Earlier this year Apple introduced its first Mac equipped with a Retina Display. The 15.4-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (henceforth rMBP) introduced a brand new, thinner and lighter chassis to the MacBook family while serving as the launch vehicle for the world's first 2880 x 1800 notebook display.

Although the 15-inch rMBP was significantly more portable than its predecessor, the number one question asked after its release was when the MacBook Air would get similar Retina Display treatment. As the first Mac with an ultra high resolution IPS panel, the value of the 15-inch rMBP was obvious, but these days the market demands extreme portability.

Over the past few years, the 13-inch notebook form factor emerged as a great balance between functional size and portability. Although many hoped for a MacBook Air equipped with a Retina Display, for the follow on to the 15-inch rMBP Apple made the logical progression and brought a Retina Display to its 13-inch MacBook Pro.

In doing so, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display gets all of the chassis improvements that were first introduced with the 15-inch model this summer. Apple ditched the optical drive, slimmed up the notebook, and integrated Intel's 22nm Ivy Bridge silicon. Better speakers, a larger battery, USB 3.0, and an extra Thunderbolt port are all a part of the next-gen package.


13-inch MBA (left) vs. 13-inch rMBP (right)

By virtue of the smaller display size and the next-gen MacBook Pro chassis, the 13-inch rMBP does a lot to blur the line between the Air and Pro lines.

13-inch rMBP: Form Factor Perfection?

I always liked the 13-inch form factor of the MacBook Pro, but I never liked the laptop itself. It always had too low resolution of a screen to be productive and it was too big and heavy to make sense compared to the MacBook Air. Once the 13-inch MacBook Air got Sandy Bridge, I pretty much stopped recommending the 13-inch MacBook Pro. You got a lower resolution display, and didn't gain enough to make the tradeoff worthwhile. Upgradability was a definite advantage, but most of the time when I'm making a personal recommendation to someone it's a person who isn't going to upgrade their machine regardless. When Apple revealed that the 13-inch MacBook Pro was still its best selling notebook, I was a bit surprised - although it did make sense.


From top to bottom: 11-inch MBA, 13-inch MBA, 13-inch rMBP, 15-inch rMBP

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display changes all of that entirely. I'm now finding it more difficult to recommend the 13-inch MacBook Air, and have almost every reason to recommend the new Pro. The reduction in chassis thickness and weight give it an almost ultraportable feel. At 3.57 pounds, the 13-inch rMBP is light enough that traveling with it isn't a problem. Thanks to the smaller display, pulling it out on a crowded airplane in coach and getting work done isn't an issue either. The larger 15-inch rMBP still struggles in the airplane use case, although the reduction in thickness made it a bit better than its non-Retina predecessor.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display Comparison
  15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display 13-inch MacBook Pro 13-inch MacBook Air
Dimensions 0.71 x 14.13 x 9.73" 0.75 x 12.35 x 8.62" 0.95 x 12.78 x 8.94" 0.11 - 0.68 x 12.8 x 8.94"
Weight 4.46 lbs (2.02 kg) 3.57 lbs (1.62 kg) 4.5 lbs (2.06 kg) 2.96 lbs (1.35 kg)
CPU Core i7-3615QM Core i5-3210M Core i5-3210M Core i5-3427U
CPU Cores/Threads 4/8 2/4 2/4 2/4
L3 Cache 6MB 3MB 3MB 3MB
Base CPU Clock 2.3GHz 2.5GHz 2.5GHz 1.8GHz
Max CPU Turbo 3.3GHz 3.1GHz 3.1GHz 2.8GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 + NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000
GPU Memory 1GB GDDR5 - - -
System Memory 8GB DDR3L-1600 8GB DDR3L-1600 4GB DDR3-1600 4GB DDR3L-1600
Primary Storage 256GB SSD 128GB SSD 500GB 5400RPM HDD 128GB SSD
Optical Drive N N Y N
Display Size 15.4-inches 13.3-inches 13.3-inches 13.3-inches
Display Resolution 2880 x 1800 2560 x 1600 1280 x 800 1400 x 900
Thunderbolt Ports 2 2 1 1
USB Ports 2 x USB 3.0 2 x USB 3.0 2 x USB 3.0 2 x USB 3.0
Other Ports SDXC reader, HDMI out, headphone out SDXC reader, HDMI out, headphone out GigE, FireWire 800, SDXC reader, headphone out SDXC reader, headphone out
Battery Capacity 95 Wh 74 Wh 63.5 Wh 50 Wh
Price $2199 $1699 $1199 $1199


