updated 07:48 am EDT, Tue June 19, 2012
We go hands-on with the genre-bending MacBook Pro
Now that the dust has settled following the launch of Apple’s long-rumored 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, Electronista has had an opportunity to go hands-on with the latest notebook to come out of Cupertino. If you think this notebook is all about the display, you’d be both right and wrong. There is no doubt that the display is stunning -- however, there are many different aspects to the machine that make it special. Read on to find out what our first impressions are.
The first thing we did once we had our new MacBook Pro in our hands was to investigate the display and its incredible 5.1 million pixels. It does not disappoint. It is just like viewing the display on the new iPad, but it is just much larger and even more lush as a result. The colors are saturated without looking unnatural, with a richer color gamut that seems about on par with the new iPad as well. Ever since the original iPad launched in early 2010, we have been eagerly awaiting the day Apple would introduce IPS technology into its notebook lineup -- that it is also super high-resolution makes its arrival that much sweeter.
On the down side, the glass display still produces glare in brightly-lit situations, but it is much better than in the past in this regard -- Apple says it produces 75 percent less glare. For people looking for a true anti-glare display, Apple may not have done enough to convince you that this is the right option. On the other hand, the new thinner bezel with edge-to-edge glass does look beautiful and may seduce users anyway.
The second thing we did was pick up the notebook. While we have always been fans of the power offered by the 15-inch MacBook Pro line-up (and even the now-defunct 17-inch model), the arrival of the MacBook Air changed our feelings towards full-size and comparatively large notebooks. The Air lineup makes other notebooks seem so much heavier and bulky by comparison that if you can live without the added power, an Air is hard to beat for its balance between performance and usability. The new-generation MacBook Pro feels substantially lighter than its non-Retina siblings (which as most readers will be aware are also available). While not the equivalent of what a 15-inch Air might feel like in hand, the Retina MacBook Pro is not far away. It also has performance to burn with the inclusion of an NVIDIA GT 650M discrete graphics card with 1GB of VRAM that wouldn’t have been possible (along with the Retina display itself) had Apple adopted a fully Air-like design. It is very much like a MacBook Air, but juiced.
The previous-generation Air is a snappy performer for general purposes. It has no major system bottlenecks, a result of an all-flash storage architecture. So it was interesting to see how the new MacBook Pro (with broadly similar architecture) compares in a simple boot test. Our mid-2011 11-inch MacBook Air, with 2GB of RAM and a 1.6GHz second-gen dual-core Core i5 processor, went from a cold start to the login screen in 21 seconds and took 34 seconds in total to log in and launch the Mail app –- hardly what one would call slow. By comparison, the mid-2012 MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM and a 2.3 GHz third-gen quad-core Core i7 processor rocketed from a cold start to the login screen in 13 seconds and took just 25 seconds in total to enter the password and launch the Mail app. We will run more benchmarks in our full review, but it looks as though the new Pro is shaping up well.
Looking around the new Pro, you'll find that Apple has been reasonably generous with its ports, but users will also notice that it's missing an optical drive, and that the words "MacBook Pro" no longer adorn the display at the bottom as we have become accustomed to. Also missing is a hardware battery life indicator.
Apple has included two Thunderbolt ports, which have the potential to offer a Pro tremendous flexibility as more Thunderbolt devices and peripherals hit the market. There is also a pair of USB 3.0/2.0 ports, an SD card slot, and the first HDMI connection on a MacBook. However, a point of significant annoyance is the current absence of a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapter from the Apple Store, meaning that we're reduced to using our backup drive over USB 2.0. A Thunderbolt-to-Gigabit Ethernet adapter is available, though, and a Firewire800 adapter will be available next month. All told, we'd still take two Thunderbolt ports over the missing FireWire and Ethernet options.
At this juncture, the new MacBook Pro looks like it has the makings of another hit for Apple. That said, it would not be an Apple product launch if aspects of the design or feature omissions caused controversy. The new Pro is no different in this sense -- teardowns have in fact revealed that it is virtually non-upgradeable after purchase, which has certainly given some people pause. At the same time, Apple is continuing to sell a non-Retina updated version at a lower price and with more upgradeability -- giving buyers the choice to either hop on the cutting edge, or opt for something more familiar.
Electronista will delve much deeper into these issues when we present our full review of the next-generation Retina MacBook Pro, after we have put it through its paces and lived with it for a few more days.