13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review: The Almost Perfect Laptop  

PHOTO: Apples 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display starts at $1,699.

I own a lot of gadgets, but the most used gadget in my arsenal? A 13-inch MacBook Pro laptop. Some will find that shocking: Why don't you own a MacBook Air, which you have said time and time again is the best laptop to date? There's one reason: more horsepower.

I have always needed more computing strength than the Air can provide -- I run a lot of programs on my laptop, at times do heavy photo and video editing, and I also run Windows 7. All of those demand a lot of RAM (the Air comes with 4GB) and a full voltage processor. But, of course, for that internal muscle I have given up the Air's thinner and lighter build and longer battery life.

But Apple's latest laptop -- the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display -- promises to put an end to my constant search for outlets and heal my aching shoulder. It is billed as the best blend of both the Air and the Pro, with both higher performance parts and an insanely-high resolution display. It's almost perfect. (Almost. The starting list price is $1,699; I'll gripe about that later.)

Thin, Aluminum Design
Those who have used a MacBook Air will not be impressed by the 3.57-pound, 0.75-inch-thick 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display -- at least not with the lid closed. But those who have dragged around a 13-inch MacBook Pro will oh-so-appreciate the difference. It's lighter on a lap, lighter in hand, and much lighter in a shoulder bag.

No, it's not as thin as the Air, but without an optical drive, it is much thinner than the 13-inch Pro. Apple also made more room for two USB 3.0 ports, two ThunderBolt jacks, an HDMI socket, and an SD card reader. What is missing is an Ethernet port -- something I actually missed when at the office. Apple offers a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter for $29.00.

The laptop is made from the same DNA as the rest of Apple's laptop family. Its aluminum-unibody build is still tough and extremely sturdy. You'll still want to think, though, about investing in a sleeve or cover to make sure it's protected from nicks and scratches in a bag. (Trust me, it's not something worth learning the hard way.)

Under the lid you'll find a glorious display (more on that in a minute), a chiclet keyboard, and a wide trackpad. The backlit keyboard and trackpad combo are exactly what you get on other Macs -- they are comfortable and easy to break in. The pad deserves special attention. It is still by far the best made on any laptop today and is ultra-responsive to swipes, taps and gestures.

An Eye-Popping Display
And now to that screen. No, it doesn't claim to be the highest-resolution display on any notebook -- the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina is better -- but it's still damned impressive. Retina Display is in the name of the product and it's for good reason -- the 2560 x 1600-resolution screen is sharp, crisp, clear, and any other word you can think of to describe a piece of glass that makes text and images look so high-quality.

As I said in the reviews of the 15-inch version, it ruins other computer screens. Every time I went from looking at the 13-inch Retina display to my 21-inch, 1080p external monitor my eyes would have to adjust; just as you have to adjust to the winter or drinking soy milk -- it isn't pleasant. The only problem is that content and apps that aren't optimized for the higher-resolution screen look bad. Real bad. For instance, in Twitter, which still hasn't come out with a optimized app in the Mac Store, text looks grainy. Same goes for Firefox.

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