So let's get this out of the way: If you want an incredibly powerful-yet portable laptop with this screen size, the 15" MacBook Pro with Retina display is simply the best there is. That said, all is not roses. It's more... geranium-like in fact. And we like geraniums. We do. But they're just not quite as good as roses when you need to get the job done. 

Still, there's much to like, much to really like, and much to be simply astounded by. Click the thingy below to find out what we're going on about.
A great number of prospective computer-buyers get bogged down with processor speeds and the different chipsets available that it's easy for them to lose sight of some very important information: Any higher-end computer that you've bought in the last two-to-three years is still more than powerful enough to do the job. Take for example, this writer's old iMac. It's a 2009 model, with a quad-core i7 2.8Ghz CPU, 16GB RAM, and a fast solid state disk in it. Do I ever hurt for my speed? No. Do I use 2012 systems and exclaim how much faster they are? Never, and I'm extremely picky. In fact, probably my only complaint is that I have to run Diablo III at 1920x1080 instead of my iMac's native resolution of 2560x1440 to maintain playable frame-rates (~30fps) due to my dated graphics card. Clearly I have a hard life.

So, with the new MacBook Pro with Retina display, - guess what? You still won't be playing Diablo III at native resolution (2880x1800) at 30fps, either. To be fair, it does one-up my iMac by at least being playable at 2048x1280 (what a bizarre resolution!). 

Anyway, putting my Diablo III obsession aside from a moment, let's take a look at the new MacBook Pro with Retina display. 


Much has been made of this new MacBook Pro's thinness, and yes it's certainly thinner that any MacBook Pro before it. That said, at 0.71" thick, it still feels chunky for some reason, especially by comparison to the MacBook Air. Now, if you watched Apple's keynote for the new MacBook Pro, Tim Cook would have you believe that the 13" MacBook Air is 0.68" thick. Period. Well yes, at its thickest point it is. The MacBook Air immediately starts tapering down to 0.11" thin where you rest your palms whereas the MacBook Pro is 0.71" from end to end. There's quite simply no comparison in terms of size between the two. 

Weight-wise, the MacBook Pro with Retina display has slimmed down to a svelte 4.41 pounds. This is a reasonable drop from the 15" non-Retina model's 5.6 pounds. But again, it still feels heavy compared to what we're used to here. We've seen a rush toward ultra-portables, with such laptops as Samsung's Series 9, the Asus Zenbook, and of course - the MacBook Air. But we'll stick with Apple, here: The MacBook Air weighs 2.96 pounds. By comparison, taking into account the thickness and weight, the MacBook Pro with Retina display is quite simply a chunky monkey. Without the ultra-portables out there, we'd be more in love than we are. Perhaps it's not fair, though, to be so resentful of this new workhorse. After all, the MacBook Air doesn't have the power, the screen technology (or size), the connectivity, the graphics prowess etc of the MacBook Pro. Perhaps it really isn't fair to judge. But we will. So there.


To say the Retina display is beautiful does a disservice to the Retina display. It deserves more than that. It's stunning, in every way. We would say the 15.4" display is gorgeous looking even without mentioning its 2880x1800 pixels. If you pop down to your local Apple Store and view the spec-bumped "normal" MacBook Pro and the MacBook Pro with Retina display side by side, the difference is startling. Beyond the sharpness difference, the Retina display uses IPS (In-Plane Switching) technology, so viewing angles are just phenomenal. No more adjusting the laptop screen front and back to find the "sweet spot" for text/movie watching. It looks brilliant at any normal angle and even at ridiculous angles: You can turn the laptop 175 degree to the left or right of you and still be able to see and read the screen easily. 

