First impressions of the Retina 13″ Macbook Pro

macbook pro retinaMy table planner software runs on Windows and Mac. Previously I took a Windows laptop with me when I was out of the office or on holiday, so that I could provide technical support to my customers. But it isn’t (legally) possible to run Mac OS X on Windows, so this made it hard to give Mac customers the best possible technical support. For example I couldn’t send them Mac screenshots or replicate Mac-only bugs from a Windows laptop. However it is legally possible to run both Mac OS X and Windows on a Mac. So I decided to buy a 13″ Retina Macbook Pro for my new laptop, so that I could have access to both OSs when out of the office. I was also attracted by the screen and design of the new Retina Macbook Pro. I choose the 13″ model, rather than than the 15″ model, simply because it is more portable (e.g. more likely to fit in a hotel safe). I also paid to upgrade the SSD from 128GB to 256GB to have room for both Mac OS X and Windows setups. I have now had my Macbook Pro for a few weeks, so I thought I would share my initial impressions.

The good points:

  • The 2560 x 1600 Retina screen is gorgeous, both in terms of sharpness and colour. It makes the display on my old Toshiba Windows laptop look very tired.
  • With a 2.5 GHz Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and an SSD it is very responsive.
  • The aluminium chassis is beautifully designed. Despite being only 19mm thick and 1.6Kgs, it feels very sturdy. The power brick is quite small and light as well.
  • The keyboard is nice. Automatically backlighting the keys in low light is a nice touch.
  • The power cable attaches magnetically. This means it is easy to attach. But, more importantly, accidentally kicking the cable just pops the cable out, rather than the whole machine crashing onto the floor.
  • Gestures work very nicely on the touch pad. For example you can drag two fingers up and down to scroll or tap with 2 fingers to simulate right click.
  • I have Windows and Mac OS X  stored on separate partitions. I can access Window either by booting into Windows or from inside Mac OS X using Parallels (cost approx $80). Being able to access Windows from Mac OS X without a reboot is very useful.
  • The speakers are surprisingly good.

The not so good points:

  • The Macbook Pro is expensive compared to Windows ultrabooks with similar specs.
  • There are a limited number of ports:  2 USB, 2 Thunderbolt, 1 headphone, 1 HDMI and 1 unidentified (SD memory card?).
  • There is no Ethernet port. So if there is no Wifi, you are out of luck.
  • There is no Kensington slot, so you can’t physically lock it down. This is especially annoying given the price.
  • As someone who mainly uses Windows I’m still struggling to get used to the Mac keyboard. For example there is a Backspace key, but no Delete key. Also there is no Home or End key. Worst of all the cursor sometimes  jumps to a different line while I am typing. I have no idea why.
  • Parallels and Windows don’t do a brilliant job of handling the very high resolution of the Retina display. Fonts are sometimes shown very small or very large in Windows. Some applications, such as Keepass v1, looks very fuzzy. Hopefully this will improve with new versions of Parallels and Windows as Retina-like displays become  more common.
  • Not all applications support gestures. For example Firefox on Mac OS X doesn’t support pinch zoom. But I expect this will improve as new versions of applications are released.
  • Not having a built-in DVD drive is a pain. I was able to install Windows 7 by ripping a DVD to a USB stick using Infrarecorder (free). But this didn’t work for Photoshop Elements 11, so I had to download it from the app store, despite having it on DVD.
  • I couldn’t get Windows 8 to work. I installed it into a Bootcamp partition, but when I booted into Windows I just got a mouse pointer and  blue bar down the side of the screen. Apparently Windows 8 is not yet supported by Bootcamp.
  • I am told the graphics performance isn’t great. But I’m not intending to use it for games, so that doesn’t bother me much.

Overall it is an impressive machine and I’m pretty happy with it so far. In particular it is great to able to support Windows and Mac OS X on a single machine. But it does have some annoyances and I wouldn’t have purchased it to just to run Windows. No doubt PC ultrabook manufacturers will have copied its more innovative features fairly soon.

A couple of tips:

  • If you are  in the UK, consider purchasing from John Lewis. They will price match other ‘bricks and mortar’ vendors that have stock. But (at the time I purchased) they were offering 2 years additional warranty. I got them to price match PC World’s £100 off deal. I got £100 refunded and 2 years extra warranty. The service at John Lewis is usually also very good.
  • You probably want to get some form of case or sleeve to protect your lovely and expensive new Macbook. Beware that many of the existing cases are designed for the old Macbook Pros. Consequently they might not be a good fit for the thinner Retina models. I bought this Cool Bananas case. It is a good fit and quite well made. I just wish it had a bit more padding. No doubt more cases and sleeves will become available to fit the new models.

