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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  • airmantharp - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Your iPhone would like to have a talk with you. Reply
  • seapeople - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    And tell you about what? It's similar display resolution? Reply
  • abazigal - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    You can always pay more to have the air ship with more ram. Reply
  • darwinosx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Or faster procs or more sad. Reply
  • Strulf - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Yep, 8 GB are possible. In the generation before already. Reply
  • MatthiasP - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    The resolution is quite OK if you consider the battery life and weight you get. Also both displays still offer a higher DPI than what you can get on the best desktop displays. What is really disappointing is the lack of an IPS panel. There is no excuse for that on a mobile device. Reply
  • Exelius - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    8gb is available as a BTO option. I have a 11" 2012 MBP with an i7-3667U and 8gb RAM and it's more than enough for running a VM and even for doing some database work. Honestly, the machine is still mostly bound by the speed of the SSD for every workload I use it for. I love the size of the 11".

    The only complaint I have is that the GPU is a bit anemic, which the Haswell update seems to have addressed. I find that the 2012 Air has some noticeable jerkiness driving a 1080p display in OS X, which I suspect is a large part of the reason that the Airs haven't had a larger display. Hopefully, with that limitation removed, Apple can start to put some higher resolution displays in these machines over the next year or two.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Read the article you are commenting on. 1400 X 900.
    You can get this laptop with 8 GB of you want.
    1600 X 900 is to high for a 13 inch for most people. Tiny icons and text. Thats why Apple goes all the way to retina display on their higher end laptops instead of some half measure that won't satisfy anyone.
    Dell makes junk and fails to support it. People looking at Mac's aren't going to consider a Dell with Microsoft's latest mediocrity of an OS.
    This is of course a premium product in build quality, quality control, service and support, custom components like the ssd and battery. Not some plastic Dell with the cheapest possible parts they could get out of China this week.
    Despite that retail starts at $1099 and they can be found cheaper online. Show me a PC laptop even close to this price, build, customizations and certainly service and support. How about a PC laptop with a working trackpad...
    If you want a higher res screen and 8 GB out of the box thats the 13" retina. A new version of it is coming shortly and will be thinner and lighter than the current model.
    Reply
  • Bkord123 - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    I second your opinion about a "PC laptop with a working trackpad." Brother you ain't kidding. I've wondered for years how Apple is the only company that can get it right. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    The 13.3 is *IS* 1600x900. The 11" is 1366x768. Reply

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