09/11/2012 14:15 | By Richard Melville, contributor, MSN Tech

Apple MacBook Pro with 13-inch Retina display review

Super high-resolution screen and impressive hardware setup

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What is it?
The Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display is the latest Apple laptop, offering an ultra HD Retina display as seen on the latest iPad.

What’s great?
The screen is the best that we’ve seen on a 13-inch laptop and the battery life is still the best in the business..

What’s not?
The premium price for the Retina display account for almost a third of the price, meaning a non Retina version costs substantially less.

The bottom line:
Apple’s latest MacBook is thin, light and boasts excellent battery life, but the premium price doesn’t offer the value of the previous MacBook Pro which remains on sale.

Apple MacBook Pro Retina display review (© Apple)

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display: Build and design

Apple does style and design like no one else and the latest MacBook Pro is no exception. Inspiring a generation of slim PC Ultrabooks, the mix of metal and glass shares the design ethos of fellow Apple gadgets and feels weighty, rugged and nice to the touch.

The soft, near silent keyboard and trackpad are a joy to use and the rigid screen and body mean this isn’t the lightest laptop on the block (the MacBook Air is) but it’s the one that will turn the most heads. The slim profile means there’s no DVD drive and no Ethernet connection - the chunky cable socket found on other laptops which lets you connect to the internet in the old-fashioned way when wireless internet is unavailable.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display: Display

Like the latest full size iPad, Apple’s Retina display has genuine wow factor from the start. No other laptop screen looks as good or has a resolution that manages to increase the number of pixels by a factor of four. What does that mean? It means apps designed for a Retina display look stunning and your high resolution photos look the best they can - better than on paper, TV or rival laptops.

The downside of the display is the premium price tag of £1,449 (or £1,699 with extra storage and memory). To put that in perspective - a standard 13 inch MacBook Pro costs £999.

See also: Apple iMac (2012) review

The new MacBook Pro with Retina display also includes faster ‘flash’ based memory alongside the super HD display but that’s still a stiff price rise for an admittedly amazing screen. If you’re a keen photographer or enjoy movies regularly on your laptop, the premium price might be acceptable but for the majority of people, the standard MacBook Pro price tag will be easier to swallow and still offers a better screen than many rival PC Ultrabooks. A side-effect of the Retina display is that it can expose lower resolution websites that aren’t designed to be seen in such awe-inspiring detail.

Apple MacBook Pro Retina display side ports (© Apple)

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display: Usability

Slim enough to feel at home in a laptop bag or under your arm, there’s plenty of benefits that come with a MacBook Pro and this latest version starts in under 10 seconds. Open the lid and wake the MacBook Pro and it’s ready in two seconds, while standby time is counted in weeks, rather than days.

The battery life is a solid seven hours after a full charge with Wi-Fi on and several apps running at once. Wireless internet speed and connection is the best around - stroll into Starbucks and this MacBook Pro will find a wireless network before any rivals and doesn’t kick out the heat (or noise) of other laptops either.

See also - MSN Tech's 2012 Mac Mini review

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display: Performance

Using a familiar Intel Core i5 processor that many PC Ultrabooks use as standard, the MacBook Pro with Retina display has plenty of storage and extra processing technology to cope with HD video and professional quality photos from your DSLR camera, and is a good all-rounder for work and play.

Connect this MacBook to an external display or HD TV via HDMI and there’s a speed lag but, overall, it’s an extremely capable machine, even if the performance upgrade from the previous model isn’t as big as you might expect. The pay-off for the ultra fast ‘flash memory’ storage means that you now get 128GB of available storage instead of 500GB on the previous model.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display: Media

This MacBook is built for media playback thanks to the fast memory which means HD video, photo galleries and YouTube videos show no sign of stutter and can happily run while another app or task runs in the background.

Add Apple’s iCloud storage system for backup of your important contacts and files and the new MacBook Pro becomes one of the most powerful 13-inch laptops around for photographers and anyone who regularly downloads movies from iTunes.

The USB and SD card slots ensure you can easily import your camera photos and extra files when upgrading, though the lack of a Blu-ray player may deter travelling movie buffs who demand more for the price tag. Rival laptops offer Blu-ray functions for less money but, naturally, they boast a bigger frame and weight too.

Apple MacBook Pro Retina display slim (© Apple)

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display: Verdict

The new MacBook Pro is the most luxurious 13-inch laptop around. It uses Apple’s exclusive Retina display technology to offer the highest resolution screen available and is wrapped in the slick metal and glass framework that typifies Apple design.

The new MacBook is slim, light and powerful with seven hours of battery life and ultra fast memory for speedy media playback, though there’s no DVD or Blu-ray drive.

If you’re an Apple fan and demand the best experience that a 13-inch laptop can offer, this is the laptop for you but the screen accounts for a third of the hefty price tag. A standard 13-inch MacBook Pro without a Retina display costs £449 less, which could buy you an extra desktop computer, perhaps a Mac Mini which starts at £499.

Overall, the new MacBook is impressive and it’s only the cost that disappoints us but if you want the best 13-inch laptop, this is a clear winner in a crowd of chunky plastic rivals.

4 star MacBook Pro review

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display: Available now - from £1,449.

Like your Apple kit? If so make sure you check out these:
iPad (fourth generation) review
iPad mini review

Or maybe you're more Windows than Mac? If so, take a look at our pick of the 10 best affordable Windows 8 laptops

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