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Apple MacBook Pro ME864LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Apple MacBook Pro ME864LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Price: $1,259.99
22 used & new from $1,120.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty years of Windows to this, April 5, 2014
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.

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 two 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 Latitude 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. With my (older) Latitudes (albeit perhaps not more recent integrated models), I don't care what happens to them. They're durable and parts are easy to replace. 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 to optimize them that all of my apps, once updated, look fine.

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 tend to dump a lot of stuff on Desktop because organizing it into root folders is annoying. On OS X, I let the chips fall where they may and rely on Spotlight to find documents and change apps. It's so fast and comprehensive that I've turned off the dock entirely.

Windows Search has never indexed properly for me. It's also not universal; what you find in the Start Menu search is not what comes up in a Windows Explorer search. I relied on 'Everything Search' for years. On this Mac, no longer.

Also of note: instant resume. No waiting for standby or resume. No sensitivity to when you close the lid.

* 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. There aren't any showstoppers. I don't like the startup sound (you can't permanently disable it). I don't like that new windows tend to spawn on top of existing ones rather than in a new desktop. That's about it.

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. That 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.

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.

IN SUM:

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.


Apple MacBook Pro ME866LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Apple MacBook Pro ME866LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Price: $1,699.99
11 used & new from $1,500.00

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty years of Windows to this, April 5, 2014
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.

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 two 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 Latitude 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. With my (older) Latitudes (albeit perhaps not more recent integrated models), I don't care what happens to them. They're durable and parts are easy to replace. 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 to optimize them that all of my apps, once updated, look fine.

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 tend to dump a lot of stuff on Desktop because organizing it into root folders is annoying. On OS X, I let the chips fall where they may and rely on Spotlight to find documents and change apps. It's so fast and comprehensive that I've turned off the dock entirely.

Windows Search has never indexed properly for me. It's also not universal; what you find in the Start Menu search is not what comes up in a Windows Explorer search. I relied on 'Everything Search' for years. On this Mac, no longer.

Also of note: instant resume. No waiting for standby or resume. No sensitivity to when you close the lid.

* 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. There aren't any showstoppers. I don't like the startup sound (you can't permanently disable it). I don't like that new windows tend to spawn on top of existing ones rather than in a new desktop. That's about it.

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. That 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.

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.

IN SUM:

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.


Apple MacBook Pro ME865LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Apple MacBook Pro ME865LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Price: $1,459.99
17 used & new from $888.88

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty years of Windows to this, April 5, 2014
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.

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 two 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 Latitude 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. With my (older) Latitudes (albeit perhaps not more recent integrated models), I don't care what happens to them. They're durable and parts are easy to replace. 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 to optimize them that all of my apps, once updated, look fine.

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 tend to dump a lot of stuff on Desktop because organizing it into root folders is annoying. On OS X, I let the chips fall where they may and rely on Spotlight to find documents and change apps. It's so fast and comprehensive that I've turned off the dock entirely.

Windows Search has never indexed properly for me. It's also not universal; what you find in the Start Menu search is not what comes up in a Windows Explorer search. I relied on 'Everything Search' for years. On this Mac, no longer.

Also of note: instant resume. No waiting for standby or resume. No sensitivity to when you close the lid.

* 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. There aren't any showstoppers. I don't like the startup sound (you can't permanently disable it). I don't like that new windows tend to spawn on top of existing ones rather than in a new desktop. That's about it.

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. That 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.

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.

IN SUM:

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.


Hakuba Camera Grip
Hakuba Camera Grip
Offered by Kellards
Price: $20.74
5 used & new from $12.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Won't work with some control setups, March 1, 2014
This review is from: Hakuba Camera Grip (Camera)
I suspect most of the folks writing positive reviews here are using automatic AF-point selection with focus bound to the shutter button. To provide any support, this grip needs to hold your hand flush with the camera body. That negates the use of most of the right-side buttons without some serious finger contortions.

I have a Canon 5D II without a battery grip and I use the hat-switch to select AF points and the AF-on button to focus. This is a typical arrangement for professionals and advanced amateurs. For this setup, if you're not using a battery grip, you don't actually have the bottom of your hand flush with the bottom of the camera. Instead, the upper half of your hand has at least a half-inch of clearance to give your fingers room to work, and the lower-right corner is supported by the fleshy part of the bottom of your palm.

