on December 14, 2013
Coming from a 13" mid-2009 MBP, this new 13" Retina MBP really is a huge improvement. I had upgraded my old MBP with a 128GB OWC SSD and 8GB of crucial RAM over the years so it wasn't too lagging, but the new Haswell based CPU and retina screen are phenomenal.
The LCD screen really is the reason to buy this laptop. At the "Best" scaled 1280x800 display setting, pixels are none existent and everything looks super smooth and crisp. View angles are excellent, truly viewable out to 178 degrees plus minus, horizontal and vertical. The option to have a 1440 & 1650 scaled resolution is also super useful when you need more desktop space. Text starts to get tiny at those sizes, but everything remains super clear & crisp.
Size wise, it has a marginally smaller footprint than my old MBP and even the new Airs. The 3.47lb weight makes the biggest difference for portability and holding an rMBP next to an Air, the difference really is negligible.
Battery life is also very good. I get the claimed 9 hours doing moderate web surfing. Watching HD movies (non-iTunes) or playing some light games brings battery life down to 5-6 hours range which is still pretty good.
Performance wise, it's handled everything I've done so far. No problems with high-res photo editing in Photoshop. The SSD really is faster, took far less time transferring data to my new MBP than pulling it from the old. I've never really seen the CPUs go above 30% and I monitor them with iStat. I'm not sure if it's the way Mavericks handles RAM, but I'm regularly engaging 4.5GB where as I'd usually hover around 3-3.5GB on Mountain Lion doing similar tasks. Hasn't been an issue so far having 8GB. Moving up to a 512GB SSD is really refreshing vs my old 128GB OWC SSD. I was always free up space to do things, now I've got about 320GB free. Under CPU load, my old MBP would get hot (just watching HD youtube). This new machine can get warm, but hasn't gotten hot yet. I haven't seen the CPU proximity temp go above 140F yet, whereas the old would got as high as 168F.
The port selection is another big reason for choosing a MBP over an Air. I like having the full-size HDMI port for playing movies on my HDTVs. Yes, there is AirPlay which mirrors/extends to an AppleTV just fine. But for playing back HD movies, the transcoding/wifi playback just can't keep up and stutters occasionally with both 720p and 1080p playback.
For me the choice was between this configuration rMBP or a BTO upgraded 13" Air. After seeing the screen in an Apple Store, the choice for me became a no brainer for the rMBP. The HDMI port for me was a huge plus too since most of my movie collection is digital now. Performance wise, a souped up Air isn't much slower (because of the lack of retina display). So the choice is really do you want ultimate portability and battery life (Air) or a tad more weight, a tad less battery life but an awesome screen and a tad more performance (rMBP). For me I opted for the screen and slight performance bump.
The biggest drawback of this laptop is that it is non-user upgradable. So get the best configuration you can afford now if you plan to keep it more than a couple years.
This review has been a long time coming. I've had a succession of premium Windows laptops dating back to Windows 95. The most recent was an HP Spectre 13t Ultrabook with Windows 8.1. I had it for a week alongside this MacBook. I no longer have it. I do not expect to purchase another Windows machine in the indefinite future.
EDIT: I've added some notes on multi-monitor usage below.
I bought this system to edit in Photoshop on the road. My version is 2.4 | 16 GB | 256 GB. Screen quality, size, weight, and build were high priorities. After four months with this system, I believe it is the best mobile laptop available, second only to the Air for folks who don't need the Retina screen or 16GB of RAM.
MAC VS. WINDOWS:
It's hard to evaluate the Mac in isolation, so I'll make a few comparisons to the HP and Windows 8 in general. The Spectre is not the best Windows system available, but a good one similar in focus and class to the rMBP.
* Build. Very stiff, very sleek, and as thin as anything with this solidity. Aesthetically perfect to me. Light (3.5 lbs) unless you're comparing it to recent 2-2.5lb machines. It could be thinner. The narrow bezel could be even more minimalist. That's about it for improvements. The keyboard has good travel and pleasing backlighting. I don't miss keystrokes.
It's not a tank though. I distinguish between build quality (impeccable) and durability (lackluster). The aluminum case scratches and dents easily, especially the sharp edges. I have mine vinyl-wrapped. If you drop it, you may have to replace the entire case. I've seen one person physically bend a MacBook by wedging it offset into their luggage. No system in this size class would do any better, but I do miss the overbuilt chassis and easy parts replacement of my older Latitude. I'm more keenly aware of dangers to this MacBook.
* Screen. Better than anything not in an HP or Dell Precision-class laptop. 1600p, 16:10 aspect, full sRGB gamut, IPS, fairly high brightness, very low dE after after calibration, and low glare. The Spectre had a 16:9, 1440p screen with more glare, less brightness, a slight tint, and somewhat lower gamut. For serious color work, this MacBook is the class of the field.
