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Summary:

The MacBook Pro with Retina Display occupies the middle of Apple’s notebook lineup in terms of price and specs. It’s not at thin as the Air, and not as powerful as the 15-inch MacBook Pro. But it also takes up less room than you’d expect.

13-inch MacBook Pro retina with 13-inch macBook Air

I’ve been using a 13-inch MacBook Air — two of them, actually — since early 2011. And as I tell anyone who asks, it’s my favorite computer I’ve ever used. So I was honestly not very interested in auditioning a replacement because Apple’s other 13-inch computers were too heavy. When I was given the opportunity to try out the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display I was pretty sure the only thing that would tempt me would be the super high-definition screen.

Surprise! The display is as good as I expected — it is very easy on the eyes and makes using many of the websites and apps I look at every day oh-so-much crisper and noticeably brighter. But what intrigued me was the size and weight.

By design, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is not as thin and light as the Air. It occupies the middle of Apple’s notebook lineup, fitting between the Air and the larger 15-inch MacBook Pro. But this computer is deceptively small. It measures 0.75 inches thick and weighs 3.57 pounds, according to Apple. That’s a pound lighter and 20 percent thinner than the older model 13-inch MacBook. But I was interested in how it matched up to the 13-inch Air, which weighs 2.96 pounds and measures 0.11 inches at its thinnest point and 0.68 inches at its thickest.

It’s true that the Air is thinner. But the 13-inch Pro somehow seems to take up less space, in terms of surface area. You can see it in the photo. The smaller bezel puts the screen closer to the hinge. The Air, on the other hand, has a larger bezel and more extra space around the keys, on the sides and especially in the wrist-rest area. The Pro is still a bit heavier, sure. But the interesting thing is that it feels like Apple cut it down a lot, getting rid of extraneous surface areas, so what you have is just the amount of space that you need.

The 13-inch MacBook Air, on the right, is thinner and lighter, but its screen and body are slightly larger than the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Going into this test, I was sure the extra weight and thickness of the Pro would disqualify the device for me. I love the Air because I work remotely and change locations often, from my living room to a variety of local coffee shops, airports and a number of press events. The Air doesn’t weigh down my computer bag, so I’ve never minded dragging it anywhere with me. And it’s plenty powerful for my work and personal needs, which are mostly browser-based, in addition to managing iTunes content and photos.

But the 13-inch Pro makes a good case for itself. Besides the display and size, the build quality feels a bit higher-quality than the Air. The keys have a somewhat more satisfying click — likely because it’s newer — but the track pad feels more solid too. The black bezel around the display is sleeker than the cheaper-feeling silver one lining the screen of the Air. The Pro’s 2.5 Ghz Core i5 processor makes it plenty speedy for my needs; but again, my everyday use of my computer consists of me uploading photos and having two browsers with a dozen tabs open simultaneously.

While I really am impressed by the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, it’s a personal policy of mine not to buy a new computer every year when a better one comes out. I like to get several years of use out of each machine. If I were in the market, however, I would give the 13-inch Retina MacBook a really close look. For now though, I’ll wait.

  1. the 13-inch is the best !

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  2. Alexandre Sartini Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    The issue comes from the performance of the MB Pro 13″ Retina… I’ve read that the MacBook Air 13″ with i7 had similar performances for 300$ less.

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    1. Thanks for the comparison – I’m in this exact same situation. I bought an i7 MBA about 2 months ago and the benchmarks on the 2.0 i7 and the 2.5 i5 are almost the same. For $1699 you also get 256 GB storage rather than 128 GB. But man is that screen pretty…

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  3. My problem with the MBPwR-13inch is that it lags like no other. The 15 incher isn’t much better at general usage lag removal, but at least I feel better knowing that a serious GPU can kick on and get to work if needed — with the 13 incher, I know it’s already giving me everything it has, and it still lags, which is just scary. I fully understand the huge pixel count being the problem — but it’s irresponsible to do something like that if it can’t be done well, in my opinion.

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    1. coder543, interesting point you make. I’m in the market for either a 13″ MBPwR or MBA and you’re not the first person to mention lag on the MBPwR.

      I will mainly use the computer for lugging about from place to place and for photos and video, hence me liking the Retina screen. However, portability and weight are an issue, which is why i am especially pleased to see the article mentioning that the MBP isn’t actually that much heavier than the MBA.

      I’m still unsure which one to go for though and i’ve not been able to compare weights of each in the flesh as my local Apple store is busy and they keep them chained to the desk quite a distance apart so I can’t have one in one hand and the other in the other hand and weigh them up side by side.

      It’s either a trade off of lower weight or a better screen and I just can’t make up my mind. The price of either isn’t an issue.

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  4. Oh shoot, I bought my MBA a month ago!

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    1. It’s okay, I just bought the MBP 13 w/ Retina after using a MBA for a year and although the screen is nice, the MBA is still one of my favorite computers ever. You own a great laptop.

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      1. Yeah, I love my MbA but I wish it had more memory — 8gb would be great.

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  5. After looking at the 13″ Retina, I bought my 13″ Air a 480GB memory upgrade from OWC. I don’t need speed, so much as I do disk capacity. That’ll hold the new computer itch down for a couple of years.

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  6. I appreciate this blog post and all the discussion on this as I have a 4-year-old 13″ Macbook and was leaning to the 13″ Air. I played around with the two in a store and what blew me away was the speed of the new Macbook. It screams! Made the Air seem sluggish to me. The screen for me is a plus. I don’t travel extensively, but will probably go with the new MacBook.

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  7. Patrick Pitoniak Sunday, November 4, 2012

    The only true drawback of the new MacBook Pro is the price. I just can’t bring myself to pay $1700 for a computer. Between the price and the amazing design of the MacBook Air, I continue to believe that will be my next computer. BUT the new Windows 8 touchscreen laptops should not be ignored!

    technbaseball.blogspot.com

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  8. The trackpad feels more solid also because it’s newer – test a new Air and it will feel the same

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  9. I am comparing the 13″ macbook air vs 13″ macbook retina and for the same configuration I can get the Air for $1699 vs $2199 for retina. Seems like air is a way better deal. Don’t think the Retina is worth an extra $500.

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    1. I dont think the difference is $500. If you fully speced the Macbook Air to i7 and full 256 gb then is comparable to the rMBP 13 i5 with same capacity. Then you need to look at the higher quality finish, full voltage processor and better connections i.e HDMI and then, then is the superb screen. So all up the screen is costing say about $200 morw. Is it worth it?? well not to everybody. If you want that quality image then $200 is definetely worth it. I bought the MBA 2 weeks before this came out and returned it for the Retina and yep.. not a regret. Its fast, small, can play games (currently playing Tombraider Underworld with no issues what so ever) I ll say is that better than the Air no doubt.

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