The new MacBook Pro 13-inch will have what Apple calls a Retina display. All this means is that it’s very high resolution, something Sony (and others) have been doing with their laptops for years. However, the 13-inch Retina’s resolution sets a new benchmark, packing in a whopping 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. As mentioned, that’s a higher resolution than a premium 27-inch monitor.
This gives the MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina Display a PPI (pixels per inch) count of around 227, higher than the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display and only slightly lower than the 264ppi of the iPad 3 and 4.
Not only is everything incredibly sharp with nary a pixel to be seen, but because the panel is of the IPS rather than TN variety, viewing angles are also as close to perfect as laptops get. Combined with Apple’s usual attention to detail when it comes to colour accuracy and backlight evenness, the MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina quite simply has the best screen of any ultraportable laptop available.
If we’re being particularly picky there’s the slightest hint of backlight clouding, but really our only complaint with the MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina’s screen is that though blacks are lovely and deep, out-of-box settings mean some dark detail is lost.
On the audio side of things the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro holds up well. Its speakers manage a decent volume level and reasonable clarity, though as usual for this size laptop bass is lacking. We’d happily watch a light movie on the 13-inch Retina, though anything more dramatic will still want some headphones.
As you would expect on a high-end laptop aimed as much at content creation as consumption, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina gives you a choice of the latest-gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processors.
As mentioned before, the only downside compared to Apple’s 15-inch Pro with Retina is that there is no quad-core option. Our review sample came with the ‘base-line’ Core i5-3210M, which runs at 2.5GHz by default and can turbo clock up to 3.1GHz. The CPU is backed by a generous 8GB of RAM as standard, which should be plenty for most. In fact it had better be, as you can’t upgrade to 16GB like with the 15-inch with Retina Display.
One area where the 13-inch Pro doesn’t lose out to its bigger brother is in storage. Though it starts off with a smaller 128GB minimum (compared to 256GB on the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina), both laptops can be upgraded to a whopping 768GB SSD. On the base 13-inch model, this will ‘only’ set you back £1,050. Yep, that’s not a typo. Obviously, we wouldn’t generally recommend this upgrade, and even £650 for the 512GB upgrade is expensive enough that we would think hard about external storage solutions when buying this machine.
Graphics is probably the weakest weapon in the latest MacBook Pro with Retina’s arsenal. Unlike the 15-inch version with its Nvidia ‘Keppler’ GeForce GT 650M on every model, with the 13-inch Pro you’re stuck with Intel’s integrated HD 4000.
Trying to run any recent 3D game at the display’s insanely high resolution will result in a horrible slideshow, though older titles may still be playable if you go easy on the detail – as demonstrated by a reasonable 41fps average in TrackMania at 2,560 x 1,600. However, for more demanding games we’ll let the graph speak for itself. If you want to game on a portable Mac system, get the 15-inch Pro with its Nvidia graphics.
As an upside to the lack of dedicated graphics, the MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina never became as noisy or hot to the touch as the 15-incher, which could get positively toasty near the hinge while gaming.