Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display) Review

The Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display) is the laptop you want if you care about performance, thinness, and the screen. It’s not the vaunted “15-inch MacBook Air” that was rumored prior to 2012’s WWDC—it’s better, thanks to an up-to-date components, super-thin chassis, and impressive battery life. This “next-generation” MacBook Pro hasn’t just caught up to the thin and powerful Windows laptops and ultrabooks on the market; it has surpassed them to become the high-end choice for media professionals, enthusiasts, and general Mac fans alike. As such, the MacBook Pro is our new Editors’ Choice for high-end desktop replacement laptop PCs.

Design and Features
The MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display) carries the same Jony Ive–design DNA as previous systems—it’s all aluminum unibody chassis, glass, and black plastic for the keyboard. In fact, it still looks like a MacBook Pro, which is good news, because the cachet of the Apple ID is part of the reason people go nuts for the company’s products. It even feels similar to previous models in your hand, though it’s noticeably thinner and lighter (4.46 pounds versus 5.6 pounds); if you’ve held a 13-inch MacBook Air, you’re not too far off.

The 15.4-inch screen now looks more seamless, if that’s possible. The bezel around it is black, but unlike on the MacBook Air it’s of a piece with the screen glass. The screen electronics are built into the glass, which helps the laptop’s thin profile. Apple mentioned that the screen is less prone to glare than was the case with previous MacBooks, but the glare is still visible when you’re viewing a black background and if you’re really picky. If you want a matte-finish screen, for now you’ll have to go with the updated MacBook Pro with Ivy Bridge.

The Retina display itself is glorious. The resolution is 2,880 by 1,800, which sounds like a lot, but text is scaled so it doesn’t look too small. Instead of making the letters smaller like on the iPhone 4 or 4S (to see this effect, use one to visit a non-mobile-optomized Website), Apple kept the font sizes consistent with what you’d expect in the real world and just made them smoother. In contrast, text on a MacBook Air looks smooth from your seat, but the individual letters are still jaggy close up. Text on the new MacBook Pro looks smooth from both far away and close up, as if it were laser printed on paper.

The real magic is when you view photos (and high-res video). You can view images straight from your camera and they will look more like printed images than electronic ones. Look at a geometric form, like a picket fence in front of a yellow wall, and the lines look smooth, not jaggy. Likewise, a 1,920-by-1,080 HD video takes up a relatively small portion of the screen at full resolution, leaving the video editor with lots of space for timelines, toolbars, and other interface items. It’s almost like having a dual 20-inch-screen setup in a 15-inch diagonal space. When playing back 1080p video full screen, the improved IPS display exhibits rich colors, deep blacks, and a generally pleasant viewing experience. It really is like having a large-screen HDTV you can rest on your lap.

If there’s any drawback to the Retina display, it’s that all of your existing Mac applications will have to be updated for it (kind of like what happened with the iPhone 4/4S and latest iPad). Apple-sourced apps like Safari, Final Cut Pro, and Aperture look terrific, but non-optimized apps like Google Chrome will show upscaled and jaggy fonts. It’s a problem that’s likely to go away as more developers update their programs, but it’s an annoyance right now.

The power button has moved to the upper right of the keyboard proper, like it is on the MacBook Air. The island-style keyboard has the same feel as the MacBook Air; key travel feels shallower than the previous MacBook Pro. The function keys match those of the MacBook Air, which may be a hang-up for people with older-generation MacBook Pros, particularly ones made before the advent of Mission Control and the Launchpad in Mac OS X Lion. The backlighting is everything we expect from a MacBook, clearly visible in a darkened room. After several straight hours of playing back video during our battery rundown test the bottom of the system was still cool to the touch, demonstrating the new chassis’ cooling capabilties.

There is a full-size HDMI port on the side of the laptop. The new MagSafe 2 port is wider yet shorter than the previous style, so you’ll need an adapter for existing LED Cinema and Apple Thunderbolt Displays, as well as older power adapters. (Newly purchased Thunderbolt Displays will come with the MagSafe 2 adapter.) The USB 3.0 ports aren’t colored blue like they are on some Windows PCs, but because there aren’t any USB 2.0 ports on this MacBook Pro, you won’t need color coding to tell the difference.

