First Look: Retina display MacBook Pro

I met with Apple after its WWDC keynote today to get one of the new Retina display MacBook Pro notebooks. I thought I’d give a quick rundown on some of the features and my thoughts before posting a more in-depth review.

Obviously the first thing you’ll notice about this notebook is the display. It’s absolutely gorgeous. What’s interesting is that the display preferences are all about its Retina capabilities.

For instance, my MacBook Air lists the resolution available for my display as numbers like 1440 x 900, 1280 x 800 etc. On the Retina MacBook, the preferences show Best (Retina) and scales up to More Space, or down to Larger Text. Choosing one of the five options automatically adjusts the resolution of the display for you.

Although the resolution changes, it never shows you what resolution the computer is running in. Like most of Apple’s software and hardware, this way of choosing a resolution will probably appeal to a lot more people because it’s not just numbers, but a visual choice.

I found the best choice for me was the default setting “Best for Retina display.” That’s probably where I’ll leave it for now.

I tried to get the MacBook Pro to get hot enough to turn the fans on, but after a few hours of using it, the fans have still not turned on. Or if they have, I haven’t been able to hear them.

I’ve been doing regular work on the Retina MacBook so far like image editing, writing, email and browsing the Web. I used it on the desk and on my lap and there is no heat coming from the notebook at all. It seems to be a lot like the MacBook Air in that respect.

The only thing that surprised me at first was the weight. I thought it was heavy, but that’s because I was using a 13-inch MacBook Air for months. After working with it for a little bit the weight wasn’t as noticeable — it’s just what you get used to.

My Retina MacBook Pro has 8GB, 2.3GHz Intel Core i7 and a 250GB Flash disk.

I still have a lot of things to do with MacBook Pro, but I’m really happy with it so far.

  • This is great because it basically confirms something I assumed a retina display would get you. I believe a retina, high dpi, display would bring us back to the “glory days” of CRT screens where they didn’t have a native resolution. This is great for games especially.

  • Not possible Dustin. As long as there are a fixed number of pixel, you’re going to have a native resolution. They may be able to make the other resolutions look decent, unlike current LCDs, but there is still going to be a “sweet spot”.

    • This is in a nutshell what I mean, the pixel density should be fine enough that “native resolution” goes away

      • But it doesn’t. There will still be a blur when you’re not in the native res.

        • Trissss

          Lee, technically the CRT displays had a native resolution, which was always bypassed. Yes, there might be a subpixel “blur”, but above-retina resolutions make it irrelevant.

        • It depends, Nintendo for Instance Is know to have used a particular Trick that could apply here : Make your Graphic, bitmaps, texture Big as If if you put you nose on them (Max Zoomed In) then Scale them down for Regular use.

          In 3D Animation making there have been Trick that switched the definition of the Texture applied [To objects visible in the Field of View] depending on the Distance between the Object and the camera

          Those Tricks are at least a decade Old Apple has Initiated a Push toward Resolution independence for at least 6 years (QuartzDebug Scale UI recently replaced with HiDPi option)…

          And That without considering the works made at NeXT with PostScript Display (All Vector Based)

          If with All That and those Crazy dense LCD Apple can’t make It… Ther would be little hope (Wouldn’t they use their experience with Retina Transition for iOS devices? — Namely the 2x Engine from the First 2 iPad to the 3rd one)

  • Hi Jim, Given all the discussion about the special fans and cooling system, I’m surprised that it remained cool for you. I was sorried it would be an iron (like the early Intel MBP was). Has it remained cool to the touch as well? Thanks for the review.

  • Try some flash videos, if anything will make it hot that should do the trick.

  • I’m very intrigued by how the “more space” option will look. One of my big reasons for getting the (sadly discontinued) 17″ was being able to have as much screen real estate as possible.

    • Me too. More real estate is what I’m most interested in. I’d love to see a screenshot of the more space option.

    • StetsonG

      According to Anandtech, the More Space option has the same real estate as a 1920×1200 display.

  • No

    use Handbrake to rip a dvd with and without display on. measure the heat output. Load SMCFanControl and up the fan speed and measure the noise. measure the power output with Kill-A-Watt with full display on and off

    • Slight issue with ripping a DVD: it doesn’t have an optical drive. 😛

      • Sarah

        Then rip it from a disk image. Handbrake is a video transcoder app, not a copy app.

