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Apple MacBook Pro 13in with Retina display review

Verdict

Apple squeezes a gorgeous Retina display into its slimmed-down 13in MacBook Pro, but at a staggering price

Review Date: 15 Nov 2012

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,416 (£1,699 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £1207
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

Apple has finally revealed its long overdue redesign of the 13in Macbook Pro. With the metal unibody chassis shrinking to a mere shadow of its former self, and a Retina display cramming in more pixels per inch than any laptop we’ve ever seen, Apple has rung the changes for the pint-sized member of its professional range.

The build quality is as impeccable as ever, but doing away with the optical drive has made all the difference. It weighs 1.63kg and measures a dainty 19mm thick, and it’s now more than 400g lighter than the old model. Throw the MagSafe 2 power adapter in your laptop bag, and the total travelling weight comes to a mere 1.88kg.

Apple MacBook Pro with 13in Retina Display - rear 3/4

It’s the 13.3in display that’s the centre of attention, though. The 1,280 x 800 resolution of last year’s model quadruples to a pin-sharp 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, and in terms of raw pixel density, puts the 13in MacBook Pro’s 227ppi display slightly ahead of the 220ppi of the 15in MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Pro 13in makes the most of its Retina display thanks to OS-wide scaling. With the display set to its default Best for Retina setting, desktop elements such as icons and text remain the same size as on the standard model’s 1,280 x 800 resolution panel, but are composed of four times the number of pixels. The extra pixels mean text and icons are delineated with razor sharpness, and the finest detail in high-megapixel photographs is revealed without the need to zoom right in.

Apple MacBook Pro with 13in Retina Display - front

Bump the resolution above the Best for Retina setting, however, and the 1,440 x 900 and 1,680 x 1,050 resolution options provide a larger desktop to work with. To keep everything looking crisp, desktop elements are upscaled to four times the set resolution, then scaled back to fit the native 2,560 x 1,600 resolution of the MacBook Pro’s display. Whichever resolution you choose, however, images remain untouched, and are 1:1 pixel-mapped at all times.

Not only the pixel count has improved, though. Colour accuracy is slightly better than last year’s model, with the average Delta E of 3.6 dropping to 2.6, and contrast has gone from 650:1 to an exemplary 999:1. Viewing angles are wide, the panel covers almost the entire sRGB gamut, and thanks to the factory calibration images burst forth with natural-yet-saturated colours. The measured Gamma of 2.33 is on the high side, though, and gives the panel a tendency to crush the very darkest greys into black.

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User comments

Old-timer

Is it really necessary to use the phrase "obscenely" we'll off " ?
This implies that there is something wrong in spending about £350 more than a top range Sony. As usual in this sort of second-rate review, the software supplied is ignored ; as is the backup infrastructure put in place by Apple. No mention is ever made, for instance, of the 12 months "one-to-one" tuition which is available for only .

Next time, you review a MacBook, please produce a well-balanced report free from ludicrous hyperbole.

I have no connection with Apple , being a long retired pensioner.

By sallows on 15 Nov 2012

Let me get this right....

It's vastly over priced, the retina display can't be used to it's full potential without web pages stuttering rendering the extra pixels worthless, there's no dedicated GPU (Again making the high resolution screen rendered irrelevant), it doesn't have a dedicated ethernet port and the base model has a diddly HDD.

Tell me PC PRO, what's PRO about this machine apart from it looks nice?

I thought you guys were meant to be the experts advising the masses of what's great and what's not great in the personal computer arena. If someone visited this site and saw this review and decided this was the one for them, then found out all the issues, I'd be surprised if they didn't actually take court action against Dennis publishing for a misleading recommendation.

At the very least get the basics correct will ya?

With all it's faults this is no where near deserving a recommended status. If it is, then I'd like to know which professional it's recommend for? Gamers, no. Graphically intensive apps, no. Graphically intensive web browsing. No. Ok, that leaves general office use. So we're expected to swallow that £1,500 is a suitable amount of money to be charged for a machine that you can't use to it's full potential?