That said, it's not perfect. As crazy as it may sound, we wish Apple had gone slightly higher in resolution. Wait, what, you might ask? Well, one of the biggest issues with the standard-build 15.4" MacBook Pro wasn't just that 1440x900 looked aliased and not even close to pixel dense enough, - it's that due to the low resolution you really couldn't fit a whole lot of content on the screen. With this new Retina display, you still fit exactly the same amount of content on the screen as the lower-resolution model, it's just that it all looks a great deal sharper (something we really can't overstate). But, but, let's state that again: You still fit the same amount of content on the screen! So while Apple solved one issue, namely the ghastly aliasing and un-sharpness of text etc, they didn't solve the lack of actual real estate. Apple realized this to some degree, which is why in the Settings pane of the laptop you can run some scaled resolutions (1680x1050 or 1920x1200 equivalents). While they are reasonably sharp, nothing compares to the native 2880x1800 resoluion sharpness. So hey, we can be the bunch of lunatics that would have liked to seen 3360x2100. That would have given you the real estate of the older 1680x1050 upgraded MacBook Pro 15.4" screen but with all the sharpness of the Retina display. (We're never happy, we know...)
Those Fans:

During Apple's keynote reveal of the new MacBook Pro with Retina display, there was mention of new fan "technology" due to asymmetric blades inside the computer (all that means is the spacing between the blades is uneven). The idea was to remove that constant, identifiable fan pitch we associate with laptops under Photoshop encoding/Diablo III stress. The result? Well, we couldn't really tell any tangible difference. Under normal usage the laptop was extremely quiet. The two system fans run at all times, but are almost completely silent. However, while working extremely hard (in Diablo III, for example - addicted, yes), the fans are extremely noticable and not only that - distracting. Are they any less distracting than a regular MacBook Pro without the asymmetric fan design? Not that we could tell. So while this design may be interesting from a nerd-ish standpoint, we don't believe there's much - if any - improvement in noise levels/pitch. We do wish the MacBook Pro were quieter under load. That's the price you (currently) pay for some serious speed!


There's not really much to say here. It sounds reasonably good for a 15" laptop, but nothing mind-blowing, with a distinct thinness to the sound pumped out by the stereo speakers. You'll probably still prefer to use earphones, but for casual use it will do just fine. 

Power Adapter Redesign:
Apple claims they had to redesign the connector of their MagSafe power connector because the new MacBook Pro's chassis is too thin to accommodate the old one. We find that interesting. The 2011 MacBook Air is 0.03" thinner than new MacBook Pro with Retina display, yet the MacBook Air has no trouble using the original MagSafe power cord! Even more bizarre is that Apple has switched the 2012 MacBook Air (which is physically identical to the 2011 model) to this new MagSafe 2 adapter. At least Apple will sell you a tip converter for $9.99, so you can continue to use your existing chargers. 

The problem with this new MagSafe 2 connector is that it's wider and thinner than the original MagSage. This means it pulls out of the computer far, far too easily. Even a tiny glance against the connector sees it disconnecting; we have to say we're not fans of the new design. 

Internet, One Big Step Backward:

While OS X Mountain Lion's updated Safari engine has mitigated the following issue to some degree, web browsing on this new MacBook Pro isn't what it should be. And there's a good reason for that: Retina.

With the increased resolution of this new MacBook Pro, quite simply the rest of the system struggles to keep up with web browsing. Crazy, right? A 2012/2013 top-of-the-line Apple notebook that simply isn't quite there for for the surfers among us. So what's wrong? Well, scrolling up and down busy web pages isn't as smooth as the non-Retina-equipped MacBook Pros out there. Throw any Flash content into the mix and the smoothness drops even more. Before Mountain Lion was released, this issue was far greater. With Apple's latest OS, it's better, but not quite there yet. The NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics card simply isn't up to the task of powering a 2880x1800 display without issue. We hope the inevitable 2013 refresh will solve this. 

The Verdict:

While we love ridiculous resolution on our notebooks, and Retina really is gorgeous, it's still a mixed blessing with a number of trade-offs. Text is super sharp but comes at the cost of real estate at native resolution; gaming power is excellent, but not at native resolution; browsing the Internet could be a tad smoother. 

Those are a number of downsides to what is a stunning piece of engineering. We really do love the 15" MacBook Pro with Retina display. Even with its shortcoming, it's a winner. We can't wait for a sweet little spec bump to iron out the remaining issues. 

All that remains is to give it a score. We award the 15" MacBook Pro with Retina display a none-too-shabby four nerds out of five. 


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