89
9.0
final rating

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Criteria Comments Rating
  • Speed and features A nice speed bump and future-proof I/O. Always a good thing. great!
  • Design and form factor MacBook Pros have always had some design compromises (read: adapters). If you learn to live with them, then this one is no different. good
  • Battery life So far so good: 8 hours of light work. If you're worried, use gfxCardStatus to monitor your GPUs and check your processes for any power hogs. great!
  • Display It's great. Super crisp. Less glare than unibody MBPs. great!
  • Durability The only things you have to worry about are someone throwing your computer (keep it away from crazy people) and scratches (keep it away from sharp objects). good
  • Expandability It's probably the headline non-feature of this computer: soldered RAM, special-shape SSD, glued battery. Live with it or look at a different manufacturer. awful!
  • Noise Noticeably quieter. Speakers are also much better. great!
  • Portability (size / weight) Size reduction and weight reduction. Both great things. good
Detailed review
I'm going to preface my review by saying that the last computer I bought was the mid-2007 MacBook Pro (non-unibody, Santa Rosa, base 15-inch, for those who care for specifics.), so 5 years worth changes is definitely a nice step up for me.

Speedwise, I don't really have anything complain about. I did a quick Handbrake test, and for me it is plenty quick with its 8-thread/4-core i7 CPU. In everyday use, it is very responsive. I know people have complained about a noticeable lag in transitions and animations, and it definitely does exist, but I think it's very negligible in my opinion. I appreciate the bump up to USB 3.0, as I just bought a 3TB external HD for all my media. I'll miss my old FireWire external HD, but USB 3.0 should be enough to at least match FireWire in most cases. I don't really have any Thunderbolt accessories yet, but I do plan on picking up the Thunderbolt to GigE adapter (you never know when Ethernet comes in handy). Adapters have always been part of the deal with MacBook Pros, from Mini-Displayport, DVI, etc, and this really is just an evolution of Apple's externalizing older functions.

I never really liked the older unibody MacBook Pros: they were both heavier and slightly larger than my older non-unibody, and I had issues with the cover glass being overly reflective. This update has addressed my concerns with the previous generations. It is much thinner and has about the same footprint as my old MBP. The body is much more rigid than my old MBP (the old one used to creak a bit when you lifted it/moved it around) That being said, it is sort of silly how flat and thin this computer is. Not a bad thing, just different.

Battery life so far has been really good. I installed gfxCardStatus and I haven't really seen any applications that have turned on the Nvidia GPU. I haven't put Steam onto this computer yet, so I don't have any heavy games on here. So far, I haven't had any problems with Mountain Lion's supposed battery life problems. I've gotten around 8 hours of light work (web browsing, typing this review, a little bit of video watching) on a charge.

The Retina display is great: it's clear, crisp, and bright. If you need more description, the best thing you can do is find a model to actually play with to see it for yourself. I got a Samsung panel (versus the LG panel that some people get). The internet seems to believe that the Samsung panel is better, but I can't really say anything to disprove that. Most of the third-party apps (Tweetbot alpha, Chrome, Pixelmator, Evernote) I use have been updated (though MS Office hasn't. I'd hazard a guess that they're going to wait until the next major release of Office sometime next year to bring it up to date.)

Judging from my old MBP, durability will be quite good. In terms of build quality, the machine should be able to last me for several years. My friend did drop my old MBP while it was in its sleeve onto the ground a year ago, and though the zipper dented the body, there were no issues with actual performance. However, the anodized aluminum will get scratched by sand and other things like that, but that's more cosmetic than anything. The only that worries me the lack of the cover glass over the display. Only time will tell how the Retina display holds up to years of wear and tear. So, moral of the story, watch out for cosmetic issues: outside of throwing your computer, this machine and its internals should be fine.

And now we come to expandability. Of course, like everyone else, this is an interesting point about the MacBook Pro with Retina display. Apple is pushing for more "appliance"-like manufacturing. This is definitely very different from other manufacturers, who have shown they are still able to approach Apple's internal designs without the need to resort to gluing the battery in place or using soldered RAM and unique SSD shapes. This really is a personal decision: If you think that you're not going to tinker with the internals too much, then the new design shouldn't be a problem. There are always other manufacturers that are really starting to show their design muscle. I replaced the HDD and RAM in my old MBP, so I was a little concerned about the restricted expandability. Obviously, I decided that it wasn't that important to me in the long run.

The noise is much improved. I wasn't sure about this one from the reviews all over the internet, but the fan noise is reduced a lot at idle. I remember thinking my old MBP was quiet when I first bought it 5 years ago, but this is basically inaudible unless you put your ear right up to the body. The fan noise is definitely different from the old MBPs (non-unibody and unibody): I don't really know how to describe it, but at full bore, it's definitely still noticeable. On the speaker front, the speakers are noticeably more powerful. I'm not audio expert, but there seems like the sound is coming from a bigger space.

People say that a 15-inch notebook really isn't that portable, but I carried my old MBP with me almost every day. I'll definitely appreciate the weight and size reductions. So portability from my perspective is much improved. For others coming from a 13-inch or smaller, the increase in size is something to think about, especially if your bag is smaller.

All in all, for a conservative upgrader like me, the MacBook Pro with Retina display will be a nice jump in every area. That really is what makes this computer special for me. If, on the other hand, you replace your computer every year, the jump will be much less appreciable.
review history
2012-08-21
Updated detailed review