Apple MacBook Pro 13in Retina - Review

When the first 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina was released in Q4 of 2012, it received a mix response. It was praised for being one of the most beautiful 13-inch notebooks to date with an amazing retina display, however it was highly criticized for being way overpriced starting at $1,699 with only 128GB of storage with no dedicated graphics card. Just recently, Apple did a refresh of their notebooks and the 13-inch MacBook Pro received a slight upgrade in hardware and most surprisingly a $200 reduction in price. Is the 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro now worth it? Let's find out!

Apple MacBook Pro 13in Retina - Review

Build and Design

Make no mistake that this is one of the best looking notebooks available right now. The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina (rMBP) features a very thin and sleek design weighing in only at 3.57 lbs and 0.75 inches thick. The rMBP is about a pound lighter and 20% thinner than it's non-retina counterpart. Interesting enough, the rMBP weighs half a pound heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Air and only .07-inches thicker so you can say that this is more or less in between the non-retina display MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air.

In real world testing when carrying this around vs. the MacBook Air 13-inch, I couldn't really tell the difference after walking a mile with both (trying to simulate walking around an airport) in a backpack and messenger bag. If half a pound is going to kill you or if weight is a huge factor, then the Air would be a more viable option.

The 13-inch rMBP has a similar aluminum unibody design of its larger 15-inch counterpart with the silver and black color scheme. Like all the Apple notebooks before it, the 13-inch Retina is solidly built and feels like a premium quality product. Open up the magnetic latch on the screen you will be greeted with a beautiful 13-inch Retina, a chiclet style backlit keyboard, and a large glass touchpad. On the left side, you'll find the MagSafe 2 power connector, two Thunderbolt ports, a USB 3.0 port, and a headphone/mic jack. Over to the right side, you'll be pleased to find a standard HDMI port, another USB port, and an SD card slot.

What's missing on the device from the non-Retina MacBook Pros are the firewire and Ethernet ports along with the optical drive. Most people don't use these anymore but you can purchase an external drive separately as well as a USB to Ethernet adaptor.




FaceTime Camera

The rMBP comes with a built in 720p FaceTime camera for video conferencing. It works great in a well-lit room but if you are relying on sunlight and on a slightly cloudy day, there will be a lot of noise on the image. Other than that, on Skype and FaceTime calls; people could hear and see me very clearly.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the 13-inch rMBP is a joy to type on. The chiclet style layout has been my favorite over the years and it doesn't feel cramped on this MacBook Pro even when coming from a 15-inch. If you are familiar with the 13-inch Air or even the non-retina counterpart of the MacBook Pro, you will be no stranger to the keyboard as they feel very similar which is great. You get the same responsiveness and bright backlit keyboard.

Let's not overlook the large 4.1 x 3-inch glass touchpad on this! It's also very responsive and being able to use gestures and swipes make navigating through the OS and applications very intuitive. For those not familiar with the Mac, you can pinch to zoom on Safari and swipe to go back a website, etc. which is very useful if you aren't carrying around a mouse. Mountain Lion utilizes the touchpad very well so be sure to look at the Touchpad Settings to learn all the swipes and gestures.

Retina Display

As my colleague put it on his 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro Review, "Oh my god, the screen!" is going to be your first reaction when you look at how sharp the 13-inch's 2560x1600 display is. There is currently no 13-inch notebook that comes close to this resolution and the only other notebook that does is the 15-inch rMBP at 2800x1600. The 13-inch model has a higher ppi than it's 15-inch counterpart at 226ppi vs 217ppi. The retina display is absolutely gorgeous and is the biggest incentive of going with the rMBP instead of the 13-inch MacBook Air.

There is huge difference in viewing photos over 8MP on a retina display vs a standard display as you can see more details without having to zoom. The retina display makes a world of difference in the sharpness of text, images, and videos when looking at the screen in all angles. If you watch the new Iron Man 3 or Star Trek Into Darkness trailer, they both look sharp on the Retina display. The colors are much warmer and black levels were darker when looking at HD videos.

Since the Retina display first debuted about a year ago, more and more third party apps have been enhanced to take advantage of the high resolution such as Chrome, Office, and Evernote. The on the flipside of things, there are still many apps and non-retina enhanced content that look horrible on this display. If you look at some websites, or even Chrome extension icons such as Mighty Text on your browser, you will see the ugly blurriness. Then there's also sites like Facebook where there are some apps, icons, and texts that have a mix of Retina support, which makes everything look out of place. The Retina display is clearly still way ahead of its time and it will be awhile till we have even more apps that support its resolution.

