Some initial thoughts on the 13" Retina Macbook Pro

Nov 6, 2012 19:24 · 657 words · 4 minute read

These are some initial, day one thoughts on the 13” Retina Macbook Pro, which is going to replace my 2009-vintage 15” unibody Macbook Pro. I went for the top processor spec (the 2.9Ghz i7 with 8Gb of RAM) and the 512Gb SSD drive. With a couple of Thunderbolt adaptors and a Magsafe widget, the whole thing came to a shade over £2,000. For comparison purposes, I’ve spent the past three years using a 2.3Ghz Core 2 Duo MBP, bumped up to 8Gb of RAM and with a retro-fitted 256Gb SSD and a 750Gb HDD in what used to be the optical bay.

When the time came to upgrade, I just couldn’t justify the cost of the 15” rMBP - fantastic though the screen undoubtably is, my laptop spends a lot of time docked on a stand while I work with a 24” LCD screen. I’d also got tired of lugging a 15” breezeblock around, so my original intention was to go for a 13” Air. I’m not that fussed about ultra-high performance, so long as there’s enough memory and disk space, so the uprated Air seemed like an acceptable tradeoff. I also love the Air’s design.

Then along came the 13” rMBP, which made the choice more difficult. What swung it in the end was that the cost differential was surprisingly small considering the additional grunt of the MBP - plus the screen. There’s just 300g difference in weight thanks to the slimmer body, so a few minutes playing with the two alternatives in the Apple Store pushed me towards the MBP.

So, initial thoughts:

The build quality is just superb - the precision of the machining is stunning. There’s not a misaligned seam in the whole thing. Physically, it’s not very much bigger than the 11” Macbook Air, but it feels larger without being significantly heavier. While it makes my 15” unibody MBP look enormous, the 13” rMBP doesn’t seem cramped. It’s significantly lighter - this is thrown-in-a-bag-and-forget-you’re-carrying-it-territory. Sadly, there’s no sleep light anymore, which is a bit of a shame.

The screen lives up to its billing - the quality is just incredible. So much so, that all the other screens in your life will now be like going back to an old VHS tape when you’ve just started watching movies on DVD. It’s virtually reflection-free, and could double as a searchlight with the backlight turned right up. It’s driving a 24” external panel via DVI without issue. That 24” panel now seems positively crayon-like by comparison.

Compared to the Core 2 Duo MBP, the performance of this screams. Boot up is virtually instantaneous thanks to the SSD. Xcode feels significantly faster, and there’s no hesitation as a file is pulled off the spinning platter. I don’t do anything particularly processor-intensive day-to-day, so it’ll do for the while. Compared to the MBP, it doesn’t seem to get particularly hot in use.

The keyboard feels “clackier” than my previous Unibody Macbook. I’m much more conscious of typing noise when I’m using it, and the key tops feel slightly different, too - ever-so-slightly rubbery or anti-slip. This may just be because it’s brand new, but it feels slightly strange at the moment. I’m going to say that at the moment, I’m a tiny bit disappointed - but it’s something I’ll probably get used to.

The ports are now split either side of the case, which has made wiring it up on a desk stand easier than the old MBP. Both Thunderbolt ports are on the left, while the USB is split between left and right. I’m running it on wired Ethernet through a Thunderbolt adaptor, and a Firewire external disk (again with a Thunderbolt adaptor). I haven’t got any USB3 peripherals, so I’ve no idea how significant an upgrade this is.

Tomorrow it gets taken out on the road for the first time, so I’ll see how well the battery stands up to use on a train.