Review: Apple MacBook Pro 13″ Retina Display Laptop

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Apple Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch product photos (6 of 6)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 10

The Apple MacBook Pro 13″ Retina has been out for a while and it’s been in use with me since it was announced. Over that time period, I have tested it, pushed it, tweaked it, and travelled with it. Many creative professionals swear by Apple products though some of us have been jumping ship to the PC world due to what we believe is a lack of innovation on part of the company.

But as far as this editor goes, I’ve got no major complaints.

 

Pros and Cons

Pros

– Excellent resolution for editing photos whether they go on the web or in print

– Calibrates significantly easier with the Spyder Pro 4 than previous Macbook laptops.

– A master multi-tasking machine

– Connects effortlessly to other devices such as Airplay enabled printers, Apple airport express, Apple TV, and the iPad mini.

– Simple resolution tweaking with a couple clicks of a button

– Insanely fast

Cons

– Keyboard wasn’t as comfortable as previous 13 inch Macbooks and took some time to get used to

– The gestures all changed and needed to be relearned.

– Expensive laptop for something that doesn’t have an interchangeable video card

– I can never add more RAM to this laptop, so it requires more contant maintenance.

Gear Used

My basic setup includes:

– My various cameras

– The Spyder Elite 4 Calibration setup

Logitech M510 USB mouse

– Apple Airport Express

– Apple TV

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo Video listing of the unit

Performance
Processor 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 Dual-Core
Cache L3: 4MB
Memory Type: 1600MHz DDR3L SDRAM
Installed: 8GB
Graphics Card Type: Integrated
Installed: Intel HD Graphics 4000 Shared
Display
Type Widescreen
Size 13.3″
Backlight LED
Aspect Ratio 16:9
Finish Glossy
Native Resolution 2560 x 1600
Supported Resolutions 1680 x 1050 at 16:10 Aspect Ratio
1440 x 900 at 16:10 Aspect Ratio
1024 x 600 at 16:10 Aspect Ratio
External Resolution Up to 2560 x 1600
Dual Display Yes
Video Mirroring Yes
Storage
Hard Drive Installed: 256GB
Type: Flash Storage
Optical Drive None
Input/Output Connectors
Ports 2x Thunderbolt
2x USB 3.0 (A)
Display 2x Mini DisplayPort via Thunderbolt port
1x HDMI
Audio Integrated Stereo Speakers
2x Integrated Digital Microphone
1x Combo Analog Headphone/Optical Digital Audio Out
Flash Media Slot 1x SDXC
Communications
Network None
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0
Mobile Broadband None
Webcam Not Specified By Manufacturer
General
Operating System Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion (64-bit)
Security Not Specified By Manufacturer
Keyboard Keys: 78
Type: Standard Notebook Keyboard
Pointing Device TouchPad with Double-Tap, Drag, Four-Finger Swipe, Inertial Scrolling, Multi-Touch Control, Pinch, Rotate, Tap, Three-Finger Swipe
Battery Lithium-Polymer Providing up to 7 Hours per Charge
Power Requirements AC: 100-240 V AC, 50-60Hz
Consumption: 60W
Dimensions (WxHxD) 12.3 x 0.7 x 8.6″ / 31.2 x 1.8 x 21.8 cm
Weight 3.57 lb / 1.62 kg

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Apple Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch product photos (1 of 6)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 8.0

Apple’s Macbook Pro Retina 13″ retains everything that the company has become known for over the past couple of years in terms of ergonomics. This laptop is very simplistic and minimalist in design, and one can tell that they tried to keep it to just the essentials and nothing else.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Apple Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch product photos (2 of 6)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 10

When you open the laptop, you’ll see changes from the laptops of years previous. For instance, the computer no longer has a recessed power button built into the case. Instead, it is on the keyboard in the top right corner. Mostly everything else on the keyboard though is the same. However, Apple has spaced the keys out a bit more.

I used to own a regular Macbook that was tricked out to be just as powerful as a Macbook Pro. I still prefer its older keyboard to this new one. It took a while to get used to this new one and at some times it still bothers me. For instance, if I’m at my desk in my apartment, typing on this laptop for a very long amount of time can surely get done but for some odd reason or another it seems like this laptop was designed with the target demographic being cafe goers. And indeed, when at a cafe, I feel much more comfortable working on this laptop perhaps due to the smaller tables that cafes have vs. my desk.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Apple Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch product photos (5 of 6)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 10

Apple users update their laptops around typically every four or five years. Users that purchase the MacBook Pro Retina 13″ will notice that the battery is no longer detachable nor is the hard drive accessible. In a move that angered many when the laptop was announced, it is physically impossible to customize this laptop after it has been built for you.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Apple Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch product photos (4 of 6)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 10

On the left side the user gets quite a bit of connectivity options. First off there is the power adapter port, then two thunderbolt ports, a USB 3.0 port, and a headphone jack.

Yes, you get a headphone jack but no microphone port. Want to use a microphone? Then you’ll need to use Apples built-in mic or you’ll need to get a USB port option. When you’re an Editor in Chief and need to narrate a voiceover in Adobe Premiere Elements, good luck. It will be quite annoying.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Apple Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch product photos (3 of 6)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 10

On the right side is another USB Port (which houses the connector for my mouse), an HDMI port, and an SD card port.

The fact that it is just so much simpler to use the SD card port vs an external connector has actually forced me to switch my entire camera system over to SD cards instead. For my 5D Mk II, I take an SD card and put it inside of an SD to CF adapter. It has worked out quite well so far.

Build Quality

This machine overall feels quite solid and very elegant. It surely feels more solid than other laptops out there perhaps due to the aluminum body.

