final rating

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Criteria Comments Rating
  • Speed and features On paper the rMBP looks excellent: decent QC i7, fast SSD, Retina screen, two Thunderbolts & new form factor. IRL it doesn't quite deliver but still, good good
  • Design and form factor Getting samey now honestly but style is still crisp and attractive. New thinner form factor is impressive good
  • Battery life Not that great given lack of a removable battery. 5 hours in power saving is not enough, especially if you actually make machine more portable poor
  • Display Possibly the most controversial mark. See details below where I go into it more. poor
  • Durability Whatever the metal housing might mislead you to believe, other vendors can make significantly stronger machines out of plastic, carbon or magnesium poor
  • Expandability Two Thunderbolts & two USB3.0 ports = a decent compromise of expandability and portability good
  • Noise Revised cooling is more effective in both acoustics and above all, heat. However still not enough to bring it out of 'OK-to-decent' rating so-so
  • Portability (size / weight) Pretty much the lightest machine you can get for the spec. While 2Kgs is on the heavier side in absolutes nowadays, a good great!
Detailed review
While many new things abound with the 15" Retina Macbook Pro, it's also a case of Deja Vu in a couple of key respects of a notebook. You sort of feel like you've gone back to 2006-ish, due to two things - the battery life, and the screen.

The battery life is easy enough to explain: 5 hours in ekeing and 3 when winding up the machine slightly more is just not enough for any machine in this day and age if it doesn't have a removable battery.

The display - bear with me here. The Retina panel has a resolution of 2880x1800, which is crazily high for a 15" notebook and of course is the tentpole feature of this machine. The thing is, in Retina mode you're actually looking at a 1440 x 900 screen. That's because to get Retina, they're scaling the panel at 2:1 - or the same as a 2006/7-era 15-inch Macbook Pro, and that was already low in the market for a machine aimed at the sort of user it was. (Of course, the post-2011 15-inch has been reduced back to this resolution to make the jump to Retina more apparent.)

It's just not a particularly productive resolution, however you look at it - the only real exception being photographers (and they'll have their own set of problems working at Retina resolution in terms of delivering work) who may be looking at scaled text/UI, but can see their actual work in effectively native resolution.

Now, thankfully you might note, the screen can be scaled to look like a 1680 x 1050 or a 1920 x 1200 screen - more contemporary productive resolutions in a 15" form factor. But try looking at a scaled screen, especially in the 1920 equivalent resolution, for any real length of time - and what you'll probably notice is that it's actually significantly blurrier than a 'native' 1080p panel you can find on e.g. an Elitebook, and as a result causes more eyestrain - which may result in other physiological issues.

And I have to complain about it, apparently *as* I have great eyesight - I can actually more comfortably look at the Retina panel in Windows at 100% scaling (I can't do this in OS X) where there is no blurriness - yes, when in Boot Camp I'm actually using the screen at 1:1 scaling (everyone else asks me "How the hell can you even see that?") - yet I find it pretty fatiguing to look at the Retina panel in OS X in anything other than the crisp-but-unproductive Retina mode for any length of time, or when scaling the display in Windows in a similar manner. Which means in terms of OS X productivity, what I can get without unusual levels of fatigue is basically just an Air screen without jaggies if I stick my face right up to it. Whoopee.

And getting back onto the Elitebook display comparison - especially as you can shoot it off against the Dreamcolor displays that'll be cropping up at this price range if you shop around - the HP's, and the Dell Precision M4700's with Premium Panel for that matter, IPS displays *destroys* the Apple panel for colour rendition and other factors important for imaging professionals.

So what you have here is a screen and scaling system that's great for a) people who do nothing of consequence on their machines and as a result don't care if the effective screen resolution is low and b) photographers who don't care that the screen quality itself is hugely mediocre (with the lipstick-on-a-pig glossy layer sprucing it up a bit with the problems that creates) because they've never used anything but a TN-screen'd Mac before.

Basically, it's window dressing of the highest order in my opinion. A triumph of marketing over working substance. And obviously it works, due to the main Apple demographic who're programmed to see every new thing that Apple brings in as an essential and fantastic new innovation - as can be seen in gdgt's own tagline, "has the best display available on any computer, anywhere." For whom? For Apple circlejerkers and the above two demographic, maybe.


Which may leave you wondering, why the hell did I buy a small bunch of these after showing my 2011 17"s the door? Two things.

Weight. 2Kg vs 3kg for a 17" is a major reduction, even if it comes with the attendant compromises. I also have plans to streamline my OS X notebooks into one type, again even with the compromises involved - as my OS X use is winding down. The rMBP allows me to field a single class of reasonably all-purpose mobile machine without needing to carry a total boat anchor. This then allows me to dump the Air's over time.

Cooling: While there are deluded defenders plenty - including many in what passes for the tech press - for how Apple (doesn't, in my view) engineers their machines, Apple have finally contended that some people might actually like to use the performance that their machines have on paper without the unit becoming a fire hazard / stuttery useless pile of junk and have started to do some work to improve the cooling, starting with the rMBP. The improvements are small - no-one with any sense is going to call this a real stand-in for the likes of the price-comparable mobile workstations on the Windows side yet - but still an improvement. Granted, these changes were primarily for acoustic aspects, but the fact is that it has also changed how airflow is used around the machine - and not only is acoustic spiking reduced, the actual cooling is slightly more effective as well, and it in turn has an effect on my productivity in OS X.

Oh yes, talking about Windows, Boot Camp drivers on the rMBP for Windows 7 seem to be the least stable among even the apparently inherently less stable implementations across the board for Windows on all Apple hardware. I have had quite a lot of BSOD's - comparatively speaking, with a 'real' Windows machine these days you shouldn't see one at all unless you have hardware issues or installed bad / conflicting drivers - so far. If you're doing real work in Windows on this machine, I don't think it's stability even qualifies it for a part-timer rating - just as well that while I need to drop into it from time to time, my main need for this machine is for OS X as I have heavier but much better machines on the Windows side suitable for more intensive use.


All right, let's end with some relatively positive notes.

The package as a whole I think is actually pretty well considered for the broadest user demographic, again if you're willing to deal with the attendant compromises - and does push notebook design even of the class of lighter-duty mobile workstations into a more mobile form factor, which is something that I'm a big proponent of. The systems balance of power, portability, and expandability is I think well implemented. Thunderbolt may not yet have a huge degree of support outside Mac-only storage (and may never do) but it has potential, and the simple fact that you can get data in and out of the machine at the speeds it promises to do is a very handy thing - and in the case of the rMBP, you can plug in storage and a Thunderbolt display separately.

The quality level on the surface superficials - something that Apple leads in for sure - is absolutely top notch. You definitely feel like you're getting what you paid for, and the new internals does actually make this a little more the case in reality as well than previous machines.

You can rag on the complete lack of repairability or upgradability of these machines, but the simple fact of the matter is that it's not going to matter for the overwhelming majority of Apple users who will usually a) not know what they're buying and/or b) vastly overestimate their pro-ness when it comes to computing requirements.

Apple's best Macbook Pro yet? In some respects, true. But in some key, potentially deal-breaking respects - if you're not committed to worshipping at the Church Of Apple - a potentially rather pointless rewind to 2007.