But that's just the spec. The real advantage is how OS X deals with scaling. Windows HiDPI support is inconsistent outside of the 'Modern' interface. It has somewhat better font rendering relative to the Mac at non-optimal scaling settings, but problems all over the place with UI elements. Some large, some small, most blurry. On the Mac, unoptimized apps just have blocky text. The UI doesn't get smaller. It's so easy for programmers to optimize for Retina that all of my apps have updates available.
Font scaling at non-optimal settings is ever-so-slightly less clear, but I barely notice. The people lamenting that the stock interface approximates a 1280x800 machine do not, to me, have a valid complaint.
This scaling advantage is huge. It's one of the biggest reasons I moved over. I wanted a high-res screen, and Windows 8.1 (and the rest of the Windows app community) just isn't ready. Many Adobe apps are difficult to use at 1440p on a 13" screen and have yet to be updated.
* OS. Another huge element for three reasons: gestures, multiple desktops, and search and organization.
Gestures (particularly with third-party additions like BetterTouchTool) are miles ahead of Windows. They just work and the variety is tremendous. I rapidly got used to sliding between desktops and shuffling windows around. I almost never click the touchpad unless I'm dragging a slider in Photoshop. Instead, I tap and swipe at warp speed. There is no Windows machine from anyone in this ballpark. Windows doesn't do multiple desktops (in the 'classic' interface) natively.
That advantage doesn't matter at home when I've got three large screens and an external mouse and keyboard. But on the road without any of the attachments, and without an external mouse, I'm probably twice as productive on the Mac. Maybe more. I spend far less time with window management. Little things also enable this, like an Alt-Tab function that automatically cycles between two in-use windows, and two-finger scroll that doesn't require a window to be selected.
The other big change is that I spend less time organizing files. On Windows, I spend a lot of time creating folders within subfolders, keeping the hierarchy in my head. Inevitably I fall behind and clutter the Desktop. I spend this time because Windows Search has been terrible since XP. It's never indexed properly for me, so I miss files; it's not universal, in the sense that what you find in a Start Menu search is not what comes up in a Windows Explorer search; and it has a palpable delay before the results appear.
Spotlight has none of these problems. It's so instant that pulling it up with CMD-Space, navigating to a result, and opening it are all part of the same stream of keystrokes. It indexes the entire drive on every log-in. You miss nothing. It's so fast and comprehensive to find documents and change apps that I've turned off the dock entirely. I could duplicate some of this functionality with Everything Search on Windows, but it doesn't integrate as well as Spotlight. This is a definite Mac win.
Also of note: instant resume and multi-user support. No waiting for standby or resume. No sensitivity to when you close the lid. And when you want to change accounts, the switch is immediate after entering a password. No logging out, no loading screens.
* Apps. There's a whole lot of cruft on the Windows side. Not long ago, I was looking for one that would record a video feed from a USB device. Four apps and two wasted hours later, I hadn't gotten anywhere. That functionality is built into OS X. In general, there's less available for OS X, but what is available tends to look and perform better than what's on the Windows side. Gamers may take exception.
* Battery. If I'm just looking at webpages in Safari (Chrome uses more energy) and they're not all flash video, I see 10-13 hours of battery life consistently with middle screen brightness. If I'm cranking away in Photoshop on max bright and Bridge is generating thumbnails in the background, that drops to 4-5 hours.
* Quirks. I don't like the startup sound (you can't permanently disable it, though it'll track the system volume level). I don't like that new windows tend to spawn on top of existing ones rather than in a new desktop. Many animations (e.g., desktop switching, fullscreen) are impossible to disable without third-party software. For my power-user workflow, I rely on at least three apps to improve the experience: BetterTouchTool (gestures), BetterSnapTool (window management), and TotalSpaces (disabling animations better multi-monitor consistency). Some Apple apps prioritize form over function (e.g., Time Machine). A few of the inbuilt office-style apps (e.g., Mail) seem like relics from the mid-2000s.
That's about it.
On the hardware side, every Windows machine seems to have some random thing wrong with it. The HP had high-pitched and frequent fan noise, excessive CPU throttling, and wouldn't let me turn off all the keyboard lights. Other systems have weak keyboards. Still others have no battery life. All of them have, at best, workmanlike touchpads (thanks to Windows and half-baked drivers).
The point of this isn't to rant about Windows, I still use it on every other system I have. But in a mobile machine, it's harder, sometimes impossible, to work around the areas where it falls short.
So what do I miss about Windows?
