Is The New Retina MacBook Pro For You? [Opinion]

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When Apple announced the MacBook Pro with Retina display a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure it would end up being my next laptop. I’ve waited a long time to upgrade and after being lucky enough to use a MacBook Air for the last few months I also knew that OS X and Apple hardware were for me.

I’m pretty sure there will be a good number of you considering the purchase, and even more of you who are unsure whether the $2,199 price tag is really worth it. Hopefully this article will help you decide whether or not to take the plunge, and answer the question – is it really worth picking a non-Retina model?

Seeing Is Believing

Nothing convinces me a laptop isn’t right for me like a poor quality, low resolution display and so I was fairly sure that the Retina MacBook Pro would scream “buy me!” the second I saw it. After all, this is technically the most impressive laptop display on the market squeezing more than 5 million pixels into a 15” screen.

The perceived resolution, by default, is an unchanged 1440×900 and though the screen natively displays at double that (2880×1800) it all comes down to pixel density. The resolution looks identical to the non-Retina 15” MacBook Pro (standard display), except everything now looks considerably sharper. IPS (in-plane switching) technology also provides noticeably improved colours, contrast and blacks – something that’s very noticeable when you see the new Retina models alongside existing Pro and Air MacBooks.

It really does look that much better than the old displays, and while scaling resolutions is possible for more screen real-estate, everything is gorgeous using the default “Retina” display mode that comes enabled out of the box. With that said, scaling the resolution to something that will give you a little more space still looks fantastic and I didn’t notice any drops in performance over the few days I used this mode. So – if you’re a screen real-estate guy, you’ll still find the Retina experience outshines that of Apple’s upgraded displays on the non-Retina models.

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Hardware To Compare

Unfortunately it’s not really possible to draw any direct comparisons between Retina and non-Retina models. The internals on both setups are different, with the Retina MacBook Pro packing in a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM as a base package. By comparison, the non-Retina model comes with 4GB of RAM and a standard 500GB HDD with spinning bits that make noise and bottlenecks in performance.

The Retina MacBook Pro is a futuristic machine. There’s no option for installing a traditional hard drive, and if you don’t need 8GB of super-fast DDR3L RAM then I’m sorry Jim, but you’re going to have to make do. The non-Retina MacBook Pro costs $1799, $400 short of the $2199 Apple is asking for its Retina model. So for $400 you get a huge jump in speed thanks to that SSD (though admittedly half the storage), double the RAM and a beautiful display.

To put it bluntly: if you’re already considering the purchase then the price tag probably doesn’t phase you too much. The SSD or screen upgrade alone is worth the $400, never mind that extra RAM. That’s before considering the slimmer form factor, speakers that can fill a room with sound and addition of plenty of Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 ports.

But It’s A Lot Of Money

I understand that the MacBook Pro with Retina Display might seem like an unholy amount of money to spend on a non-upgradeable laptop. Unless you are overdue for an upgrade or have waited specifically for this announcement, then it might just be too much. If you can make do with less grunt and would like more change from your $2,000, consider a MacBook Air instead.

The all-flash Air also received an update at WWDC, adding speedier processors to the already impressive specifications. As someone who has used one of the mid-2011 machines for a few months, they really do provide a lot of bang for your buck. The 13” Air might actually be the perfectly sized laptop, and once you’ve worked with one everything feels so heavy in comparison (yes, including the new MacBook Pro). In short, Apple have spoiled us with one of the lightest, thinnest and most beautiful machines ever. Then they went and did it all over again with their flagship line of laptops, adding the Retina display just to throw you off.

It all comes down to what you need from a laptop (power or portability) and what you expect to pay. If you’re after Pro power then the extra money will be very well spent, though if you’re after the ultimate in power then you’ll end up spending a lot of money indeed. The fact remains that there isn’t a laptop out there that even comes close to offering what the Retina MacBook Pro offers. With that unique selling point considered, the price is a little easier to swallow.


