MacBook Pro review: 15-in. Retina screen is revolutionary

Apple's top-end laptop makes a big leap with new display technology

MacBook Pro with Retina display
The main feature of Apple's new 15-in. MacBook Pro is the Retina display. (Image: Apple)

As the old saying goes: Seeing is believing.

Having used Apple's newest 15-in. MacBook Pro -- the slimmed-down version with the super-high-resolution Retina display -- for several days now, I'm a believer.

The now-top-end MacBook Pro, which starts at $2,199, represents a serious leap forward in screen technology. Words don't really do the 2880-x-1800-pixel screen justice, but let me try. It's stunning, amazing, unparalleled, hyper-sharp, crystal clear, film-like, bright, saturated, radical and mind-blowing.

If you've seen an iPhone's 3.5-in. screen in the last two years or the new iPad's 9.7-in. one, you have a good idea of what the MacBook Pro screen looks like. Only it's much, much larger. That makes this more than an evolutionary laptop update; it's a revolutionary change.

Oh, and the rest of the hardware is nothing to sneeze at either, given that there's no hard drive -- the storage is a flash-based solid-state drive (SSD) -- and the processor is the latest Intel Core i7 processor. The combination makes for an extremely fast laptop.

Think of it this way: If a 17-in. MacBook Pro (now discontinued) mated with a MacBook Air, this would be the offspring, offering up the best of its parents' abilities and the blow-your-eyes-away Retina display.

The MacBook Pro line-up

The $2,199 Retina model comes with a healthy 8GB of RAM (which you can double for another $200); a 256GB SSD; the aforementioned Core i7 chip running at 2.3GHz; an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip for day-to-day graphics needs and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics chip with 1GB of video RAM for more intense uses like video work and gaming (or running three external monitors). It also offers two high-speed Thunderbolt ports; two USB 2.0/3.0 ports, one on each side; an SDXC card slot and an HDMI port, which makes it easy to connect to your home entertainment system.

There's a catch, though. If you need more than 256GB of storage, you'll have to buy the pricier $2,799 MacBook Pro, which also offers a faster 2.6GHz i7 chip. That particular model, the same one Apple provided for this review, has 512GB of SSD storage. You can bump the processor to 2.7GHz for $250 (not necessary, in my book) and/or increase the storage to a 768GB SSD for $500 (really stretching the budget). And if you just won the lottery, you can check the option list for 16GB of RAM and spend another $200.

Cost out the door for the ultimate MacBook Pro? A mere $3,749.

For the more budget-conscious, the "basic" model should more than serve your needs, as long as you're judicious about how many movies, music files, photos and documents you need to keep on hand at any given moment. (I've been using a 17-in. MacBook Pro with a 256GB SSD for a couple of years now and still have room left.) This is where being able to store files in the cloud, whether through Apple's iCloud sync-and-storage service or a third-party operation, comes in handy.

If you liked the old, chunkier 15-in. MacBook Pro and just want a faster processor and more storage options, the 2.3GHz Core i7 version goes for $1,799, and the 2.6GHz model sells for $2,199. More importantly, on those models you can still upgrade the storage and RAM yourself. (More about this expandability issue below.)

Screen capture of hi-def movie trailer
The Retina display offers richly saturated colors and delivers a film-like look to high-definition video. Here, a full-screen still from the Cirque Du Soleil movie trailer. (The trailer is available at apple.com.)
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