Apple 13-in. Retina MacBook Pro review: Vibrant screen, perfect size?

Good screens come in small packages

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Both the $1,699 and $1,999 models come with 8GB of memory, which should be plenty for today's computing needs. But it's important to note that this memory is fixed; you cannot upgrade the RAM later on (and you can't order 16GB, as you can with the 15-in. MacBook Pro).

Storage is a different story, as you have more options here, either through Apple or a third party. The $1,699 model comes with a 128GB SSD, eliminating the traditional hard drive as a bottleneck on speed; the $1,999 version comes with twice that, 256GB, which accounts for the $300 difference in price. If that's not enough, you can opt for more storage when buying from Apple's online store, but it'll cost you. Apple's storage options add up quickly, with the top-end 768GB capacity costing an additional $1,300 on the base model.

More on the Retina display

To power the Retina screen, Apple uses an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip, which handles graphics pretty well. Scrolling was smooth in regular use, for the most part. Built-in animations such as swiping through Spaces, activating Mission Control, zooming into pictures, or calling up Launch Pad played smoothly. Some animations did become a bit choppy specifically on a few code-heavy websites -- such as theverge.com and bgr.com -- especially as content was loading. But in general, the Intel graphics card isn't the hindrance it once was. I found that it performs quite capably.

Better yet, this laptop can output video to two external displays using the Thunderbolt or HDMI connections. (Yes, there are three such ports -- two Thunderbolt and the single HDMI -- but you can only power two external screens. The limitation is the graphics card.)

Of course, the main draw here is clearly the Retina display. The display's native 2560-x-1600-pixel resolution crams more than four million pixels into a 13.3-in screen -- two million more than on a typical HDTV. This makes it one of the highest resolution notebooks on the market, second only to the 15-in. MacBook Pro with Retina display. (That one features three million more pixels than an HDTV.)

Note: That native resolution isn't the same resolution you see when you fire up the MacBook Pro. If it were, everything on screen would be very tiny. The maximum supported resolution in the Displays preference pane is 1680 x 1050 pixels. That, and lesser resolutions, are achieved by downscaling the native resolution, though some third-party apps like SetResX and ChangeResolution will likely allow you to go higher (as they do on the 15-in. model). But you better have really good eyesight. Apple offers more information on Retina display resolutions online.

Apple claims this screen has a 29% higher contrast ratio with a reduction in reflections on the non-matte screen. I definitely noticed that the reflectivity of the screen has been reduced when I realized a kitchen light that used to bug me when using my own 15-in. MacBook Pro was no longer an issue with this laptop. This isn't to say reflections aren't there, mind you, but I was not distracted by them. Your mileage may vary.

Setup and day-to-day use

Initial impressions out of the box? I love the size and weight of this computer; it makes the previous-generation 13-in. seem archaic -- which is impressive, given the praise that's been showered on that model in the past. The minimalist glass and unibody aluminum design is as good as it gets -- so good that competitors aren't ashamed of outright copying it.

I thought I'd have issues using this computer because I am used to the larger 15-in. MacBook Pro, but the smaller wrist area flanking the glass trackpad was enough space to operate comfortably. It really, really helps that the keyboard and trackpad are the same size as on the larger model, which, to me, is perfect. I love that the 13-in. version doesn't compromise on the quality of the keyboard or trackpad.

As for the keyboard, while the unit feels good to type on -- the throw is short and the keyboard springs are reactive -- the keys themselves feel a bit flimsy compared to the sturdiness inherent to the rest of the machine. It's an admittedly minor complaint, though; the keys are pretty much the same as those used in other Apple notebooks.

On first boot, I approached setup as a typical new owner would: without being able to take advantage of the only supported direct connection, Thunderbolt, for transferring data from my old laptop to the new computer. (Read: I didn't purchase any Thunderbolt accessories, so I didn't have a Thunderbolt cable to connect them.) Unlike the MacBook Pros I've been using, the Retina MacBooks have no FireWire or Ethernet ports for direct transfers, and you can't use Target Disk Mode via USB.

The Migration Assistant, which is an option offered during the initial setup, does allow you to transfer data from a Time Machine backup drive over USB. Or you can do a wireless transfer, which is what I ended up doing.

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