MacBook Pro Retina 2013 review

Is the Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display worth your cash?

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MacBook Pro Retina 2013 review
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MacBook Pro Retina 2013 review
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MacBook Pro Retina 2013 review
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MacBook Pro Retina 2013 review

For

  • Retina display
  • Rational pricing
  • Powerful specs

Against

  • Overheating
  • Battery life
  • Web looks shoddy

The Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display is the brand's latest high-performance laptop but is it worth your pennies? Read on to find out

When Apple first launched the first MacBook Pro with Retina display it was clearly Apple at its best, taking something that the public imagined to be impossible and then making it not only possible, but packaging it in such a way that it looked like it had been appearing on laptops for years.

Of course, as with all products that push boundaries (such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear) there are going to be some compromises, and the Retina MacBook was no different.

For starters there was the price, the entry-level model cost an eye-wincing £1,799 and for that you got a 2.3GHz i7 processor and only 256GB of SSD storage, and then there was the battery life.

Even with average use the original Pro threw in the towel after just five hours, showing that while the Retina display was indeed stunning, it was also incredibly greedy.

Thankfully though, Apple loves nothing more than to tinker, taking a concept and then tinkering and fine-tuning to an astonishing degree making gains year on year.

The original iPhone launched with a revolutionary touchscreen, but it had no App Store and couldn't even manage 3G when other smartphones were managing video calls over mobile networks.

Just a few years later and the iPhone 5s now boasts a Retina Display, 4G and a state-of-the-art fingerprint scanner.

That's not to say the rest of the industry have been sat twiddling its thumbs, far from it, above-HD displays are now becoming more and more commonplace on laptops and Apple is now under attack on all fronts.

The question that has to be asked is - now that the MacBook Pro Retina is no longer the only laptop with a Full-HD display, is it still the top choice?

MacBook Pro Retina 2013: Size and build

The first thing you'll notice is how thin the new MacBook Pro is and at 1.8cm it's now beginning to encroach on the MacBook Air 2013 which measures in at 1.7cm.

To put that into perspective you really have to line the two up together. Taking into account how big the foot rests are on the 13-inch Air it actually reaches the point where they look almost identical in height (the Air's wedge design notwithstanding).

Things get even more impressive when you look at their comparative footprints with the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina fitting comfortably within the Air making Apple's thinnest tablet almost look wide in comparison.

Of course, there's a trade-off somewhere and that's the weight, the Pro Retina has been reduced in weight from 1.62kg to 1.57kg on the 13-inch while the new 15-inch weighs 2.02kg. Yes that's substantially heavier, but considering the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro weighs 2.06kg the achievement become apparent.

MacBook Pro Retina 2013: Features

The MacBook Pro comes running Apple's all-new operating system Apple Mac OS X Mavericks. Unveiled at WWDC 2013 alongside the Mac Pro and Apple iOS 7, Mavericks comes with hundreds of new features along with brand-new iWork and iLife suites boasting simpler interfaces, but more advanced features.

Of course, the big shock was Apple's announcement that all of this would be free, with Mavericks being offered as a free download while iWork, iMovie and Garageband would all be free to those who bought a new Apple device.

While there are always going to be arguments either way as to whether iWork was ever going to compete with Microsoft Office, the fact that they're now free makes a big difference.

In the past, Apple was slowly moving towards aligning them as direct rivals, but as some have noted since making them free Apple has actually simplified the suite and in some cases removed a few features.

While this will annoy die hard users, it actually fits more in line with what Apple is trying to do, by offering a suite of powerful yet easy to use apps the everyday casual user will be more than catered for.

This becomes particularly apparent in iMovie which has now become the paradigm of simplicity, but still offers some impressive features such as real-time enhancing, which will improve lighting and contrast instantly.

The truth of the matter is that if you want class-leading productivity you'll probably have to look elsewhere, but for the casual user iWork is more than adequate.

MacBook Pro Retina 2013: Screen

Apple has retained the same 2,560 x 1,600 display as the previous generation and honestly we can see why it hasn't changed it.

While not as scorchingly bright as, say, Google's much-hyped Chromebook Pixel, the Pro's Retina display is a joy to behold.

