My Retina MacBook Pro

I finally took the plunge and purchased the 13″ Retina MacBook Pro that I’ve been talking about for a few months. After briefly considering 16 GB memory and 512 GB SSD upgrades I decided to go with the standard mid-tier model: 8 GB memory and 256 MB SSD. I’ve been using it for a couple of months and I really like it. Here are my thoughts.

  • Size / Design

    • I’ve been using a 15″ MacBook Pro at home and work for a number of years so the smaller size and lighter weight is really quite different for me. I definitely feel as though it is more totable than my 15″ MBP. It isn’t quite as light as a MacBook Air and due to its size it is actually kind of dense, but it is much, much easier to carry around than my old MacBook. It’s also easier to carry than Sally’s, which is pretty easy on its own.
    • Overall it is about as thick as the lower portion of Sally’s 13″ MacBook Pro (i.e. the laptop with the screen removed) and is slightly less wide and deep.
    • Due to it smaller size it is much more easy to balance open or closed yet it is wide enough to fit on my lap comfortably.
    • Many reviews mentioned that the key travel (how far the keyboard keys go down) is slightly more shallow than on the full size MacBooks. I agree. It’s not horrible but I’m still getting used to it. My fingers still expect the keys to go down a certain amount so when they don’t it slows my typing down a bit. The shallowness is evident if you feel the inset curve that goes down to the keyboard; it is very slight.
    • The indent that is used to open the screen on the larger machines has a curved surface while the one on the Retina model is a flat diagonal. I like this a lot more because it feels less sharp on my fingers.
    • There are vents on the lower front sides of the machine. They are not very large but create a sort of paper-cut like sensation if you grab them when lifting the laptop or run your fingers over them.
  • Speed
    • While clocked at the same 2.4 GHz as my outgoing MBP, this Retina model is five years newer so it is much faster. It’s still a dual-core CPU but it has hyper threading, and integrated memory bus, and Turbo Boost which can go up to 2.9 GHz in bursts. It wakes up from sleep immediately and apps open quickly. I installed an SSD in my 15″ model which increased speed quite a bit but this beast is still much more powerful in every way.
  • Screen
    • So far the screen has been wonderful. It is bright, crisp, clear, and has deep colors. I’ve been using it in extended resolution mode that simulates a 1680 x 1050 pixel screen, the same as a standard 20″ screen or the “high-resolution” option on my 15″ MacBook Pro at work. When not running in that mode I’m usually running 1440 x 900 (also simulated) which is the same resolution as my outgoing MBP as well as the 13″ Air. The true native resolution of the display is 2560 x 1600 (the same as my 27″ iMac) and can be exposed by third-party programs. I tried it out just to see what it would be like and while it was essentially unusable due to the size of interface elements, I feel that I could use it in a pinch if I really wanted to.
    • The extended resolution modes tax the video card more (thus decreasing battery life) and have been known to manifest some performance problems when trying to scroll large websites. Safari in Mavericks includes GPU accelerated scrolling so I have only run into stuttery scrolling a few times. My RSS reader, NetNewsWire, does not take advantage of GPU accelerated scrolling and tends to choke a bit more. It isn’t horrible but it is definitely noticeable on certain sites, especially when the content bounces when you reach the top or bottom.
    • Overall the quality of the extended screen resolution is very good. It is much more crisp than what you’d see if you ran an LCD panel at a resolution lower than its native resolution. There are occasions where it seems ever-so-blurry, but it is worth the extra screen space.
  • Sound
    • The speakers on this a far better than the speakers on my outgoing MBP. They are louder, clearer, and more crisp – all on a smaller machine! They are fantastic.
  • Noise / Heat
    • After putting an SSD in my 15″ MBP the amount of heat coming out of the machine decreased and so did the sound of the fans. It was generally quiet but could make a bit of racket when watching a lot of videos. My Retina model has been nearly silent so far, even when watching movies. The only time it has become hot was when a flash plugin crashed on one of my Safari tabs and was eating up 100% CPU for a few minutes.
  • Battery Life
    • The battery is rated for 9 hours of “wireless web” and I’ve heard people getting up to 10 hours even while doing moderate work over that time frame such as listening to music and watching movies.
    • I have been using it for a couple of hours per day and only charging it every three days or so, plugging it in when it reaches about 40%. That being said, the battery life estimate has never been above 7 hours. I haven’t timed my actual use to see if the estimate is off or not but I’ve also been using extended resolutions at full brightness so there could be a hit there.
  • Features
    • When buying a new machine after five years you’d expect some new features over the old model. While traditional PC technology hasn’t evolved quite as fast as mobile there are some additional things that I can do on this that I couldn’t do before.
      • As stated before, it has a more modern CPU with better performance and energy consumption. It also has integrated graphics that are actually good and are far better than what I had before.
      • It includes fast USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2, a dedicated HDMI port (no more adapter!), and an SD card slot, allowing me to connect newer things in a faster way. It has dual microphones and a better camera for improved FaceTime sessions as well.
      • It includes a super fast SSD, which is faster than the SSD I had in my previous machine, and, since it is an Apple-installed SSD, it supports TRIM commands that extend its battery life.
      • Feature-wise I now have access to Apple’s version of AirPlay so that I can mirror my desktop or use a TV as an extra screen.
      • It has 802.11ac wireless allows it to achieve almost 600 Mbps speeds, nearly double the speed of 802.11n. Luckily I have a new AirPort Extreme that supports ac as well.
      • It supports AirPlay mirroring to my Apple TV and can even use it as an external display. Sally’s MacBook could do this as well since it was a 2011 model but my 2010 iMac was technically out of the mix (without a third-party app). While it technically doesn’t give me anything I can’t already get, it does it more easily.
      • It supports Power Nap, which allows it to perform certain tasks while sleeping. These include checking mail and syncing with iCloud when on battery power as well as downloading updates, indexing Spotlight, and backing up to Time Machine when plugged in.

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