MacBook Pro with Retina display: 45 days in

MacBook Pro with Retina display: 45 days in

Summary: One and a half months ago, I broke down and replaced my ageing MacBook with a 13-inch MacBook Pro. This laptop rocks a Retina display and is my primary desktop system. Paired with an inexpensive gadget, it is a great tool for my work.

TOPICS: Mobility, Apple, Laptops

The MacBook I used for years was flagging and in need of replacement. I originally ordered a MacBook Air, but cancelled the order since the Chromebook Pixel spoiled me for a Retina display. The 13-inch MacBook Pro arrived 45 days ago, and has become my primary desktop system. It has already served me well and I am happy with the purchase.

(Image: Screenshot by James Kendrick/ZDNet)

The model I ordered has a 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor paired with 8GB of memory. The 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) has enough free space to keep me comfortable for a good while. This configuration is faster than I thought it would be, and it handles all tasks with ease.

The 13-inch Retina display is simply gorgeous, and I am so glad I cancelled the MacBook Air for this model. It helped that Apple recently dropped the price by $200 to make the switch more palatable.

I use the MacBook Pro as my primary desktop system. The display is so good that it's all I use. In the past, I have used a laptop with a large external display at the desk, but this laptop screen is all I have needed and I have no immediate plans to get a monitor to use with it.

I use an old Magic Mouse at the desk, but mostly for gaming. The trackpad is my preferred pointer for regular work tasks.

I occasionally take the laptop for working remotely, but most of the time it stays at the desk. It works fine when taken mobile, but I have other gadgets that work well for day trips. I usually grab something smaller and lighter to throw in the bag.

I am very pleased with the purchase and how the MacBook Pro has handled desktop duty. It works better than I expected, with no shortfalls.

The short list of apps I have installed get me through my work day with ease.

  • SnagIt: Screen capture tool

  • Google Play Music Manager: Utility that automatically brings Google Play music purchases into iTunes

  • Google Drive: Finder integration for my Google Drive cloud storage

  • Evernote: My favorite cross-platform note taking app

  • iMovie: Used for video productions

  • Air Display: Connects my iPad or iPad mini via wi-fi for use as an external monitor when convenient

  • Logmein: App that lets me control the MacBook remotely from either iOS or Android.

One of the special purposes that drove me to purchase a new MacBook is video production for product reviews. The reviews are edited, encoded, and then uploaded to YouTube for inclusion in reviews.

By far the greatest amount of time with video reviews is spent in the encoding of the video. This is especially true for HD video, and while the MacBook Pro is pretty fast I found a little gadget that greatly reduces the time required for encoding.

Elgato Turbo
Elgato Turbo.264
(Image: Screenshot by James Kendrick/ZDNet)

The Elgato Turbo.264 is a USB "stick" that plugs into the MacBook and takes over the encoding duty from the laptop processor. It is simply amazing how fast the Elgato encodes video. True HD video is encoded in near real time in the little USB device, which greatly reduces the post-production time required.

I bought the Elgato on Amazon for $85 and consider it a good investment. It comes with its own video software but I use it directly with iMovie for simple encoding. The Elgato is recognized when plugged in and just works.

I am very happy with the MacBook Pro and have no complaints at all, which is unusual for a gadget. There is nothing I wish it did differently or better, and I consider it worth the money I paid.

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Topics: Mobility, Apple, Laptops

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  • Retina display vs. touchscreen

    Gosh, I bet you really regret not getting a touchscreen with Windows 8, and I'm sure crystal-clear retina display is a real bummer. Just kidding - sounds like a very smart investment.
    D.J. 43
    • MS Ribbon

      the Ribbon bar is awesome specially while writing papers with lots of equations and formatting i dread the times i had to go through 10 submenus to get something done that now takes 1 to 2 clicks
      Laurin Krystyn
      • It's a matter of preference.

        If you know where commends are in the menus, then they are quick and easy too. I've been using the ribbon for 4 years now and still can't find everything easily. I keep thinking I'll get used to it, but...

        Personally, I can scan lists of horizontal words much quicker than I can scan through rows of vertical shapes.
      • Editing equations with ribbons bite.

        I could almost believe your post with that part taken out.
    • Nice sarcasm.

      But a very good article. Came across as honest as the day is long.

      Very good. Thanks James for showing others how its done.
    • 13 inches?

      If this were 1995 a 13" screen would be fine. I can't fathom working on a display that small for more than a few minutes. I have a 30" HP panel and can open two full page Word documents side by side at 120%. You describe a really nice machine for a road warrior but the dinky display and pokey processor don't really cut it as a desktop replacement.
      • display size

        Don't you see the 30" display a bit big for working with word documents? Big monitors are great for working on schematics and drawings, photos etc. But so much text on the display does no good. Especially if you look at it from close distance.

