Display

When I reviewed the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, I viewed it as the true Retina MacBook Air that everyone was waiting for. With modest increases in thickness and weight, the rMBP13 gave you a much better screen and a larger battery to drive it. Apple’s lineup made sense.

After being in Taiwan earlier this month and checking out all of the 13.3-inch 2560 x 1440 displays being used on notebooks similar in size to the 13-inch MBA, I was beginning to reconsider my position.

To hit an aggressive schedule, you have to mitigate risk. In the case of the 2013 MBAs, Apple kept the chassis spec unchanged in order to do just that. As a result, the displays too, remained unchanged. We’re talking about TN panels (admittedly higher quality than most) and traditional pixel densities. Compared to the Retina Displays deployed across the rest of Apple’s product lines, these panels just aren’t as good. Compared to what you typically find elsewhere, they’re still among the best.

Pixel Density Comparison

There are two aspects to deploying a Retina Display in a MacBook Air that are worth discussing. The first is power consumption. Greater pixel density requires a more powerful backlight to drive the panel at the same brightness, which in turn reduces battery life. Apple’s solution is to deploy Retina Displays on products it can outfit with a sufficiently large battery. I’d argue that given the battery life of the 2013 MBAs, Apple could move to a Retina Display and still deliver reasonable battery life - but it would be a regression.

The second thing to consider is price. I don’t know just how much more a Retina Display would add to the cost of a MacBook Air, but it’s clear it would be non-negligible.

There’s no real solution to the first problem, but the second one should be less of an issue as panel prices come down. I don’t know where Apple will eventually land on all of this, but today what happens is we get a well defined separation between MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

Professional users who need greater color accuracy and/or additional desktop resolution really should go for the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. If you don’t need either, the MacBook Air will suffice.

In practice, the MBA’s display isn’t bad by any means. I’ve been staring at it non-stop since WWDC and don’t mind using it at all. The biggest visual issue for me is actually the shifting contrast at off-center vertical angles. It’s not a problem once you properly adjust the display angle but it’s something you don’t have to deal with on the rMBPs. When I'm not in crazy work mode, the lack of resolution isn't a huge deal - but when putting together big articles like this one, I find myself missing the rMBP quite a bit. I guess that's why the rMBP has Pro in the name.

LCD Analysis - White

LCD Analysis - Black

LCD Analysis - Contrast

My review sample featured a Samsung panel (LSN133BT01A02), although I’m sure the usual panel lottery is in full effect this generation as it has been in the past. Brightness and contrast are both comparable to what we had last generation (my Samsung panel this year was a bit better than last year's). The brightness/contrast results are very comparable to Acer's 1080p S7, just to show you how far Ultrabooks have come.

I ran the 2013 MBA through Chris Heinonen’s new display workflow using CalMAN to give you an idea of color accuracy vs. the rMBP:



CalMAN Display Comparison
  Apple iPad (3rd gen) Apple iPhone 5 13-inch rMBP (uncalibrated) 13-inch 2013 MBA (uncalibrated) Google Chromebook Pixel
Grayscale 200 nits Avg dE2000 3.7333 3.564 1.7825 3.348 7.132
CCT Avg (K) 6857K 6925K 6632K 6809K 6442K
Saturation Sweep Avg dE2000 3.193 3.591 2.1663 5.3608 7.0927
GMB Colorchecker Avg dE2000 3.0698 4.747 2.4521 3.9883 5.7664

The 13-inch MacBook Air isn’t bad, but Apple’s Retina Display is just better.

Real World 802.11ac Performance Under OS X Final Words
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  • Blindsay - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    So i would say the only thing that dissapoints me about the screen are the viewing angles. I find the resolution of 1440x900 quite fine for a screen of this size but i am spoiled by the viewing angles of my IPS screens. Other than that i am quite happy with my MBA so far (i7 8GB, 256GB) Reply
  • Risas - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    Macs vs Macs... what a usefulness comparisons. Is the Mac from 2013 better than the one from 2011? I hope so!

    When will you compare the ultrabooks in stores now against the Macs? Some comparison like "what you get for that price"... Maybe some people could find some good ideas for spending their money... Not just Macs against Macs as there was no other option in the world... inbreeding?
    Reply
  • gentux - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    Good review. One thing I noticed was that the speakers are much better than on the 2011 MacBook Air. I have no idea if this was already improved in 2012 but the 2013 really rocks and actually has a nice bass. I think they haven't been stereo in the past. Reply
  • lobisme11 - Tuesday, August 06, 2013 - link

    This computer is simply amazing if I could change on thing it would be to add retina display. However the screen resolution is still great! The battery dosen't last the 12 hours it is supposed to when editing movies/videos which is what I use it for. For typing/surfing the web the battery is great! Some times while editing a movie the computer freezes normally for about 30 seconds however it rarely ever has to be restarted when it freezes. Overall Simply Amazing! A definite Buy! Great phone support to. Buy a warranty Overall: 8.5/10 Reply
  • antonio22m - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    Macbook Air is undoubtedly a very good notebook
    Price and lack of optical drive can affect a large number of users whose decision during the judgment can be negative so that they can decide to choose another manufacturer.
    Air is perfect and the best "second computer" that you can wish for.
    His task was not to be the main and only computer we can possess.
    If you want excellent laptop computer that will be able to carry it with you wherever you go, the Air is an excellent choice for perfectly reasonable size and more pronounced weight that barely exceeds one kilo.
    Take a look at this comparison at http://www.squidoo.com/apple-macbook-air-133 and You will see comparison to the another Apple laptops.Anyone considering purchasing this laptop needs to see the information in this chart.
    Reply
  • strafejumper - Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - link

    I went to the apple store to get this haswell macbook air but the tn panel - while good for a tn panel - looked bad next to all the iphones, mini ipads, and ipads all around it
    To me an ultrabook should not have a tn panel - i couldn't buy it
    The Macbook pro 13" was too heavy (and i cannot wait for the impending refresh)
    It's really tough though because the windows ultrabooks (only 2 out so far - Sony Pro and Asus S7) have half the battery life of the macbook air.
    Half! My guess is this is mostly due to Mac OS and Mavericks isn't even out yet!
    If the Macbook air had an IPS I think it would be a slam dunk -
    As it is I think i'm going to be stuck with a crappy 6hr Sony Vaio
    Reply
  • thinkpanda - Friday, September 13, 2013 - link

    Apple delivered an update of OS X (10.8.5) which claim to fix the file transfer speed with 802.11ac network. Would Anand update the test result with that path? Reply
  • Stofken - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Resolution is even lower on the rMBP 13, 1280x800px. Come on, really? You can call this Pro without blushing? Yes, those 800 pixels are cristal sharp, but still only 800, on a premium priced notebook! Reply
  • appliance5000 - Friday, December 20, 2013 - link

    It's a good looking screen.
    It's pro in the sense that it can do heavy graphics editing without a hiccup (I have a fully tricked out 11") and seems to be magnitudes more powerful than my first gen mac pro tower. It pretty effing pro.

    It's a powerful computer.
    Reply

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