- Review Date: 10/30/2012
- Bottom line: The Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) is the best way to carry the pixels of a large-screen monitor with you on the road. It's ideal for people who make their living with visuals.
- Pros: High-resolution Retina display. Includes two Thunderbolt ports. Standard 8GB of memory. Good battery life. Supports Power Nap.
- Cons: Pricey. Requires Retina-optimized apps for best user experience.
Apple's new MacBook Pro 13-Inch (Retina Display) ($1,999 list) gives the insanely picky visual artist a new, more portable sidekick. The MacBook Pro has been redesigned with many of the features that made the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display) so attractive to the graphics arts set. If you absolutely must have a display with greater-than-HD resolution and you need to take that show on the road, you want this laptop. 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 screen and the powerful components to back them up. It's our new Editors' Choice for high-end ultraportable laptops.Design and Features
The MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) retains the general Apple design ID, with a black chiclet backlit keyboard and one-piece glass multitouch 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), which is thinner than the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro. But it feels sturdy in your hand: At a weight of 3.57 pounds, it's a little heavier than some ultrabooks we've reviewed recently, but the MacBook Pro isn't beholden to the ultrabook specs. The Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Mid 2012)
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) 802.1a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 like the other recent MacBooks. Our midpriced 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 forgo half the storage (128GB) to save $300, or you can up the total to 512GB (for $500) or 768GB (for $1,000). If you need still more beyond that, or you don't want to shell out the bucks for more flash storage, two USB 3.0 ports and two Thunderbolt ports are available for connecting external drives.
Like the optical drive, FireWire 800 has fallen out of favor at Apple, because that venerable (and relatively slow) port is missing from both Retina display–equipped MacBook Pros. You can also 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, headset/headphones jack, and a MagSafe 2 charging port 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 (for noise cancellation during FaceTime sessions), 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
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 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 be happy using the MacBook Pro if you're used to working on 30-inch panels at your office. Photos and videos look excellent on the display, 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 Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid 2012), which lacks the Retina Display, is the only 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 look 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 displays on 11- and 13-inch "true 1080p HD" Windows laptops, where these elements look sharp but are almost unusably tiny.
Like the other members of the recently updated MacBook Pro family, the MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) 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 other programs that have been optimized for Retina display by doing a quick search on the App Store. For other apps, you'll have to check individual developers' websites. For example, when the MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) was released, Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 and Parallels Desktop 7 had been updated to work with the Retina Display.Performance
The latest MacBook Pro 13-inch 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 scores are competitive to those we saw from the previously reviewed MacBook Pro 13-inch (Mid 2012), 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 points).
The mid-2012 version of the MacBook Pro 13-inch lasted 6 hours 24 minutes on our video rundown test. The new Retina display–equipped 13-inch MacBook Pro beat that and made it to 7:10 on the same test, 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.
The unique qualities of the MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) make it tough to directly compare, even to other MacBooks. It's $500 more expensive than the MacBook Pro 13-inch (Mid 2012) and $200 less expensive than the MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid 2012), but it has a higher-resolution screen than both—though the 15-inch's quad-core processor and discrete graphics make it a better performer on most tests. Our high-end ultrabook Editors' Choice Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71 has a 1080p screen and similarly targets photographers who need portable high-resolution screens, but the Asus UX32VD-DB71 has discrete graphics and is a lot less expensive. The MacBook Pro scales its UI much better than the ultrabook, where close boxes on its 13-inch 1080p screen can seem almost microscopic. The closest recent competitor in price, aim, and form factor is the Sony VAIO Z13 (SVZ13114GXX). The VAIO Z13 justified its premium with a true quad-core processor, 1080p display, preinstalled multimedia programs, and a slim carbon fiber construction. Though the Z13 is lighter and faster, its power-eating processor leads to a fair-to-middling battery life; it also shares the UI problems you have when you try to use Windows on a 13-inch 1080p screen. Both the Sony VAIO Z13 and the MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) belong to the high-end ultraportable category. If you work on high-resolution projects and can justify spending almost $2,000 on a high-end laptop, the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Retina Display) is the ride you want—and our new Editors' Choice for high-end ultraportables.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.