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- Review Date: 08/09/2012
- Bottom line: The Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid 2012) is still one of the best laptops around, with solid performance and a superb user experience, but after five-years with no change, the overall design is getting old.
- Pros: Quad-core Ivy Bridge processor. Switchable Nvidia graphics technology. Long battery life. OS X Mountain Lion improves on an already great user experience.
- Cons: Multimedia performance lags. No 1080p display.
The latest Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid-2012), updates the classic laptop with Intel's latest third-generation quad-core processor and adds USB 3.0 connections, which are arguably much more useful than the niche Thunderbolt port that Apple has invested so heavily in. The $1,799.00 (direct) price tag puts it in competition with some of the best desktop replacements we've reviewed, but the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch still holds its own with a great user experience and solid performance. But the newest model doesn't get the new screen or the fraction-of-an-inch slim-down seen on the Editors' Choice Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display)—with a look that hasn't changed in five years and so many competitors aping Apple designs, isn't the MacBook Pro due for a design update?
The MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid-2012) is instantly recognizable—it looks virtually identical to every iteration of the MacBook Pro 15-inch that we've seen since 2008. It measures the same 0.95 by 14.3 by 9.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.6 pounds—the sole exception to this is the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which trims the thickness to 0.71 of an inch and drops the weight to 4.46 pounds. While the trained eye will be able to spot the differences in port selection, the newest MacBook Pro is otherwise indistinguishable from last year's Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Thunderbolt).
Like these older models, the Mid-2012 MacBook Pro 15-inch features a backlit chiclet keyboard and glass surfaced trackpad. While the keyboard is comfortable to type on, we've felt better, including the keyboard on the Dell XPS 15 (Summer 2012), which adds a slight curvature to the flat tile keycap design for a more comfortable feel. The glass-surfaced trackpad remains the best, offering extensive multitouch gesture controls and a clickpad that is the envy of other premium laptop manufacturers.
With so many other similar designs showing up in the laptop aisle, it might be worth Apple's time to consider whether or not the look of the MacBook Pro has gotten a little tired. The slimmer Retina-equipped MacBook Pro may supplant this design, but only incorporates the smallest of differences. The Dell XPS 15 and HP Envy 15 (2012) both draw heavily upon Apple's design, but both use a slightly beveled edge around the palmrest, which is more comfortable than Apple's hard edge. While Apple's 15-inch 1,440-by-900 resolution is better than the ones you'll find on cheaper desktop replacements, it's easily topped by the Dell XPS 15's 1,920-by-1,080 display. Similarly, although Apple's built-in speakers offer clear sound with minimal distortion at high volume, they are outdone by the 6.1-channel Beats Audio and integrated subwoofer found in the HP Envy 15.
The MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid-2012) expands upon the MacBook's connectivity options by upgrading to two USB 3.0 ports—a step up from the slower USB 2.0 ports seen on previous iterations—and also includes Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800 and a speedy 10 Gbps Thunderbolt port that does double duty as a mini-DisplayPort for connecting an external monitor. An integrated SD card reader lets you snag files off of a memory card (SD/SDHC/SDXC), and you also get headphone and microphone jacks. A MagSafe power adapter helps prevent any damage from jerked or snagged cables, a feature that you won't find on Windows laptops. Internally, the MacBook Pro 15-inch is equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connection to headsets and peripherals.
A slot-loading optical drive provides DVD reading and burning capability (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW), a feature you won't find on the Editors' Choice Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display). You won't find Blu-ray support, however—Apple expects you to purchase HD media through iTunes. The configuration we tested came with a 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive, but you can upgrade to a larger 1TB drive ($200 more) or faster solid-state drive (SSD), starting at 128GB for $200 and up to 512GB for an extra $1,000.
Our test unit came with OS X 10.7 Lion installed, which includes Mail, Address Book, iCal, the Mac App Store, iTunes, Safari, and Time Machine. It also comes preinstalled with the iLife software suite. It's one of the best collections of bundled software out there, and it comes standard with new Apple MacBooks, and includes iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand. New MacBooks are now shipping with Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, which upgrades the award winning operating system with dozens of new features.
New MacBooks come with 90 days of free phone support and a one-year limited warranty on parts and labor. Buyers who want to extend this warranty can pick up an AppleCare Protection Plan ($349), which extends the warranty up to three-years.
The Apple MacBook Pro comes equipped with a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-3610QM processor, part of Intel's third-generation (Ivy Bridge) processor line. Paired with 4GB of RAM, this processor helped the MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid-2012) score 6.26 points in CineBench R11.5 processor speed tests, well ahead of comparable quad-core-equipped laptops like the Dell XPS 15 (5.64) and the 4.55 points of the Samsung Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03). It also zipped through our multimedia tests, completing Handbrake in 1 minute 33 seconds and Photoshop in 5 minutes 4 seconds. By comparison, the Dell XPS 15 completed those same tests in 1:23 (Handbrake) and 3:43 (Photoshop), while the Core i5-equipped HP Envy 15 finished them in 1:51 and 4:01, respectively.
The MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid-2012) also benefits from a discrete graphics processor, an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M with 512MB of dedicated memory. Automatic switching lets the laptop shift from high-performance graphics processing to energy-efficient integrated graphics without a second thought, extending battery life while not compromising graphics quality. Unfortunately, without Windows drivers available at the time of testing, we were unable to put the MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid-2012) through its paces in our gaming tests.
When tested using a continuous video rundown test, the MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid-2012)'s internal battery lasted 7 hours 48 minutes, exceeding the 7-hour claim made in Apple's marketing materials. While this test is only anecdotal (we can't compare it directly to results from our Mobilemark 2007 battery-life benchmark test) it does suggest that the MacBook pro has more than enough battery life to carry you through nearly a full workday without needing to be plugged in. This time is also comparable to the Dell XPS 15, which lasted 7 hours 28 minutes in MobileMark.
Apple's MacBook Pro 15-inch has enjoyed its status as the laptop to beat, and with a freshly-updated operating system and new USB 3.0 ports, the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Mid-2012) is still a top contender. But when does a design stop being iconic and begin to feel tired? Both the Dell XPS 15 and the HP Envy 15 offer a fresh take on the Apple design, and the Editors' Choice Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display) is the clear leader of the category, topping off everything great about the MacBook with a stunning display and a slimmer, lighter profile. If the superior Retina display is too rich for you, don't write off the MacBook Pro just yet, but don't forget to shop around and look at the alternatives.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.