With this grip in place pinning my palm to the camera, I can't manipulate AF even on this full-size DSLR body. It'd be even worse with the 70D or a Rebel. I have to pull my hand partly out of the grip, and then the grip just dangles doing nothing. The primary benefit is when it's properly tight and I'm not shooting. I don't even have to close my fingers; the friction of my palm holds the camera.

The build quality is solid, as is the tripod mount. It's an excellent grip. It just so happens the whole idea of grip is of questionable utility. I use a simple lanyard that I can loop my index finger around. It's very secure and allows my hand to maneuver. Belt-based systems will provide even more security and convenience.


PNY Turbo High Performance USB 3.0 Pen Drive (P-FD128TBOP-GE)
PNY Turbo High Performance USB 3.0 Pen Drive (P-FD128TBOP-GE)
Price: Click here to see our price
49 used & new from $45.07

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great value, not quite as fast as claimed in Windows, February 22, 2014
On my Windows 8 machines, the maximum sustained write speed is 77 MB/s with exFAT. Reads were double that. Strangely, pulling from my RAID-5 network drive (which saturates my SSD with 113 MB/s writes), I saw a somewhat inconsistent 55 MB/s.

Block size had no impact on performance with exFAT. NTFS was 77 MB/s at larger block sizes and 72 MB/s at smaller ones.

You'd think that sort of performance would make this drive suitable for general-purpose use. Not so much. Random-write performance is awful; par for the course for almost all USB flash drives, 3.0 or not. The controller hardware in these things is rudimentary. I briefly had this PNY configured as a download folder for a program that would automatically reconstruct downloaded files. It couldn't keep up with my 5.5 MB/s (megabytes/s) internet connection. The program interface was constantly unresponsive.

While it's terrific bargain for general use (you won't find 80 MB/s sustained writes from a reputable memory brand for $0.39/GB anywhere else), I returned it in favor of a SanDisk Extreme 64 GB/s. Half the space and 30% more expensive, but with a proper drive controller that makes it just as responsive (and nearly as fast, with legit 150 MB/s+ writes and excellent random write performance) as an SSD.


Tamrac 3446 Rally 6 Camera Bag (Brown/Tan)
Tamrac 3446 Rally 6 Camera Bag (Brown/Tan)
Price: Click here to see our price
19 used & new from $39.59

5.0 out of 5 stars My new favorite travel bag, February 22, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
For a long time, I've traveled with a Domke F-6. It's a smaller version of the iconic F2, made of canvas, and looks like an old army bag. I've called it a solid working pack in the past, but I think it's about to be retired.

The Domke has a couple of problems. It has no padding except for the bottom. That's fine. What isn't is that it collapses and deforms against your hip, so it's hard to remove lenses and even harder to get them back into the pockets. The pockets are designed for old-style manual lenses that tend to be longer and thinner than modern ones. You can't easily put zooms in all four center pockets, and since you won't, the bag is unnecessarily thick.

And then there's the shoulder strap, which has high-friction grip coating on one side that tugs against clothing and makes it almost impossible to shift the bag in front of you. I always flip it over. It's awkward. Likewise the clips; their only benefit is that they'd be impossible to cleanly open by a passing thief. Finally, the center of the gravity of the bag relative to the strap is a bit high, particularly the overly-long carry handle strap. Some equipment loads will make it feel top-heavy.

For an upcoming overseas trip, I was looking for these attributes in a replacement:

* Understated. It can't look like a camera bag or overly expensive.
* Attractive, ideally in earth tones.
* Shoulder style. Backpacks and sling-packs are better for conveying equipment than using it.
* Stiff enough not to collapse on itself.
* Minimal weight, light or nonexistent padding.
* Holds a 5D and three lenses.
* Slim profile; not gigantic.

This bag checks all the boxes. It looks great. Build quality is a level or two above LowePro and Canon. It easily holds my 5D II with 24-105/4L attached, a 16-35/2.8L II, and my 100/2 with a 1.4X TC beneath it. I can squeeze my 430EX flash next to the 100/2 without deforming the bag. There's about an inch and a half below the end of the 24-105 and the same for the 16-35/2.8 set to one side. There's a 12"x7"x0.5" pocket on the back and another of the same size, zippered, to 1" depth, under the flap. And the strap has an integrated sliding pad that makes shifting the bag in front of you effortless.

