Review Price £1,799.00
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display
Also read: MacBook Retina Rising – is Apple's new MacBook Pro the Best Laptop Ever?
If you were to ask any creative professional or power computer user just what the perfect laptop would have, the new Retina Display touting next generation MacBook Pro would tick just about every box. It's slim, light, powerful and sports a high-resolution screen. About the only thing on paper that's not in its favour is its footprint; at 15.6in across this doesn't compete with Ultrabooks or MacBook Airs for portability. But does a clever new display and a few faster components make for another Resolution? We've spent a few hours with the machine and so far we can categorically say that yes it can!
Starting, as ever with Apple products, with its design, the next generation MacBook Pro certainly makes a grand entrance. At just 1.8cm thick, it's only 1mm thicker than the MacBook Air range and it weighs only 2.02Kg. This is despite its chassis being built largely from Aluminium, in the signature Apple unibody style.
Watch Our Video Review Of The: The MacBook Pro 15 inch with Retina Display
The combination of this premium finish, that slimness and the other little details Apple products have so long been famous for means this laptop is immediately desirable, merely as a piece of design. In comparison to the old-style MacBooks it's only really the slimness that immediately sets them apart (both of the bottom chassis section and the screen) but the over 500g of weight saving soon becomes apparent.
What also makes itself known fairly quickly is the loss of an optical drive and Ethernet port. The optical drive is a very understandable omission that is fundamental to the philosophy of the design - it's forward looking - and we certainly don't have too many complaints. It would be nice to watch the odd Blu-ray on a display of this calibre but considering how infrequently this is done, the bulk and weight saving makes a lot of sense.
However, the decision to drop the Ethernet port is rather more annoying. Any suggestion that Wi-Fi is yet as reliable or fast as wired networking is laughable and while Ethernet to USB or ThunderBolt adapters are easily available, it's a pain to have to carry them around.
Otherwise connectivity is decent. You've got two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, SD card reader, headphone and two ThunderBolt ports. The addition of a second ThunderBolt port is an intriguing one as while we can certainly see uses for it, we'd have thought there would be more uses for more USBs, especially with HDMI onboard for hooking up extra displays. Internally you've also got dual-band Wi-Fi N for faster wireless networking, dual microphones for noise cancelled Skype calls and the like, and Bluetooh 4.0.
Opening the machine up, it largely looks familiar with a backlit black keyboard flanked by micro-drilled grills for the speakers, the single glass surface trackpad and the single flat glass surface of the screen, with its black bezel. However, there are a couple of differences compared to previous Pros, aside from the obvious upgrade to the screen.
New cooling vents on the underside of the chassis double up as bass ports for the speakers, supposedly giving them a bit more oomph. Experimenting with covering them up with our hands didn't seem to make much difference but certainly this is an impressive sounding machine with clarity and power both on offer. Plenty of larger, thicker laptops do have it beat, but for its size it's impressive.
Also impressive are the keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard is perhaps a little shallower than previous MacBook Pros but the key action and layout (Apple quirks aside) is excellent. As for the trackpad, it's as good as we've come to expect from Apple products. The click-anywhere action is incredibly easy to use, touch sensitivity and tracking speed seems just right and of course the multi-touch gestures are perfectly executed.
Another tweak is the construction of the screen. Apple has removed a layer of glass so that the LCD structure sits right on the front piece of glass. This reduces internal reflections, boosts contrast and simply gives the display that sense of sitting right on the surface you're looking at, not behind some protective layer.
But, of course, this is only one relatively minor way in which the screen has improved. The big changes are to the panel itself. Apple has doubled the resolution from 1440 x 900 pixels to 2880 x 1800 pixels - more than any laptop we've ever encountered. The idea, though, isn't just to up the resolution and end up with a load of tiny icons, but rather to change the way displays and software actually interact.
By default the display acts like a standard 1440 x 900 panel with everything simply downscaled. All the icons and text are the same size but just much sharper. However, if an application supports the so called Retina Display it can show certain elements in far more detail.
The obvious applications are for image and video programs and games. The former would allow for things like thumbnails to show far more detail than previously possible, while viewing an image fullscreen will show an incredible amount of detail to be shown. Both Apple's iPhoto and Aperture support this and it is indeed a revelation to be able to see so much detail at all stages of the process of working with your images. Support for Retina Display is coming to Photoshop imminently too.
Likewise video programs can now show Full HD video clips at full resolution in a window while still having all the timeline and processing tools still on show. You do have to peer pretty closely to pick out the details but at least the detail's there. Likewise, you can work on thumbnailed clips that show far more detail than has ever been possible before.
As for games, it's a long established fact that the higher resolution you use on a game, the better it looks and with the Retina Display you can if you wish choose to use the full 2880 x 1800 pixels. Games like Diablo 3 already support it, though we're yet to have a go ourselves. We'll report back with more in our full review.
As well working in this manner you can also change the standard desktop resolution, increasing it to a maximum of 1920 x 1200 or even reducing it further, all the way down to 1024 x 600. Things noticeably aren't quite as crisp at these resolutions but the options there if you quickly want to give yourself more desktop space or want an easy to read mode.
Along with the pixel density increase, Apple has also upped the panel quality from a standard TN panel to an IPS one. This greatly improves viewing angles as well as contrast, making this overall simply the best laptop display we've ever seen (colour calibrated work aside perhaps).
On top of this the next generation MacBook Pro still packs in plenty of power with processor options all being of the quad-core Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge variety. You also get 8GB RAM as standard, Nvidia 650 graphics and there are a few SSD configurations, though none come cheap.
The graphics card in particular is key here as it means this super high-resolution display is actually usable for both work and gaming. We've not put it to the test fully yet but have high hopes for it being a powerful chip.
Despite all this power you still get a decent 7 hours battery life. This may be a disappointment to those used to the 10hours of the 17in MacBook Pro who - with the 17in now being canned - would be looking at this machine as a potential upgrade. But it's still a decent figure that should be sufficient for most people in general use.
So, all told Apple truly can be proud of creating an exceptional piece of technology. Yes, there are a couple of little things we could pick fault in but on first impression few of them cause great concern. However, there is one rather powerful sticking point - the price. With a starting price of £1,799 you need seriously deep pockets to get in the game.
Perhaps the key point, though, is whether it's worth the money and currently we'd say it's a qualified yes.