From top to bottom: 11-inch MBA, 13-inch MBA, 13-inch rMBP, 15-inch rMBP

The dimensions are very surprising. The 13-inch rMBP maintains a uniform thickness of 0.75-inches, 5.6% thicker than the 15-inch model (but obviously with less total volume thanks to a smaller planar footprint). Compared to the thickest point on the 13-inch MacBook Air however you're only gaining 0.07-inches. The weight difference is marginal as well. The 13-inch MBA shaves off only 0.61 lbs. The 15-inch rMBP is less than a pound heavier as well (0.89 lbs). Apple has done its best to make your decision about picking the right screen size and internals, almost entirely removing things like weight from the discussion. While the 13-inch MBA is still clearly a more portable device, I believe with the 13-inch rMBP Apple has built a chassis that's truly an alternative.

The downside to all of this is a machine that really can't be upgraded. Apple outfits all of the 13-inch rMBPs with 8GB of DDR3L-1600, although there's no BTO option for 16GB of RAM (which is availble on the 15). The integrated SSD module is removable, although it's not intended to be user serviceable. I don't believe the 8GB memory limitation will be much of an issue over the useful life of the system. If we assume 8GB is enough for the foreseeable future, providing more (or easily upgradeable) storage is my biggest complaint about the fairly fixed configuration. The good news is the SSD module can be upgraded and some companies do offer an upgrade path for it. We've already grown used to having notebooks with integrated batteries and CPUs soldered down to the motherboard, which makes the rMBP pill a lot easier to swallow.


13-inch MBA (left) vs. 13-inch rMBP (right)

I appreciate the fact that there's no reduction in IO when moving between the 13 and 15-inch rMBPs. The 13-inch model retains the two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, headphone/mic jack, SD card reader, and HDMI out of its bigger brother. Apple's MagSafe 2 connector makes an appearance as well.

The keyboard and trackpad remain very similar to the 15-inch model, although I feel like there's slightly more key travel on the 13. Neither system has the key travel of the older, non-Retina MacBook Pros but that's a sacrifice that seems like we'll be making more of as we pursue even thinner designs. I do believe that despite Apple's pursuit of a very thin chassis that it continues to deliver a very usable keyboard with great feel. I've typed tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of words on Apple's current crop of keyboards, and they still manage to hold up quite well.

The trackpad shares a similar story. The glass covered trackpad of the 13-inch rMBP is similar in size and identical in feel to the trackpad on the rest of Apple's mobile lineup. The 13's trackpad performance and behavior remains among the best in the industry.

Silicon: Dual-Core Only
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  • TEAMSWITCHER - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I'm not so sure....

    If you take a 13" MacBook Air and upgrade the specs with a 2.0GHz processor, 8 GB of ram, and a 256 GB Flash, you''ll spend $1699. You can order the entry level 13" MacBook Pro with Retina display from Mac Mall for $1630. Yes, the MacBook Air would have twice the flash storage, but the 13" Pro would have a Retina Display and slightly faster processor - plus an extra Thunderbolt port and HDMI port . If you consider the trade-offs, the 13" MacBook Pro is actually priced more-or-less the same.

    If you're warehousing tons of data on your laptop 256 vs. 128 Gigabytes of flash isn't going to be much of an improvement. But if the Retina Display is more important to you, the 13" Pro is the way to go. It's kind of cool that Apple is offering much more in the way of choices right now than ever before.

