REVIEW: Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display (2012)

The recently-released 15-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display was undeniably impressive, combining an ultra-high-resolution display with a high-performance Intel i7 processor and an improved, lightweight design. Its £1,799 price tag did, admittedly, put it out of reach for most business users, but we recognised its appeal for professional users in Apple’s traditional stronghold markets such as graphics, design and photography.

This month sees a similar update for the 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro, but while the new Retina display and lighter design remain impressive, the near-£500 price hike for this particular model is disappointing. The standard 13-inch MacBook Pro―which remains on sale at £999―is Apple’s top-selling laptop and is popular with both home and business users. However, this new Retina version is too expensive to reproduce that mainstream appeal.

Price and performance

Prices for the new 13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display start at £1,499 for a model with a dual-core Ivy Bridge i5 processor running at 2.5GHz. That’s the same processor as the basic £999 model without the Retina display, so there’s no real performance improvement on offer there. The reliance on integrated graphics rather than a discrete graphics card is also disappointing given the price of this model.

However, the RAM does increase from 4GB to 8GB, and the 500GB hard disk is replaced by a 128GB solid-state drive. The SSD makes boot and wake-up times much snappier, but it’s not going to make that much difference for people who spend their working day in Word or Excel.

You can also step up to an i7 processor running at 2.9GHz for an extra £160. That seems like a worthwhile upgrade, although the £250 that Apple is charging to increase the SSD to 256GB seems somewhat less of a bargain, to put it mildly.The slimline design of this model means that there’s no optical drive in this model, and both Ethernet and Firewire interfaces have gone AWOL.

If you budget another £65 for Apple’s external SuperDrives, and £25 each for the Ethernet and Firewire adapters you could push the price of this 13-inch laptop close to £2,000―which certainly explains the size of Apple’s bank balance these days.

To be fair, the standard Intel i5 processor provides very good performance and will be more than adequate for running MS Office as well as more demanding tasks such as video-editing and multimedia presentations. However, there are plenty of laptops available that offer similar performance at much more competitive prices, so we need to look elsewhere for a compelling reason to upgrade from the standard £999 model.

Screen machine

The most eye-catching feature is, of course the new Retina display. Its 2560×1600 resolution is almost twice that of an HD television screen, which is undeniably impressive for a mere 13.3-inch screen. The clarity of the image is outstanding, as are the bright, bold colours that it provides when viewing photos and video.

The viewing angle of the IPS panel is also extremely wide―close to 180-degrees―and will be very handy for presentations with colleagues gathered around a table. This model also gains an HDMI interface so that you can hook it up to a larger screen as well (albeit only running at humble HD resolution).

And yet we do find ourselves wondering if that sort of resolution isn’t something of nonsense in a screen this size. It’s a strong selling point for the more powerful 15-inch version of the MacBook Pro, as that will appeal to the photographers and video-editors that are Apple’s intended audience.

The Retina display also makes sense with hand-held devices, such as the iPhone and iPad, that can be held close enough to really appreciate the sheer clarity of the screen. But, as attractive as the Retina display undoubtedly is, £1,499 simply seems too expensive for the mainstream home and business users who have made the basic £999 model such a success.

Thin and light

There’s more to it than just the screen, of course. Like its 15-inch counterpart, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has also undergone something of a design overhaul. Losing the optical drive has allowed Apple to reduce the thickness of the machine to just 19mm, while the weight drops from 2.06kg to a far more portable 1.62kg―slim and light enough to give most Windows Ultrabooks a run for their money.

Battery life is good, providing close to 5 hours of wireless Web surfing and streaming video, so it should see you through a full day of Excel number-crunching without trouble. It’s a shame, though, that Apple insists on sealing the battery inside the unit, preventing easy replacement during a long flight, or simply to replace an ageing battery. This model also includes two of Apple’s high-speed Thunderbolt interfaces, memory card slot, 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0 and 720p Webcamera.

Value is in the eye of the beholder

It’s hard not to admire the sheer quality of the MacBook Pro’s design. However, Apple’s pricing makes it difficult to see exactly whom this model is aimed at. Home and business users on a budget will prefer the standard £999 model, while high-end users who might be prepared to pay for the Retina display seem more likely to opt for the larger 15-inch model. If you can afford to treat yourself then you probably won’t regret it, but you’re paying a premium for the luxury of that Retina display.


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