If you’re going to buy a MacBook Pro, make it a Retina model. Display, RAM, SSD and form factor put the non-Retina editions to shame, and with a $400 bump in price then it strikes me as a no-brainer. If you’re not prepared to spend the money on a Pro, then you probably don’t need a Pro and instead I’d recommend the MacBook Air for its form factor and SSD-only configuration. The speed-to-cost ratio is epic and you will fall in love the battery capacity, tiny size and weight.

Of course if you’re not a Mac user and don’t usually buy Mac hardware then you’ll require extra convincing, and there’s a good chance that you’ll never feel comfortable spending $2000 on a laptop. Then again, with the arrival of the Retina MacBook Pro and the option of the cheaper, smaller Air there has never been a better time to buy an Apple laptop.

What do you think of the Retina MacBook Pro? Have you pre-ordered? Will you? Opted for an Air? Let’s try and keep the comments constructive and questions regarding the laptop are of course welcome!

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Comments (24)
  • Gabriel Avila

    it’s way too much money, besides the price for just the pc you have to buy extensions for mostly everything

  • Shmuel Mendelsohn

    It really sounds great, but I can think of many more important things to spend $2,000.00 for!

  • Alice

    Hi Tim, thanks for the article – I’m a bit of a Mac beginner and currently deliberating between the 15″ MBP and the 15″ retina model so your advice is really helpful.

    I currently have a 2008 15″ MBP at work and I find it very heavy to carry around, and as I’d be using it for video editing, Photoshop and Illustrator I’m keen for a fairly quick machine – so although it’s my first MacBook, the idea of the lightweight but super-quick retina seems like a good way to go if I can justify the money.

    What I’m worried about is the display, ironically. I tested it in the Apple store and, although text on Safari etc looks amazing, a lot of videos online look really fuzzy, presumably because the videos aren’t high enough resolution for the screen and so are being scaled up to fit. Do you know whether there’s any solution to this? And does it mean that, if I’m editing myself, my files are going to need to be huge in order to be high-res enough not to look awful on the retina screen? Perhaps the regular MacBook Pro would be more manageable in this respect (and, of course, a bit cheaper)?

    As I said, I’m fairly new to Macs and my use of Final Cut, Photoshop etc would be reasonably light – short videos, and not in use all day everyday – so I don’t necessarily need the absolute most advanced thing, but I am willing to dig into the savings if it’s the right thing that will last me a long time. With this in mind, I’m also wondering whether 8GB of RAM would be sufficient in the long term or if I’d need to bump up to 16?

    Any advice would hugely appreciated – very confused by friends colleagues’ differing opinions on this!


    • Tina


      You might want to ask for advice regarding your screen on MakeUseOf Answers.

    • Tim Brookes

      Hi Alice, as Tina said MUO Answers is a good place for this kind of question. However, I did miss this comment first time round so I’ll offer you a little bit of advice!

      If you’re editing HD video in an app such as Final Cut which has been updated for the Retina screen, you should have no problem. The Retina display allows you to see 1080p video at its native resolution while you’re editing, so it looks great. I’ve done some 720p editing myself, which didn’t look too blurry at all. Let’s be honest – if you’re shooting video these days for any serious intent (serious enough to use Final Cut, anyway) then you’ll want to be shooting in HD for future-proofing purposes. Nobody wants to watch VGA videos in this day and age!

      With that said, YouTube videos can appear a little blurry I suppose, though I’ve well and truly adjusted to it by now. At full screen, yes – a 360/480p YouTube video looks pretty murky, but then again it’s not too bad if left in the embedded player. I also can’t help but think these videos look a bit muddy on a standard 1440×900 MacBook Pro screen anyway.

      I’ve got my own little issues with the RMBP after a few months of ownership, though much of it is down to software. In terms of hardware Apple themselves are great at fixing things, so I have no complaints there. I’m personally a little disappointed with Mountain Lion, performance has taken a turn for the worse – but according to Apple Support Communities, this isn’t limited to the RMBP but also iMac and standard MBPs too. Basically, Mountain Lion still has a lot of work to do and should probably not have been released in its current state.

