The 15-inch version of Apple’s MacBook Pro With Retina Display is an undeniably impressive laptop. However, its large, high-resolution screen, powerful i7 processor and, of course, its £1,699 (inc. VAT) price tag, make it something of a niche product. Its 13-inch counterpart isn’t exactly cheap (£1,099 inc. VAT), but this year’s model does come with a welcome price cut that makes it considerably more affordable, along with a new Haswell processor that provides improved battery life.
The basic design of the 13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display hasn’t changed for this year’s update, with the focus remaining firmly on its impressive IPS display and 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. The display really is in a league of its own, producing a bright, colourful and sharply detailed image that is unmatched by any comparable 13-inch Windows laptop. You don’t need to be a photographer or video-editor to appreciate that high-quality display, though, as Apple cleverly includes a number of scaling options that are suitable for different applications.
If you’re working in MS Word, you can select the ‘larger text’ option that mimics a resolution of 1,024 x 640 in order to display larger text, while an Excel user might prefer the ‘more space’ option that scales the resolution to 1,680 x 1,050 in order to provide more room for a large spreadsheet. Text and graphics are automatically scaled to the best size for each display option, ensuring that the Retina Display provides maximum clarity and visibility for a wide range of applications. The bright IPS display also provides impressive viewing angles, making it an excellent choice for mobile presentations.
Build & Connectivity
Although the new MacBook Pro With Retina Display looks virtually identical to its predecessors, Apple has managed to reduce the size and weight by a very modest amount. The one-piece aluminium chassis remains as smart and sturdy as ever, but is now 1mm thinner and measures just 18mm thick when folded shut.
The weight has been reduced too, down from 1.62- to 1.57kg. There are lighter laptops available, of course – including Apple’s own MacBook Air, which weighs 1.3kg for the 13-inch model – but the MacBook Pro With Retina Display is really intended as a desktop replacement laptop rather than an ultra-portable, and it’s still relatively slim and light for a model that provides desktop levels of performance.
Its connectivity options are also better than those of the more compact MacBook Air. There are two USB 3.0 ports, along with two of Apple’s high-speed Thunderbolt 2.0 ports – now supporting data transfer speeds of up to 20Gbps – as well as HDMI and an SDXC card slot. There’s no Ethernet, though, nor the now-outdated FireWire, so you’ll need to pay £25 (inc. VAT) each for adapters for those.
Unfortunately, the downside of that elegant design is poor upgradability and serviceability. The MacBook Pro With Retina Display is not intended for user upgrades at all – you’ll need special ‘pentalobe’ tools to remove the base of the unit, and the RAM is soldered onto the motherboard, which means that you’re stuck with the fixed amount of RAM that you specify at the time of purchase. And, annoyingly, Apple takes advantage of that situation by charging high prices for memory upgrades through its online store.
The good news is that the 13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display is now considerably cheaper than previous models. The original 2012 model started at a hefty £1,449 (inc. VAT) for a model with a 2.4GHz i5 processor, although that dropped to £1,399 (inc. VAT) earlier this year when the machine also received a small speed-bump to 2.6GHz. By comparison, this late-2013 model drops in price by a full £300 and now starts at £1,099 (inc. VAT) with a Haswell i5-4285U processor running at 2.4GHz, along with 4GB of memory and 128GB solid-state drive.
Our review unit doubled the RAM and SSD to 8GB and 256GB respectively for a total price of £1,249 (inc. VAT), and there’s a third configuration that runs at 2.6GHz and provides 512GB storage for £1,499 (inc. VAT). These new models also include updated 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and PCIe interface for the solid-state drive. It’s also worth mentioning that the original 13-inch MacBook Pro with a pre-Retina display that offers just 1,280 x 800 resolution is still available for £999 (inc. VAT).
That’s not particularly good value for money, though – especially as it hasn’t been updated since 2012, and still uses an Ivy Bridge processor and aging 500GB/5400rpm hard drive. It seems likely that this model will be discontinued at some point, leaving the £1,099 (inc. VAT) Retina Display model as the new ‘entry-level’ point for the MacBook Pro range.
Performance & Battery Life
The 2.4GHz Haswell processor in this model has a slightly slower clock speed than that of its Ivy Bridge predecessors, but our tests using the Mac-native GeekBench benchmark indicate that raw processor performance remains roughly the same. However, the Haswell processor brings more to the table than simple clock speed.
The i5-4258U also includes Intel’s new Iris 5100 integrated graphics, which includes 128GB of its own ‘embedded memory’ that is designed to increase performance for graphics intensive tasks. Apple claims that the Iris 5100 provides ‘up to 90%’ increase in graphics performance, and some simple gaming tests did indeed produce frame rates that justified that claim.
It’s no 3D workstation – especially as there’s no option to add a discrete graphics card, as there is with the 15-inch model – but the Iris 5100 graphics will be useful for graphics-intensive applications such as photo-editing, or using transitions and animation effects in PowerPoint or Apple’s own KeyNote (which, incidentally, is now included for free with all new Mac models, along with its Pages wordprocessor and Numbers spreadsheet).
And, of course, Haswell’s great strength is its improved power-efficiency and battery life. Despite its fondness for marketing hyperbole in other areas, Apple tends to be quite conservative when making claims about battery life and only says that the new 13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display provides the same 9 hours as its predecessor. In fact, we got a full 10 hours of streaming video from this new model – twice that of the original 2012 model – so more casual Web browsing or use of software such as Microsoft Office should allow you to stretch that to 11 hours or even longer.
If portability is your main priority, then the MacBook Air or one of the many Windows Ultrabooks will be a better choice. However, the 13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display will appeal to users who need a more powerful desktop-replacement system that can handle demanding tasks such as photo-editing or video presentations. It’s still relatively expensive when compared to many of its Windows rivals, but its high-quality Retina display and impressive battery life should ensure that it earns its keep when you’re on the road. [4/5]