June 16, 2012 at 4:14 PM ET
I didn't think I would care much about a "Retina" display for a laptop. When I'm using my current laptop in a typical way, a few feet from my face, I can't see the pixels anyhow. So what would this revolutionary laptop with pixels that are invisible to the human eye do for me? Turns out, it bathes my eyeballs in a spa-like warmth the likes of which I haven't felt since I first stared deep into the high-res face of my first iPhone 4.
Don't call me a fanboy for that one. Just do yourself a favor and stare deep at a Retina display on an iPhone 4 or 4S, or a competing phone with a ridiculously pixel-dense screen, like HTC's Rezound. When you're looking at the right image or picture, it feels like you can see for miles and miles, and it's relaxing. It's easier on the eyes, because your brain doesn't have to reconstruct reality from a pile of bricks. It simply sees reality.
And even at arm's length, like on a laptop monitor, the difference is clear. When I was browsing the Mac App Store on the new MacBook Pro, I pulled up iPhoto, and in the splash screen there was a mockup iPhoto screen, and inside that screen were photos. I could see the detail in each of those tiny thumbnails, as if they were 3x5s sitting on a coffee table.
The other thing that I could tell immediately about the new screen is that there's far less glare. I have an anti-glare screen on my 2010 MacBook Pro, but colleagues in my office with standard screens live like vampires, shying away from sunlight, fearing reflections in their screens. When you set the new MacBook Pro next to an older model, you can see that Apple has cut down on glare drastically, and that the visibility is simultaneously increased by newer LCD technology that makes for better viewing at wider angles.
I'll shut up about the display now, but there's no downplaying its significance — and the fact that it's a leading inflater of the price of the newly redesigned MacBook Pro.
Whether you're seriously considering buying in or just curious about the new gold standard in laptops, you have to understand what's revolutionary about the MacBook Pro and why that will sooner or later become standard, at least in Apple's lineup. Design and technological innovations like these aren't meant to be kept at the high end. Just as unibody construction, solid-state memory and Thunderbolt interfaces have worked their way down into Apple's full MacBook line, so too will the glories that are today only found the admittedly expensive — and hard to find — new flagship.
Another of these improvements can be heard in the speakers.
When my wife and I travel with the older MacBook Pro, and watch a movie on it in a hotel room, we strain to hear dialogue. My wife has flat-out banned the listening of music on that old laptop, too, because it's so tinny. Well, the new next-gen MacBook Pro may be skinnier, but trust me, the sound coming out of it is a whole lot fatter. You can really hear midrange and low-end, and when you crank the volume, the sound gets louder, rather than just peaking out in an ear-crushing way.
Under the hood, things get even more advanced. Instead of a hard drive, or even a typical "solid-state drive," where flash memory is stored in a hard-drive-shaped enclosure, there is just a board that holds the flash memory, ranging from 256GB to 768GB. Flash memory is not cheap, especially the highest-quality kind needed for performance laptops, and that's why there's an additional "early adopter tax" here: Since Apple is hardwiring it in, you have to pay for the internal memory you'll need now, rather than wait to upgrade later, when the price inevitably goes down. (Apple will however be offering RAM upgrades for the new MacBook Pro, according to a check of the Apple Store, and corroborated by support documentation.)
Pricey though it is, the benefit of hard-wired flash memory is exceptional performance: The laptop wakes up instantly when you open the lid, and when that lid is closed, your battery doesn't drain. There's a 7-hour battery life, says Apple, and the stand-by time is an incredible 30 days.
(While I wanted to share with you the significance of this laptop, I am not going to go into further technical testing here. For an excellent technical review, pay a visit to our friends at Laptop, who have all the charts and graphs you'll need to know just how special this thing is.)
There are, of course, things that might not excite you about the new MacBook Pro. It's not particularly lightweight, for instance. Weighing in at around 4.5 lbs., it's by no means heavier than the typical premium notebook, but it's not a miracle of lightness, either. In fact, because it has a similar weight and footprint to its predecessor, it's easy to forget about its remarkable thinness.
Another thing that might concern some is the lack of a DVD drive, but I am having a hard time remember the last time I even watched a DVD, let alone burned one. For those still interested in shiny silver disc handling, there is a $79 USB SuperDrive, but it shouldn't be considered as a precautionary purchase, because my guess is that most people won't need it.
"Need." Look at me. What an awful word to use when discussing this marvel. Aside from visual artists, medical imaging technicians and mineralogists — the sort of professionals for whom this kind of pixel density comes with immediate pay-off, not to mention a tax write-off — there's no way this baby is a "necessity."
It is bragging right upon bragging right, envelope push upon envelope push, and most people who buy it will be doing it for the same reason they would buy a Mercedes-Benz CLS. To experience the height of quality? To fulfill a personal aesthetic hunger? To show off to friends and strangers alike? It makes no difference: The reason is certainly not to get you to work and back.
So if you do buy this — assuming all other financial obligations to society are covered, or you have more money than you could ever spend in your lifetime — I say buy the $3,749 configuration. That maxes out the RAM at 16GB, the internal flash memory at 768GB and the processing speed at 2.7GHz. Just don't be surprised when, a couple of years from now, you're standing in the coffee shop line behind some little hipster who has a slim new MacBook Air with all those specs, and that brag-worthy Retina screen, and it only cost him $999.