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MacBook Retina Rising – is Apple's new MacBook Pro the Best Laptop Ever?

Ardjuna Seghers by

MacBook Retina Rising – is Apple's new MacBook Pro the Best Laptop Ever?

Read our hands-on Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display review here.

We all know technology is constantly improving. It allows us to do ever more, ever faster, in ever smaller packages, and usually manages to improve in the looks department too. This is especially true of mobiles, tablets and laptops. Surprisingly though, it’s rare for any of these categories to produce the perfect device. Even with flagship smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 or premium tablets such as the Asus Transformer Prime, it’s always the case that a competitor offers something better, or that you really wanted a feature or upgrade that simply isn’t there.

- Wondering which laptop to buy? Check out our roundup of the best laptops here.

Never has this been more the case than with laptops. Your average laptop has a poor TN screen with a low resolution. Even premium models can’t be used for 3D gaming. Gaming models aren’t generally very portable or good-looking and don’t tend to last long away from a socket. Even with USB 3.0 becoming standard, few offer the ability to connect external graphics – and the list goes on. However, Apple has released a laptop that changes all this: the Retina MacBook – or as it’s officially called, the 15in MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

What makes the MacBook Pro with Retina different?

As a strong sceptic towards the ‘Apple magic factor’, I judge the company’s creations purely on what they bring to the table in terms of hardware (and of course software) compared to the competition. The new iPad is the perfect example: yes, it’s a great tablet with the best screen and software selection available - but for everything it gets right, it suffers an awful lot of limitations too, which is why it only got 8/10 where the Transformer Pad 300 scored 10/10.

So what makes the new MacBook Pro 15in different? Apple doesn’t give it proprietary data connections or control the type and size of the files you’re allowed to put on it. Strip away Mac OS, and functionally it’s a laptop like any other – except, what a laptop. Aside from being a generally accomplished, great to use machine, it sports such niceties as the highest-resolution screen on any mobile device and the best, most flexible connectivity of any consumer laptop.

Combine this with the advantages Intel’s Ivy Bridge is set to bring to laptops in general plus dedicated Nvidia graphics that will let you get your game on, all stuffed into a relatively slim and light chassis with the usual stunning Apple design and build quality, and it becomes difficult to see a down-side - apart from how much the Retina MacBook will set you back. As such, it really could be the laptop to rule them all… until the competition catches up, anyway. But let’s look in a little more detail at what, for now, sets it apart from every other laptop out there.

MacBook Pro Retina Display

Its 2,880 x 1,800 IPS screen is undoubtedly the single biggest talking point about Apple’s flagship laptop, and deservedly so. After helping to make high-quality, high-resolution screens standard on high-end tablets and mobiles with the Retina efforts of the iPhone 4 and iPad 3, Apple is now doing it for laptops. Not that Sony didn’t get there first with the likes of the 1080p 13in VAIO Z, but it simply didn’t have as much influence on the broader market as Apple’s machine is likely to.

Quality on this Retina display is, in most ways, superb. Near flawless viewing angles, superior colour reproduction, excellent contrast unmarred by backlight bleed or clouding to an extent rarely seen, and no nasty artefacts, all make for a very compelling showing.

Thanks to that incredibly resolution - which equates to 220ppi - sharpness is also unsurpassed, and at normal viewing distances it looks every bit as sharp as the iPhone 4S’ 329ppi. Another unique touch along with its resolution is the reduced glass layers compared to the old design and most of the competition, which makes the screen look more… immediate.

MacBook Retina

So is it perfect? Not quite. Out of the box dark detailing isn’t great, with the subtlest details lost in the admittedly deliciously inky (by laptop LCD standards) blacks. We’re also not completely convinced by the display’s glossy finish, which does still cause annoying reflections, albeit less than before. Still, for now it’s definitely the laptop screen to beat.

Read on to find out what else makes the MacBook Pro 15in with Retina the best laptop ever.

Go to comments


June 18, 2012, 7:02 pm

I really don't see the point of this resolution on a 15" display if they are not going to fit more on the screen.

I have a 30" display with 2556 x 1600 resolution and the text is tiny from normal viewing distance.

It is just a waste of pixels and bragging rights. I would love to see how choppy games run at that resolution.

Tariq Pugh

June 18, 2012, 8:17 pm

The VAIO Z is still cooler.