Nothing about the Macbook Pro 13″ Retina feels cheap. From the connectors, to the way the screen peels back from its collapsed state and to the way that the keys feel when you’re typing–you know that you’ve purchased a very high quality machine.

The Macbook has travelled with me in various camera bags, in planes, on the subway, and has survived the general tumble and tussle that an average NYC commuter will throw at their gear.

Ease of Use

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 4.31.13 PM

For most of my uses, the Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch has been very simple to use. In the beginning though, there were quite a bit of caveats.

To start, it took a full three days for all the files from my old computer to transfer to my new computer using Apple’s interface. Three days? Yes. The Macbook had an issue trying to recognize my apartment’s wifi router, so after some investigation we finally found out that it wasn’t transferring the files. Instead, I switched to a hard wire connection and that took around two hours to port nearly everything over.

Then there were Apple’s changes in the gestures which partially came with Lion.

For example, three fingers swiped across the mousepad used to give me my Dashboard. Now, I have to swipe four fingers to the left.

Four fingers up lets me access all of my tabs. Two fingers down or up helps me to navigate–those all seem fine.

Thankfully, because Apple imported most of my previous settings this laptop was easier to use down the line. It became a bit more complicated when I purchased an Apple TV, Airport Express, and an iPad Mini.

For example, I found out that if I wanted to beam Spotify into my room (where my Airport Express is hooked up to a speaker system) I can hold down the option key and click on the audio icon in the top right corner. Then it gives me the option of having all audio beamed through to there or through the internal speakers.

Performance

The Macbook Pro Retina 13″ performs like a speed demon. It has a speedy startup in around three seconds and hasn’t started to lag out on me yet. Even when having Photoshop Elements, Adobe Premiere Elements, Lightroom 4, Chrome, Spotfiy, and Steam (because every photographer has to play video games sometimes) the laptop hasn’t slowed down. However, the fans will blare like sirens sometimes.

In terms of visual performance, I can’t say a bad thing about the Retina display. It has helped me to edit and create better images since getting it. To boot, it is also very simple to calibrate using Spyder’s software and utilities.

This laptop’s screen is very bright. Since quitting my day job, I often work at home and being a freelancer and editor of this website demands me to work at a furious pace. In the morning, I’ll work without a light on in my living room (where my desk is) because of the soft window light coming in that works perfectly. But as outside gets darker, I’ll realize that my entire room is so dark after a while that I should turn on a light. Nonetheless, the screen illuminates the entire living room, some of my roommate’s room, and a part of my kitchen. This is with the setting on the brightest, do note.

Assisting With Tasks

This machine is sometimes used for more than just work as it is my personal computer. However, it can be one heck of a workhorse.

Airport Express

As stated before, I can beam music from Spotify to my Airport Express in my room. Granted, the connection goes in and out like crazy. So I only reserve it for when I really need it.

Apple TV

Mirroring my computer’s display onto my Apple TV and then onto my 43″ television can be quite useful at times. When News Editor Peter Walkowiak was staying over my apartment for a week, I showed him the beauty of Adobe Lightroom editing simplicity on my big screen when mirrored through Apple TV. He was speechless.

When it comes to wanting to accomplish other tasks though (like watching a YouTube video) the best experience comes from using Safari because it also transmits the sound. In fact, Apple’s products often work best with each other. In many cases, I will end up favoriting a video on YouTube, turning on Apple TV, going to the YouTube app, and then going into my favorites to find the video–and that’s providing everything has synced.

I really wish that Apple would be a tad bit more open.

Also thankfully, Chrome is Retina display ready.

iPad Mini

I rarely connect my iPad Mini to my computer, though I should more often. I keep my portfolio on the Mini to show off when I need to.

iCloud could have this taken care of, but I also hate iPhoto and instead manually set a folder to by synced. It works with my overall workflow because folders move on and off of my desktop all the time.

Otherwise, the Mini is often right next to my laptop screen and when I’m busy in freelance work, editing, or something else then the little notifications that come up on it almost make it act like a second monitor. For example, if my friends are messaging me to the point of insanity on Facebook, that will stay synced easily. Same goes for Gmail. Overall, it helps keep the load off of the laptop when also combined with what my phone is capable of.

Indeed, I don’t have an iPhone. I’m sticking to the HTC One S: which has been beaten up quite a bit. Many people tell me that I should just give in and get one, but Android’s handheld devices are just so much more wondrous.

In Use With Editing

One of the primary reasons why I went for the 13″ Retina display laptop was for the display and powerhouse that it can be for editing. And in my tests so far, I’ve seen no major problems.

Lightroom 4

Everything that you would expect from Lightroom 4 works well with the new laptop but better. The software is retina display ready, so no matter what you’ve set your DPI to, you will get the clearest and crispest images you can. Ensure that your display is properly calibrated for even better results.

If you have high megapixel cameras, you really should spring for this laptop as you’ll be able to work with the higher resolutions even easier when it comes to retouching.

Adobe Premiere Elements 11

At the time of publishing this review, this software isn’t Retina display ready yet. In order for me to work with it, I often need to lower my DPI settings down to a normal level instead of the HiDPI settings. It’s a real pity.

Conclusions

So am I happy that I made this purchase? Absolutely. This laptop is being used much more like my primary work machine than for showing off portfolios or anything else. And for running websites, editing photos, and the occasional video edit, I have no problems with the software.

If you’re a professional photographer, you should save up for this laptop because it will make your overall workflow and images better. The display is loads better than previous ones have been and the images I edit often look great not only to me, but my clients. Sure, it’s not perfect: I really wish that I could add more RAM or install a new graphics card , but I’ll have to make do with what I have and maintain the machine well, which I sometimes slack on because of being so busy.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.