      • Buy one 40 dollars!

  • 4 (larger text) 3 2 (best for Retina) 1.5 1 (more space)

    If I am not wrong.

    • schrodinger_cat

      4 (larger text) — 1024 by 640 3 — 1280 by 800 2 (best for Retina) — 2880 by 1800 1.5 — 1680 by 1050 1 (more space) — 1920 by 1200

      • Tris

        I wonder what those numbers mean.. the relative size compared to the ‘more space’ setting ?

        According to the icons, the smallest and biggest have a 1:3 size ratio (check the menu bar)

        I’d say it’s more like 3.0 old eyes with sharp images. 3^2 = 9x more pixels than before. 2.5 2.0 best for retina (=same size, 2^2 = 4 x more pixels) 1.5 1.0 native retina. 1^2 = 1x the amount of pixels. your adobe sidebar looks tiny.

        And regarding the screen resolutions added by schrodinger_cat, again I wonder what they are about. Would they mean “the resulting display looks similarly sized than a X by Y 15″ resolution screen” ? If that’s the case, the numbers are rather bizarre, with the native resolution right in the middle.

        My bet is simple : they started from the 1440×900 as reference. This is the “best for retina” size : same size, everything sharper. Just 2^2 times the amount of pixels for the same picture. They went up and down from there.

  • Steven Fisher

    You want to spin up the fan?

    Install Flash.

    It works on my MacBook and both my iMacs, at least.

    • Why do you guys want to let Flash bully your Macs?

      • Sam


      • Steven Fisher

        Nick Jr.

        But it’s not like it reliably works anyway.

  • Gonji

    I’m torn. I was lusting after a 27in. iMac. After seeing this the focus of my lust has changed. What to do?

    • Steven Fisher

      Three way orgy.

      • Gonji

        I wish! However, the wife might have something to say about that; on many levels.

  • ungeheier

    Jim, Since you’re now on 5by5 and have a new audience (developers) and at WWDC (developers), I’d love to know what Xcode/iPad Simulator looks like on that screen.

    Can the iOS simulator display an iPad scaled at 100% and see the whole thing without losing size?

    For work I ended up with a 13 inch MBA (I know, I should’ve waited for WWDC but I didn’t make the purchase). As a developer, Id love to know how much better this screen would be for us (developers).

    • Steven Fisher

      You’re not going to be able to see a retina display iPad on that in both orientations at 100%. Even if it handles the 2x optimally, the MacBook Pro is 2880×1800, the iPad is 2048×1536. In portrait mode, even without the chrome (which is at least minimal) that 2048 exceeds 1800.

      But yeah, I’d love to hear how much better it is in practice. I’m sure other developers will tell us. I don’t think using iOS programming is one of Jim’s strengths, and I’m not selfish enough to inflict Xcode 4 on him. 🙂

  • I’m hoping to hear more about sound level tests on those fans.

    Mr. D.: How well does the new display actually “reduce glare”? Is there a coating you can describe?

  • rwitt

    Try playing a game to get the fans running. Diablo III at retina resolution is a good choice

  • Chuck

    I just realized that the new MacBook Pro doesn’t have a security slot. Which is really surprising to me, they even have it on the airport extreme, but then again, they don’t have it on the Air and this looks more like a MacBook Air Pro anyway.

    Kinda weird and disappointing that it doesn’t have a security slot.

  • schrodinger_cat, that sounds about right, especially if you consider 2880×1800 to be equivalent to 1440×900.

  • John Dean

    I installed SMC fan control on my new 15″ retina MBP. Full speed (only around 5900 now compared to I think 6300 or so from the 2011 15″ MBP this replaced) fans are noisy but it is more of a whoosh of air, not the same sound at all of the old one. Not as annoying to me anyway. Just too bad that Mac OS X can’t go past 1920×1200 for the OS itself – even my Windows 7 VM in Parallels can run at 2880×1800. Hopefully they give us a few more resolution options moving forward with updates… Granted most people would find that high of a resolution useless, but for people with excellent eyesight, it’s a great option. I do a lot of remote server support and having multiple remote desktops running at high resolutions makes things easier for me to monitor and multitask on… But that being said, the 1920×1200 that OX X maxes out at is sweet anyway compared to my more limited 1440×900 or whatever my 2011 15″ could do.