Speed of Light

Retina MacBook Pro Review

Simply put: The 15 inch Retina MacBook Pro is the best computing device for those serious about using computers currently available. It isn’t perfect, but it’s by far the best choice.

The screen is resplendent, with bright colours that pop. And of course, as a Retina display, everything is sharp. When the iPad with Retina display came out earlier this year, I felt it looked great, but it didn’t feel stunning at first. In the meantime, I’ve come to feel mostly the same way about it. But the new MacBook Pro is on another level.

Perhaps it’s because I’m coming from a 2010 MacBook Pro, 15 inch, where the screen brightness wasn’t as great as an iOS device, so this new Retina model is just leaps and bounds better and more pleasurable by comparison. Whatever the case, the display is simply gorgeous.

When you hear about the increased clarity and contrast ratios, they sound impressive, but nothing you couldn’t live without. But once you start using the device as your fulltime computing device, the effect is sublime. Sharp text. Everywhere. Sharp text for browsing, reading and writing letters and articles. Sharp text for reading and writing code. It makes for an unspeakable difference.

It makes the whole interface of OS X feel brand new again. It’s an interface many of us have used for the better part of a decade, and even though it’s evolved in the meantime, it’s still always felt to me like it’s the older brother of iOS, with more of its flaws and fewer of its strengths. But now that same interface becomes much clearer, and I feel like I’m now seeing it, for the first time, the way it’s always been meant to be seen.

All of the applications I use on a daily basis were updated by the time I started using this machine in late September 2012 (the machine itself, the first Mac with a Retina display, came out in June of this year), including Safari and Chrome, Xcode, Chocolat, Byword. Because most applications on the Mac are heavily textual, most apps didn’t even need much of a change to be fully Retina-ready.

The Web is the only place where I ever really notice there is non-Retina-ready content still around, but aside from image-heavy websites, it’s not really a big problem. The simple fact is, textual content looks so gorgeous in either browser that a few blurry images here and there don’t really detract from the experience. Sure, a non-Retina image appears worse on a Retina display than a non-Retina image appears on a non-Retina display, but I think for the most part that’s a perception issue. Most of the websites I care about support it fully, and those which don’t aren’t really that big of a deal anyway.

The Rest of the Story

The display is the paramount feature of this computing device, but it’s not the only thing that makes it better than all the rest.

The device feels like a more idealized MacBook Pro. The Superdrive has been subtracted from the device, allowing it to become much slimmer. The spinning rust hard-drive has been replaced with a solid state drive, making the computer not only much peppier, but also a great deal quieter. The fans very seldom ever kick in, and if they do, they’re mostly unheard. Combined with the removal of the device’s signature “breathing sleep LED”, with the lid closed it’s pretty hard to tell when the device actually enters sleep mode — there’s no change in sound, no indicator light, and no physical movement from inside its belly.

I’ve never used a MacBook Air as my fulltime device, but I can say as an owner of previous generations of MacBook Pros this one is way slimmer and lighter. I’ve found the 13 inch models (either the Air or the Pro) to have far too small a screen for my tastes. I can’t say whether MacBook Air owners would feel this computer to be too bulky, but once you use it for a while, the screen will likely change your mind.

The computer runs much cooler than any MacBook Pro I’ve ever used. In the past, there was no way I could use the device on my lap as it was far too hot for my legs. This device has no such issues.

The Battery

Battery life on this machine has reached “I don’t care” status. It lasts a long time, probably a solid 6 hours of completely regular unplugged usage. I have no idea how long it actually lasts, just that you can use it unplugged and not have to think about it any more. And it charges up really quickly too. I’m used to the Retina iPad taking four or more hours to fully charge up, but the MacBook Pro seems to charge much faster.

If you use it heavily every day, you’ll still need to charge it once per day, but if you use it lightly, you can probably get a good week or so out of it without needing to recharge. It’s how computers should work.

The Bumps

There are of course a few bumps in the road for this first Retina Mac. Scrolling large image-intensive web pages causes performance hiccups. Safari on Mountain Lion, which came out in July of this year still has tons of graphical glitches (I’m told this isn’t a problem relegated to the Retina devices). And on occasion the device will just totally crash. It’s probably a kernel panic, but without displaying the usual kernel panic screen. It’ll just freeze and loop whatever audio is playing. The device has to then be restarted.

These problems, however, are infrequent. I could look at the problems and list all the reasons why this device might annoy you, but I don’t think they really matter compared to the joys it brings in other ways. Bugs are inevitable, but suffering because of them is a choice.

The Result

This is the best computing device you can buy right now. It’s gorgeous and makes doing reading and writing, watching movies, listening to music, or whatever else your job or personal life entails, much much better. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable computer. It’s expensive, but worth it.