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Apple 2012 Retina MacBook Pro reviewed: you won’t be disappointed

By Leigh D. Stark | 4:55 pm 13/07/2012

Apple’s latest revision to its MacBook Pro series of computers not only makes everything faster, but also thinner, with a new hardware design that also incorporates the highest resolution screen to ever grace a laptop. Is this Apple’s best laptop yet?

Features

The newest MacBook Pro is more than just a regular update for the professional line-up of Apple’s laptops, as the company releases this new model to take the place of the 17 inch MacBook Pro.With the big boy done and dusted as far as Apple is concerned, this new machine almost feels like a concept product, slimming down the current MacBook Pro range and throwing in a new screen capable of reaching the highest resolution of any laptop screen… ever.

So let’s start with the screen, as it’s one of the biggest points of this new machine.

The 15.4 inch screen sitting on the MacBook Pro with Retina display can show a native resolution of 2880×1800, twice the resolution typically seen on many 13 and 15 inch notebooks. The panel used here is one of the high quality In-Plane Switching (IPS) we see used on Apple’s iPad and Asus Transformer tablets, offering optimal viewing angles from nearly any position.

Apple has kept with its standard high quality build, sticking with the aluminium we’ve seen for years in its products. This time, though, there have been reductions to the thickness, which has shifted from 2.4cm to 1.8cm, a noticeable drop.

To get it this thin, Apple has had to make some sacrifices, ditching the optical drive that can still be found on its MacBook Pro lineup, as well as soldering parts of the computer – like the memory – to the motherboard. This will no doubt make maintenance more or less impossible without a visit to an Apple store.

Inside the laptop, you’ll find a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor with Ivy Bridge technology, making it Intel’s latest. Memory is standard for this machine at 8GB, but it can be doubled, and solid-state storage is the only disk drive offering in the Retina MacBook Pro, with a choice of 256 or 512GB depending on how much you want to spend.

Graphics is handled with two chipsets that the computer can switch between depending on how much workload is needed. Intel’s HD4000 graphics that normally arrive with the Ivy Bridge technology will be used for the light stuff, but Nvidia’s GeForce GT650M with 1GB memory can be called on for when you’re plugging in a big external monitor, running graphics heavy apps, or switching on a game.

SDXC card slot, HDMI, and a USB 3.0 port on the right side of the MacBook Pro.

Connectivity is taken care of in a big way on the MacBook Pro, with two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI port, one headset port, an SD card slot capable of reading SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, and the new thinner magnetic MagSafe power port.

Wireless is also here, with 802.11 a/b/g/n support taken care of, as well as Bluetooth’s latest, now in its fourth incarnation. Sadly, there is no native 802.11ac support, but with only a handful of new computers supporting this barely released technology, we’re not surprised.

The regular MacBook Pro staples are here, with a big glass multi-touch trackpad, a full-size backlit keyboard, and two stereo speakers on either side of the keyboard, as well as a battery that you can’t replace.

Performance

The first true MacBook Pro revision in years, Apple aims to please and impress with this new edition, finally doing away with the optical drive and itching to show how thin a full-sized laptop can possibly be.

And wow, does it impress.

It’s all typical Apple here, with a product that oozes perfection out of the few orifices it has, managing to give off a sense and feeling that few computer manufacturers ever pull off.

The silver aluminium chassis looks as gorgeous as it ever did, and feels just as solid to boot. When you pick up this machine, you know it means business. Apple’s improvements to the size are obvious, and we’re in love. Even if the reduction in height is barely over half a centimetre, it’s enough to grab our attention, and as the world shifts away from DVD drives for software and movies, we’re not really worried by the omission of an optical drive.

Open it up and it’s like love at first sight, with the beautiful backlit keyboard that feels just as excellent as the older MacBooks, and a large 5 inch glass multi-touch trackpad waiting for you to put your fingers all over it.

The screen is simply gorgeous, there really is no other way of saying it, and while we wish it wasn’t a glossy display, what Apple has done with the resolution settings in the graphical options is quite cool, too.

Instead of choosing what resolution you’d like to use, you’re given two options: best for Retina display, and scaled. The first option sets the screen to 1440×900, which offers up 110ppi, while the scaled mode lets you choose to run resolutions anywhere between the lowly 1024×600 which makes everything look massive, or up to 1920×1200 which is still bigger than any other 15 inch laptop.

Full size Retina resolution - 2880x1800

If you have great eyes, you can download an app called “Change Resolution” and type in your own resolution, like 2880×1800, offering a monumental desktop that will probably require glasses for most people. Customers after a larger desktop environment – video editors, animators, etc – will probably love this option, as it provides more screen real estate for their apps.

Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) is the operating system the MacBook Pro currently ships with, and it shines on this hardware. We saw no issues with swiping between desktop screens, running heavy duty graphics applications, web browsing, the odd word processing tool, and the occasional high power video game.

When you’re running things that aren’t so power hungry, the machine is silent and, more importantly, barely warm to the touch. The moment the discrete Nvidia graphics starts working, machine starts to make noise and feel warm.

Ports at the hinge seem like they're used to release heat from the machine.

Apple has made some advances in this area, however, as the MacBook Pro never feels incredibly hot or remarkably loud, something we found with older MacBook Pro laptops.

Over in the battery department, we managed between four to five hours for a standard day, with web surfing over WiFi, writing documents, and testing the various hardware transfer rates as data was shifted across from different drives.

Switching it over to a new game like Blizzard’s “Diablo 3,” we found the battery drop to around two hours, as the hardware usage became heavier and we upped the graphics to support the full resolution on offer by the Retina display.

In a first for Apple, we’re seeing the company embrace technological standards that we see on other laptops. We’re fans of the HDMI port included here, and while we love dual Thunderbolt ports, the inclusion of USB 3.0 is certainly welcome.

The new MagSafe 2 power connector next to the other ports on the left side.

You can even see how fast the third version of USB is on the MacBook Pro, with one of the Hitachi USB 3.0 drives we’ve been testing moving across 1.2GB of data in ten seconds. That’s fast, and the USB port technology is still backwards compatible with USB 2.0. With two of the hyper-fast USB 3.0 ports included on the new MacBook Pro, we’re insanely pleased.

Thunderbolt is even snappier, resulting in roughly 2.3GB of data transferred in ten seconds, with two separate Thunderbolt ports available to you.

So that’s four – count ‘em – high-speed plug ports available to you on this machine. If you were working on video editing, photography, animation, or anything else that required high speed data transfers, it’s hard to do better than this.

In fact, with a combination of excellent design, high quality parts, strong performance, and some truly impressive innovation in the display area, Apple is close to nailing the perfect combination for a computer.

USB 3.0 is supported on the new MacBook Pro, with a port on each side of the laptop.

But it’s not there yet, and with some of the changes in their first generation, this laptop isn’t quite at that level of perfection we wish it could be.

One of these is how older programs look on the new Retina display, with obviously pixelated and slightly blurry text and icons visible.

We get it: it’s going to take a few months before every software developer can update its programs to properly support the new Retina displays, but it’s something we can’t help but point out.

The blurriness is especially noticeable in games, where the titles haven’t been updated to support the insanely high resolution screen. You can easily get around this by switching the in-game graphics to 2800×1800, but there will likely be quite a few apps that look slightly pixelated on the new screens.

The difference between regular text in "Adobe" and Retina text in "Mac".

A half-height SD card slot is also a touch surprising, meaning that when you throw in an SD card, it will stick out of the machine half-way.

We’re not totally shocked to see the Kensington lock missing on the new MacBook Pro, after all, it hasn’t been in the recent revisions of the MacBook Air. Perhaps Apple thinks the machine is thin enough that you won’t want to leave it tied up anywhere.

Finally, the new thinner MagSafe – now called MagSafe 2 – seems a little too magnetically strong for us. We haven’t gone through a lot of testing yet, mostly for fear of dropping the MacBook Pro on the ground, but the last iteration of MagSafe could detach at a moment’s notice in case someone tripped over the power cord. With this version, we’ve been able to pull on the cord and take the laptop with it over a small distance.

We’re not quite game enough to do a proper trip test, but the new cable doesn’t fill us with as much confidence as the older cable. That might just be us, but it’s something to be aware of.

We could pull on the MagSafe cord and move the laptop.

Conclusion

Apple’s latest revision to the MacBook Pro is almost perfect, with the company throwing together some of the nicest updates into a body and design that already was damn near close to perfect.

Simple put, the new Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch is absolutely excellent, and if you’re looking for a machine with power, design, and an awesome build quality, you won’t be left disappointed. Highly recommended.

Price (RRP)

$2,499 (starting from; review model was $3,199)

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Supports some of the most needed standards, including HDMI, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt; Performs brilliantly; Fantastic Retina screen; Slim for a machine that doesn't try to be an Ultrabook;

Product Cons

Older apps look a little pixelated on the new screen; Hardware is soldered and down, forcing future repairs to be handled by Apple; Half-height SD card slot;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Design

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