I removed the Tamrac logo (a razor blade easily cuts it off, but you'll see a subtle ring where it used to be) to lower the profile further.

Negatives? A handful. It's not terribly secure. The clip is strong, but effortless to disengage. A roving hand could easily find equipment near the top of the bag. In use, there's no good place to put the cover when you're changing lenses, so you end up crumpling it into your body. Slightly awkward. There are two elastic side pockets. They're at odds with the style of the rest of the bag and not very strong. My experience with others suggests they'll stretch out if you put anything overly bulky in them.

This is a terrific working pack. At $50-something, it's a bargain. Truly. Start with this (or the other Rally variants) before you branch out to higher-priced alternatives. Personally, I'm not convinced you could do much better at any price.

Update: After two weeks of travel, how's it holding up? Not bad. The bag 'proper' looks as new. I've found the small pockets adequate for chargers and the like. No troubles with the zippers. The clip is very strong when clipped, but takes two hands to clip for lack of plastic guides. The nylon strap section immediately above the clip has started to fray because it sticks to the velcro at times. And I stretched out one side pocket with a Gatorade that wasn't in it for more than five minutes. They're not suited for anything thicker or heavier than sunscreen. I'l probably end up sewing both sides tighter.

I still think it's a fantastic bag. It's sturdy enough I can swap lenses directly above it and easily slot each one into it. Perfect for a three-lens kit (though my 100/2 is a little lost on one side. A 85/1.2 or 85/1.4 would be a better fit in width).


Hard Candy Case for Apple Macbook Air 13-inch and Thin Ultrabooks - Bubble Sleeve, Black
Hard Candy Case for Apple Macbook Air 13-inch and Thin Ultrabooks - Bubble Sleeve, Black

5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Candy Bubble Case vs. Booq Viper, February 11, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is the best low-profile case I've found for the Macbook Pro 13 Retina that fully encloses the system and can withstand a drop by itself. I also bought and compared Booq's three Viper cases: Sleeve (VLS-13), Case (VC13), and Hard Case (VHC-13).

DIMENSIONS:

Hard Candy:
14.5" x 10.75" x 1.9" (depth includes 0.3" dimples)
13.5" x 9.75" x 0.9"

Viper Case:
13.7" x 10" x 2.1" (depth includes 0.3" ridges)
12.6" x 8.9" x 1.1"

No Viper directly competes with the Hard Candy. The closest analog is the VC, but laptops thinner than the original MBP 13 will rock on the depth axis. The Viper Sleeve is lower-profile and snug with an rMBP 13 (the Air will still move a bit), but the design diverges: magnetic opening, nylon/glue exterior. And while the neoprene sleeve integrated into the Viper Hard Case will hold any system tight, the case is over two inches thick because it leaves interior space for papers and pens.

The optimal system for each case:

Hard Candy Bubble Sleeve - rMBP 13, Air 13
Booq Viper Sleeve - rMBP 13, Air 13
Booq Viper Case - MBP 13
Booq Viper Hard Case - MBP 13, rMBP 13, Air 13

If you don't mind feeling the VC compress with a rMBP, or if you prefer to have space to stack papers, it could be an alternative to the Hard Candy. Neither case has interior pockets. Both are designed for in-case use, have a zipper on three sides and a ballistic nylon exterior, and attempt some level of protection.

The VC design differs in a few ways:

* The zipper is metallic and more robust, though also sharper and more likely to scratch if you're not careful in how you remove the system. Pull tabs are unbreakable nylon. While I couldn't damage the Hard Candy's zipper pulls, others have had worse luck (perhaps a bad batch of rubber?)
* The interior is a mesh with thin padding. The Hard Candy has a cheaper felt lining with no padding.
* It has three hard nylon bumper strips that protrude as far as the Hard Candy bubbles.
* It has two elastic straps to keep the top of the case flush with the system's LCD when in use. The Hard Candy has none; the back will flop back unless you tuck it under.
* There are no adjustable rubber corners on the inside of the Booq, though the zipper protection liner is somewhat thicker.
* The Booq smells like chemicals for two weeks. The Hard Candy doesn't smell.

