Tech review: New MacBook Pro puts form over function

Tech review: New MacBook Pro puts form over function

Steve Jobs was great at introducing devices before people realized they wanted or needed them.

Apple has also been a leader in dumping features it considers unnecessary.

Apple was the first to dump floppy disks, then analog modems, and now optical drives and Ethernet ports.

The MacBook Air came out without a built-in DVD drive or Ethernet port, and now Apple's new MacBook Pro with Retina Display joins the club.

To me, the MacBook Pro with Retina has more in common with the Air models than with the other MacBook Pros. Look at the similarities to the Air - thinner body, no , fewer ports, RAM soldered to the and no spinning hard drives, only solid-state drives.

Apple has really taken the design to another level, and I'm impressed with how it looks and performs, but I'm sad about how it's built with little regard for upgrades.

Think about the normal items to upgrade on a laptop - RAM and hard drive. Neither can be upgraded on the Retina.

Apple isn't ready to shrink the entire MacBook Pro line just yet, as it has also introduced new models of the more traditional 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros that do still have upgradeable RAM and hard drives and optical drives. The 17-inch MacBook Pro is gone.

The first word I thought of when I unboxed the new MacBook Pro was "sexy." It's a quarter-inch thinner and more than a pound lighter than the non-Retina 15-inch model. Heck, it's only 0.03 inches thicker than a MacBook Air.

The Retina display is the selling point here, and the 2880-by-1800-pixel screen has more than 5 million pixels, which is enough to edit full-screen 1080p high-definition video in Final Cut Pro and still have more than 3 million pixels left over for your work palettes.

It's easily the most beautiful screen I've seen on a laptop.

Apple has optimized its own programs, such as Mail, iPhoto, , Final Cut Pro, and Safari, to look great on the . I expect other software developers to quickly follow suit.

The Retina laptop's storage is solid-state only, with speeds up to 500 MB per second. The lower-end model (2.3 GHz quad-core i7) is limited to 256 gigabytes; the faster model (2.6 or 2.7 GHz quad-core i7) is configurable with a 512 GB or 768 GB drive.

The 2.3-GHz model with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB solid-state drive will run you $2,199. On the other end of the scale, the 2.7-GHz model with 16 GB of RAM and a 768 GB drive will set you back $3,749.

Be careful when you make your build-to-order choices, as it's your only chance to buy RAM or storage space.

Apple is getting a bit more affordable in its options. The upgrade from 8 to 16 GB of RAM is only $200.

Bumping that solid-state drive from 512 GB to 768 GB costs an extra $500.

All models ship with NVDIA GeForce GT 650M and Intel HD Graphics 4000 video boards with automatic video switching.

Two external displays are supported at resolutions up to 2560 by 1600 pixels each. Those screens can be run through the two Thunderbolt ports or the built-in HDMI port.

The FaceTime camera is HD with 1280-by-720-pixel resolution.

The USB ports have been upgraded to USB 3.0, but they work with older devices also.

Apple also separated the USB 3.0 ports so there is one on each side. This is a small change, but it means a lot to power users like me who find that some USB peripherals are a bit too wide and block the adjacent ports.

The Retina MacBook Pro is the first Apple portable to feature two Thunderbolt ports.

Rounding out the ports is an SDXC memory card slot.

The battery is a 95-watt-hour Lithium-polymer model that provides up to seven hours on a charge.

The new stereo speakers really do sound great for a laptop. They sound better than most clock radios and at least as good as iPod speaker docks.

There are dual microphones for better audio input, and Mac OS 10.7.4 (Lion) is pre-installed.

I'm not sure where Apple is trying to position the Retina model. Its $2,199 starting price is quite reasonable.

I configured the new MacBook Pro with optical drive with the same 2.3 GHz i7 with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB solid-state drive and the optional widescreen display, and the total hit $2,499. So the Retina MacBook Pro is $300 less than the model with a lower-resolution screen and included optical drive.

I suppose, to make it fair, I should add the $99 external super drive, making it $200 cheaper with pretty much the same hardware.

