Opinionated World

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Retina MacBook Pro Impressions

As you are already aware, and for those that aren’t, I am a bit of an Apple fanboy.

The computers in the family have always been a Macintosh, and while I’ve used and sadly owned a couple of generically coined PCs, I don’t believe that I could ever use something Windows based as my day-to-day machine.

Back in 2005 I was bought my first personal Mac. It was a 12″ iBook. I loved it, the size was brilliant, could easily be carried anywhere and while hefty, it was for the time a very light device. I bought my own computer in 2007, a 24″ iMac. Coming from the iBook made the iMac seem like a leviathan. The sheer screen real estate I gained was incredible. Two years later and I acquired a 17″ MacBook Pro. The main reason that I decided to get the largest Apple laptop was because of the display. Even at 17″ it still managed to squeeze the same number of pixels as my glorious iMac. Back in the present day and I am typing this on the latest and best Mac notebook.The Retina MacBook Pro.

I’ve been reading many forum posts and a lot of people are very anti the downgrade from a 17″ Pro to the 15.4″ Retina. This puzzles me somewhat, as almost all of the arguments are for the display.

Size comparison with a 17" MacBook Pro.

Size comparison with a 17″ MacBook Pro.

Yes, while smaller it still has far more pixels, a higher PPI and the option to render everything at a 1920×1200 resolution. The very same number of pixels that the 17″ MBP has. Another is that the ‘Glossy’ display is bad, well, it hands down reflects much less than the old 17″ Glossy panel of the MacBook Pro. While not full preventing everything it is way closer to the Anti-Glare options that Apple offers on some other computers.

When I first got the 17, I carried it to and from a work placement every day. I used a proper rucksack, two straps and all, and yet I would still feel the pull of the nearly 3Kg lump of metal and glass. Here’s where the naysayers will say that I should hit the gym. Wrong, no matter the weight of anything, over a prolonged period of time, you will feel the strain on your muscles.

Thinness Comparison.

Thinness Comparison.

The size, a wonder, is at times unwieldy. After my placement finished I went back to using the iMac and my MBP sat idle on my desk. I sold the iMac early last year, bought a 27″ monitor and have been using the MBP as a desktop replacement, it was better spec’d than the all-in-one of the iMac, and after I installed 8GB of RAM and an SSD it flew through mostly all of the tasks that I threw at it.

So why did I upgrade my computer if it still works fine? Well, I am of the opinion that you get a decent 3 years out of most computing devices. After this time, the software that is used will be coded for faster and more efficient processors. Half of the problem is lazy coding. As computers become more powerful, developers tend to get a bit lazy, who’s going to notice 1000 lines of code when the computer can blast through it as if it were the 100 it could be?

Here I am, typing on a real 2012 machine.

Comparatively the Retina is incredible. So thin, so light, just 2Kg, and compared to the Core 2 Duo of my 2009 17, it absolutely screams.

I had originally ordered the top end model with a 2.7GHz Quad i7, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. The day it was delivered to me Apple offered a plethora of options to the base model. So back went the unopened Retina and I spec’d all the same bar the SSD which I downgraded to 256GB. This was the spec that I would have ordered in the first place, were it available, it would save me £400 on the price of the machine and having used external HDDs for a long time had no real need for a large internal storage option, the SSD in the 17 was only 60GB and had been for more than a year, so I can cope with tight storage limitations.

15" Retina MacBook Pro.

15″ Retina MacBook Pro.

Once the desired configuration finally turned up I could see a Retina properly. I’m currently nowhere near an Apple store and so I decided that I wouldn’t see one until I had my own. This would make it far more impressive once I could spend some real time with the computer.

Apple packaging has always been top-notch and the box for the Retina is no exception. The top shows the front of the laptop, clearly designed to accentuate the thinness of the device. The sides of the box have nothing more than the Apple logo and the MacBook Pro logo, the back just a label showing the designated configuration.

Prising the lid from this box you are presented with the top of the Pro. Apple logo the wrong orientation as always. A small plastic tab enabling you to lift the feather-weight powerhouse from the confines of vac-formed plastic.

Ultimately this just brings home how thin the Retina is. Compared to the 17 it’s incredible. In just three short years Apple have managed to sheer 1/5 of the thickness from the computer. If you’ve ever seen a current design MacBook Pro, imagine it open, look at the base, ignoring the display and that is the thickness of the Retina closed. It’s strikingly thin. Especially for a computer that contains as much power as this does.

I eagerly turned it on. The Apple logo subtly placed centrally on the light grey background is different. It now has a slight bevel. This is a very gentle realisation that the retina display is worlds apart from the displays of any previous computer. Setting up the MacBook Pro is as easy as it ever was with an Apple computer. Within a minute I am staring at the default Mountain Lion wallpaper, which is currently at the resolution of 2880×1800. Glorious. I have my 17″ MacBook Pro open next to this and the difference between them is night and day. I’ve got to say that the only other time it’s been this much of an improvement was when I upgraded to the iPhone 4, back in 2010.