My quality impression is 8/10 for the Booq and 7/10 for the Hard Candy, mostly because of the latter's low-rent interior. Still, they're alike enough that the choice comes down to your size preference.

DROP TESTS:

I used the accelerometers in my phone and a tablet to measure G-force from a series of drops. Lower numbers imply slower deceleration and less probability of damage. The setup: two test positions (corner and flat), five drops per position to an oak floor, from 38" with the phone and 26" with the tablet.

The contestants:

1. Viper Case (VC13)(equivalent to the VHC-13)
2. Viper Sleeve (VLS13)
3. Hard Candy Case (BSL-MACAIR13)

The results: (Average G / StdDev)

Phone | Corner
1. 1.85 / 0.27
2. 1.84 / 0.15
3. 1.97 / 0.22

Phone | Flat
1. 1.86 / 0.16
2. 1.65 / 0.31
3. 1.66 / 0.13

Tablet | Corner
1. 4.67 / 0.13
2. 4.16 / 0.36
3. 4.08 / 0.70

Tablet | Flat
1. 4.41 / 0.14
2. 4.06 / 0.64
3. 4.15 / 0.20

Some general thoughts:

First, the bubbles on the Hard Candy case work. For flat-sided drops, it consistently registered numbers 10% lower than the Booq cases.

Second, the Viper Sleeve is better than the Viper Case (and Hard Case by extension) for corner drops. The semi-rigid molding line makes the distance from the device to the edge at least 1.4cm. It's 1.2cm on the Hard Candy (including the bumpers) and only 0.9cm for the Hard Case. The molding line deforms when dropped. That and the short empty space where the edge tapers add cushion that the other two can't quite duplicate.

Third, while the Hard Candy had the best average corner performance with the heavier tablet, variability is very high. I actually did seven trials for that one. I suspect it'd do better with a machine that filled the interior. It was, however, pristine after this test; the other two show some wear.

IN SUM:

This Hard Candy has the best fit and the most protection of any low-profile case for a MacBook 13 Retina. It's equally at home in a bag or by itself. I'd have liked the interior straps from the Booq Viper Case, but otherwise, the design is nearly perfect. I do think it's overpriced at $40; $30ish would be about right for this level of quality. The Booq case is a strong alternative if you want a more professional look and upscale build, less some protection and fit.

If the case is destined to stay in a padded bag and crush forces aren't an issue, neoprene will be more convenient and even thinner.

For significant protection on all sides in an unpadded bag that opens on the long axis, the Viper Sleeve will be more convenient still, very safe, and slightly thinner.

For a thicker case designed to be used alone that has similar protection, a larger interior, and handles, try Case Logic's QNS-113. It's a deal at $25, or half that if you catch you a 'Like New' copy from Amazon Warehouse. For the same objective less the handles and some protection, the Viper Hard Case is compelling, but expensive.


CaseCrown Neoprene Sleeve Case (Black) for 13 Inch Macbook Air / Macbook Pro with Retina Display + Pocket for iPad 4 / iPad 3
CaseCrown Neoprene Sleeve Case (Black) for 13 Inch Macbook Air / Macbook Pro with Retina Display + Pocket for iPad 4 / iPad 3
Offered by Senyx
Price: $17.89
3 used & new from $12.90

4.0 out of 5 stars Fits a MacBook Pro Retina 13 -- not for external use, February 11, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I bought this to slip in a backpack and occasionally use by itself for close destinations. It's fine for the former purpose only.

SIZE:

Perfectly fits a MacBook Pro Retina 13 with or without just about any tablet. An Air 13 would work, but would be slightly loose if it wasn't coupled with a tablet. The original MacBook Pro 13 unibody probably wouldn't fit without serious stretching.

BUILD:

Typical thin neoprene. Bright green interior with a similar texture. The base is about a half-centimeter thick with nothing in it. Single-threaded stitching. Thoroughly average, but good enough.

USE:

It has a velcro top, so if you're looking for subtle, look elsewhere.

It's top-loading, so it's designed to slip in a backpack. It's ideal for that purpose and adds minimal bulk.