To be even fairer, I could add $29 each for Ethernet and FireWire 800 dongles because the Retina model lacks those ports, which the traditional MacBook Pro includes. Which to choose? If you think you might want to upgrade your RAM/hard drive in the future, I'd go with the traditional model. Otherwise, the Retina version is hard to pass up.

I ran the benchmarking program Geekbench on the Retina model against last year's 15-inch Macbook Pro with a 256 GB solid-state drive. The Retina model scored 11,050 and the year-old MacBook Pro scored 10,025.

Overall, I love the new MacBook Pro, and it would be my choice if it were time to get a new laptop.



-Pros: Thinner, lighter, faster.

-Cons: No optical drive, fewer ports, dongles required for some ports.

-Bottom line: Sexy beats functional every day of the week. (Well, maybe six out of seven days.)

-Price: Starts at $2,199

-On the Web:

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Apple introduces MacBook with sharper screen (Update)

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User comments

Jun 28, 2012
Only someone with a limited familiarity with sex could call a computer, any computer, laptop or otherwise made by Apple or other companies sexy.

Yes I know the speech is figurative, but honestly it's a reach unless you actually get aroused looking at the laptop. Besides there are so many much better ways to describe the thing, without trying to associate it with sex.

I say this NOT because I have any negative connotations re sex or Apple or computers in general, but because it's just stupid. It tells you nothing really about the item being described.

Jun 29, 2012
Jonseer, why do you seem so frustrated?

The author called the macbook pro sexy like any man would call a Ferrari sexy.

Theres no point calling it stupid. By your comment most men would be stupid then!

Jun 29, 2012
What does Apple build products that can't be upgraded? Because their fanboys and girls will always be ready to shell out another pile of money for the next fashion. It's a great business model, like religion.

Jun 29, 2012
The thing is what's the point in buying all this lush design if it can't handle flash? I spent hours in the shop before I bought it cos I had a nightmare with Apple and Flash before. The demo Macbook pro didn't leak memory when I went to flash based websites (currency charts). When I got my Macbook Pro home it ATE MEMORY.

It is absolutely useless (and that's not even talking about Lion being not that great).

Its flash player EATS MEMORY AND KEEPS EATING MEMORY whether I open any new Safari windows or not. By lunchtime the FLASH PLAYER MEMORY LEAKS have eaten all the available ram and the whole laptop becomes slow and unresponsive so you have to quit Safari.

And it you want to complain or get your money back you can't cos Apple sneakily stopped bundling Flash wither OS and so it's classed as third party s/ware. Open your activity monitor and watch the safari flash plug in WASTE ALL YOUR MEMORY....


Jun 29, 2012
flash 709mb 10.09am
flash 1.04gb 10.33am (added 3 more non chart tabs)
flash 1.19gb 10.39am ONLY 7.9MB FREE SYSTEM MEMORY
flash 1.23gb 10.56am
flash 1.25gb 12.21pm
flash 1.31gb 13.22pm
flash 337mb 8.06am
flash 408mb 8.32am
flash 512mb 8.48am
flash 706mb 9.28am
shut facebook and you tube and google search engine page yet mb immediately goes up to 718mb
flash 773mb 10.15am no activity on computer as I was downstairs
flash 810mb 10.37am no activity on computer as I was downstairs
flash 943mb 11.10am no activity on computer as I was downstairs
flash 688mb -- dropped as internet timed out, refreshed pages back to 863mb
flash 980mb 11.42am - on computer
flash 1.15gb 12.12am QUIT BROWSER NO MEMORY LEFT

relaunched browser - crashed typing into search bar (search bar text froze) after watching a youtube vid on how to stop the insanely loud track pad click
flash 395mb 10.37am - fxstreet flash charts were all whited out on launch....

Jun 30, 2012
You really missed a big CON: The extra pixels are wasting graphic processing power, bandwidth on the memory bus and battery power. This is a big negative.

If you can't see the extra resolution then what is the point. Sure, I've seen the comparison images of old displays vs retina displays blown up but that is a deception. Fact is, I can't see any difference between a retina display and a regular display in real life. The extra pixels are a waste.

I would much rather have more processing power, longer batter life, more reliability, lower costs. With the MBProRetina being a 1st Gen device its a real risk with no real benefit other than the lighter weight.

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