Tech review Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina

Published on by 13-inch MacBook Air

With its sturdy unibody design and high performance, Apple's MacBook Pro quickly became the must-have laptop for on-the-go media professionals.

Apple's made the baby of the range -- the 13-inch model -- smaller still, with a thinner, lighter chassis. It's packed in a super high-resolution retina display too for ultra-crisp text and photos.

In true Apple fashion this new model doesn't come cheap. Far from it. My review model which included an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD costs a whopping £1,700. Add a beefier processor and a 768GB SSD and it will set you back £2,660.

Is the new design and sharper screen worth the stonking price? All models are available now online or in Apple stores.

Should I buy the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display?

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro boasts a slimmer and lighter physical design than the previous generation along with an absolutely stunning super-high resolution retina display. It also comes with an astonishingly high price-tag, putting it firmly in the realms of the Premiership footballers of this world.

The older high-end 13-inch model isn't as slim and doesn't have the retina screen, but it has fast components, more storage space and costs nearly £500 less. If you want to take your first steps into the MacBook World, the older style might be the better option.

If you've got the older generation already, it's not worth upgrading unless you crave the best display in the business. For professional video users, the high resolution screen will come in seriously handy, but it's certainly going to be more useful on the physically larger 15-inch model.

If you want power and performance from a super-skinny frame and don't care what operating system you use then Samsung's Series 9 ultrabook is an excellent choice and it will save you several hundred quid.

The new MacBook Pro is undeniably a stunning piece of kit, but it's only really going to be a viable purchase if you've recently struck oil.

Design and build quality

If you just have a quick glance at the new Pro you might not notice any difference from the old one. It's still got the typical minimalist silver stylings with the glowing apple sitting proudly in the middle.

When you get up close you realise how much the physical design has changed. Just as it did with the 15-inch Retina Pro, Apple has shaved a considerable amount off the thickness. It now measures a mere 19mm -- a whole 5mm less than its predecessor. Expect to have a much easier time sliding it into those fancy neoprene sleeves.

Its other dimensions haven't changed drastically. It's 314mm wide and 219mm deep. A few millimetres have been knocked off, but it's not as noticeable as the reduced thickness. It's quite a bit lighter though, weighing only 1.62kg, down from the 2kg of the previous model. That weight reduction will really help if you intend to carry it around on your back all day.

It still has the same unibody design, meaning that the chassis has been manufactured from a single piece of aluminium. It helps make all the internal components much less susceptible to knocks and bumps. There's zero annoying flex anywhere across the lid, wrist rest or keyboard tray. It'll still pick up scratches, dents and scuffs though, so make sure you don't chuck it down onto that Starbucks table too brutally.

Around the edges you'll find two Thunderbolt-enabled mini display ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized SD card slot and, for the first time on the 13-inch Pro, an HDMI out port. There's no optical drive, so you'll have to download all your software from the Mac app store rather than from discs.

You also don't get an Ethernet port, which is extremely frustrating if you're wanting to download or upload huge files over a stable high speed connection. Apple offers an Ethernet adaptor, but demands an extra £25 for it.

Screen

The new Pro comes bearing the retina moniker, meaning that it's been given a significant resolution boost. The previous model's 1,280x800 pixel resolution has been upped to an astonishing 2,560x1,600 pixels. Unsurprisingly then, everything looks wonderfully sharp.

Icons on the dock along the bottom of the screen look extremely crisp, even when press your nose right up against it. Text is pin-sharp in both the Safari and Chrome browsers, making reading pages of text for long periods of time much more comfortable.

High-definition images and video look glorious too. Not only are they super sharp, the rich colours and deep black levels make them stand out beautifully. If you're looking for the best quality display in a laptop, look no further -- nothing else comes close.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina
Images are bright, crisp and bursting with colour.

The screen has a glossy coating, which makes it naturally more reflective than matte displays. It's not too bad though -- throughout my testing, the high brightness levels managed to counter much of the harsh overhead office lights. I've certainly used more reflective screens.

On the 15-inch model, that beautiful screen is of particular help to video professionals. It's debatable however whether the smaller size of the 13-inch model will offer enough room to properly edit videos. The high resolution means that it's possible to view Full HD video within an editing window, but there's still less room for timelines and menus to fit. I'll be passing it over to our excellent video team to see just how feasible this thing is for pro video work.

Performance

Inside that slim new shell is an Intel Core i5 processor clocked at 2.5GHz, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for storage. That's the top model and will set you back an eye-watering £1,700. If, however, you want the extra juice from a 2.9GHz Core i7 chip, you'll have to shell out an extra £160.

Want more storage? Apple generously offers a 768GB SSD option and charges an extra £800 for it. Seriously. That brings the grand total for the top-configured model to £2,660. You can pick your jaw up from the floor now. Oddly, there's no option to increase the RAM, but it would probably limit its appeal to beardy billionaires like Branson.

A Core i5 chip and 8GB of RAM is still a decent set of specs though, and I was pleased to find that it offered a fair amount of juice. On the Geekbench benchmark test it managed to achieve a score of 7,253 -- a pleasing step up from the previous model's 6,082 score. It also scored 2.72 on the Cinebench CPU test, a modest improvement over the 13-inch MacBook Air.

 

In general use I found it to be very competent. Opening apps was swift and jumping into OS X Mountain Lion's Launchpad and Mission control was immediate and free of any annoying delay. It was easily able to handle editing high-definition photos in Adobe Lightroom 4, showing no discernible lag between moving the sliders and seeing the action take place.


As a machine to edit quick snaps on the go, the Pro is well-equipped. For more intense video applications it might not cope so well. It took 8 minutes 13 seconds to encode my 11-minute video into 24fps H264, which isn't exactly lightning fast. That's the same time it took the MacBook Air to do it and the 15-inch Pro almost halved that time.


I've certainly had worse results, but it's far from outstanding. Given the price, you'd be forgiven for expecting blistering speeds all round. It'll cope with quick edits of video clips from your iPhone, but if you're a pro and want to juggle numerous high-definition clips with effects rendering in real time, you're not going to be blown away by the speed.

Conclusion

The updated skinny frame of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro makes it a more portable beast than its predecessor. The whopping number of pixels packed into the screen, together with its great use of colour make text and images look amazing. But, it's not quite as monstrously powerful as I'd hope, which doesn't help justifying the frighteningly high price tag.

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