20 thoughts on “First impressions of the Retina 13″ Macbook Pro

  1. Igor Kokarev

    Andy,

    1. There is an adapter for Thunderbolt to Ethernet.

    2. And I’d like to recommend you always use a long cable to connect a power supply unit, because it has a grounding type plug. If you plug your power supply unit directly to socket you may feel electrical potential on the aluminum surface of MacBook (because a short plug doesn’t have grounding). You can feel it as a vibration when you move slowly your finger on the surface of laptop. This is a known issue with all aluminum laptops.

    1. Igor Kokarev

      3. I forgot to say. With Retina MacBook you can choose several modes of HighDPI view to increase/decrease size of fonts, icons and all elements of windows. MacOS will proportionally scale user interface. It works much better than on Windows. If I remember rightly 13″ version suggests 3 variants, and 15″ version suggests 5 variants.

      1. Andy Brice Post author

        Mac OS X and all the Mac OS X software (including PerfectTablePlan) seems to handle the retina display with no problems. It is just Windows that seems to struggle (some of which may be due to shortcomings in Bootcamp or Parallels).

        1. Igor Kokarev

          Andy,

          Regarding electricity on surface of laptop.

          It’s a serious problem. Even if you don’t feel it. A long cord included to the box with MacBook has 3 contacts (3rd is a grounding). Short plug adapter has only 2 contacts – no grounding.

          See:

          “Electric shock/mild vibrating sensation on MacBook Pro when charging”

          http://superuser.com/questions/462244/electric-shock-mild-vibrating-sensation-on-macbook-pro-when-charging

          “Why does my wife’s skin buzz when she’s using her laptop?”

          http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/2824/why-does-my-wifes-skin-buzz-when-shes-using-her-laptop

          “Apple laptop charging vibration effect”

          http://revk.www.me.uk/2012/08/apple-laptop-charging-vibration-effect.html

          etc.

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      >Hold down the function key and hit delete to do a windows style delete

      That works, thanks.

      >Use function with the arrow keys to do home, end, page up and page down.

      That doesn’t seem to work. But cmd arrow does.

      Having fn, ctrl, alt and cmd keys is quite confusing!

  2. Claudiu Constantin

    “Worst of all the cursor sometimes jumps to a different line while I am typing. I have no idea why”

    It’s because you are slightly touching the touch pad when you’re typing; happened to me too.

      1. Jonatan

        This is the case for me too. You can even trigger the touchpad without touching, because your wrist creates a field the pad responds to.
        I deactivated licking by touching completely. The touchpad has a huge clickable zone.

        1. Andy Brice Post author

          It is definitely the touchpad. I am getting better at keeping my wrists away from it, but it still happens enough to be rather annoying.

          >I deactivated licking by touching completely.

          I try not to lick mine. Lovely though it is. ;0)

  3. Christopher Bruno

    Congratulations. Once you go Mac you never go back, especially with the specter of Windows 8 haunting the PC.

  4. Kohan Ikin (@syneryder)

    A tip on the warranty: if you travel overseas with your MacBook, you might consider getting the AppleCare extended warranty as well. That way you can use the warranty in any Apple Store globally if something goes wrong (and the stores are in most cities now). Because Apple Stores usually have parts on hand, often repairs can be done while you wait.

    Oh, and for Windows 8, try installing it as a virtual machine in Parallels 8 instead of via Bootcamp – works pretty well on my 2007 MacBook, so I imagine it would fly on modern hardware.

    Enjoy the new machine – I’m jealous of your Retina display! :)

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      >try installing it as a virtual machine in Parallels 8 instead of via Bootcamp

      I might try that, if I have got sufficient space on the SSD. Thanks.

  5. edsykes (@edsykes)

    All the devs i know who use windows on mac to develop use vmware fusion. I’m using it. The integration with osx is really good (try a spaces swipe, 4 fingers left or right, to move between osx and windows) and it seems to deal with the retina display well.

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      IIRC the list price with a 256GB disk was £1600 and the discount was £100. So, still v.expensive. Apple are quite successful at controlling the price, so discounts aren’t that easy to come by.

  6. Robert

    I’ve been using my 13″ Retina MBP for a week and this screen is freakin amazing. It is worth every penny. Due to the reduced glare, it’s like a magical portal that you could reach into with your hand. The colors in the pictures are more vibrant and the text is BETTER than paper. Absolutely amazing. I actually think the reduced glare is the best part of the new screen. I think I would pay $200 over a comparable Macbook just for the reduced glare even if it was at the same resolution. It’s that good.

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