Copying a 1.22GB test folder from a USB 3.0 drive took 21 seconds, which is half the time we needed to copy the same folder using a USB 2.0 drive on the previous MacBook Pro. Speedier drives using the Thunderbolt interface are likely to be even faster. Two Thunderbolt ports are a boon for the video editor: You can connect up to 14 devices, seven devices per port. The system can also support at least two Thunderbolt Displays for more screen real estate. An SDXC slot and a headphone audio jack with headset support round out the ports.

One thing you won’t find on the new MacBook Pro is a DVD SuperDrive: The optical drive has been eliminated to benefit the new profile, which is 0.71 inch (18mm) at the thickest point (meeting the spec for 13.3-inch or smaller ultrabooks, and slimmer than the 21mm requirement for 14-inch or larger ultrabooks). The MacBook Pro is the same height as both (11- and 13-inch) MacBook Air models at their thickest points, an impressive feat. The slim profile prevents Apple from using Ethernet and FireWire 800 ports (they simply won’t fit); if you need either, you’ll need to buy adapter cables (at $29 each). Using a Thunderbolt Display is also an option, as it has built-in FireWire 800 and Ethernet. On the plus side, the MacBook Pro includes 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi with 2.4GHz and 5GHz support, as well as Bluetooth 4.0, so you’ll be able to connect to almost any hotspot or wireless audio device.

The system comes with Mac OS X Lion 10.7.4, so you’ll get all the same iLife apps and familiar Mac OS interface. Systems purchased now will be eligible for a free upgrade to Mac OS X Mountain Lion (Mac OS X 10.8 in all but name) when it is released in a month or so. Mountain Lion will introduce iMessage, Notification Center, Power Nap, AirPlay, and lots of other iOS-like features to the MacBook Pro and other Macs.

The MacBook Pro’s 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3615QM (Ivy Bridge) processor comes with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. The laptop features Kepler-based Nvidia GeForce GT 650M discrete graphics for speedier 3D and media processing when you need it. The system also has 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory and 256GB of flash storage. All these components work together to make sure the MacBook Pro is fast. Testing in Mac OS X, the results were quick: a score of 6.18 on CineBench R11.5, and times of 1 minute 33 seconds rendering our video in Handbrake and 3:42 completing our test script in Adobe Photoshop CS5. This is similar to the previous Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Late 2011) ($1,799 direct, 4 stars) (which scored 5.08 in Cinebench, 1:30 in Handbrake, and 3:39 in CS5) and significantly better than the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Late 2011) ($2,199 direct, 4 stars) (which scored 5.07 in Cinebench, 1:53 in Handbrake, and 3:58 in CS5), which isn’t surprising: Remember that the new MacBook Pro, with its Retina Display, needs to push out a lot more pixels than the previous models with their 1,440-by-900-resolution displays. That said, both this and the last-generation MacBook Pro laptops are fast for this category.

Booting the system was quick: It was ready in a few seconds, as opposed to a hard drive–based machine that can take up to a minute to boot. Waking from sleep was instantaneous, and sleep will have positive improvements when Mac OS X Mountain Lion is released. Mountain Lion includes Power Nap, which continues to update your social networks, iCloud, and email over your Wi-Fi network while the system sleeps. We have to wait for Apple to release Boot Camp drivers for its system before we run our other Windows-based benchmark tests for comparison. Stay tuned for those results.

The new MacBook Pro is purported to be able to stay asleep for up to 30 days and not lose your work. When we tested the previous-generation MacBook Air, we found that its sleep claims were accurate, so we don’t doubt them for the MacBook Pro. Apple’s predictions of “up to seven hours” of battery life (on a wireless Web test with the non-replaceable 95Wh lithium-polymer battery) were spot on: We checked the MacBook Pro with our ten-hour video rundown test with the backlight set to 50 percent and Wi-Fi and keyboard backlight both activated, and we managed an impressive 6 hours 53 minutes.