Jason Hill

June 18, 2012, 10:16 pm

Have TR forgot to mention something? The fact that none of it is upgradable, you cant add more ram later or buy a better ssd at a later stage. If you want these now guess what it will cost you £560, just to go from 8-16gb of ram and 512-768GB ssd, and there only standard parts at that. But apple get away with this and company's like TR just lap it up as with all the other apple marketing crap.


June 18, 2012, 11:00 pm

Nice comparison between the studio shot Mac vs. real life shot Windows Laptop.


June 19, 2012, 12:48 am

Both images were shot in our studio for their respective reviews - the full review of the MacBook Pro is coming soon.


June 19, 2012, 12:53 am

I don't quite follow - "fit more on screen"?

The point of the Retina display is that it makes everything sharper in normal use - fonts and menus are all the same size as a normal 1440 x 900 display but are much clearer. But, for compatible programs you can use the full number of pixels. For instance when editing 1080p video you can have the full HD video shown but still fit all your tools around it or when viewing pictures all the thumbnails can show way more detail. Yes you have to peer closely to see all the details but at least they're there.

That's the principle anyway. We'll be back with our full review to assess whether its beneficial in practice.


June 19, 2012, 12:55 am

I'm in two minds on this point. On the one hand I fully agree that it's ridiculous how closed the system is but on the other if that's what it takes to make such a system then so be it - it is quite something in the flesh.


June 19, 2012, 1:21 am

I hear that the maximum native resolution you can set this thing at is 1920x1200. Not the marketed 2,880 x 1,800? (TWiT Podcast)


June 19, 2012, 2:09 am

That's the highest you can select for the system resolution but other programs can dig deeper as it were. My video preview may hopefully clear things up for you. http://www.trustedreviews.com/...


June 19, 2012, 5:14 am

Any chance of finding out direct from Apple (being priviliged enough to have press access as you are) why they won't offer 512GB with the slower processor? Bit of a jump in price that you have to opt for the faster processor on top if all you want is the extra storage (ie for a Windows 7 install to do some gaming, for those of us with slow net connections who want to leave stuff installed rather than having to download again over a period of days).

Just seems a bit cheeky of them to not offer the flexibility. I can almost kid myself that the base model with 512GB would be merely 'expensive', whereas the top end model is 'ludicrous' (not saying it's worth it or not worth it, but one figure is within the price range I'd consider, and one isn't - and I'm sure others might think the same)

Also for that price would it kill them to just include the £65 Superdrive as a freebie? I guess there's a reason they have a $100 billion cash pile.....

When you buy a Ferrari, you get to choose the colour of the seats, the colour of the stitching, the gearbox, the type of brakes...pretty much everything. Surely when purchasing the Ferrari of laptops, we could expect the same flexibility!


June 19, 2012, 5:49 am

Thanks Ed. That explains it nicely. I think that's a very wise implementation of the high resolution.

Such a shame that there are simply no user replaceable or upgradeable parts. In two years this will be a slow brick tied to the power cable. £200 to replace a battery? No SSD or RAM updates? £2000+? It all sounds a bit mad from my cheap seats. Then again, I should think that most the people that buy these will be happy to buy the next one in 2 years time and just put these in the cupboard or on an auction site.

Cracking bit of Hardware.


June 19, 2012, 12:05 pm

Seems Ed is having to defend this article pretty hard and I'm going to jump in in support. Yes, this laptop is fiendishly expensive, and yes it isn't upgradeable, but those are two sacrifices you make to get a machine this powerful, portable, well built and stylish, featuring what is without question the most outstanding screen on any laptop made to date by any manufacturer.

The storage on the MacBook Air isn't upgradeable either - it's a trade-off Apple makes in order to fit the components in such a compact chassis. I suspect they've realised that the proportion of people who ever actually upgrade a laptop's internal components is vanishingly small.

Personally, I'd sell a kidney for one of these.


June 19, 2012, 12:06 pm

The RAM and SSD are *not* "standard parts" - they are custom built to fit the enclosure of the new MBP, and soldered in place. That's *why* there's no aftermarket upgrades.


June 19, 2012, 3:06 pm

John, you're not the first to have that idea!


This does look like a fantastic laptop. Nobody really complains about Mercedes being too expensive, seems that this is the Mercedes of laptops, it's almost a tech demo. There's nothing to touch it on the market yet so they can charge what they want. Some more flexibility on configs at purchase would be nice though.

