Jaw-dropping Retina Display; Very fast performance and robust graphics; Speedier Flash memory; Excellent speakers and dual mics; Runs quiet; Top-notch ergonomics
Expensive; Keyboard can get hot; Limited configuration options for entry model
The MacBook Pro with Retina Display boasts a breathtakingly gorgeous screen, super-fast performance and long battery life in a slim and portable design.
Just when the laptop competition thinks it's closing in on Apple, the company launches a new product that raises the bar for the entire industry. For the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, it's the screen -- all 2880 x 1800 pixels of it -- that will leave others scrambling to play catch-up. Of course, to push that many pixels you need serious horsepower. And the next-gen MacBook Pro (starting at $2,199) delivers just that with a quad-core Core i7 processor, Nvidia Kepler graphics and super-fast flash memory. Did we mention the MacBook Pro is only 4.5 pounds and is nearly as thin as the Air? Yeah, it's almost not fair.
DesignMacBook Pro and 1.1 pounds lighter. The Air weighs just 3 pounds, making it better suited for cramped airline trays, but the new Pro is certainly portable enough for travel.
The only machine with a 15-inch display that's more mobile than the new Pro is the Samsung Series 9 15-inch, which weighs 3.8 pounds and has a 0.58-inch profile. However, that laptop features a less powerful ultra-low-voltage Core i5 CPU and integrated graphics. The Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra with Nvidia graphics weighs 4.5 pounds but is a thicker 0.78 inches and uses cheaper plastic in the chassis.
It's easy to show off this eye candy to those who want to know what all the fuss is about. Just compare the new MacBook Pro and the 13-inch Air side by side and they'll see that it's no contest. Icons look as if they were painted on the MacBook Pro, while the same icons on the Air look pixelated up close -- and this is one of the better screens on the market.
Just as important, the Pro has markedly better contrast and color saturation. The high-def "Dark Knight Rises" trailer had blacker blacks than the Air but also more vibrant yellows and more natural skin tones.
So what about glare? Apple says it worked to reduce it by 75 percent. We did notice some reflections when using the MacBook Pro by a pool, but it wasn't distracting. The 178-degree viewing angles make this notebook ideal for presentations. We could easily make out websites when viewed from the sides, and vertical viewing angles were just as forgiving. It's not the brightest, though; the MacBook Pro's average brightness of 223 lux falls slightly below the category average of 258.
The MacBook Pro's audio prowess extends to the dual microphones, which employ beam-forming technology to cut down on ambient noise. We confirmed that this feature works as advertised by recording a video in Photo Booth on both this notebook and the MacBook Air with a noisy air conditioner fan running in the background. On the Pro, we only heard our voice but on the Air we heard the constant droning of the fan. This feature will not only make FaceTime calls more pleasant but voice dictation more accurate in Mountain Lion.
Keyboard and Touchpad
More advanced users will appreciate firing up Launchpad (pinch with thumb and three fingers) and Mission Control (four fingers up) via gestures on the high-quality glass 4.1 x 3-inch trackpad. Not surprisingly, we also found two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom to be smooth and responsive. Once Mountain Lion rolls out, you'll be able to launch Notification Center with a two-finger swipe from the right edge.
We're glad to see Apple finally include an HDMI port on a laptop, which will come in handy for presentations and connecting to HDTVs. A SDXC Card slot also lines the right side, though we're not a fan of the card protruding from the side of the notebook. The company also sells Ethernet and VGA adapters for $29 each.
Heat and Noise
You barely notice them at first, but the bottom of the new MacBook Pro has airflow vents on either side to keep the new MacBook Pro running cool. Do they work? One thing's for sure: Apple has paid great attention to noise; asymmetrical blades spread out the frequency of the whirring to keep the notebook quiet. During our testing we could barely hear the system working while editing an HD video clip in iMovie.
Unfortunately, during our standard heat tests (playing a Hulu video at full screen), the space between the G and H keys reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit. That's well above what we consider uncomfortable. The center of the bottom was borderline, at 95 degrees, while the touchpad was a cool 82 degrees.
The MacBook Pro with Retina Display literally gets off to a good start with its higher-speed flash memory. The system booted in just 15 seconds, compared with 17 for the Air, and resumed from sleep in 1.7 seconds. In other words, you can get back to work almost as soon as you lift the lid. But how hard will this laptop work for you once it's on? Very.
Apple stuffs the MacBook Pro with a 2.3-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of 1600 MHz RAM, 256GB of flash storage and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics with 1GB of video memory. When you don't need the extra oomph, the Pro uses automatic graphics switching to drop down to Intel HD Graphics 4000.