The big problem with trying to compare this MacBook Pro to other systems is that there really isn’t anything else like it in either the Mac or Windows worlds. Its Retina display, two Thunderbolt ports, and thinner construction help the MacBook Pro earn its price premium over the older MacBook Pro with optical drive (which itself is now available with Ivy Bridge). Ultrabook and ultraportable systems like the Samsung Series 9 15-inch (NP900X4B-A02US) ($1,499 list, 4 stars), HP Envy 14 Spectre ($1,399.99 list, 4 stars), and Lenovo IdeaPad U300s ($1,495 list, 4 stars) all do slim with somewhat large screens, thin chassis, and speedy SSDs, but are left in the dust with slower processors, no discrete graphics, and much lower-resolution screens; even with their optional upgrades, they can’t reach the MacBook Pro’s feature set.

Thanks to its Retina display, the new MacBook Pro is also way ahead of the current crop of laptops, and likely to stay there for some time. You need to go with a big, bulky laptop like the latest 17-inch HP Envy 17 (2012) to get a laptop with a 1,920-by-1,080 display . (Speaking of which, the 17-inch MacBook Pro has been discontinued.) The new MacBook Pro has a higher-resolution screen (2,880 by 1,800 versus 1,920 by 1,200), even though it is physically smaller than the 17-inch MacBook Pro; on the other hand, it’s much more portable. Thanks to its new display, flash memory, up-to-date graphics and processor, and ultra-thin construction, the new MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display outperforms, outclasses, and outlasts the Samsung Series 7 (NP700Z5A-S03), and roars in (like a Lion) to be our new Editors’ Choice for high-end desktop replacement laptops.


Adobe Creative Suite 6 Now Available, Here’s How to Get 40% Off a Subscription

Adobe Creative Suite 6 is now available. For filmmakers, the bundle of interest is Production Premium CS6, which includes: a redesigned Premiere Pro, Speed Grade for color grading, the new log and ingest application Prelude, new versions of After Effects and Audition, and Creative Cloud integration. Creative Cloud is scheduled to launch May 11th, and will give you access to all CS6 apps for $50/month — or $30/month for the first year if you’re a registered user of any Adobe product since CS3 and use this link by August 31 (that’s 40% off). The new Premiere Pro integrates some speed-focused features borrowed from Apple’s much-maligned Final Cut Pro X, including “hoverscrub,” which was one of my favorite FCPX features; here’s a look at the new version of Adobe’s NLE.

  • Cinevate HDSLR Products

Production Premium will be retailing at $1899, and if you want it all, the Master Collection will be going for $2,599. Subscriptions are available for Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition, Speed Grade, Photoshop, and others for $19.99/month per app — but what I’ll probably be doing is going with the one-year plan for $29.99/month once Creative Cloud launches at the end of this week.

Also of note, the video apps have gotten a new third party API for hardware integration – Adobe Mercury Transmit – which should allow broadcast video monitoring to connect directly into the Mercury Playback Engine via third-party cards from AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox. As Apple’s Final Cut Pro X goes a different direction and tries to bundle all functionality into the app itself, Adobe seems to be stressing the “Pro” part with more hardware support. Speaking of which, their purchase of Iridas’ SpeedGrade now brings a full high-end color-correction suite to CS6, though the purchase was so recent I wonder how integrated the application is. Here’s a look at the Adobe-branded version of SpeedGrade, included in CS6:

Are you in for CS6? If so, will you be going to old-fashioned way or the newfangled subscription route? Have you been using the beta? Let us know your thoughts!

One Reason to Get a Sony F3 Instead of the Canon C300: Flexibility

I’m not here to start a camera flame war between the Canon C300, Sony F3, and RED SCARLET. The fact is, with any of these new large-sensor camcorders, you can tell your story effectively, and that’s what’s important. However… these cameras are an investment. And a much more serious investment than a DSLR at that — $15k does not come easily, and that’ll just get you started with each. So I thought I’d share a thought I had the other day when watching Philip Bloom’s latest camera shootout. Bloom didn’t include the RED and I’ll have plenty of thoughts to share on RED going forward (to the chagrin of some of you!), but if I hadn’t gone the RED route I would go with an F3 over the C300. Why?