Getting myself set-up with the applications that I need is no trouble at all thanks to the Mac App Store. An hour after first boot and I’m ready to go with everything I need.

One thing I have to contest with this laptop is that the speakers are no better than those on my old device, despite what Apple tell you. They are clearer, but the overall sound lacks the punch that the 17″ had. I guess with it being so thin this should be expected.

The main point of the Retina is the display. As I’ve already mentioned, packed into the 15″ size is an unprecedented 2880×1800 pixels. This is a whopping 5.2 Megapixels worth of the little buggers. This is quadruple the previous resolution of 1440×900. The real draw is that this doubles the number of pixels in any given square inch, the Retina has 220 of them. If you take into account that most printed items are done using a process that amounts to 300 DPI (Dots per Inch) then the 220 of the Retina is substantial. At the average viewing distance and with 20/20 vision it really gives the impression of reading and viewing a piece of print. The iPad and iPhone both received Retina updates, but to have it on a computer display, one running a full-blown OS is really the icing on the cake. One with lots of cherries too. This sounds cliché but you really have to see it to believe it, and in my opinion this is the biggest step forward in computing since Apple copied the whole GUI (Graphical User Interface) idea from Xerox Park in the early 1980s.

Display real-estate.

Display real-estate.

As with most of Apple’s products of late there are some trade offs. To achieve the desired slender profile the Ethernet and the Optical drive have been removed. When I had the router in the same room as my MacBook that would have been a problem, but with the advent of speedy Fibre-optic connections and 802.11 n there really is no need to yearn for an Ethernet port. The optical drive too is something that I used rarely, if I need to use one I may as well request the other party create a joint Dropbox folder. This is not only more eco-friendly, but far quicker and more efficient. These are sacrifices that I am willing to make, and have made, in the upgrade. Wait! What about DVDs? I don’t buy them, I can’t actually remember when I last did. Let’s be honest, you’ll either download a film from an morally and legally sound web store, ala iTunes, or via a torrent, less legal, so again I see no need for the ODD. This slimming diet does have a good plus though, the super thin profile results in the minutest amount of flex in the entire case. Everything is packed so tightly that there is no movement what-so-ever. The display hinge is tight, but not too much, and requires just a little amour of pressure to move. Having a smaller display size helps it here over the 17″, that always tried to close it’s lid when held at angles of 30* or more.

Screen size comparison.

Screen size comparison.

My previous experience with all forms of Mac laptops is that they tend to get very warm to the touch, especially where the hinge is concerned. Idle my MBP would be around 50 degrees Centigrade, while this is not majorly hot this number rose to 100*C+ when taxing either the processor or the GPU. Currently as I type this, with full brightness and many apps open the temperatures are all hovering around the 40*C. This rose to nearly 80*C when I played GTA:San Andreas at the native resolution of the display and with maximum settings for everything I could change. Admittedly this i san old game, originally released in 2004, but it goes to show both the graphics capabilities and the wonders that Ive and his team have managed to do in terms of heat dissipation. Fan noise is also massively reduced, I don’t hear a thing, even when pressing my ear to the case of the keyboard, I did hear the fans when playing GTA, but this is to be expected, the GPU can generate a lot of heat under heavy load.

I’ll have to get a more recent game to really test out how well it can handle a lot of processes, but then I have an Xbox 360 for my games. I most definitely am not what you would describe as a hardcore gamer, so having the very best performance graphically from my computer is not top of the list for me.

In terms of price, well it’s an Apple computer so you’ll be spending more. Is this extra cost the Apple tax similar to how it was in the past? No. No matter what I did I could not find a similar spec’d PC for the cost. Disregarding the display, for obvious reasons, there is nothing that comes close to the power and storage for the money. Not even the regular 15″ MacBook Pro. In-fact, using the Apple website as a rough guide, by configuring the regular to the same specification it comes out at £60 more expensive, this isn’t adding the 1680×1050 anti-glare option or 16GB RAM, both of which will run you a further £60.

In summation, the Retina MacBook Pro is thinner, lighter, faster and overall much more beautiful when compared to even the latest design that Apple have with the (classic) MacBook Pro. This in itself is incredible. Without wanting to sound too fan-boyish, Apple create the best looking and most functional designs for computers in the entire industry and what they have managed to put together with the Retina is the pinnacle of this at the moment.

Power, looks, build quality and screen will be unmatched for a long time to come and ultimately you should buy one.

Click here to see the full-size Screen comparison and here to see the full-size Retina real estate.


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