Should you buy a MacBook Pro with Retina Display?

MacBook Pro with Retina Display. (HO)

MacBook Pro with Retina Display. (HO)

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:58 PM ET

As Joni Mitchell famously sang, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. She was talking about paving paradise and putting up parking lots (today, it’s more likely they’d excavate the parking lot and throw up a condo tower), referring to how we take good things for granted until they’re suddenly snatched away.

Being a fan of lazy analogies, I like to paraphrase Ms. Mitchell when talking about new generations of tech products. For example, when the new iPad came out, a lot of people who had held off taking the iPad plunge asked me if they should get the brand-new iteration, or opt for the now-discounted iPad 2.

My answer was always the same: Get the iPad 2. Just do NOT look at it side by side with the new iPad. Because once you know what you’re missing, you won’t want to live without it.

That’s the magic of the Retina Display, Apple’s name for the extremely high-resolution screens that are appearing on more and more of the company’s portable devices. The screen on the iPhone 3GS looked great…. until the iPhone 4 came out. The screen on the iPad 2 looked great… until the new iPad came out.

The screen on your current MacBook Pro looks great. Have you seen the MacBook Pro with Retina Display? Be careful. Because you don’t know what you don’t got until it’s sitting right there in front of you.

I’m not always a fan of writing about products the moment they’re released, which is why it’s taken me a long time to weigh in on the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. That, and it’s hard to talk about it without sounding like Captain Obvious of the Duh Patrol. It’s fast! It’s skinny! The screen looks fantastic! It costs a lot of money! Stop the presses!

Really, that’s the bullet-point review right there. I’m not going to regurgitate specs (you find those here) or pick apart every detail of the machine (if you’ve not yet read one of the exhaustively and exhaustingly detailed breakdowns by now, head here). I’m simply going to tell you why I think you might want this machine, and also why I think you might not.

You want the MacBook Pro with Retina Display because it is fast. It wakes up in an instant. It crunches data with ferocity. There is very little you’d want to do with a personal computer (clarification: very little you’d want to do with a Mac) that you can’t do with this machine. Fast processor. Fast solid state hard drive. Just fast.

You want a MacBook Pro with Retina Display because it is skinny. Just 0.71 inches (1.8 cm) thick, a shade thicker than the MacBook Air at the butt end of its wedge. Thin, yet solid. The design doesn’t scream quality – that would be impolite – it just says it very loudly and emphatically. It’s an object that inspires desire by its very form.

And you want the MacBook Pro with Retina Display because it is a MacBook Pro, comma, with Retina Display. At 2,880 x 1,800 pixels, this is the highest resolution laptop display anywhere. “Oh, but the screen on my laptop already looks great,” you say. To which I laugh politely. It does, I’m sure. Just don’t put it next to the Retina Display, or you’ll be in trouble.

The increased pixel density doesn’t just make photographs look hyper-real or make text look like ink printed on paper (though there is that), it allows you to cram more stuff into the same amount of space, particularly when using the ever-expanding roster of “Retina Aware” apps such as iMovie, Aperture or Final Cut Pro. Less zooming, less scrolling. It’s like building another floor on your house. Same lot, double the room.

Beauty, brains, brawn. Is there anything the MacBook Pro with Retina Display can’t do?

Well, yes. A few things.

It can’t read discs. This is perhaps a non-issue, as laptops without optical disc drives are practically the norm now. Over on the Windows side of powerhouse laptops, I adore the Dell XPS 14z, except for one thing: the optical drive. Added weight and thickness, and for what? Who still uses these things? (Insult to injury – it’s not even a Blu-ray drive.) But if you do still use these things, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is not for you.

It can’t plug into your Ethernet network. Not out of the box, anyway – that requires a separate $29 adapter. This irks me some. Wi-Fi is almost everywhere, sure, but if you’re a frequent traveller you know how flaky hotel Wi-Fi can be. I always, always plug into the hardline when there’s one available. Anywhere. I understand the lack of an Ethernet port on the slim-at-all-costs MacBook Air, but not here. Here, it seems sort of petty.

It can’t hold a ton of stuff. That big, beautiful 15-inch screen begs for massive, high-definition video files and high-resolution photos. But the 256 GB solid state drive on the $2,199 version of the new MacBook Pro sacrifices capacity for speed, low power consumption and no moving parts. The $2,799 iteration has a 512 GB solid state drive, which is a little more workable. There’s also an option to upgrade either model to a 768 GB drive, for a significant price premium.

Perhaps most importantly, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display can’t be called a bargain. Macs are expensive, this is a given, but $2,199 is a lot of cash. And $2,799 is REALLY a lot of cash. Do you get a lot of computer for that money? You sure do, as well as a screen that is unmatched in portable computing. Is it still a lot of money? It sure is. (If you answered no, please place some of this not-much-money into an envelope and send it to me.)

So that’s a lot of words to say stuff you probably already knew. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is a beautiful, powerful, versatile personal computer that asks you to make a few small sacrifices on features and some larger sacrifices on affordability. If you’ve been holding off getting one and I’ve somehow managed to sway you, now’s the time to the store. In a big yellow taxi.


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