Mac Musings

The 13" Retina MacBook Pro Value Equation

Dan Knight - 2012.10.30 - Tip Jar

13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display

When Apple introduced the 13.3" MacBook Pro with Retina Display last week, we learned that the 13.3" MacBook Pro (MBP) is Apple's best selling Mac. That's quite an accomplishment for an $1,199 laptop, especially since it isn't Apple least expensive notebook computer. (That honor goes to the $999 11.6" MacBook Air (MBA), and the 13.3" MacBook Air matches the $1,199 price of the entry-level MacBook Pro.)

Following the trail blazed by the 15.4" MacBook Pro with Retina Display 4-1/2 months ago, the 13" Retina MacBook Pro (RMBP) takes the 13" design introduced with the first consumer MacBook way back in May 2006, doubles pixel resolution vertically and horizontally, ditches the optical drive, replaces the hard drive with SSD, slims down from the 1.08" of the old MacBooks and 0.95" of the Pro version to 0.75", and reduces its weight from 4.5 lb. to just 3.57.

Like the 13" MBP and MBA, the 13" RMBP comes in two speed options, and its price tag makes it the most expensive 13" notebook in Apple's current product line:

  • 13" MBA, 1.8 GHz dual-core i5, 128 GB SSD, $1,199
  • 13" MBA, 2.0 GHz dual-core i7, 256 GB SSD, $1,599
  • 13" MBP, 2.5 GHz dual-core i5, 500 GB HD, $1,199
  • 13" MBP, 2.9 GHz dual-core i7, 750 GB HD, $1,499
  • 13" RMBP, 2.5 GHz dual-core i5, 128 GB SSD, $1,699
  • 13" RMBP, 2.9 GHz dual-core i7, 128 GB SSD, $1,899

For comparison purposes, the 13" 2.5 GHz MBP with 128 GB SSD sells for $1,399, so there's still a $300 premium for the Retina Display and slimmer, lighter form factor. And if you need a SuperDrive, that's an additional $79 for Apple's external unit, although there are less costly third-party alternatives.

All Things Considered

For the ultimate in portability, the $999 11" MBA wins at 2.38 lb., followed by its 13" sibling at 2.96 lb. The 13" MBA also has a higher resolution display than the 13" MBP (1440 x 900 pixels vs. 1280 x 800), which is a bit of an oddity - you'd expect the pro model to match that resolution.

Of course for the ultimate in resolution, the RMBP wins hands down at 2560 x 1600 pixels at the same 13.3" diagonal screen size. And that's really the biggest reason to choose the Retina model over the lighter MacBook Air or the heavier MacBook Pro with its built-in SuperDrive, both of which cost less.

It's hard to place a monetary value on the Retina Display. It's a game changer, and with the elimination of the iPhone 3GS when the iPhone 5 was introduced, it's something all current iPhones have. On the iPhone's tiny screen, it makes small text (very common when browsing the Web) much easier to read. That's equally true for the Retina Display iPads and MacBook Pros. It's almost photographic quality, which is an incredible experience.

Back in the day, compact Macs shipped with 9" black-and-white displays with 512 x 342 pixels at approximately 69 pixels per inch. Each pixel was crisp and distinct, and that really hadn't changed over the years. Pixel density kept improving, but until the Retina Display came along, they remained distinct. It really is a game changer, but it isn't cheap.

Over time, perhaps this screen technology will become more affordable. It's in all current iPhones, iPod touches, and the iPad 4 - and now in two sizes of Retina MacBook Pros. It will become more affordable over time, but whether it will ever completely displace standard resolution displays remains to be seen. It's certainly a feature that sets Apple apart in one more way from the Windows laptops.

I honestly can't place a monetary value on the Retina Display or the lighter weight of the RMBP. It's something you have to experience, so I hope there's an Apple Store nearby where you can spend some hands-on time with one to see if it's worth $1,699 and up to you.

If you decide it is, rest assured that Apple will not disappoint. There is no sacrifice in processing power, as there is with the MacBook Air. It really is designed as a pro model. LEM

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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