I expect in a couple of years a lot of laptops will have similar displays and features, and Apple will have moved on to something else...

Phil 9

June 19, 2012, 11:26 pm

I am currently the owner of a 17" MacBook Pro (Late 2007). I've been waiting to upgrade for some time.

So I've had a long look at this new retina MBP. Yes it's got an amazing screen and USB 3, but they are really the only major changes over previous models. In my opinion, there is more going against it:

NO 17" version
I need lots of screen real estate, so 15" is just not feasible since I am often away from my desk.

NO ExpressCard Slot
I have invested in eSata & CF memory adapters which will be completely unusable.

NO Upgradeable Hard Drive or Memory
My current MacBook Pro has a 512Gb SSD Drive which I upgraded myself. I want to reuse this in any new laptop to keep the upgrade costs down.

NO built in Ethernet port
Why do I have to carry around another adaptor/cable that can be lost/broken. Ethernet needs to be built right in like every other laptop world. It's just utter insanity excluding this.

So I've ended up buying the latest 17" model available (Oct 2011). It cost me £1500. It has all the connectivity as my existing laptop and comes with the additional Thunderbolt port. Better spec & better price all round. Yes it would be nice to have USB3, but at some stage I will get a Thunderbolt dock that will have USB3 anyway.

Whilst there will be some performance gains over previous models, stats showing up on GeekBench show that the 17" Sandy Bridge models from Late 2011 don't lag significantly behind the retina models. So upgrading for performance gains doesn't hold much sway.

I like to live on the bleeding edge of technology, but in all seriousness moving to this 15" retina MBP feels like a step AWAY from the edge.


June 20, 2012, 8:13 pm

Well...I just had a little play around with one in the Apple store in Westfield Shepherd's Bush...quite a nice bit of kit, feels like a fantastic piece of engineering. Very slender when closed, rock solid build, not creaky like my plastic hand-me-down Dell Studio 17 (and half the 4.1kg weight too). And I have to say, the scaled 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200 looked pretty sharp to my eyes.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't getting the credit card out on the spot to get one, but it's going to be a tough decision if my own laptop dies, which it seems to be well on its way to doing.

And I'm in the "I don't really like Apple as a brand, they're too smug, and they really need to convince me why I should buy this" camp, not the "ooooh shiny apple take my money" camp. But this might just win me over....


June 21, 2012, 11:40 pm

I just got a chance to check out the new MBP, and the screen is honestly everything what ED described it to be. The retina display on it is INCREDIBLY sharp!.. Its like that feeling when you first got an iphone 4 after using a 3GS for so long and you think to yourself "I dont think i can ever go back to that old screen". At the apple store I kept moving back and fw between a MBP with the old screen to one with the retina display just so i can keep admiring the difference. You really have to see it in person to believe its beauty.


June 22, 2012, 12:09 am

I dont know what "step AWAY from the edge" means, and your "NO.." list are just features pertaining to your own taste. They're not a necessity. Happy for your new MBP 17" though.

I am curious however, by squeezing the depth of the chasis, did this new macbook pro sacrifice features like speakers (sound)? Im excited for the full review.

Jim Fulton

June 23, 2012, 3:11 pm

Predictably, the posted comments have been in two camps. I hate Apple vs the rest. As an Apple user, it appears that this laptop is very very good, but wayyyy out of my price range currently. I'd like to say one thing to those moaning about upgrading and tooling about with the SSD: most buyers really can't be bothered doing that. My 2008 iMac (3.1GB, 1TB) is now four years old and performs like the day it came out of the box. A current model (I know refresh soon) would only be marginally faster/better. To most consumers (vs techies or gamers with extremely deep pockets) any device that's north of a grand needs to last more than three years. No different for laptops. If you need the latest and greatest, every year, then you must be less than 1pc of buyers, and are as anal about "want it now" as the fanboys are about every single Apple device.


June 23, 2012, 4:29 pm

It really is good isn't it? What impressed me too was how slender it is when it's closed. Makes my Dell Studio 17 look like a (creaky, poorly made and plastic) whale.
If it was a Windows laptop I'd probably already have one, thankfully the jump to OS X is enough to make me pause and not impulse buy with money I don't have! (since I have lots of software and more importantly games for windows, the switch in OS is still a negative factor for me even with Bootcamp....but what a machine, why can't any other manufacturer make anything close?). Time to start saving....

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