This past week I visited the Apple Store near my office and walked out with a 13" Retina MacBook Pro. No, it wasn’t an impulse buy, but something I’ve been considering for a long time. Things just finally came together. It really is an amazing machine in a lot of ways.
I have been using Macs and Apple products exclusively since 2006 when I bought a Black Macbook which I will likely be decommisioning. The trackpad has had problems for a couple of years and it can’t run anything newer than OSX Snow Leopard. We’ve had it set up as a desktop with a monitor, keyboard and mouse, but we haven’t really used it much. We replaced it with a 15” Macbook Pro in early 2011. So, I'm not really replacing anything with this new one as we are keeping that one. It really is a great machine too and will be used even more by my wife when she works from home.
She works in Excel quite a bit and one day last week I asked if she could save and close the individual pages when she is done as I'm always unsure if they need to be saved. Her reply without even looking up from her iPhone-
"You need your own computer."
As you can probably guess, I did a silent fist pump in my head and started planning. It's a good thing I asked about that doument too because the top page had already been updated and saved on her machine at work.
Why This Model?
When I was putting together my mental list, I had a few non-negotiables.
First of all, I've owned both the 13" and the 15" form. I knew that this time around I wanted a smaller machine. The larger screen is nice, but I don't feel that it's worth the extra size and weight. I actually considered the 11” Air, but I’d need an external display and be stuck at a desk for photo editing.
Secondly, one of my most used applications is Lightroom. It uses a lot of RAM and I've found that 8gbs works well but 4 isn't enough.
Third, I don't think that it makes sense to buy a computer with a spinning drive at this point. SSDs are faster, with less moving parts and Apple is clearly moving this way with every line they make.
After all of these items were considered, the only two machines left for consideration were the 13" MacBook Air and the 13" Retina.
The only real question left after these items are out there was this:
I weighed out the pros and cons of each and decided that in 2013 it doesn't make sense to buy a computer I hope to use for the next few years without a Retina display. It is clearly the way of the future and I believe that all of Apple's computers will ship with them within the next year. I could have had a technically faster machine for the same price had I chosen the Air, but it didn’t feel right.
Isn’t this one less capable than the 15” model?
The 13" MacBook Pro (non Retina) is Apple's best selling Mac to date. It has also been knocked by folks in the tech community for being a less capable machine. The Retina model shares some of these and I’ll just tell you here that for what I do, these “limitations” don’t matter.
The criticisms I’ve seen are: Screen size, integrated graphics card and limited RAM options.
There are plenty of reviews out there on this machine, but it feels to me like most of them are written from the perspective of a hypothetical power user. I’m not that guy. I use mine for editing and handling photos in Lightroom, writing in Byword, and Website management in Chrome or Safari. Of course, I use many other great apps, but they all pretty much serve these three purposes.
I think the average consumer assumes that the only difference between different size Macbooks is the size. That isn't true however as the larger machines almost always come with superior features, parts and specs. The 15” model is more powerful and that premium you pay isn’t just for the larger size.
Here are a few examples: The 13" Retina comes standard with 8gb of RAM with no option to upgrade to more. The 15" can be ordered with 16gb. The 13” uses a dual core processer while the 15 gets a quad core. That is going to make a difference with tasks that are CPU intensive. Another difference is that the 13" has no discreet video card and all processing for the display is handled by the primary chipset. The 15" has a discreet, stand-alone graphics card which frees up the CPU for other tasks. More drive space is included with the larger machines too. Pretty much across the board, when you choose a physically larger machine, the base model will come with more storage capacity.
Here’s the official Apple comparison spec page if you want all the details.
If you are doing video editing, code compiling, heavy Photo shop or gaming, perhaps you should consider the 15. The quad-core processor and discreet video card will make a noticeable difference. In addition, if the 2560 x 1600 isn’t enough and you truly do need 2880 x 1800 maybe go for the bigger model. If you love the idea of a fast, light weight and agile machine with a smaller footprint, you should seriously consider this one.
Here’s what it really comes down to- This computer is only about a half pound heavier than the 13” Macbook Air which has gained a reputation for being so lightweight and well designed that it spawned the Ultrabook name and race. Truly, this machine has more in common with the Macbook Air than with the 15” Retina model. As I’m typing this out on this svelte aluminum body with backlit keys, the display is perhaps the one thing that feels like it’s unmistakeably from the future.