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Is Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display worth the money?

Consumer Reports News: June 19, 2012 04:08 PM

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Is it worth spending $400 more for a retina display on the latest Apple MacBook Pro? To find out, we compared the company's new 15-inch laptops. The MacBook Pro with Retina display ($2,200) has a 2880 x 1800 display, while the MacBook Pro ($1,800) has a 1440 x 900 screen.

Here's what we found when we tested a press sample of the MacBook Pro with Retina display along with a retail sample of the regular MacBook Pro:

The MacBook Pro with Retina display has the best color accuracy we've seen. The screen is also one of the crispest. Its dense pixel count makes for very smooth lines, no matter what curves or angles it's displaying.

With its anti-glare coating, it's not surprising that the MacBook Pro with Retina display did better in our glare test than the majority of the laptops in our current Ratings, which lack an anti-glare coating. It also did better than the new MacBook Pro, which has a very glossy screen. But for an extra $100, you can get that MacBook Pro with an anti-glare coating and higher resolution of 1680 x 1050.

Both new MacBook Pro models were very slightly above the average brightness of other current laptops. Had Apple made the maximum brightness higher than it did, both would be easier to see outdoors in bright light. That said, they are viewable outdoors in the shade.

For photographers and those who do lots of photo editing, the model with the retina display lets you view more of your image at 100 percent or a 1:1 ratio. That can be crucial if you're making adjustments to an entire photo, such as sharpening or noise reduction. Being able to better see those changes can improve both the accuracy and speed of your workflow.

In addition, the retina display's high resolution lets you see greater detail when viewing images and videos. For example, with a high-resolution RAW image from a digital camera, you'll be able to zoom in to see finer details while still maintaining a crisp, clear image. On lower-resolution screens, that image would look soft and blocky.

The two models differ a bit in weight and thickness. The MacBook Pro with Retina display has a design similar to a MacBook Air. It weighs 4.5 pounds and is 0.7 inches thick; the regular MacBook Pro is 5.6 pounds and 0.95 inches thick. Both models we tested had Intel's latest, quad-core 2.3GHz Core i7 processor. The retina display model had 256GB of flash storage and 8GB of memory, while the regular model had a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of memory.

The bottom line: If you're a professional photographer or serious amateur, the extra $400 for the better retina display is probably worth it. But if you buy the retina version, remember to update your accessories and software to keep up with faster technologies such as the speedy flash drive in the MacBook Pro with Retina display (the other MacBook Pro comes standard with a traditional hard drive that's slower, although flash drives are available at extra cost).

Apple Introduces All New MacBook Pro with Retina Display [Apple]

—Rich Fisco, Terry Sullivan, Donna Tapellini

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