The Windows 8 task and resource managers are more intuitive and convey more information at a glance. In general, I think the Windows system tools are superior.
The Windows 8.1 'modern' interface (the side you'd see on a Windows phone or a tablet) is superb in a touch environment, and I'd love to have a MacBook/iPad amalgam with similar functionality once the hardware is thin and light enough to make that feasible. (As it is, I don't miss touch at all on this MacBook; touchpad gestures are faster and more capable.)
Office on Windows is a better program. I don't care for the Mac equivalent. The Windows version is sluggish, but acceptable for most uses in Parallels.
Windows runs faster on similar hardware. Animated transitions and scrolling on the rMBP can lag and stutter sometimes with content-heavy pages and programs.
Windows doesn't have a title bar on top. I like my apps to maximize to the top of the screen. Minor point.
That's it. Windows still feels like an old shoe to me, so there's comfort in the familiarity, but really: I don't miss it.
I recently begun to pair my Mac with two 27" 2560x1440 displays. Both are Asus IPS, which cost about half as much as Apple's equivalent. They use DisplayPort; coupled with a cheap adapter, they plug directly into the two Thunderbolt ports.
My initial plan was to use a docking station and a single Thunderbolt port for both, but this is not possible except with an Apple display and a second Apple display daisy-chained to it. Third-party displays each require their own port; no Thunderbolt docking station supports more than one third-party screen at one time.
Connected directly, the internal Iris chip drives both screens *and* the MacBook's own display. Each can have multiple desktops. The animations get a little choppier, but this is still impressive. It's over 11MP of screen. Scaling is perfect and each screen has its own background and color profile. Settings and app locations are, for the most part, maintained between sessions.
The only caveat is that I see inconsistent performance with my Windows 8.1 VM in Parallels. I wanted to run Visio 2013, but ultimately had to revert back to a Windows XP VM with Visio 2010. That one blazes; the 2013 version was occasionally unusable if I was running a lot of other programs. Quad-core MacBooks with a dedicated nVidia graphics chip will fare better.
MAC VS. MAC:
* rMBP 13 vs. Air:
Easy choice. The rMBP has a better screen and supports 16GB of RAM. If you don't need either, buy the Air.
For those advantages, you end up with a thicker chassis that's a half-pound heavier (3 lbs vs 3.5 lbs). You can edit photos and video with the Air, but the gamut isn't wide enough for professional work, and comparatively poor viewing angles make it harder to show your work to others. Speed is otherwise similar, even favoring the Air because it has fewer pixels to push. Still, at any scaling setting, text and graphics look considerably better on the Retina screen.
If you need 16 GB, you know it already. Mavericks does impressive RAM compression, so 8 GB here is more like 11-12 GB on the Windows side. Be aware that while the internal SSD is fast (700 MB/s), it's still miles slower than the RAM, and the system will tank if it has to page the swap file.
* rMBP 13 vs. MBP 13:
Choose the MBP 13 if you want to add cheap 3rd-party RAM and SSD storage. You lose the Retina screen, the thin chassis, and the stellar Haswell idle battery life. If you don't need expandable storage or the Retina screen (or if you're planning to configure the MBP solely from the Apple page), there's almost no reason to prefer it to the Air. And if you're not budget-constrained, there's no reason at all to choose it over the rMBP.
* rMBP 13 vs. rMBP 15:
If you're editing video or doing a lot of time-sensitive processing, choose the 15. It has a quad-core chip that's 50-100% faster than the 13. Same 16 GB RAM cap, and it's a significantly larger and heavier chassis.
The 15 is also smoother in OS X by some margin. It doesn't really gain in multitasking; you can slot windows side-by-side easily with the 13 and multiple desktops make up for the ones you can't.
The 15 is really about speed in processor-limited workflows. With 22MP raw files, ACR adjustments on my 13 are adequately fast. Conversions are a little sluggish, as are some Photoshop functions like Content-aware Fill. I don't object, but it's not lickity-split quick like my home quad-core Windows machine and, to a lesser extent, the rMBP 15.
* Fast CPU vs. Slow CPU:
Slow. The major divide is dual-core vs. quad-core (i.e., rMBP 13 vs. 15). The fastest dual-core is maybe 20% quicker than the slowest. Likewise for the quad chips, but the gulf between dual and quad will be more like 75% for some workloads. Better a slow quad than a fast dual, particularly as Intel's Turbo function makes the quads nearly as good for 1-2 core workloads.
* More SSD vs. Less SSD:
More. 256 GB, 512 GB if possible.