      Finally once you go into the store and play around with the two laptops, side-by-side, you might actually find yourself falling in love with the screen. It’s hard to go back to a standard display once you’ve spent any length of time with a Retina display – if you’ve got an iPhone 4 or iPad 3 then you’ll know what I mean. My girlfriend’s MacBook Air is a wonderfully light and zippy bit of kit, but the screen is noticeably worse (it’s not IPS to start with, so the blacks aren’t that black) even though it’s one of the best panels on the market for comparably sized/priced laptops. The Retina display really does blow every other screen out of the water, and at the moment it’s Apple’s killer unique selling point – which is why they’re charging a premium for it.

      I personally have the 8GB/base model and performance in Lion was exceptional, Mountain Lion has taken that down a peg but I’m sure a software update or two will patch it up. You do have a 2 week cooling off period with all Apple products, just check the terms and conditions with Apple when you’re in store.

      Phew… this turned into a longer comment than I thought it would be. Feel free to ask again on MUO Answers, I’m sure there will be lots of interesting opinions!


  • Jacob

    I would buy one but it has no optical drive, no battery indicator button, no sleep light indicator and no Ethernet port, no upgrades either. I understand that Ethernet is not a big deal anymore but it is for convenience I use a cable about every 3-4 months, the battery indicator is also nice do not have to open the laptop. sleep light is nice because I have had people use the laptop and not sure if they shut it down. Optical Drive is the deal breaker for me because I love movies lol. until they put the retina on a standard MacBook Pro I will not buy. yes anti-glare is nice and high resolution is also great. but is it worth it to spend around $600 more for these two features and a loss of great features. If you have the money and NEVER NEED NOR WANT the standard features then go for the retina. again this is my thoughts. I also would like the retina in the 13inch do not care for bigger screens. weight of 15inch retina 4.46 pounds Weight of 13inch standard MacBook 4,5 pounds .04 pounds WOW BIG change lol. the only way I see need is when directing movies and need good resolution.

  • Kyle Pearce

    Great post –

    I’ve always been an iPhone user, but PC computer user since the start.

    After having access to a white MacBook (slow, slow, slow) and using it more and more just to “try” it, I fell in love with the Mac OS features. The touchpad finger gestures alone is worth the switch from PC to Apple for me. I have never been able to use a touchpad without my fingers hurting or getting frustrated. Now, no mouse and my PC computers aren’t even turned on in my house.

    Oh, and I’ve always bought Acer products simply because they were dirt cheap. Unfortunately, I’m only realizing now that it wasn’t just the price that was cheap. Taking the plunge into the MacBook Pro world is a huge step for me and I’m stuck between going bottom of the barrel Pro 13″ or top of the line retina 15″ – In comparison to this white MacBook, anything is an upgrade…

    I’m now leaning towards the retina though. Only live once, right?

    • Tim Brookes

      I also bought laptops based on specifications and cost, i.e. they were always pretty powerful but cost less than comparably specced laptops from other manufacturers. Asus and Acer were the two brands that I used to opt for, and while Asus are recovering somewhat, they’re still far behind Apple in terms of build quality, support and the basics like speakers and trackpads.

      The trackpad is one of those instantly noticeable things on a MBP/MBA that – after a week – you’ll be asking “how did I do without this?” and swear never to go back to a tiny plastic equivalent ever again.

      As for your conundrum – I’d go for the lower end Retina model. The 13″ MBP isn’t great value when you consider $400 gets you more RAM, an SSD and a screen that’s to die for. Obviously if you’ve got the spare cash to go for the upper model then that’s your call, but I’d recommend leaving the older 13″ alone. That, or getting an Air if raw power and a GPU isn’t high on the wishlist.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
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