    BTW, I have a 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display and it's easily the best laptop I have ever owned. The scrolling choppiness is noticeable, but far, far from unbearable. The screen really is a vast improvement over anything that has ever been offered in this size of laptop.
    Reply
  • geok1ng - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Apples decision to glue the non-serviciable battery to the chassis has made the retina MBPs the worts case scenario in a long series of impronvingly unrecicleable products by Apple.
    The batterys are rated for 300 charges. That is about 2 years usage.
    Since there is no easy or safe way to replace the abttery, these retina MBPs are destined to remain plugged toa charger for the remaining of their short life.
    And it irks me no end that not a single reviewer outside IFixIt has pointed towards this major "it is not a bug, it is a feature".
    The retina MBPs are the epithome of planned obsolescence, and shame on the reviewers who miss this crucial information.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - link

    "The batterys are rated for 300 charges"

    To be fair Apples batteries are rated to 1000 cycles due to some charging circuitry.
    Reply
  • whiteonline - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    As noted, the machine is a tradeoff.
    I originally purchased a 13 MBP in early 2011. Loved the size, but the screen resolution was unusable for me. So I wound up getting the high-res 15". What I really wanted was a high resolution 13" MacBook Pro.
    And here it is.
    It's not as powerful as the 15", but the portability compensates for that. Price....well, would have loved for it to be less. But I'm not going to find another 13" notebook with a super high 16x10 resolution screen anywhere.
    Reply
  • Zodiark1593 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Even though this sounds almost blasphemous, I wish both the rMBPs had the option for standard, high capacity HDDs as even a 512 MB SSD is way too small for me. I know there's always the external HDD, but extras like that, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of mobility more so than weight. Reply
  • phexac - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    This actually includes a lot of programs, especially Microsoft office. Text is blurry and boxy at the same time and far inferior to a regular resolution computer. So yes, for the most basic tasks it works great. If you have to use any program not specifically designed for it (really most programs at this point in time) it's quite a poor experience. Go to the Apple store and fire up Office on this or the 15" version. You'll see the difference immediately.

    Due this shortage or properly optimized software, the retina macbooks remain a gimmick. I would actually like to one, but I do not consider them useable just yet. I will probably take a few years for software to fully catch up.
    Reply
  • robco - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6318/office-for-mac-...

    http://retinamacapps.com

    The list just keeps growing. I think most app developers understand HiDPI displays are the future and are working on updates.
    Reply
  • akdj - Thursday, November 15, 2012 - link

    Not sure where you've heard or seen this---I'm using the MS suite; Excel, Word and Power Point. They don't look bad AT ALL!!! In fact, the text in Word/Excel is amazing--the UI isn't 'blurry' or 'boxy' period! I use them all day, everyday. Perhaps one of my latest MS updates fixed an earlier issue...as I've only had my 15" rMBP for about ten weeks
    As well--I use the entire creative suite from Adobe: Premier, After Effects, PS, LR, Illustrator and In Design---Acrobat Pro as well. All. Perfectly. Usable...and unbelievably FAST on these computers!!! This pixelization, fuzzy, blocky/boxy embellishment is ridiculous--I've YET to find a professional app to be 'un-usable' or even bad enough to complain.
    The WWW is a bit different. Lots of 'low rez' photos that're obviously not ready for the high resolution these monitors bring us---but it's coming, as are 'official' updates to premier software like MS & Adobe. In the mean time--I'm sure most will find them 'just fine'

    Jeremy
    Reply
  • just4U - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    I was just looking at the cost of the one there and geez.. $1700 /w a dual core cpu and integrated graphics? That's insane... I don't care how good that 13" screen is.. It's simply not worth the price their asking. Reply
  • mike71 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    You forgot to mention since June 2012 Apple has quietly dropped the audio line-in from all non-15 inch models. So Macbook Air and 13 inch pro's do not feature the same combi audio input/output that existed in previous models. I can only think Apple did this to save a few pennies and increase profits. Reply

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