        It's all about the angle of view. Our eyes are not cameras and our mind can focus on only small area of what we see. Everything else is 'background'. So an 13" display on your lap or in front of you on the desk is just as good as 30" display on the far end of your desk.

        The resolution however, makes all the difference. Again, resolution is about angle of view (or what your eyes can detect). If your 30" display and your 13" display have the same number of pixels, you will see exactly the same stuff, if you place them both at the appropriate distance. (obviously, the 13" display closer)

        So no, as long as you can keep it close enough, and with a laptop you just cannot put the display away more than your hands can reach -- unless you use an external keyboard -- same number of pixels, smaller screen is just as productive. Your eyes do exactly the same in both cases.

        Now.. if you are far sighted and cannot focus at a distance of less than 1m, that's another story.
      • It's 2013

        Word is your killer app for an HDTV-sized monitor? It's 2013!
    • Not a Mac person myself but...

      For what sounds like your usage, why not get an iMac 27" and just use whatever mobile device you have for working remote (of which it sounds like you have a few). Retina is fine but being able to view fine details is still much too hard on a 13" displace compared to a 27".

      I am currently using a older iMac 27" at home and just a tablet with mouse/keyboard when away from my desk and it serves me rather well. But maybe I simply do not understand your use case.
      Rann Xeroxx
  • Curious about your choice of Office Suite software you might have.

    I always install Microsoft's Office Suite of apps on my Apple devices. I use Apple's "Pages" word processor almost as much as I do MS Word since most of my "Important" docs nowadays can be typed in one or two pages in length and Apple's software is quite adequate for that task. (I still hate the dreaded MS Ribbons. Grin)

    Or do you use Google Docs exclusively?
    • Both

      On the Mac I have the OS X suite and use that mostly. I do also use Google Docs when it makes the most sense. The fact is I don't use either very much, don't need Office compatibility like I did in years past.

      I use Evernote for text entry far more than office apps.
    • Ribbons

      On the Mac version of Office you can completely turn off the ribbons. If MS Office had better designed menus, they would never have needed to replace them with a Ribbon.
      • I find Office 2011 for the Mac

        to be vastly superior to using Office 2010 on Win 7. I leave the silly ribbon up but rarely use it as it is too full of useless shortcuts. If I want to set the paragraph leading and trailing line space, I end up right clicking the ribbon to get to a dialog box in Office 2010 that is easier to find on the menu in Office 2011.

        I guess I am glad that Apple's UI policies require a useful menu bar. Otherwise Office 2011 would be as painful as using Office 2010.
  • Like the small screens, eh.

    Enough said.
    • I believe James has a 23" MacBook Pro system.

      Yeah, I know. His MBP is a 13" retina model. However, he also indicated that one of his apps was Air Display by Avatron. That app enables his 10" retina capable iPad to act as an extended secondary display in a dual monitor system setup. Quite slick in my opinion.
  • James expects us to forget his past

    This is the past where he claimed the Surface RT sucked because it couldn't replace a laptop but the ipad was fantastic because it could.

    Then he bought a Chromebook.

    Then he bought a macbook.

    Meanwhile, James has to carry about 5lbs of equipment everywhere he goes. Surface RT weight: less than 2lbs.

    But thanks for the advertisement James, apple appreciates your efforts.
    • Match the tools for the job at hand, Todd.

      Perhaps from your perspective, the Surface RT class machine (Win RT) could substitute for an Ultrabook class device.

      However, there is one undeniable fact to consider when multi-media project creation is the primary goal. Apple's video production ecosystem is second to none on Ultrabook class machines.

      And, given the tight integration between iOS and OS X software apps, video production on a laptop is quite sophisticated and, more importantly, easy to accomplish for amateurs and pro-sumers alike.
    • NZ - He said this was his desktop system

      Perhaps you think he carries his desk around too?

      My MBP 15" (1680x1050 pixels) has been both my desktop ad mobile system. With a quad core i7 2.7 GHz processor and 16GB RAM, it runs Win 7 just fine as a VM and goes with me everywhere. Who needs a Surface RT that can't run any Windows apps and is just something to spin and toss around like the MS ad shows anyway?

      Have you tried to encode H.264 video with your super duper Surface RT?

      I thought not...
      • LOL!

        " runs Win 7 just fine as a VM..."

        Gotta love using the ability to run Windows 7 as a reason not to use a Windows 7 system.
        • why the surprise

          Windows is not the best OS to run on variety of high performance hardware. Especially on a Mac, you can't get anything better optimised for the hardware than OS X. In any possible aspect.

          On the other hand, people need Windows because of their existing win32 applications, so why not run it in a VM, just as Microsoft does with the "XP Mode"? :)

          Plus, you can have several Windows VMs on the same computer, each with a different Windows version, to suit all your compatibility needs.