Laughable.. Really, just unprofessional BS. If you don't believe me, then take a look at other reviews on this site where features are included but not usable.

By TigerUnleashed on 15 Nov 2012

Not impressed

I have been looking to buy a 13" Macbook Pro for the last few months and decided to wait for the Retina model.

But the 8GB memory limit and price just don't make sense for my purposes. I bought the standard 13" MacBook Pro and spent my savings on a 256GB SSD, an Optibay for the 500GB hard drive, and 16GB of ram.

No regrets.

By kingjulian on 15 Nov 2012

@TigerUnleashed

"there's no dedicated GPU"

For a screen that hi-rs? Crazy.

Reminds me of the days of using LC III's with no dedicated graphics or sound card. The poor CPU had to do the lot.

By Alfresco on 15 Nov 2012

histrorically not expensive

Yes, it's expensive when compared to el-cheapo laptops whose hinges break, but when compared to historical laptop prices, it's a bargain.

I guess everyone with a laptop must have been "obscenely well off"six or more years ago, when a lowly IBM thinkpad (eg X61) was this price, even ignoring inflation.

In 1992, the thinkpad 700C was $4,350 for a colour screen, $2,750 mono

Think of the retina screen as the difference from mono to colour. IMO, the fact it's an IPS screen and therefore doesn't change colour from the top of the screen to the bottom is worth the difference in itself.

By foobie on 15 Nov 2012

2,560 x 1,600 res

if I buy a machine with a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution I actually want to SET IT to 2,560 x 1,600 with the DPI set to 100%. Not 124% or 150%... standard.

Marketing at its finest.

By rhythm on 15 Nov 2012

Missing the point...

I've taken great care to explain the positives and negatives of the product, and stated very clearly who the MacBook Pro Retina is aimed at.

It is not for (most) consumers, not for gamers. If I were a photographer or design pro, however, I think I'd be able to live with the compromises because of the unique benefits.

Neither is it purely marketing. The first time you open up Photoshop, you'll see why. It's more like viewing a fine quality printed photograph than a display, as you can simply peer closer to reveal every detail, every nuance, every element which is slightly out of focus. I think, for some, this will be a game changer, much as I loathe the expression.

Are a few stutters while scrolling a webpage a complete deal-breaker? No. Not in a million years. It shows that the likes of Haswell and Intel's future CPU generations can't come quickly enough, but what we have now is practicable and usable. As with any product which pushes the envelope, there will always be compromise.

As for being over-priced, no, it really don't believe it is. Hi-DPI IPS displays are still very expensive (there isn't a single Windows laptop available with one, which is telling), the build quality is immaculate and the balance of weight/battery life/performance is highly competitive.

I know it's easy to hate Apple from afar, but I think many of the commenters here have their opinion clouded by anti-Apple bias.

Think logically, if this had a Dell/Sony/Asus sticker on it, ran Windows 8, and offered the exact same balance of features/compromises/quality, would I recommend it? Yes, I would. In a flash. It still wouldn't be perfect, and I'd explain why, but I would reward the innovation on show with a positive review.

By SashaMuller on 15 Nov 2012

16GB?

@kingjulian - what tangible benefit are you expecting by ignoring 8GB memory and moving to 16GB?

By The_Scrote on 15 Nov 2012

Apple is the trendsetter...

Innovation by Apple is debatable but their trendsetting capacity is unquestionable. For example I am now using scrabble keyboard on a lenovo thinkpad but before Apple this is not the TREND (there might be others first use this keyboard but the trend is set by Apple). The point is I like this keyboard and without Apple it might took so much time to become standard. Similarly, I would like to have at least Full HD (1920x1080) pixel on laptops as standard. And without the push by Apple manufacturers trying to focus on cheap products would not produce those screens and we will struck with 768p. Same is for Macbook Air and ultrabooks, tablets, phones etc. Therefore, we (PC people) might need Apple for (not for innovation) but for trendsetting at a fast pace.