It has almost no drop protection. The material is thinner than a nickel. If you drop it, your MacBook probably won't get scratched, but it's liable to dent or break anyway.

And that leads to my problem with it: when it's not in a backpack and you're carrying it like a book, the stretchy neoprene slides over the system. The grip feels very insecure. Gripping it tighter doesn't really help; there's just no friction between the interior lining and the MacBook. I'm quite certain that if I carried the system in it alone, I would eventually drop it.

In sum, then, it's priced well and exactly as good as you can expect from neoprene, but if I kept it, it'd never leave the backpack. If your bag opens on the long axis, try Booq's VLS13 sleeve instead. It has the same convenience (less the tablet storage) and far higher protection.


Viper sleeve 13, black
Viper sleeve 13, black
Offered by booq bags
Price: $30.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars About right for a MacBook Pro 13 Retina, chemical smell, February 7, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is a minimalist, semi-rigid case with a plaid, dark slate, nylon-like exterior. While it's intended to slip into another case, it will protect from a short fall and feels secure when you're holding it like a book and gripping the laptop through it.

BUILD:

This Viper Sleeve (VLS13) is the lightest of three Booq models, followed by the Viper Case (VC13) and the Viper Hard Case (VHC-13). The Hard Case and the Case trade the molded edge and magnetic closure system for a heavy-duty zipper that allows both to open flat and for the laptop to be used in the case. They also have light internal padding this sleeve lacks and a pitch black, higher-quality nylon weave exterior. The Hard Case substitutes internal pockets for the Case's side straps.

This case has stiff molded corners and three solid bumper strips on each semi-rigid sidewall. A similarly slim case by Hard Candy has four corner 'feet' for additional protection (as does a sleeve by Gumdrop). Based on my drop tests, this case doesn't need them. It offers surprising protection thanks to a deformable molding line.

The magnetic closure system is secure. It's easy to reach in and grab the laptop, but no amount of shaking from any angle will separate the edges. The 3" x 0.5" opening at the top ends up under your arm if you're holding the case bare; rain shouldn't be an issue.

Build quality is average. The edge finishing (achieved by melting the two sides together) isn't perfect. The finish is a more 'plasticky' cloth than the pure nylon of the two higher-end Vipers (because it had to be meltable). Over time, the dark finish wears away and the extremes of the edge take on a glue-like appearance.

The interior has a smooth satin finish in a dull red that doesn't scratch. The case does have a pungent chemical smell from the factory that disappears after about two weeks. It will transfer to the laptop in that time, but not permanently.

SIZE:

I originally bought a Viper Case. The external dimensions are smaller than this case, but it's much thicker. The rMBP 13 and the Air move around a lot in it. With this case and the rMBP, there's a small amount of lateral and vertical movement. There's no movement on depth axis toward the bottom of the case, but it gets about a quarter-inch thicker toward the top, so there is some play there. It's not really objectionable, but still unnecessary and disappointing.

12.35" x 8.6" x 0.7" [rMBP 13]
12.8" x 8.9" x 0.95" [MBP 13]
12.8 x 8.95 x 0.11-0.68" [MB Air]
12.7 x 9.0 x 0.7-1.0 [this case]

Because it's snug at the bottom, the original MacBook 13 unibody won't fit. A rMBP with a hardshell case would be a very tight fit and would probably hold the magnets open. A MacBook Air wouldn't move at all vertically or horizontally, but you'd definitely detect movement on the depth axis. The best combination would be an Air in a hardshell. You'd have to flip it thin-side-down. It wouldn't move much at all.

DROP TESTS:

I did a series of drop tests with this case and two others. I used my Samsung GS4 and Nexus 7 (2013) with an accelerometer app that recorded maximum G-force. In all cases, the devices were in lowest corner of each case. With the Hard Candy, I positioned the rubber pieces around each device. Lower numbers imply slower deceleration and less probability of damage. The setup: two test positions (corner and flat), five drops per position to an oak floor, from 38" with the GS4 and 26" with the Nexus.

Caveats: the sample size and the unknown reliability of the accelerometers on both devices make this akin to testing wind speed by licking your finger, so I've no definite conclusions.

