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13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display (2013) Review

13rMBP2013There are some products that are great, and then there are some that just hit that elusive sweet spot. Last week, I picked up the newest version of the 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display (rMBP), Apple’s latest and greatest laptop. Here are the specs of the mid range model ($1499):

  • 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
  • 8GB of RAM
  • 256GB PCIe-based flash storage
  • Intel Iris Graphics
  • Nine hour battery life
  • 802.11ac WiFi, 3.46 pounds, 0.71 inches thick

I travel enough that battery life and (to a lesser extent) weight are significant concerns to me when it comes to picking out a new laptop. My previous laptop was a 13-inch Macbook Pro (mid-2012), which did not properly address my battery life (seven hours) or weight concerns (4.5 pounds). I’ve been waffling on picking up a Macbook Air (MBA) for the better part of a year, with the upside being its incredible portability and absurd battery life, but the drop-off of power from the Pro to the Air always had me hesitant to make the move. Apple can pontificate all it wants about its SSD and software improvements, but a drop from 2.5GHz dual-core i5 processor on a Macbook Pro to 1.3GHz dual-core i5 in the new Air is still a significant decline that I don’t want to experience.

On the other hand, last year’s 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display was a debacle, as Apple insanely attempted to use Intel HD Graphics 4000 to push a Retina display — the same card in the non-retina Macbook Pro. So when the 2013 edition of the 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display, it was intriguing to say the least. After using it for the last week, and taking into account power, mobility, and battery life, I can confidently say the 2013 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display is the best computer Apple offers, and depending on your OS preference, it may be the best in the market.

Power

With Intel’s latest Haswell 2.4GHz dual-core i5 processor and Intel Iris Graphics, the 13-inch rMBP has made a substantial jump in power from its predecessor. The new Haswell chip paired with the 256GB PCIe SSD gets the 13-inch rMBP from a cold boot to start in 11 seconds. Photoshop CS6 opens in seven seconds, while Aperture comes alive in a little over 6 seconds. The Intel Iris Graphics is a dramatic improvement over the lackluster graphics card in last year’s model. No longer does the graphics card fail to push the 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 Retina display. The stutters experienced on most image-heavy web pages are nearly completely gone, and running Photoshop for more than five minutes doesn’t kick the fan into high gear. It actually takes a lot to get the fan going (now only the singular, down from two in the original 13-inch rMBP), but Chrome can do it. In Mavericks, Chrome is an unbelievable resource hog, and compared to Safari, a battery hog as well. More on that later.

Mobility

Coming in at 3.46 pounds and 0.71 inches thick, The 13-inch rMBP is only 0.5 pound heavier and 0.03 thicker than the Macbook Air at its largest point (the MBA tapers off all the way down to 0.11 inches). The weight difference between the two is noticeable, but not detrimental in any way. It’s easily the most portable computer I’ve ever had, and when you take into consideration the extra ports (HDMI and two Thunderbolt 2 ports), and the Retina display, you will quickly forget about the extra half pound if you’re coming from a MBA. Throwing a Macbook Pro in a bag and having it feel like you’re carrying a Macbook Air is a joy everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

Battery Life

As a person who travels and is on the move pretty often, battery life is paramount. This has been the number one reason why the MBA has consistently been at the top of the list for my next laptop. With a 12 hour battery rating and everyone I know who has one routinely getting 14-16 hours out of them, the 2013 MBA is easily the best choice for those who abhor outlets and chargers.

So when this year’s 13” rMBP came out with a 9 hour battery rating, it piqued my interest. With the power of a Pro, the resolution of a Retina display, and the portability of an Air, could this be the perfect laptop? Could the 9 hour battery life stand true under real-world usage? Yes, yes it can.

During my battery test — using checking emails using Sparrow, reading and sending tweets with Tweetbot, streaming music from Spotify, using known resource hoarder Chrome (Google really needs to address this, it’s completely ridiculous) to surf the web with multiple tabs continuously open, watching multiple HD YouTube videos, and messaging with the Hangouts extension — the 2013 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display lasted 9 hours 35 minutes. With seven percent and an estimated 41 minutes left.

There are more powerful laptop options, you could max out a 15-inch rMBP and run Final Cut Pro X to your heart’s content. If you’re purely in the market for something with extreme battery life, the MBA may be the computer for you. If you’re looking for something to play games on, an Alienware or Razer Blade may be the PC of your dreams. But if you’re looking for the complete package of real power, serious mobility, amazing battery life, and the best desktop OS currently available in OS X Mavericks, the best available laptop is the 2013 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display, without a doubt.

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