the 11” Air and now the MBP 13”. While the 15” screens are nice, the computer is big and pretty heavy to drag through an airport. The 11” was small and light, but hard to see.
The 13” is just right. There is enough power, screen size, portability and battery life to accomplish just about any task. At 3.46 pounds, it’s about half the weight of my first Pismo G3 PowerBook, but only a pound heavier than the 11” Air. While some are railing on Apple for soldering the SSD and memory to the motherboard, it does make for a very compact case.
I even think they nailed it on ports. Two Thunderbolt 2, two USB 3.0 and an HDMI port. And for doing photo or video work, the built-in SD card slot is a great addition. FireWire is going away, but for $30 you can get a Thunderbolt to FW adapter; same for Ethernet. Though I have yet to need either for this laptop.
Apple Build Quality
Some complain about Apple’s high prices for their computers. I find that when you look at comparable models, they’re not that much more. And Apple builds them well. This one feels like it was milled out of a solid block of aluminum—wait, it actually was. My Pismo was still running strong 7 years after I bought it (and sold it for 30% of what I paid for it). My work laptop is 4.5 years old and aside from a new SSD is also a workhorse. I’ve found Apple laptops are worth the extra cost, and a true pleasure to use. This one is no exception.
I’m not MacWorld, so I don’t give out mice as ratings, but this is a solid choice in laptops. The SSD is crazy-fast, I love the form-factor, the screen is gorgeous, and the all-day battery life is great. If you’re up for a new computer this year, give it a look.