All of these components translated to a blazing benchmark performance. On Cinebench 11.5, the new MacBook Pro returned a CPU score of 6.12 points. The 13-inch MacBook Air scored just 2.09 points on the CPU test, so we're talking 3X the performance. The last-generation 15-inch MacBook Pro scored 5.41, or about 18 percent slower.
On Geekbench, the MacBook Pro scored 11,049, beating the Acer Timeline M3 by a wide margin (6,017) as well as the last-generation 15-inch Pro (10,874). The Alienware M18X we reviewed last year registered 9,458, while the more recent MSI GT60 got 10,854. So you know it's a good sign when this notebook is surpassing full-fledged gaming rigs.
The flash memory is no slouch, either. We transferred 4.97GB worth of video files in just 26 seconds for a rate of 196 MBps. The 13-inch Air took 8.4 seconds to complete the same task, a rate of 116 MBps. The SSDs inside the 15-inch Samsung Series 9 (154.2 MBps) and Acer Timeline M3 (164 MBps) were also swift, but both trail the new Pro.
For a real-world test, we batch opened 13 images in the Pixelmator photo-editing app. The MacBook Pro took 5.4 seconds, compared with 9.3 seconds for the MacBook Air.
The Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics not only drives the more than 5 million pixels that make up the Retina Display. Apple says this GPU can also handle RAW image editing and up to four streams of 8-bit 1080p video, making the MacBook Pro a serious workstation.
In the GPU portion of the Cinebench 11.5 test, the MacBook Pro proved its mettle, scoring 33.4 fps, compared with 10.39 fps for the MacBook Air. On a separate graphics test that's part of the Novabench suite, the MacBook Pro scored 476 frames per second, compared with an average score of 207 for the 17-inch MacBook Pro (which uses AMD Radeon 6770M graphics).
By ditching a mechanical hard drive in favor of flash memory, Apple's engineers squeezed a larger 95-watt hour battery inside the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The other 15-inch model sports a 77.5-watt hour battery, or 20 percent smaller. As a result, this notebook offers impressive endurance for its size. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing on 40 percent brightness), lasted an excellent 8 hours and 2 minutes.
This runtime is an hour longer than Apple's 7-hour claim. The non-Retina MacBook Pro from 2011 lasted a longer 8:23, but that notebook isn't nearly as powerful. The Acer Timeline M3 turned in a shorter runtime of 7:04, and the average thin-and-light notebook lasts 6:18.
Software and Warranty
In the meantime, this OS X notebook delivers on Lion, including intuitive multi-touch gestures and Mission Control for quickly switching between apps. We're not a fan of full-screen apps because it obscures the top menu bar, but that option is available for multiple programs for those who want it. The Launchpad feature will be welcome to those who prefer to launch their apps from an iOS-like interface.
The selection of built-in apps is as satisfying as ever, from Mail with built-in exchange support to FaceTime for making video calls. But the Mac App Store is where the real action is, enabling users to easily download top games and essential productivity and content-creation apps.
Like all Apple products, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display comes with a limited one-year warranty and an optional three-year Apple Care warranty. Users can choose to have their computer serviced on the phone or in person at the Apple store Genius Bar. Apple ranked number one in this year's Best and Worst Laptop Brands Report.
The MacBook Pro with Retina Display starts at $2,199. At that price you get a quad-core 2.3-GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of flash memory and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics. Stepping up to the $2,799 model will get you a faster 2.6-GHz CPU and a whopping 512GB of storage.
The upgrade options are pretty pricey. You're looking at $250 to get a 2.7-GHz CPU, $200 for 16GB of RAM, and $500 for 768GB of flash memory. Plus, we wish there were more hardware upgrade options for the starting model; Apple lets you only upgrade the RAM to 16GB from 8GB.
Is this MacBook a good value? While you can pick up a non-Retina Display 15-inch Pro with the same processor, RAM and graphics for $300 less, you don't get the benefits of flash memory, and it's more than a pound heavier. Yes, you could add a 256GB SSD, but that's $500 by itself.
Surveying the Ultrabook landscape, there's nothing that approaches the new MacBook Pro's combination of power, portability and endurance. And it's easy to see why Apple has nixed the 17-inch MB Pro. With a screen like this, you just don't need the extra inches of real estate. Overall, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is the ultimate notebook for performance fiends on the move.
|CPU||2.3-GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core|
|Operating System||OS X 10.7 (Lion)|
|RAM Upgradable to||16GB|
|Hard Drive Size||256GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||Flash|
|Native Resolution||2880 x 1880|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GT650M/Intel HD 4000|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Thunderbolt/mini DisplayPort|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Card Slots||2-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||90 days of free telephone support/ one-year limited warranty|
|Size||14.1 x 9.7 x 0.71 inches|