Hands on with the Retina MacBook Pro

When I first heard about the MacBook Pro with Retina display at the WWDC, I can’t deny I was a little excited.

The first time I saw an iPhone 4 back in the summer of 2010, it ruined me. Every time I looked at my then one year old iPhone 3GS display, all I could see were pixels. Just pixels, pixels, everywhere. Up until that moment I had been perfectly content with my phone, but now I was embarrassed to pull it out of my pocket, knowing it had a sub-standard display.

The following March, expectation was high for a Retina enabled iPad 2. At the time though, Apple decided to focus the marketing priorities on speed, size and weight. It was a disappointing moment, but one which was understandable. It was clear the company hadn’t developed a process to enable them to develop a 2048×1536 pixel display with more pixels than a 1920 x 1080 Full HD television all in the space of just 9.7 inches.

Earlier this year, Apple finally delivered the ‘new iPad’ with just those specifications – a doubling of the pixels in each direction, with every pixel now being described by four. As soon as I first saw the screen I could clearly see it was a huge improvement over the previous generation. It appeared much brighter compared with the now apparently slightly washed out screen of the iPad 2 (although up to that point I hadn’t noticed before) and everything just looked much sharper. At 264 pixels per inch, both images and text seemed almost as good as printed versions. Although this didn’t match the 326 pixels per inch figure achieved by the iPhone 4 and 4S, the difference was negligible, and when considered in conjunction with the much larger screen space it seemed fairly irrelevant.

Today I visited the Apple Store in Regent Street, central London to view the new MacBook Pro. My previous experiences with Retina class displays had up to that point been very positive, so I had much to look forward to. However, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed. It seems that the 220 pixel per inch display just doesn’t have the sharpness that the latest generations of the iPhone and iPad have. Although this figure is still impressive for any display, it just doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor we’ve come to expect from Apple of late. Releasing the screen under the Retina name seems to dilute the brand a little.

For a 15.4 inch display, the resolution seems too high. Although it’s great for any image work, any office suite work will leave you reaching for a magnifying glass and leave you with eyestrain soon after. Perhaps this is done to cover up the fact that many programs won’t have high-resolution graphics, and so the smaller they are, the less users will notice. I’d have preferred Apple to have stuck to a more conventional resolution, perhaps 1280 x 800 and then double the pixels in each direction from that starting point.

Aside from the disappointing display, the specifications aren’t particularly exciting as Apple has spent most of the budget on the flat panel. For £1,799 you get only 8GB of RAM and 256GB of Flash RAM, and no optical drive. It’s hard to see why anyone would want to spend that much when the main selling point is so lacklustre.

Rather uncharacteristically for the company, it looks like Apple are now in the market for supplying Christmas dinners this year, as it looks like the new Retina MacBook is a bit of a turkey.

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