Macs don't (appear to) use a shared DLL folder like Windows machines, so every program packages all of its files with it. This makes uninstalls dead-simple and eradicates file-version conflicts, but also increases the size of every program. A 10 MB Windows program may well be 40 MB on the Mac. I rely a lot on cloud storage, so I haven't felt limited by my 256 GB drive.
SD cards and flash drives can provide more space for content that doesn't need to be immediately accessible. But be aware: only SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 flash drives (and no SD cards) use a proper SSD-style storage controller. Other USB drives may be speedy for sequential transfers, but will tank on small files and random writes.
I would not choose the 128 GB drive unless you're only using the system as an internet and writing terminal. Any large files will rapidly exhaust your free space. Same comment about 4GB of RAM with more sophisticated programs. You can't expand the RAM or (easily) expand the SSD on these Retina-class Macs.
I'd rather not have spent as much as I did on this system. It was $500 more than the HP for similar specifications and another 8GB of RAM. But having used it for two months, I don't regret the extra money at all. It is a fully-baked product that doesn't exist on the Windows side. If you're a road warrior and you edit graphics, this is your machine.
on February 6, 2014
Bought the 2.6GHz/512GB model with the upgraded 16GB RAM from MacMall (sorry Amazon, but they have always had my Apple business) and the machine is Amazing! I am coming from an old rMBP 13 with the old Ivy Bridge 2.9GHz i7 with the sub-standard graphics from the Intel 4000. Let me just say that I can notice the speed difference between the upgraded Iris graphics and the PCIe interfaced SSD!
The weight difference is negligible, and as always the computer itself is the gorgeous unibody that feels like you're driving a Maserati versus a Toyota Corolla. The screen...well we all know how amazingly gorgeous it is and I love that it as 100% RGB reproduction..great for photos and videos (especially HD).
I work overseas and thus have a lot of down time sometimes. I watch movies off my 2TB external HDD and just in case anyone was wondering - the ultra high resolution retina screen does not pixelate movies using VLC or whatever else, even if the video is SD versus HD.
Web browsing is a true pleasure. The sites are so vibrant (despite some of the graphics and text being pixelated occasionally...but this is actually a rare occurrence in my experience.) Scrolling thru webpages is smooth now compared to my last gen. rMBP which shuttered all the time.
OS X 10.9 Mavericks is awesome! I love the way Apple used all kinds of tricks within the OS to keep battery life up. Everything from disabling Safari plugins when you are not using them (i.e. Adobe Flash) and inactive programs (i.e. minimized or behind an active window) in essence being paused to keep processor activity, HDD read/write activity, and memory read/writes down. Even when I upgraded my old rMBP from 10.8 to 10.9, I gained about 2 additional hours of battery life. Lastly, as expected with Apple - integration is absolutely a breeze and pleasure. Everything "just works" (quoting Steve Jobs.) iCloud is amazing. I have some shared albums in iPhoto and whenever my fiance takes a picture and adds it to the album, it automatically shows up in my library, and vice-versa.
The machine has the typical ports. I kind of wish that Apple took away one of the TB2 ports and added another USB 3.0 port, especially since you can daisy chain thunderbolt devices. I can kind of see why they have 2 though, since I usually use my TB -> Ethernet adapter. I do not miss the optical drive. I picked up a cheap Amazon Basics USB drive, and have never used it (yet.) There is a headphone/microphone combo port, but the built in mics are amazing. I have to shout at my Sony Vaio for it to pick up audio on Skype, but with my MBP I can talk normally. I should note that the headphone jack works much like an iOS device. what I mean is that you could have the speakers muted and then plug in headphones, and it remembers the last volume level you used them at. Blast your music using headphones and then unplug them....the speakers are muted or at whatever the last volume you used them at. Also if you have iPhone compatible headphones, (i.e. volume controls, with mic also built in) they work on the MBP. I can push a button on my headphones to increase the volume or change the track in iTunes using my headphones. Awesome.
Okay, to wrap this up. The rMBP has an amazing resale rate! It is solid, well built and ridiculously fast. After experiencing the combination of Haswell, retina, and PCIe storage....everything else is just...meh. Mavericks is a pure pleasure to use as Mac OS X has always been. The price has gone down since the last gen as well, so now Apple's are competitive with other high-end ultrabooks. Windows machines have their advantages, but over the years Macs have become more compatible and competitive. Also you can run Windows XP/Vista/7/8 in Bootcamp or Parallels if you want the Mac but cannot part with Windows completely or simply do not want to (like me.) For most, the 256GB model is ample, but if you need/want Windows as well, I recommend the 512GB model. Lastly I do not want to take away from Amazon, since I shop religiously on here and love my Prime Account, but if you can, go somewhere else and get the upgraded 16GB of RAM if you plan to keep the machine for years to come and want futureproof as much as possible.