Performance

After clocking an impressive 8-10 second boot up from being powered off, it's time to test drive it's power!

The Retina MacBook Pro 13-inch handled general multi-tasking very well. I had 9 tabs of Chrome open, Aperture, Evernote, and iTunes playing in the background while writing this review so in real world testing; it handles the daily essentials very well. Along with the quick bootup and wake from sleep, applications load almost instantly thanks to the SSD drive.

The base 2.5GHz model scores a high 6800 on Geekbench with decent overall performance but is crippled by the Intel HD4000 integrated graphics chip. What's frustrating is that the lag and stuttering is very apparent on websites with a lot photos such as Flickr and Google+ as the GPU struggles to output the images onto the screen when you try to scroll up and down; an issue that is not found on the non-Retina MacBook Pros, or even the MacBook Air.

If you are in the market for a gaming notebook, the 13-inch rMBP is not a good choice. Sure it handles games like Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, Torchlight 2, and Counter Strike Source very well but if you are looking to play newer games such Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider, you can forget it. At the native resolution, Tomb Raider was almost unplayable even at Normal Mode with a lot of stutter. I had to lower the resolution to 1280x800 to get decent frame rates but the experience wasn't enjoyable. When running Portal even on 1680x1050, I only got 16-18 fps, which is 30fps lower than the 15-inch cMBP from 2011!

If you have to have a MacBook for more than casual gaming, then I suggest getting the 15-inch rMBP or even the non-Retina version with a dedicated graphics card.

In running other benchmarks, the 13-inch rMBP scored a measly 645 on 3DMark11, which is much lower than the 15-inch rMBP, which scored 2,375. And finally on Cinebench, it scored 2.82 points, which is faster than the 13-inch MacBook Air at 2.08 but much slower than the 15-inch rMBP, which scored 6.12 points. Bottom line, the processor and graphics aren't as impressive as the screen resolution.

The base configuration priced at $1,499 will get you a 2.5GHz Core i5, 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. If you go for the more expensive model at $1,699, you will get a 2.6GHz Core i5, 8GB and a 256GB SSD. You can configure to order up to a 3.0Ghz dual core i7 processor with up to 512GB SSD, Unfortunately you can't add a dedicated graphics card and this model MacBook Pro maxes at 8GB RAM.

3DMark 11 measures overall graphics card performance in games using DirectX 11 (higher scores mean better performance):

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina Display: Performance



Heat and Noise

The 13-inch rMBP has asymmetrical fans to keep the system cool and they blow with the minimal amount of noise. Even when pushing the processor when running Windows 8 under Parallels with Aperture, Chrome, and iTunes open at the same time, you can hardly hear the fans even in a quiet room. Regardless of all of those applications running, the system stayed cool and was a little warm at most.

Battery Life

Apple advertises the rMBP of having a 7-hour battery life, which is not too far from my own personal results when using the notebook. In my daily routine of emails, web surfing, web apps such as SalesForce, Slacker, etc. ... it took about 6 hours and 15 minutes before the warning came on to charge the device. The 13-inch Air on the other hand lasted 6 hours and 50 minutes in doing the same routine so you will lose about half an hour for a better processor and display, which is not too bad of a tradeoff depending on your needs.

Conclusion

The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro is just a beautiful device in general from how it is designed and the quality of images the high-resolution display produces. Everything that is physically good from Apple's line of notebooks will be found on this one but looks alone doesn't make this a winner.

When comparing the 13-inch rMBP to the 13-inch Air, there really isn't that much incentive in spending the extra money for the faster screen and CPU. In real world use, you won't really notice a difference. In fact you might "feel" that the Air actually runs better because it isn't struggling to push that many pixels with the integrated GPU. What's disappointing is that Apple didn't include a more capable graphics processor to drive the higher resolution and ppi Retina display, but put the SAME GPU found on the 13-inch Air.

If you can live without the Retina display, it is much more sensible to get the MacBook Air 13-inch if you are looking for a nice thin and light laptop. If you absolutely have to have a Retina display notebook, you will be a lot happier to find a refurbished 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro for a few hundred dollars more.