Though Apple quietly discontinued the 17-inch MacBook Pro last week, hardly a tear was shed. In fact, the company went out of its way to replace the ultra-premium tier with something even more covetous — namely, a 15-inch MacBook Pro with such a pixel-dense screen that the company put “Retina display” prominently in its name. Apple went even further, shrinking the body down to “as thin as Air” dimensions thanks to some clever industrial design and a few sacrifices along the way. And that’s without skimping on processing power — all of Apple’s 2012 models use Intel’s new Ivy Bridge chipset, and the 15-inch Pro models use Nvidia Kepler GPUs. The base model starts at 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with a GeForce GT 650M, 8GB RAM, and anywhere from 256GB to 768GB of flash storage.
It’s the new gold standard for Apple’s portable lineup, the new aspirational peak. But even starting a few hundred dollars less than the one-time behemoth 17-inch’s base price ($2,199 vs. $2,499), is it yet worth your attention? As we are wont to say, read on to find out.
Screen notwithstanding, the most impressive feat is how small and light the MacBook Pro with Retina is. At .71 inches thick uniformly, the MacBook Pro with Retina display is just a hair taller than the .68-inch (at its thickest) MacBook Air — though in practice, we found the Air to stand actually a little taller on a table when side-to-side because of the shorter rubber feet on the bottom of the new generation Pro. Compared to the traditional 15-inch MacBook Pro, the Retina model is about 25 percent lighter (4.46 vs. 5.6 pounds) with about 37 percent less volumetric footprint. While most of that is due to the thickness, all dimensions have shrunk a hair — and that smaller bezel also means we lose “MacBook Pro” branding on the front (both of which we like).
It’ll feel a little bit better than the Pro models when carrying it around in a backpack, but to be clear this is more of a step down from the Pro than it is a step-up from the Air, which is still far and away lighter and more portable.
All the familiar MacBook Pro elements are here, including a full backlit chiclet keyboard, large multitouch trackpad, 720p FaceTime HD camera, and speaker grilles to the left and right. Apple boasts that this has the best speakers, and compared with our last-generation MacBook Pro, the sound is markedly fuller and more clear, especially the bass.
This Retina machine does borrow one tweak from the Air, in that the power button is a black chiclet key in the top right corner instead of the Pro’s dedicated silver circle outside of the keyboard inset. Otherwise both the keyboard and trackpad feel the same as the old Pro — which is a good thing, as those are still some of the best in the laptop industry. Both very clicky and responsive.
One last thing about the front, and this may seem weird: the front indentation you use for getting your finger under the lid to open the case is much less rough than past versions. As someone who often rests a thumb in that groove, this really does matter.