The contestants:

1. Viper Case (VC13) (equivalent to the VHC-13)
2. Viper Sleeve (VLS13)
3. Hard Candy Case (BSL-MACAIR13)

The results: (Average G / StdDev)

GS4 | Corner
1. 1.85 / 0.27
2. 1.84 / 0.15
3. 1.97 / 0.22

GS4 | Flat
1. 1.86 / 0.16
2. 1.65 / 0.31
3. 1.66 / 0.13

Nexus 7 | Corner
1. 4.67 / 0.13
2. 4.16 / 0.36
3. 4.08 / 0.70

Nexus 7 | Flat
1. 4.41 / 0.14
2. 4.06 / 0.64
3. 4.15 / 0.20

Some general thoughts:

First, the bubbles on the Hard Candy case work. For flat-sided drops, it consistently registered numbers 10% lower than the Booq cases.

Second, the Viper Sleeve is better than the Viper Case (and Hard Case by extension) for corner drops. The semi-rigid molding line makes the distance from the device to the edge at least 1.4cm. It's 1.2cm on the Hard Candy (including the bumpers) and only 0.9cm for the Hard Case. The molding line deforms when dropped. That, and the short empty space where the edge tapers add cushion that the other two can't quite duplicate.

Third, while the Hard Candy had the best average corner performance with the heavier tablet (I'm not sure why the GS4 result was higher), variability is very high. I actually did seven trials for that one. I suspect it'd do better with a machine that actually filled the case. It's also pristine after this test; the other two show some wear.

Fourth, the chief benefits of the Viper Case are that it perfectly fits a non-Retina Macbook Pro 13 and it can be used without taking the system out. For protection, particularly with thinner systems, the Viper Sleeve is preferable.

IN SUM:

This is a pretty decent case. Pricing is on the high side of reasonable for this level of quality and it's very convenient if your travel pack allows you pull things out from the long axis. I'm docking a star for the edge finishing and the smell. For a zippered design with more slack space (if you're storing a tablet or notepads at the same time), consider Case Logic's QNS-113 in addition to the Viper Hard Case. Hard Candy's Bubble Case is the best alternative for a protective, low-profile zippered case.


Booq Viper Case for Macbook Pro 13-inch - Graphite (VC13-GFT)
Booq Viper Case for Macbook Pro 13-inch - Graphite (VC13-GFT)
Price: $40.25
13 used & new from $39.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little large for a late-2013 Macbook Pro Retina 13, February 5, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is a slim, semi-rigid case with a ballistic nylon exterior and a design that allows for in-case use. While it's intended to slip into another case, it will protect from a short fall and feels secure when you're holding it like a book and gripping the laptop through it. It's sized for the original unibody MacBook Pro 13; Air and Retina MacBook owners should consider the Viper Sleeve (VLS13), Viper Hard Case (VHC-13), or Hard Candy's Bubble Sleeve.

BUILD:

This Booq Viper Case (VC13) ("Case" for this review) is the middle of three models, bracketed by the Viper Hard Case (VHC-13) and the Viper Sleeve (VSL13). The Hard Case has the same exterior and zipper, but substitutes internal pockets for the side straps. The Sleeve has a similar exterior, but it's a pure sleeve with a magnetic entrance, molded sides, and less internal padding. In-case use is not possible with the Sleeve and awkward with the Hard Case.

This case has a small amount of internal padding, very stiff corners, and three solid bumper strips. The sidewalls are semi-rigid. Hard Candy's Bubble Sleeve has four corner 'feet' for additional protection (as does a sleeve by Gumdrop). Based on my drop tests, this case would have benefited from them.

Build quality is excellent. The zipper mechanicals are very sturdy and heavily shielded from the interior, which has a smooth mesh that stops lodged debris from scratching your laptop. The MacBook can be used in the case as expected, though you'll have to take care not to close the lid over the side straps. It does have a pungent chemical smell from the factory that disappears after about two weeks. It will transfer to the laptop in that time, but not permanently.

