The MacBook Pro is Apple's line of professional notebooks, with higher-powered Intel Core processors than are featured on the thinner and lighter MacBook Air notebooks and features like SDXC slots. Earlier this year, Apple introduced a 15-inch MacBook Pro which sported a Retina display, a feature which used to only be found on its 2012 iPad model. The 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro started at $2,199, however, a price tag which put it out of reach of even many professionals.
Now, at the event where Apple introduced its new iPad and iPad Mini, it has also unveiled a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. And with a starting price tag of $1,699, it's both hundreds of dollars cheaper than the slightly larger 15-inch model, and only $200 more than an identically specced 13-inch MacBook Pro which lacks the Retina feature.
What is the Retina display?
It's Apple's trade name for a screen so sharp that you can't discern individual pixels with your unaided eye, at the regular distance you'd use it from. It's basically the new "HD," partly because comparing it to standard HDTV resolutions is like comparing an HDTV to standard definition, and partly because Amazon and Barnes and Noble are giving their new Kindle Fire and Nook tablets the HD moniker for having roughly Retina-level screen resolutions.
By the numbers
Apple lists the screen resolution of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (that's actually the product's name) as 2,560 by 1,600 pixels, giving it a pixel density of 227 ppi, or pixels per inch. This is a lower resolution than the 15-inch MacBook Pro features, but it's still slightly sharper because of the smaller screen. It doesn't quite approach the new iPad's 264 ppi screen, and roughly compares to the Google Nexus 7's 216 ppi display in terms of sharpness.
For comparison, the Nexus 7 packs a screen with the same resolution as a regular 13-inch MacBook Pro into an iPad Mini-sized chassis. Take that screen and make it almost twice as long across diagonally while remaining just as sharp; that's basically what it's like.
Only $200 more?
The minimum price tag on a 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Retina feature is only $1,199. However, the cheapest Retina MacBook Pro configuration includes add-ons -- like 8 GB of RAM, and a 128 GB solid state drive -- which would normally cost hundreds of dollars extra, putting the actual price difference (between otherwise identically specced MacBook Pros) at only $200.
Worth the price?
The highly technical crowd which has always been the MacBook Pro's target audience will be able to make good use of the Retina MacBook Pro's high-res display for image editing and programming. The biggest drawback may be that most graphics on the web haven't yet been sized for use on Retina screens, and will look somewhat blurry on them. Besides that, the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro also lacks a DVD burner and FireWire 800 port, like its larger sibling, although it's thinner and lighter than the regular model and features HDMI output.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.