Renting an upgrade

Because you can rent the S-Log upgrade. Yes, it’s true — you don’t have to buy the firmware if you don’t need it all the time. Because it comes on a SxS card, you can rent the S-Log firmware ($150/day is one example), which is installable/removable from any F3, as far as I know (corroborated). Basically you can “unmount” the upgrade from one camera and use it on another — it’s valid for any F3 so long as it’s only being used on one at a time. Here are some F3 with S-Log results (and a dynamic range test). This to me changes the equation regarding the C300 — while shooters are going gaga over the Canon, and it certainly has its strengths (small size and low light), for the same price you can shoot on an F3 and then, when the need or desire arises, take your F3 to another level by renting an external recorder and S-Log firmware. This gives you the flexibility that I think the C300 is lacking, given the Canon is an 8-bit camera that most people will want to be able to use for the next several years, and not just for web stuff but potentially for features and/or television as well.

I thought I would share my own thoughts as everyone is lauding the Canon — I have no vested interest in either camera, but this site has been focused on cameras lately (to a fault, I know, but it’ll all even out in a few weeks) — and since it looks like the C300 will come in at roughly the same price as an F3 — I thought I’d put in my $0.02. I’ve owned and shot on both Sony and Canon cameras, and neither one is paying me or sponsoring this site or anything of that nature. Also, I recognize not everyone has the budget or desire to get one of these cameras, but for owner/operators, let’s take a quick look at the C300′s advantages.

Small size

Again, referencing Bloom’s shootout, without S-Log the F3 looks comparable to the C300. The C300 has no such “S-Log with external recorder” equivalent (just a flat picture profile setting). But it is much smaller and lighter. The amount to which the C300′s small size is an advantage depends on your own needs… if you’re trying to steal locations the diminutive profile of the C300 may be worth the price of admission alone (though a DSLR will be equally if not more incognito). Larger size comparison:

Low light

The C300′s “headline feature” is 20,000 ISO. That’s an astronomical number, and kudos to Canon’s engineers for making it look as good as it does. However, the F3 at 6,400 w/ S-Log also looks good (UPDATE: and in fact goes up to 12,800). In fact, you would think an astronomically high number like 20,000 ISO would look a world apart from 6,400 ISO, but I didn’t find that to be the case; here is a comparison from Philip’s result (no color correction other than to dial down saturation on the C300 image to more closely match the F3):

The C300 is certainly brighter — further evidence in the histogram at left — but if the high ISO setting is one of the C300′s main selling points, I’m not sure 20,000 ISO would yield a better image than pushing a F3 (recorded to an external recorder at 6,400 ISO at 12,800 ISO) in post. I won’t push the F3 here, given this is a screen capture from the 1080p h.264 download — and also because the F3 with an external recorder is more expensive — but… what do you think? It’s the F3′s versatility that makes it appealing to me, once you take into account the ability to buy or rent the S-Log firmware for a feature or larger paying job. And it’s worth noting this example is taken from an extremely low-light situation that just a few years ago wouldn’t be exposable at all. Getting a solid exposure at 6,400 ISO is already pretty amazing (and much better than what my RED SCARLET is capable of… with its current sensor, at least).

Since they were infamously announced the same night, I’ll use the SCARLET as a point of comparison: the C300 is for all intents and purposes a cheaper camera (especially if it’s coming in at $14k instead of $20k, and also taking into account RED’s price increase). However, the RED has interchangeable lens mounts — so if you’re sitting on an expensive pile of Canon glass, you can get the SCARLET, shoot with your own lenses, and if you’re working on, say, a feature, rent a PL mount and PL glass. If you’re buying a C300 to own and operate, on the other hand, you have to choose EF or PL version. And you’re stuck that way until you sell your camera (I’m actually getting a BNCR mount for my RED, but that’s another story). Similarly, the F3 has a PL lens mount available, and in fact because of its short flange depth can be adapted to a wide variety of lenses. Plus, both the SCARLET and F3 have upgrade paths — the former with an announced but mysterious Dragon sensor in a year or two (not to mention the ability to use it as a stills camera), the latter with S-Log firmware and an external recorder (not to mention the 3D link upgrade, which I assume is also rentable) — whereas the C300, to me, does not have the same amount of flexibility going forward.