SIZE:

13.7" x 10" x 1.5" [external dimensions]
12.6" x 8.9" x 1.1" [internal dimensions]
12.35" x 8.6" x 0.7" [rMBP 13]
12.8" x 8.9" x 0.95" [MBP 13]
12.8 x 8.95 x 0.11-0.68" [MB Air]

This Case is perfect for the larger unibody MacBook Pro 13. With the Retina, I can leave my Nexus 7 tablet on top of the MacBook and zip it easily, and there's 1/4" of play on each side. It's not that objectionable and the case does compress with weight on it, but the rMBP definitely moves around, particularly on the short axis. It compresses when you're holding it like a book. A MacBook Air would be swimming in this on the depth axis.

While the Hard Candy case is almost the same size externally, it's a half-inch thinner and the feet allow a perfectly stable fit with the MacBook Air and the rMBP 13. But it doesn't have the Booq's interior straps or stoic exterior.

DROP TESTS:

I did a series of drop tests with this case and two others. I used my Samsung GS4 and Nexus 7 (2013) with an accelerometer app that recorded maximum G-force. In all cases, the devices were in lowest corner of each case. With the Hard Candy, I positioned the rubber pieces around each device. Lower numbers imply slower deceleration and less probability of damage. The setup: two test positions (corner and flat), five drops per position to an oak floor, from 38" with the GS4 and 26" with the Nexus.

Caveats: the sample size and the unknown reliability of the accelerometers on both devices make this akin to testing wind speed by licking your finger, so I've no definite conclusions.

The contestants:

1. Viper Case (VC13) (equivalent to the VHC-13)
2. Viper Sleeve (VLS13)
3. Hard Candy Case (BSL-MACAIR13)

The results: (Average G / StdDev)

GS4 | Corner
1. 1.85 / 0.27
2. 1.84 / 0.15
3. 1.97 / 0.22

GS4 | Flat
1. 1.86 / 0.16
2. 1.65 / 0.31
3. 1.66 / 0.13

Nexus 7 | Corner
1. 4.67 / 0.13
2. 4.16 / 0.36
3. 4.08 / 0.70

Nexus 7 | Flat
1. 4.41 / 0.14
2. 4.06 / 0.64
3. 4.15 / 0.20

Some general conclusions:

First, the bubbles on the Hard Candy case work. For flat-sided drops, it consistently registered numbers 10% lower than the Booq cases.

Second, the Viper Sleeve is better than the Viper Case (and Hard Case by extension) for corner drops. The semi-rigid molding line makes the distance from the device to the edge at least 1.4cm. It's 1.2cm on the Hard Candy (including the bumpers) and only 0.9cm for the Hard Case. The molding line deforms when dropped. That and the short empty space where the edge tapers add cushion that the other two can't quite duplicate.

Third, while the Hard Candy had the best average corner performance with the heavier tablet (I'm not sure why the GS4 result was higher), variability is very high. I actually did seven trials for that one. I suspect it'd do better with a machine that filled the interior. It's also pristine after this test; the other two show some wear.

Fourth, the chief benefits of the Case are that it perfectly fits a non-Retina Macbook Pro 13 and it can be used without taking the system out. For protection, particularly with thinner systems, the Sleeve is preferable.

IN SUM:

Let's first narrow down by size:

Hard Candy Bubble Sleeve - rMBP 13, Air 13
Booq Viper Sleeve (VLS13) - rMBP 13, Air 13
Booq Viper Case (VC13) - MBP 13
Booq Viper Hard Case (VHC-13) - MBP 13, rMBP 13, Air 13 (the inner sleeve prevents thinner systems from moving)

While you can physically fit smaller systems in the Viper Case, they move around. The closest equivalent for thin systems that allows in-case use is the Hard Candy Bubble Sleeve. That one is thinner, with higher protection and resilience, but the zipper and inner liner are less robust.

If you don't care about in-case use or packing additional gadgets or papers, the Viper Sleeve is preferable. Because the corners are capable of deforming over a larger area, it's actually better in a drop than this Viper Case.

If you want to pack extra stuff the width of a notepad or two, try the Viper Hard Case. It's probably marginally better than the Viper Sleeve for a flat drop, but it won't be in the corners. For holding more stuff, Case Logic's QNS-113 has similar quality and better protection, plus handles, for about $25.

This case, then, is for owners of the original MacBook Pro 13 who value in-case use, don't need to transport extra papers (or always transport papers such as make the smaller system snug), and rely on some other enclosure for drop protection. Pricing is on the high side of reasonable for that purpose.


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