Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display)

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The Smaller MacBook Pro for Artists on the Go

Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display gives the insanely picky visual artist a new, more portable sidekick. It’s pricey to be sure, but it is the most portable machine for those with projects (or egos) that need all those pixels on the screens and the powerful components to back them up.

Design and features

This MacBook Pro retains the general Apple design ID, with a black chiclet backlit keyboard and one-piece glass multi-touch trackpad, matte finish aluminum all around, and a glass-covered 13.3-inch widescreen surrounded by a black bezel. The laptop is compact, measuring 0.75 by 12.35 by 8.62 inches (HWD), even thinner than the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro. At a weight of 3.57 pounds, it’s a little heavier than some ultrabooks, but the MacBook Pro isn’t beholden to the ultrabook specs.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina display)

Because the new MacBook Pro uses flash storage instead of a spinning hard drive, the system boots up and launches apps much more quickly. Flash storage also lets the MacBook Pro use Apple’s Power Nap, which updates social media, email, contacts, and location tracking over Wi-Fi even while the laptop is asleep. Speaking of Wi-Fi, the system supports dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 like the other recent MacBooks. Our mid-priced review model came with 256GB of flash storage, which is quite usable even for users who need to run Windows through Boot Camp or other virtual environments like Parallels Desktop. You can use the two USB 3.0 port and the two Thunderbolt ports for connecting external storage devices or other peripherals.

Like the optical drive, FireWire 800 has fallen out of favor at Apple; that port is missing from both Retina display equipped MacBook Pros. You can use the built-in SDXC card slot for extra storage, though the card will stick out a bit while in use. A full-size HDMI port, MagSafe 2 charging port, and headset/headphones jack are the other user-accessible openings on the side panels. There’s no VGA or DVI port, but you can use a third-party adapter with the Thunderbolt port, or you can use AirPlay on an Apple TV for an easy wireless connection to a HDTV. Also on the chassis are dual microphones, and the underside of the chassis has slits (like the 15-inch) for both cooling and to help the speakers channel sound out to the sides and give you better stereo sound.

Retina display

The screen is crisp and bright, boasting 300 nits brightness and a 178-degree viewing angle due to its IPS display. It has a 2,560 by 1,600 resolution and thus qualifies as a Retina display. According to Apple, this means that most people won’t be able to see the individual pixels from a normal viewing distance. Incidentally, 2,560 by 1,600 is also the native resolution of 30-inch LCD panels, so you’ll happy using the MacBook Pro if you’re used to working on one at your office. Photos and videos looked excellent, further cementing visual artists’ relationships to the Cupertino company. Glare is still present due to the glass bonded to the display, but it’s subdued and as a result dark colors and blacks are rich on the screen. At this moment, the older 15-inch MacBook you can get with a true antiglare screen option. Apple-sourced applications still have the upper hand on the Retina display: iTunes, iWork, Aperture, and iPhoto are fine, but user interface elements like menus and dialog boxes may look blocky in older apps like Adobe Photoshop CS5. It does, however, still look better than 1,920-by-1,080 display on 11 and 13 inch “true 1080p HD” Windows laptops, where these elements look sharp but are almost unusably tiny.

The MacBook Pro’s 2,560-by-1,600 display delivers crisp visuals and excellent viewing angles

The MacBook Pro’s 2,560-by-1,600 display delivers crisp visuals and excellent viewing angles

Like the other members of the recently updated MacBook Pro family, this system comes preinstalled with OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, along with programs from the Retina-optimized iLife’11 (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand). You can find additional programs that have been optimized for the Retina display by doing a quick search on the Apple Store. For other apps, you’ll have to check individual developers’ websites. For example, Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 and Parallels Desktop 7 have received Retina updates.


This MacBook Pro comes with a dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) processor along with 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory and 256GB of flash storage. It performed well on our Mac-based benchmark tests, finishing our Photoshop CS5 test in 4 minutes 27 seconds and our Handbrake video encoding test in 1:56. Similarly, the Intel Core i5 CPU helped the system attain a score of 2.83 in CineBench. These results are competitive to those we saw from the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro, which was loaded with a faster 2.9GHz Core i7 CPU. Though the Core i7-powered MacBook Pro was more than 30 seconds faster at Photoshop (3:54), due largely to the fewer number of pixels it had to show on its non-Retina display, it was only a few seconds faster at Handbrake (1:51) and almost equal on CineBench (2.85)

The earlier MacBook Pro lasted 6 hours 24 minutes on our video rundown test. The new Retina display equipped mode made it to 7:10, easily meeting Apple’s battery life estimate. The new laptop did that partly because of a larger capacity battery (73Wh versus 63.5Wh), but also because the new MacBook Pro ran the video test from battery sipping flash storage rather than a physically spinning hard drive that must be powered continuously to serve data.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) : Top

The unique qualities of this 13-inch MacBook Pro make it tough to directly compare, even to other MacBooks. It’s $500 more expensive than the previous 13-inch version and $200 less expensive than the 15-inch one, but it has a higher resolution screen than both and the 15-inch’s quad-core processor and discrete graphics make it an overall better performer. Ultra-light systems like the ultrabook Editor’s Choice Asus Zenbook Prime, and Sony’s VAIO UX32VD DB71 and VAIO Z13, give it a real run for its money. But if you work on high resolution projects and can justify spending almost $2,000 on a high-end laptop, this MacBook Pro is the ride you want.


Price: $1,999

Rating: 9/10

Pros: high-resolution Retina display. Comes with 8GB of memory standard. Good battery life. Includes two Thunderbolt ports. Supports Power Nap.

Cons: Pricey. Requires Retina-optimized apps for best user experience.


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