Superb Retina display; Excellent overall performance; High-quality speakers; Comfortable keyboard and touchpad; Long battery life
Pricier than most ultraportables; Integrated graphics
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display outclasses Ultrabooks with a much sharper screen, faster performance and longer battery life.
Once you see it, it's hard to go back to any other screen. That's the way the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display makes you feel. Everything else is second best -- with the exception of Apple's higher-res 15-inch version. For $1,699, or $500 less than the flagship MacBook Pro, you get double the pixels of an HDTV inside a machine that's just as thin but faster than Ultrabooks. Still, this premium cousin to the regular 13-inch MacBook Pro (the No. 1 seller in the U.S.) costs more than the Ultrabook competition and $500 more than the 13-inch Air. Let's find out if Apple has done enough to tear you away from your run-of-the-mill screen for good.
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The Retina Display on this MacBook Pro makes everything look crisper, from text on websites such as NYTimes.com to the icons on the dock and in Launchpad. But this screen's resolution is only part of the story. It offers superior color saturation and contrast, along with 178-degree viewing angles.
When we viewed the same HD "Skyfall" trailer on the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and Air side by side, the Air's picture had whiter whites, but overall we much preferred the image on the Pro. The skin tone in Daniel Craig's face looked warmer, and the black levels were much darker. Apple claims the Retina Display reduces glare by 75 percent versus the regular MacBook Pro. Sure enough, we could easily see our work sitting next to a window on a flight with sunlight streaming in.
Apple optimized its own apps for Retina Displays back when the 15-inch MacBook Pro launched, and they're all here, too, from Mail and Safari to Keynote and Aperture. You'll also find enhanced third-party apps in the Mac App Store, with 39 choices and counting. But this is just a curated list of recommendations. There are more than 200 choices available. Some of the better options include Real Racing 2, Parallels, Sketchbook Pro 6 and Pixelmator.
We don't expect full-bodied sound from a 13-inch notebook, but this MacBook's four speakers offered loud and rich audio in our tests. We could easily hear Sublime's "What I Got" from across our hotel room, with warm gravelly vocals you would expect to hear out of a premium stereo. Alex Care's "Too Close" got loud enough to disturb fellow passengers on a flight -- even over the din of the cabin. Distortion didn't prove to be an issue, even at max volume. Similarly, we enjoyed booming explosions and crystal-clear dialog when watching the "Skyfall" trailer.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The large 4.1 x 3-inch glass trackpad on this MacBook is just as smooth and reliable as all the others we've tested. The pad executed multitouch gestures flawlessly and provided a satisfying click when pressed.
The flash memory inside the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro literally gets it off to a blazing start, as it took only 12 seconds to boot OS X Mountain Lion. That's slightly faster than the speediest Windows 8 notebook so far, including the Sony VAIO Duo 11 (13 seconds) and Dell XPS 12 (15 seconds). The screen pops back to life in about a second when you open the lid.
The Dell XPS 12 (1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, Intel HD 4000 GPU) scored a lower 6,043, and the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32VD (1.9-GHz Core i7-3517U, 4GB RAM, 7,200-rpm 500GB, Nvidia GeForce GT620M) notched 6,860. It's not an Ultrabook, but the 13-inch Toshiba Portege Z935 (2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3210M processor, 6GB RAM, 5,400-rpm 640GB hard drive) outpaced the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with a score of 7,040.
One the CPU portion of the Cinebench test, the 13-inch Retina Pro scored 2.82 points, better than the 2.09 turned in by the Air but again behind the 15-inch Pro's 6.12 points. The XPS 12 got 2.38.
This is definitely one of the fastest solid state drives we've tested. The flash storage inside the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display took just 26 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB worth of files, which translates to a transfer rate of 195.7 MBps. That blows away the XPS 12 (149.7 Mbps) and VAIO Duo 11 (145.4 MBps) and is way above the 65 MBps average.
Other 13-inch notebooks that are as portable as this MacBook offer discrete graphics, such as the ASUS Zenbook UX32VD. That Ultrabook's Nvidia GPU scored 26.41 fps on the same OpenGL test.
On "World of Warcraft," this system averaged 36 frames per second with the resolution set to 1432 x 894, and the graphics on autodetect. (That's the closest resolution to 1366 x 768 we use when testing other notebooks.) When we increased the resolution to native (2560 x 1600), it dropped to an unplayable 21 fps.
By comparison, on these same settings, the XPS 12 averaged 38 fps at 1366 x 768, and 14 fps at 1080p. The ASUS UX32VD averaged an excellent 98 fps at 1366 x 768, and 62 fps at 1080p.
Anecdotally, we used the notebook with Wi-Fi on almost continuously starting at 10:22 a.m. ET before boarding a flight from San Francisco to New York. At 5:32 p.m., on our car ride back home from the airport, the laptop said we had about 15 minutes of juice left, or 5 percent. If you eliminate the 40 minutes or so we couldn't use electronics during the flight, that still works out to well over 7 hours of runtime.
Other ultraportables last longer, including the 13-inch MacBook Air (8:12) and Toshiba Portege Z935 (8:10), but overall the latest MacBook Pro offers plenty of endurance given how many pixels this display is pushing.
Software and Warranty
Mountain Lion also leverages iCloud to keep your Apple devices in sync, from Tasks and Notes (both of
Thousands more apps are available through the Mac App Store, including many that have been enhanced for this notebook's Retina Display.
Apple backs this laptop with a one-year warranty and 90 days of free 24/7 tech support. See how the company fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands Report.
While $1,699 is a premium price, it's important to note that you're only paying $200 more than you would for a similarly configured MacBook Pro without Retina display.
However, $1,699 is a lot to spend on a notebook with integrated graphics, especially when other 13-inch notebooks offer discrete GPUs for less. For everyday use, Apple's $1,199 13-inch MacBook Air continues to be our top pick. It's not as powerful and its display seems almost ho-hum compared to the latest Pro, but it offers longer battery life than in a slimmer and lighter design. While it's not a good choice for gamers, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display delivers a near-perfect balance of performance and portability.
|CPU||2.5-GHz Intel Core i5|
|Operating System||OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion)|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||Flash|
|Native Resolution||2560 x 1600|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Touchpad Size||4.1 x 3 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Thunderbolt|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Card Slots||2-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||one-year warranty with 90 days of free 24/7 tech support|
|Size||12.35 x 8.6 x 0.75 inches|