People often focus on the base price, but to me it’s less about sticker shock and more about answering the question, “how much can you get out of your camera over the next four years?” Flexibility is a big part of that equation. Just my $0.02 — if you’re in the market for the C300 and/or F3, what do you think?

Samsung Deny Nokia Takeover Bid

Samsung have told Reuters that they have no plans to purchase Nokia. Recent speculation has linked Samsung with a takeover bid for the Finnish phone manufacturer, but Samsung today stated that “such reports are purely speculative and are not true.”
Nokia is far from the success story it once was, and many tech pundits believe that the manufacturer’s pairing with the Windows Mobile platform is their last shot at getting it right. Once regularly producing the must-have devices for the UK and Europe, Nokia have struggled to maintain the popularity they saw during the pre-smartphone era.
Interestingly, the speculation saw Nokia’s share price rise by 6%, but with the merger dismissed by Samsung, it has since begun reducing back down.

13-Inch Retina MacBook Pro Coming in October?

Four days before the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro was introduced, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo released a report claiming that Apple would launch the machine alongside the then-current MacBook Pro line rather than as a direct replacement.

Kuo’s report turned out to be nearly exactly on point, as was the case with his April report claiming that Apple would discontinue the 17-inch MacBook Pro, and so it pays to revisit his Retina MacBook line claims to see what the future might hold.

In that report, Kuo claimed that the 13-inch MacBook Pro would likely arrive in the August timeframe at the earliest, with the machine’s release being held back by display yield and challenges with heat dissipation in the smaller body.

[W]e don’t expect the new 13” MacBook to be available until after August this year, as it has limited space for thermal dissipation and uses a lower-yield retinal display than the 15” version.

Figure from Kuo’s June 7 report with estimated launch info for 2012 MacBook lineup
With the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro now available, Kuo has released a new report taking another look at Apple’s plans for the 13-inch version, and AppleInsider reportsthat he is now estimating a September production ramp for the machine with an early October launch to follow.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI shared in a note with AppleInsider on Thursday that he expects Apple to ramp up production of a 13-inch next-generation MacBook Pro with Retina display in September. That would allow the product to hit stores in early October, in time for the holiday shopping season.

In his note last week, Kuo predicted that the 15-inch Retina model would carry a thickness of 19 millimeters (0.75 inches), while the 13-inch model could come in slightly thinner at 18 millimeters (0.71 inches). But the 15-inch model Apple actually introduced already comes in at the 18 millimeter figure, so it is unclear whether Apple would be able trim any additional thickness off for the 13-inch model.

Potentially supporting the idea of a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro being in testing is the discovery of a “MacBookPro10,2” listing in the results database for the battery utility app MiniBatteryLogger. The 15-inch MacBook Pro carries a designation of “MacBookPro10,1”, and while the MacBookPro10,2 designation could presumably have been faked, there are several indications that it may be legitimate.

First, the database entry appeared on April 25, well ahead of much specific information on the Retina MacBook Pro that might have helped create a legitimate-looking fake entry. Second, the machine’s battery registers a design capacity of 6580 mAh, roughly 14% greater than the 5770 mAh battery found in the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro. By comparison, the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro’s 8460 mAh battery has roughly 22.5% greater capacity than the 6900 mAh battery in the non-Retina model.

While the battery capacity ratios between corresponding Retina and non-Retina MacBook Pro batteries would not be exactly the same if this MacBookPro10,2 is indeed a genuine 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, they are at least in the same range and one could imagine that a smaller display and lack of a discrete graphics card could shrink the amount of capacity boost needed to power a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.