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Apple retina MacBook Pro: review

Posted in Mac2 weeks ago • Written by newsdebekComments Off on Apple retina MacBook Pro: review

I’m typing this on a Macbook Pro with a “retina” display, and it’s breaking my heart. Having used it as my main machine for the past fortnight, in a few hours’ time I’ll have to wipe the hard drive, find the cables, and send it back toApple.

The world is going to go fuzzy again. Is this what it’s like for people who wear glasses when they lose them?

OK, I’m back on my old machine now – with its standard display resolution of 1280×800 on a 13″ screen. That works out to about 104 pixels per inch.
Now what? It’s pathetic.

Here’s the fact of it: with the “retina” display on the “new iPad” (aka iPad 3, aka the version released in January of this year), you had to put it side-by-side against another one to see the difference (something Gawker exploited wonderfully by giving people an old one and telling them it was a new one and filming their delight… and then telling them the truth).

The difference on this display leaps out at you. It shouts at you. “Retina-optimised” programs (especially browsers, but text and film and picture editing too) leap out at you, and demonstrate the precision. It has 220 pixel-per-inch precision, and wow, it’s really stunning. Pictures on websites can’t do it justice, because they’re on websites, and those are only 72ppi, typically. Even TV can’t really show you.

You may have seen the photos and the TV pictures and shrugged. Nothing special, you think. Consider yourself lucky that you haven’t used it for any length of time and then reverted to something older. I have. It hurts. Displays with a quarter of the resolution look as if they’re smeared with butter. (Or margarine, health fans.)

Ironically, I can’t show you any screenshots demonstrating the difference effectively, because we only do pictures at 72dpi – not the 144dpi that the “Retina MacBook Pro” (RMBP from here on) offers. Well, I can contrast how it appears on a browser (Google Chrome) that doesn’t take advantage of the RMBP’s text rendering, against another browser (Google Chrome Canary – the bleeding-leading edge version of Google Chrome; I found it very solid).

No Mac? No problem, for a while

Now, you might not use a Mac, and have no interest in doing so. Even so, you’re likely in the next few years to benefit from Apple’s decision to showcase high-resolution screens on its high-end laptops, because there’s a high probability that that will first start appearing on more high-end laptops in the Windows world, and then – let’s hope – on the cheaper ones.

But that’s not the only way that the RMBP is leading the pack. It’s basically a showcase by Apple for all the best things in laptops today. The display is the standout feature (obviously, since it’s what you deal with), but that’s not the only thing that’s attractive about this machine.


In terms of thickness, it’s nearer to the MacBook Air (and “true” ultrabooks, hard though those are to find) than the MacBook Pro. In heft, it’s not significantly heavier (2.02kg, 4.46lb) than an older MacBook (2.99kg). Again, it’s in between the “standard” MacBook Pro laptop and the MacBook Air (1.35kg).

The 15in screen, though, is bigger than you can get on a MacBook Air (only 11in and 13in there). And when you open the lid, the screen seems to fill the entire space; the glass reaches to the edges, and though the bezel is obvious once it’s illuminated, the feeling of being immersed in the screen is very powerful. It’s also bright.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief, introduced it to an eager room of developers at WWDC in June by saying that the company had tried to imagine an “ultimate” machine, the sort of thing that will be commonplace in the future. That turns out to mean Flash drives only (not even an option of a spinning drive), no DVD drive, Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connectors, an SD card slot, surprisingly powerful (and bassy) speakers. And that display. “The pixels are so small you can’t distinguish the individual pixels,” he said. “It’s the world’s highest-resolution notebook display.”

Flash. Because you’re going that way anyway

Flash drives are what you’ll have in your computer in five years or so. Per-gigabyte prices are dropping precipitously, while those of hard drives have actually risenover the past year because of last year’s floods in Thailand. Apple offers three configurations – 256GB, 512GB, and 768GB. It also says that the throughput is three times faster; I asked whether this was due to its (rumoured, but pretty much confirmed) purchase of Israel’s Anobit last year. As is the Apple way, I got a blank stare, rather like someone who’d just had their memories wiped in Men In Black; they wouldn’t say. It seems a good bet, though.

Processing: there’s fast, and there’s already there

I never managed to stress the machine; the Ivy Bridge CPU and NVidia GeForce GT 650M graphics card simply laughed at my simple text ways. Really it’s built for heavy-duty pixel-pushing such as video editing, and I did demonstration machines simultaneously running four HD video streams, and switching between them. If you wanted to do real-time editing in the field, this would be the machine to do it on. The fact that it also uses a Flash drive means you’ll get a far faster throughput.


Other laptop manufacturers have been reluctant so far to adopt Intel’s Thunderbolt technology, which allows you to chain displays and hard drives together – rather like Apple’s proprietary Firewire did (with hard drives and disc burners). It has a throughput of up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) and can drive multiple displays.

USB 3.0

Finally, Apple is offering this. (It’s now also on its lower-end MacBook Pro models.) Nice to have caught up with the Windows fraternity – or majority. Apple seems to have ignored USB 3.0 so that it could focus on Thunderbolt. Now the latter is settled, it’s catching up elsewhere.

No Ethernet

Wired connections are a thing of the past, apparently, or should be. You can buy a Thunderbolt-Ethernet adaptor/connector, but the idea that you’d connect your professional-class laptop to a wired Ethernet is apparently too retro. Ethernet jacks are too fat and old; only slim Thunderbolt jacks (able to shift up to 10Gbp/s, mind you) count here.