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Choosing between the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro Retina
, December 26, 2012
This review is from: Apple MacBook Pro MD212LL/A 13-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (OLD VERSION) (Personal Computers)
First, some context. I'm 64, with a 64-year-old man's eyesight. I live on my computer -- Internet and word processing. I am a retired professor (Rutgers). I'm a born again blogger, I write books, and I run a minuscule publishing house.
I like writing in all rooms of my home. My study, at the kitchen table, sitting up in bed, on a counter in the basement. I prefer a laptop to a desktop. In my study, I have two computers going at once. One is a Windows (XP) desktop with an excellent 21" screen. The other is an Apple laptop. (Yes, I use both Windows & Apple simultaneously, on two separate computers. Both have virtues.)
For the past year, my laptop has been a Macbook Air (MBA) 13.3", bought new, here at Amazon. I have loved it. Those of you who own an MBA know what I'm talking about -- and this review is aimed chiefly at MBA users. Last spring, I tried the Macbook Pro 15" Retina, and returned it. Too large, too heavy, too expensive, and not enough programs and sites were Retina-ready. I never regretted returning it. My MBA was the ideal laptop for me. I had found the "perfect" laptop.
Till a month ago, when I began reading reviews of the Macbook Pro 13.3" Retina (rMBP 13.3). "Hmm," I thought, "this baby might be worth trying. It's smaller than the 15", lighter, and I'm getting hints from reviewers that the display is perhaps better than the 15"." I ordered it, got it set up, and was soon in love -- except it had a (slight) flaw. (Trackpad was janky; it rattled when tapped.) I sent it back.
No, I did not immediately order a replacement. I wanted to ponder whether the rMBP 13.3 was truly a significant improvement -- for me -- over the MBA. Days went by. I read articles online about the narcotic effect of owning Apple computers. ("Yes, Virginia, there is something called Apple Syndrome. Apples are just so darn good, in every respect, that Homo sapiens is neuro-physiologically incapable of resisting them. Like the fabled apple in the Adam & Eve story. You bite into the Apple "apple" and you experience, in person, in the flesh, the Fall of Mankind into an unimagined world of computer perfection. Yes, it is a full-blown seduction, and, yes, it's worth it.") "Have I become an Apple addict," I asked myself? (It didn't make things easier when my wife, a psychiatrist, assured me I was indeed an Apple addict.)
By the end of the week, I knew the answer. No, I was not an Apple addict; I have demonstrated the strength of character to resist Apple's "apple" in the past, and, by golly, I could do it again. Furthermore, upon considerable reflection (I'm a PhD; we reflect a lot) I concluded that the rMBP 13.3 was worth the money. I knocked on my wife's study door, sat down, and made my case. Brilliantly, I add. She came around.
The rMBP 13.3 arrived the next day. I made the right choice. This is a vast improvement over the MBA -- and that's the real purpose of this review. Retina is fabulous. Retina is a quantum leap over everything else. Now, lots of programs and sites are Retina-configured. All my voluminous research notes have been converted to PDF's, and I spend hours reading them. Now, reading PDF's using the onboard Preview utility is a dream. Even scanned PDF's read extremely well. I can read for hours & hours and my eyes don't get tired. It's like reading a book.
There's more. The text is larger on the screen in the rMBP than the MBA. This had become a major drawback, for me, with my MBA: screen text (that is, non-adjustable text) was just too small. This is not the case with the rMBP; it is a delight to read with my aging eyes.
I said, above, that I have two computers going at the same time -- a big desktop PC and my Apple laptop. The screen on the rMBP seems as large as my 21" monitor, for some reason. I'll leave it to others to explain why this is so -- but it is.
The weight of the rMBP is comparable to the MBA. Only slightly heavier. The size is nearly the same. (I believe the rMBP is slightly smaller in footprint than the MBA.) The battery-charge lasts longer on the rMBP than the MBP -- easily over 7 hours, for me. Like the MBA, the rMBP recharges rapidly, and it turns on and off rapidly. Speakers are excellent (remember, it's a laptop). Trackpad, fabulous. (Nobody makes a trackpad like Apple.) Keyboard touch, excellent. The rMBP has a dictation utility which is really cool. Yes, it works well. You don't have to train it to your voice. I have used Dragon Naturally Speaking for years. Dragon is the "gold standard" for voice recognition and dictation. Apple's dictation utility is about as accurate as Dragon, in my experience. It's not as stable as Dragon (meaning, it loses its connection rather easily), but that's not a big deal; you simply tap the "fn" key twice and continue talking. No need for an attached microphone; the onboard mic works as well as a plug-in mic (I tried it).
Think of it this way. Pretend there was no MBA. Pretend Apple introduced the 13.3" MBA and the 13.3" rMBP simultaneously -- on the same day. You are standing in front of a new 13.3" MBA and 13.3" rMBP, and you are going to buy one or the other. There is no question but that you should buy the 13.3" rMBP. Yes, it's about $500 more than the MBA. Yes, it's vastly superior.
I write this review for democratic purposes. I consider Amazon's review feature to be the finest expression of "commercial" democracy in existence. By this I mean, I am one of the millions of people who benefit enormously from Amazon customer reviews. Whenever I buy on Amazon (which is a lot), I study all the reviews. Hence, I consider it my duty to write my own -- to benefit someone else.
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