Colours are rich and perfectly reproduced and text is pin sharp: Apple has truly created one of the best displays on a laptop.

We played a number of examples including the 1080p trailer for the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, native 1080p 60fps footage of Killzone: Shadowfall and 4K footage of Battlefield 4.

All performed incredibly well, and thanks to the hike in specs all ran smoothly despite having at least four or five other apps open and running at the same time.

MacBook Pro Retina 2013: Performance

Power has never been an issue on the MacBook Pro Retina, in fact if anything Apple had overpowered the entire range making it a magnet for media junkies who wanted to edit raw footage on the go.

While that certainly proved useful, it came at a price which was a dump in storage. We're thankfully able to report that this isn't the case any longer.

Yes, the entry-level 13-inch model comes with only 128GB of SSD but for £1,249 you can buy the 13-inch model with a 2.4GHz dual-core i5, 8GB RAM and a 256GB hard-drive.

Compare that with the equivalent MacBook Air and you'll find that actually, the Air comes off more expensive.

What we have here then is a division of the MacBook Pro range into two categories, those who want pure unfiltered power and those who want a premium, ultra-portable laptop.

In the case of the first, the top specced 15-inch is going to be your port of call, not least because of its 2.3GHz i7 processor, but also because it's the only model in the range that actually offers a dedicated graphics card in the form of the NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M with 2GB GDDR5 memory.

It's costly, but when you consider the sheer power that you're getting there will almost certainly be some who'll want to shell out the £2,199 asking price.

With the 13-inch model things are a little more convoluted. We tested the top-of-the-range £1,699 version, which comes with a 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM and a mammoth 512GB SSD.

Unsurprisingly we found it to be blisteringly fast, especially when it came to handling media, editing large images, raw footage and running multiple applications with the 8GB of RAM making everything feel like light work.

The only issue we did have was that the 13-inch Pro does get warm even under average use so we'd advise wearing some slightly thicker trousers if you plan on going mobile.

MacBook Pro Retina 2013: Battery

Apple has quoted the battery life on the 13-inch as 9 hours and the 15-inch as 8 hours. At the start you may find that in reality the number is actually higher.

We tested the 13-inch with a HD video on loop and the battery life averaged out at around 9-11 hours, of course as with any laptop, continued and irregular usage will kill that after 6 months so we'd say expect around 8 hours for the 13-inch and 7 hours for the 15-inch if you're using it for browsing and the occasional bit of media use.

Anything more taxing and you can expect to see that battery life plummet so if you're planning on doing any serious video editing or music creation then best take that charger with you.

MacBook Pro Retina 2013: Verdict

In the case of the 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina it's clearly business as usual for Apple, yes the reductions in size are impressive, but when you take into account the fact that pricing for 15-inch model starts at £1,699 this is clearly a product that will be either a treat for some, or a necessary expense for others.

The 13-inch model, however, is where things begin to get really interesting. In the past, the original 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina would have cost you £1,449 for the 128GB model, and in return you paid for something that was cutting edge.

Things have changed though, for £200 less you can get the same 13-inch model, but now itís thinner, lighter and comes with 256GB of storage, 8GB RAM and a faster processor.

Even by Apple's standards that's an impressive trade-off and one that becomes even more important when you take into account the MacBook Air.

Compare this £1,249 13-inch Pro model with the equivalent spec MacBook Air and you'll find that by paying an extra £40 you get a Retina display, faster processor and more ports including HDMI, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 2.0 all in a package that is almost more portable than the Air itself.

It's a baffling concept to think that Apple would have beaten its own product in such a way, but to our eyes certainly the new £1,249 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina is now the Apple laptop to beat.

MacBook Pro Retina Display release date: Out Now

MacBook Pro Retina Display price: 13-inch: £1,099 (i5, 4GB memory, 128GB Flash storage), £1,249 (i5, 8GB memory, 256GB Flash storage), £1,499 (i5, 8GB memory, 512GB Flash storage)
15-inch: £1,699 (i7, 8GB memory, 256GB Flash storage), £2,199 (i5, 16GB memory, 512GB Flash storage, NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M)