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Apple retina MacBook Pro: review

Apple retina MacBook Pro: review

I’m typing this on a Macbook Pro with a “retina” display, and it’s breaking my heart. Having used it as my main machine for the past fortnight, I’ll have to wipe the hard drive, find the cables, and send it back to Apple in a few hours. The world is going to go fuzzy again. Is this what it’s like for people who wear glasses when they lose them?


OK, I’m back on my old machine now – with its standard display resolution of 1280×800 on a 13″ screen. That works out to about 104 pixels per inch.

Now what? It’s pathetic.

Here’s the fact of it: with the “retina” display on the “new iPad” (aka iPad 3, aka the version released in January of this year), you had to put it side-by-side against another one to see the difference (something Gawker exploited wonderfully by giving people an old one and telling them it was a new one and filming their delight… and then telling them the truth).

The difference on this display leaps out at you. It shouts at you. Retina-optimised programs (especially browsers, but text and film and picture editing too) leap out at you and demonstrate the precision. It has 220 pixel-per-inch precision, and wow, it’s really stunning. Pictures on websites can’t do it justice because they’re on websites, and those are only 72ppi, typically. Even TV can’t really show you.

So here’s what we’ll look at…

  • Appearance
  • TAG-1
  • Flash drives: because you’re going there anyway
  • Processing: there’s fast and ‘already there.’
  • Thunderbolt
  • USB 3.0
  • No Ethernet?
  • No lights?
  • Good news, Windows users!
  • Downsides (there’s a few)
  • User-unfixability
  • Unready web
  • Price


You may have seen the photos and the TV pictures and shrugged. Nothing special, you think. Consider yourself lucky that you haven’t used it for any time and then reverted to something older. I have. It hurts. Displays with a quarter of the resolution look as if they’re smeared with butter. (Or margarine, health fans.)

Ironically, I can’t show you any screenshots demonstrating the difference effectively because we only do pictures at 72dpi – not the 144dpi that the Retina MacBook Pro (RMBP from here on) offers. Well, I can contrast how it appears on a browser (Google Chrome) that doesn’t take advantage of the RMBP’s text rendering against another browser (Google Chrome Canary – the bleeding-leading edge version of Google Chrome; I found it very solid).

Retina MacBook Pro site comparison

Comparing the same site in a “retina-ready” browser and one which is not. Click for a larger version. See? There’s a real difference. But that doesn’t tell you what the experience is like.