In amongst all the hype surrounding the iPhone and iPad, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Apple’s Macintosh computers—and its MacBook laptops in particular—have also enjoyed booming sales in recent years. In fact, Apple claims to have just taken the number one spot for laptop market share in the US for the first time.
Apple’s bulging bank balance has also been helped by the fact that it has achieved this growth by concentrating almost exclusively on the higher end of the laptop market. And now, with its latest MacBook Pro model, Apple has effectively set a new benchmark for high-end laptops.
The MacBook Pro with Retina display, as it is officially named, comes with a minimum starting price of £1,799. That price alone will probably rule it out for most people, yet Apple’s latest laptop release does provide a number of impressive features that do at least suggest that it can earn its keep.
The basic specification of the MacBook Pro with Retina display is conventional enough, with that £1,799 model offering a 15.4-inch screen, an Intel i7 processor running at 2.3GHz, 8GB of memory, and 256GB solid-state drive. But, of course, the real standout feature is the Retina display.
The MacBook Pro with Retina display shares the same ultra-high-resolution display as the iPhone and iPad, which according to Apple consists of pixels so small that they can’t be seen by the naked eye. And, when scaled up to a full 15.4 inches, displays a resolution of 2,880 x 1,800 pixels. That’s four times the 1,440 x 900 resolution of the “standard” MacBook Pro model (still on sale from £1,499), and far higher than needed to display 1,920 x 1,080 high-definition video.
Many business users may wonder why anyone would need such high resolution on a laptop screen. However, Apple’s traditional users have always come primarily from creative industries such as design and video editing, and the Retina display of the MacBook Pro will have undoubted appeal for creative professionals.
Any designer with an interest in typography will drool over the ultra-smooth font rendering on the Retina display, while video editors will be able to view a full high-definition video image on screen whilst also having plenty of spare room for the tool bars and palettes of video editing programs such as Premiere or Final Cut Pro.
On a more prosaic level, you could view some fairly huge Excel spreadsheets or knock up some pretty impressive PowerPoint presentations on the Retina display. However, it’s probably safe to say that most business users who just want to use Microsoft Office don’t really need the Retina display.
Fortunately, the appeal of the MacBook Pro doesn’t just lie in that eye-catching Retina display. As mentioned, the MacBook Pro boasts a powerful quad-core i7 processor running at 2.3GHz. There’s also a model with a faster 2.6GHz processor and 512GB storage, which comes in at an eye-watering £2,299.
As you’d expect at this price, Apple has made sure to include the latest Ivy Bridge version of that processor, and backed it up with 1,600MHz memory and high-speed Flash storage in order to maximise performance, so it’s certainly powerful enough to cope with workstation-level tasks such as CAD or HD video editing. And, in addition to the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, the MacBook Pro with Retina display also includes a discrete nVidia GeForce GT 650M graphics processor to provide additional graphics performance. That’s only a mid-range GPU, though, and at this price you could have expected something a bit beefier.
Of course, there are other i7 laptops available, and most of them are quite a bit cheaper. However, Apple’s second big achievement with this model is that it has managed to cram high-end performance and components into a sleek aluminium casing that could give many PC Ultrabooks a run for their money.
When folded flat, the MacBook Pro with Retina display measures just 18mm thick, which certainly brings it right into Ultrabook territory. Admittedly, its 2.02kg weight is a bit high for an Ultrabook, but it’s still far lighter than most 15-inch laptops. In fact, it’s even lighter than the 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro, which weighs in at 2.06kg. If you’re looking for a laptop that combines heavyweight performance with lightweight design then the MacBook Pro with Retina display is hard to beat.
On the road
The combination of i7 processor and Retina display should put quite a drain on the battery, but the MacBook Pro with Retina display provides surprisingly good battery life. We got just a few minutes short of five hours when using its built-in Wi-Fi to stream full-screen video off the BBC iPlayer, so you should get close to a full day’s work out of it for more routine tasks like running Microsoft Office or checking your e-mail when you’re on the road.
The only real annoyance is that, like all Apple products nowadays, the battery pack is firmly sealed inside the unit and is not user-replaceable. That means you don’t have the option of quickly replacing a faulty battery, or simply slipping in a spare battery to see you through a long-haul plane flight.
Connectivity is also something of a mixed bag. Apple has finally gotten around to adding a pair of USB 3.0 ports and HDMI, along with two of its high-speed Thunderbolt ports. However, there are no Ethernet or FireWire ports, so you’ll have to pay £25 each for adapters that can be used with the Thunderbolt ports. There’s no optical drive either, as that had to go in order to keep the size and weight down.
Want you want versus what you’ll settle for
It’s often said that Apple products are more expensive than PCs with a comparable specification, but there really isn’t anything in the PC market that compares with the MacBook Pro with Retina display. The Retina display is unique—and clearly targets the machine primarily at creative professionals—while its combination of workstation performance and slimline, elegant design displays a level of engineering prowess rarely seen from rival PC manufacturers.
If you want a laptop for running Microsoft Office, the MacBook Pro with Retina display is complete overkill and impossible to justify at this price. That doesn’t alter the fact that it’s utterly desirable—and there are rumours of a less expensive 13-inch model coming soon, which may be better suited to a mainstream business audience.