By HopeLESS on 15 Nov 2012

Armchair ideology

Reviews, whilst influential, do remain strictly a matter of opinion. Disagreements will occur, and are even essential. Nevertheless, i'm not sure i could so strongly disagree about a product of which i didn't have exact first hand experience.

I've never been a mac user, but everytime i read a anti-mac rant, the clear bias and hyperbole makes me immediately disregard the post and strengthens the cause for me to consider a mac. In fact, it reminds me of american politics. The anti-mac community would gain a lot more traction if they tried to appeal to us moderates, who are far less ideological when trying to choose a new computer.

By Ranread on 15 Nov 2012

RAM-a-lam-a-ding-dong

Macs are ultra popular in the life sciences, and often crunch enormous datasets, all whilst trying to prepare high resolution figures for publication. My mac colleagues often gloat about the fact that they can switch seamlessly between their scientific applications (UNIX-based and rarely ported to windows) and MS Office and Adbobe CS. A niche market perhaps, but one where a lot of ram makes a big difference.

By Ranread on 15 Nov 2012

@Sasha

Hi Sasha, as with others it's the inconsistency in reviews that irks.

If this model is so great why have you only recommend it for those with more money than sense or photography professionals (Although I doubt that a 128GB HDD would be sufficient for most Photography professionals nowadays). Why, if it's soooo good, isn't it recommended for a wider audience? I'll tell you why, because it doesn't cut it for a wider audience. And for your readership, I'd say that's a pretty important thing.

By TigerUnleashed on 15 Nov 2012

@The_Scrote

"What tangible benefit are you expecting by ignoring 8GB memory and moving to 16GB?"

16GB - 8GB = 8GB tangible benefit. Didn't even use a calculator.

By kingjulian on 15 Nov 2012

Best move I've made....

Love my 13 macpro even though its not retina. Went for the optical drive and ethernet before they went completely. But it just oozes a quality I couldn't find in pc.

By huwparry on 15 Nov 2012

Why the harsh tone to the review?!

You say in this review that the Apple Macbook Pro 13 Retina falls into a nice category and is only really of relevance as a purchase decisions for the 'obscenely rich' or mobile working professional. Whilst the rest of the review you've objectively measured its perfornance, and basically, without saying it, shown that it has superior battery life running the highest pixel density laptop screen in the world - not one feat but 2 seriously impressive ones - and actually in this configuration outperforms the equivalently priced Sony Z series, but then you say it only makes sense for the obscenely rich. I know as a PC magazine you maybe feel your fan-base demands you to declare some kind of class warfare against apple's latest offering, but I just think it's a completely unqualified I statement. I know a number of students who've spent £1000 on the standard mbp 13 upper configuration or thereabouts with the education discount, who've come from families who have sometimes been valid for higher manintenance loan due to their parents income not being particularly high. I think a lot of stuff in tech is very cheap nowadays. For instance, calling the iPAd mini expnsive for £270 when not long ago the iPod classic witha monocrhome display and old fashioned hard drive would cost this. The thing is, is that this screen canes the compeition, and if you look around you'll be able to find it for only £250 more than the Lenovoa IdeaPad.

By Jonny_Bingham on 15 Nov 2012

Under powered, over priced

and with no touch screen enabled OS or hardware?

It's Apple though so PC Pro Recommended!

By stephen_d_morris on 15 Nov 2012

There's no Hi-DPI IPS Windows laptop because Windows handles hi res screens really badly. I prefer Windows, but they have took their eye of the ball on this issue.

Windows handles high resolution screens with about as much finesse as IE6 handles the web. It took about 3 hours of faffing with a menagerie of random settings to get Windows to look about usable on my IPS monitor. Why does it default to make everything microscopic and not normal size, but sharper?

By john_coller on 15 Nov 2012

Let me take a guess.....

There was no mention of the SSD or RAM being upgradable. I bet knowing Apple that they are soldered to the motherboard which is "required for keeping it thin". That is a huge flaw if true!!

