The New MacBook Pro with Retina Display – Hot or Not?

Yesterday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, the next generation of the MacBook Pro was announced, to thundering applause and the all-too familiar barrage of superlatives from Apple leads like Phil Schiller and Tim Cook (gorgeous, incredible, let’s take a moment to appreciate a freaking laptop, etc). Case in point, this line from the Apple website: “It’s not just the most advanced notebook we’ve ever made, it’s the most advanced Mac we’ve ever made.” You know, that’s a relief, because I was worried Apple was going to target the 2008 demographic with this one. So, as always with Apple, the hype train is running at full steam, but does the new MacBook Pro actually live up to all the accolades being thrown its way?

The biggest news about the new MacBook Pro is the inclusion of a 220 ppi 2880 x 1800 resolution IPS Retina display. As far as clarity and pixel density goes, no other laptop on the market is matching that, or even coming close. Granted, a lot of third party apps are going to need to be tinkered with so that they won’t look distorted, but those changes will happen. The next question you have to ask yourself is if that pixel density actually represents an important upgrade for you. Chances are it doesn’t, but if you’re into heavy video and photo editing and need a portable machine to do your work, you should absolutely give the MacBook Pro a long, hard look. There isn’t another laptop on the market that is going to match or beat the performance of this notebook, once all of that third party software has been optimized for the Retina display (which, for example, Adobe has already confirmed they are working on). For the rest of us, while OS X generally does a good job of scaling resolutions to keep things looking normal-sized, the perceptible improvement is going to be slight – something that becomes important when we consider price, which we’ll get to later.

As for hard specs, the next generation MacBook Pro will only be available with a 15” display, and will be .71” thick and weigh 4.46 pounds. As for thickness, that’s nearly as thin as the MacBook Air – to be sure, the team behind the MacBook Pro should be commended for their engineering job with this one. The next generation MacBook Pro will feature an Intel Ivy Bridge processor (i7), putting it on par with its PC Ultrabook competitors in that respect.

Next up is the graphics processor, and this is where we need to put the brakes on the Apple hype train for just a second. This is a quote from the presentation:

You are going to see a gaming experience unlike any you’ve seen before.

I don’t know exactly where the line between hyperbole and outright lying is, but I know this quote is toeing it. The next generation MacBook Pro will have an NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics processor. For laptops, that is the highest of NVIDIA’s mid-range line of notebook graphics processors. That means that while you’ll be able to play most computer games on the market (at least, the ones you can actually play on a Mac), you won’t be running them on the highest settings. Again, the Retina display is very nice, but the GT 650M isn’t going to maximize the potential of that display for gaming. It will be a gaming experience that you have assuredly seen before.

That said, 16 GB of 1600 MHz RAM is a very generous helping, though a number that high is mostly targeted at professionals in graphics-intensive fields like heavy photo and video editing or 3D graphics modeling. Flash storage will keep things running very fast, and there is as much as 768 GB worth of it available. As for ports, there are two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, and an HDMI port. The MagSafe 2 power port is redesigned to be thinner and smaller. Battery life (and there is a ton of battery packed into this notebook) is put at about seven hours. An HD webcam (the FaceTime camera), glass multi-touch trackpad, backlit keyboard, dual microphones, and 802.11n Wi-Fi round out the specs.

It’s also worth mentioning what the MacBook Pro doesn’t have – most notably, an ethernet port and a DVD drive. Both were left out to keep the MacBook Pro as thin as it is, but the omission of either one could easily be seen as a dealbreaker for many. Apple is making Thunderbolt-to-ethernet adapter dongles, but they’ll need to be purchased at extra cost ($10).

As for software, Mac OS X Lion’s suite of apps have already been retooled to take full advantage of the Retina display, and those who purchase the next generation MacBook Pro now are eligible for a free upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion, also unveiled today, when it becomes available.

The next generation MacBook Pro is available now from the Apple Store. The price ranges from $2,200 to $3,750. I probably don’t need to, but I’ll say it anyway – that’s a lot. That’s an awful lot of money for a notebook.

So, is the next generation MacBook Pro hot or not? Generally speaking, it’s smoking. Make no mistake – this is a very impressive notebook, and the display is unmatched. This is easily one of the best notebooks available on the market today, and you could even make the argument that it is the best. But, before you make your decision, you should consider this – you can get an awful lot of other high-end notebooks that are almost as impressive for much, much less money.

The extra money you’re plunking down is going to buy you two things – the Retina display and the Apple ecosystem. As mentioned before, the Retina display will be a big deal for professionals (they don’t call it the MacBook Pro for nothing, after all). The Apple ecosystem is also a fair draw – for those who have bought into the Apple way of life, for lack of a better phrase, bringing in a non-Apple device to the fold probably isn’t practical. If you’ve already gone Apple, Apple doesn’t exactly make it easy to go back. Of course, you can always buy one of the updated MacBook Pros without the Retina display, also announced today – in fact, if you’re light on cash and desperately in need of a new Apple notebook, I would recommend it.

Other than those two things, there’s not much here you can’t find elsewhere. 16 GB of RAM is nice, but probably a little excessive for the average user right now. Thunderbolt ports are great for people who need to transfer a lot of files quickly, but if you’re not already married to the Apple ecosystem, the Acer Aspire S5 and S7 will both have Thunderbolt ports and will likely be much cheaper than the MacBook Pro, though those notebooks will only have one Thunderbolt port each to the MacBook Pro’s two.

There’s a fair chance that you have good reason to want one of these notebooks – again, the next generation MacBook Pro might just be the best high-end notebook available, depending on what you value most in a notebook. Just don’t get too caught up in the hype – for many, the improvements might not actually end up being worth the high price of admission.


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  1. Great write up chance- nice to read something so measured and fair, apart from all the Fanboy stuff I’m seeing elsewhere. I’m probably going to get one of these (for video editing) and I’m happy that your article has assured me I’m not spending money just to get a bit of Apple branding.

  2. Great write up chance- nice to read something so measured and fair, apart from all the Fanboy stuff I’m seeing elsewhere. I’m probably going to get one of these (for video editing) and I’m happy that your article has assured me I’m not spending money just to get a bit of Apple branding.

  3. The display is standard aspect ratio so unadjusted apps won’t look distorted. They will just look like its a 1440×900 display.

    The biggest benefit of the display for most users will be crystal clear text allowing smaller text to be read easily and without eye strain.

  4. If your I to untistorted and fair, what’s this reference to “fanboy” doing here?

    Or did you just mean that it’s distorted the way you like?

  5. Not sold, in order to get the nearly TB storage option you would have to have the top end MacBook. Migration to cloud will be slower In UK due to our public wireless infrastructure being shoddy and the cost of streaming over 3G.

    Shame the OS didn’t reside on a 100GB solid state drive and incorporate small form factor HDDs maybe in 5 years time this would have been good but not unroll wireless really is wireless over here

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