A few months ago Apple released updated versions of its MacBook Pro range. The 17″ model was scrapped and the remaining models received USB 3, faster memory and new, quicker Ivy Bridge processors with improved GPUs. They also introduced a retina version (a so-called “Third Generation” MacBook Pro) of the 15″ model, and this was the one that the press concentrated on.
The one model that was retained but hasn’t yet had a retina version created is the 13″, although it’s rumoured that one may be announced in the next month.
Why buy the “standard” model over a retina version (or in the case of the 13″, why not wait)? Unfortunately, the retina model isn’t just a screen resolution change. Yes, it also gets a solid state drive but it also loses its optical drive, a number of ports and the battery and memory are no longer upgradable. And these are the things I wanted. The new retina models are, for some reason, more like the MacBook Air, rather than being a very distinctive model.
So, I bought a 13″ MacBook Pro. Even this, though, isn’t the only decision as there are 2 versions available – Core i5 and Core i7, the former with 4GB of memory and the latter with double this. I bought the former – the Ivy Bridge, turbo-boosting i5 is more than enough for what I need it for and I can upgrade the memory later if I feel I need to. Finally, buying it from Apple allowed me to make further configuration changes – I had a 128GB SSD installed installed of the standard 500GB hard drive.
The specifications for the 13″ are a 1440×900 resolution screen, 4GB 1600 MHz RAM, 2.5GHz Intel Core i5, Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics, 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4. The 128GB SSD runs via a 6 Gbit/s SATA interface and a “Superdrive” provides slot-in CD and DVD reading and writing duties.
Connections are an SD card slot, 2 x USB 3 ports, Thunderbolt port, Gigabit Ethernet, Firewire 800 and an audio line out (the line in port is only on the 15″ model).
The whole thing is 325×227x240mm (WxDxH) and weighs just 2kg. This compares to my Lenovo Edge 11 at 1.3kg – but this was an 11″ plastic build without an optical drive. The MacBook, in comparison, has a metal “unibody” construction. And that construction really is superb – it feels incredibly solid and looks fantastic. The keyboard is a joy to use – I’ve found it easier to use than any other keyboard before and the screen is bright and sharp. Above it, embedded in the bezel, is an HD camera.
The touchpad too, something I never really warmed to on Windows laptops, comes into its own on the Macbook – I quickly found myself scrolling and flicking my way around applications using various multi-touch gestures. The sheer size of the touchpad is an advantage, although the lack of a physical mouse button (let alone two) takes a while to get used to. Now, when using my wife’s Samsung laptop, I have to stop myself from attempting to 2-finger scroll through web-pages.
Battery life is fantastic – I’m regularly being shown a 7 hour battery life, although it does never appears to last that long (I suspect that’s due to my over-use of the fantastically quick “sleep” option, rather than shutting it down).
What I really like about the MacBook,though, are the little touches that, on their own, aren’t of any importance but together show a lot of though has gone into it. On one side, for instance, is a metal button – press this and the current battery level is briefly shown via a series of LEDs next to it. There’s also the backlit keyboard, the brightness of which can be controlled by a series of keys.
The MagSafe power connector, held in place by magnetism, is designed to come straight out if pulled (rather than drag your MacBook onto the floor). A charge light, indicating status, is also integrated into the tiny connector. All of this is connected to a white, plastic “brick” power connector. Ingeniously a mains plug can be connected to this allowing you to plug this directly into the wall or a separate cable can be added so that it’s part way along the cable, as with traditional laptop chargers. If you use the former method the cable is shorter but it can be wrapped around 2 arms that can be pulled out of the charger (see gallery image).
Packaging, this is as you’d expect from Apple – all about presentation with the MacBook on display as soon as you open the top of the box. A foam insert on the lid holds it in place. Other than some small leaflets, including a quick start guide, the MacBook and charger are all you get.
Environmentally, the use of cardboard is not too bad and plastic has been kept to a minimum But that foam insert is not very good. Other manufacturers would use card to hold the laptop in place – however, for Apple that would obscure that first glance at the MacBook as you open the box up. There’s also a plastic insert in which the Mac sits too – when a cardboard solution could have been used, this is disappointing.
Other annoyances include the magnetic catch which holds the MacBook closed – a great idea but having to prise it apart with my nails is silly. Also, the rubber feet underneath are large but not “grippy” enough – I found my MacBook slipping around desktops far too often.
However, these are minor and I really have nothing else to criticise it for. Well, other than the price. At the time of this review the model I bought, with SSD is £1159 (inc. VAT). With a standard 500GB HDD this drops to £999 but that’s still very expensive for what is, after all, just a modestly sized and powered laptop.
Fast, fantastic looking and, for the moment, upgradable I’d recommend this MacBook over even the Retina version. As hard as other laptops try to compete, they’re going to struggle against this. But that premium price that Apple charges is always going to make people look elsewhere, no matter how good it is.