By monotok on 15 Nov 2012

SSD + RAM

Hi Monotok,

Like most Ultrabooks, and an increasing number of laptops, the RAM is soldered into the motherboard. I agree it's not ideal, but it seems to be the price we're paying for squeezing more power/RAM/storage into ever tinier chassis.

The SSD, however, is a standard module and can be replaced.

Kind regards,

By SashaMuller on 16 Nov 2012

Touch screen?

Why on earth would you want to get fingerprints on that lovely IPS screen? Touch screen laptops only seem to be wanted by Microsoft as a way of selling Windows 8.

By russell_g on 16 Nov 2012

16GB is not twice as good as 8GB

@kingjulian - yes, very funny, but that's not tangible. Please tell me how that makes ANY difference to you. Multiple VMs?

By The_Scrote on 16 Nov 2012

DDOS attacks

That extra 8GB means I can run multiple DDOS attacks while my kids watch CBeebies - with absolutely NO drop in frame rate.

By kingjulian on 16 Nov 2012

Running more than dozens of copies of Windows at the same time is definitely the deciding factor in how good a laptop is.

I take the point about lots of RAM being useful in life sciences but point out that 8GB is a lot of RAM.

The historical side of this has always been that you could put a fair bit of (expensive form factor) memory into a laptop but then you'd need to squeeze all that data through a mobile processor. It's getting a bit better as mobile processors continue to improve but there's a limit to how many hundred-million-field datasets you're crunching from your seat on a plane.

By steviesteveo on 16 Nov 2012

@steviesteveo

You may well be right : i've certainly never benchmarked a fight between 8Gb and 16Gb, and wouldn't even know how to. Nevertheless, I'm relatively sure that the (parallelised) software we use can gobble up 8GB ram. Admittedly, this is for more esoteric cases, but the conventional (and perhaps simplistic) wisdom for scientists who process data on their laptops is "more is safer". CPU speed is also very important of course.

By Ranread on 16 Nov 2012

@The_Scrote

In all seriousness, I like the knowledge that I have a decent amount of ram. Call it OCD as I know it is more than necessary. I bought an iMac with 4GB of ram, and then bought 16GB to put in it. I didn't realise there are 4 memory slots until a few weeks ago so stuck the 4GB back in. I admit 20GB is overkill.

In terms of the rMBP, I just don't like the fact that I am stuck with 8GB. In a few years time, will that be enough?

By kingjulian on 16 Nov 2012

RAM

What's the maximum amount that the chipset supports? If the soldered amount is the maximum it's not ideal because if any of the RAM chips fail they can't be replaced - but this might be an acceptable compromise. However, if it's less than the chipset can support it is bad design - it's inevitable that three or four years down the line more RAM would be useful, and designed-in obsolescence is something to be avoided when buying computers - the onward march of technology will render them obsolete soon enough anyway, without speeding up that process.

By valeofyork on 19 Nov 2012

My only question...

..is where Apple is heading with this. Surely it's only a matter of time before the Air has a retina screen too. When that happens there's not a huge difference between that and the Pro.

I don't understand Apple slimming down the Pro, removing features and making it un-upgradable and simply making it more like an Air - keep the Pro for the reason it was given that name.

I can understand removing the optical drive and making it slimmer but keep the ports and upgradability that Pro owners want.

David (happy Ivy-Bridge, non-retain MacBook 13 owner)

By artiss on 20 Nov 2012

RAM....

I use PC's for Audio - the more RAM the better; especially if you want to run Real instruments and not cheapy sounding mock-ups. More RAM means also more instandes of a VST Plug-in are possible as well. Try and play an orchestra through 'Sibelius 7' in a 64-bit Machine with all instruments running real-Wav exaples of instruments, then a mere 6GB is a joke...that's not even mentioning the video screen if you are trying to run a screen test as well he he....

By johnwade8 on 5 Feb 2014

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