(Yet another) Retina MBP review from a web designer/programmer

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by drvelocity, Jun 21, 2012.

  1. drvelocity, Jun 21, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2012

    drvelocity macrumors regular

    Oct 20, 2008
    <Hyperbole style="fanboy-level:30">
    Long story short - holy s*hit. This machine three years ahead of it's time, a pure technological marvel. It is a testament to everything Apple stands for, a daring move that no other company on the planet could or would have been able to replicate. I cannot remember the last time I've bought a computing product that feels like as much of a technological leap as this - nothing comes close. This screen, 16GB of memory, a quad-core i7, the ridiculously fast SSD drive - no compromises whatsoever (for those who aren't attached to legacy hardware), in a sub 5-lb package. Welcome to the future. Bravo Jony Ive, Bravo.

    I spent days and days reading discussions regarding the new screen and how it would affect people who design for a living, trying to figure out exactly how much of a PITA using this new resolution would be. The good news is that while there are certainly a few pitfalls, what obstacles I still haven't been able to overcome are few in number and are simply a matter of waiting for the requisite updates. I'll approach this review in a bulleted format for each relevant topic:

    1. Video/scrolling lag - In Lion, it is very apparent and very annoying. In my experience it was worse than my old 2011 Macbook Air in the worst cases, in both Safari and Chrome. After updating to Mountain Lion DP4, Safari is ridiculously smooth regardless of which video card is active. In fact in all of my testing I couldn't find any discernible difference between the HD4000 and the GT650M. Chrome Canary, even on ML-DP4, mostly has the font rendering issue fixed but is still much choppier when scrolling than Safari. Safari's all-gray interface is a chore to use, however, so I'll be waiting earnestly for Chrome to get their rendering engine up to date. In the end, this is a non-issue. Reports are out of people hooking this thing up to three external monitors and having zero video lag.

    2. The screen - gorgeous, everything you can possibly imagine. I have always been a firm member of the matte screen camp, as anything Apple has put out in the past with a glass screen exhibits abhorrent glare that drives me nuts. This new LCD, less the extra layer of glass previously necessary, is perhaps not quite as glare free as my old matte Macbook Pro - but it gets close. Combine that with the extra brightness and clarity of the non-coated LCD and it's a screen that I believe can finally bring the matte/glossy battles to an end. I don't think I can even call an LCD this crisp a "glossy" screen. It's just raw LCD built into a super-thin layer of protective glass. The lack of an AR coating between the LCD and glass layers makes this look like a lighted piece of paper.

    I don't have any color issues, and the brightness does seem to be a bit less at maximum than my old screen but I haven't found that to be a problem. Usually I keep the screen at a notch or two below max to minimize eye strain. So far I've found that I have much less eye strain using this computer than my old Macbooks - and I use my computer at least 8 hours a day so that is a very appreciated and unforeseen benefit. Programming is a joy with ridiculously crisp text, although I had to move from TextWrangler to Coda 2 since the former doesn't yet support the Retina screen. (Supposedly none of the Carbon (fixed) apps will support the Retina screen since Carbon is deprecated in ML4, perhaps there will be a workaround for this in the future). I tried using the full 2880x1800 res and while it's very very impressive, UI elements are too small for me. I always assumed OSX was capable of easily resizing these, but apparently not? I could only increase text size in most apps.

    In terms of designing web sites, it was a worry for me at first but after a few days it's honestly a non-issue. Yes, I will definitely have to periodically check my work on a "normal screen", but I've had to do this for years on my 30" 2560x1600 monitor. Images built for 72dpi screens indeed look inferior, but in my opinion it's not as bad as many claim. It's just so obvious now because you have a constant comparison between the super crisp retina-enabled OS/text and the scaled images.

    It's funny that using high-res imagery and letting the browser scale it down to size used to be considered very bad form - but as far as this laptop goes, it actually isn't a bad way to go if you can't be bothered to use javascript to swap out high-res assets when necessary. I have a couple of sites I've built for personal use where I have 800x600 images that are displayed at a third of that resolution on the web page simply because I was too lazy to build new thumbnails - and they look ridiculously good. Basically any assets you have for a web site can be rendered at double the resolution and scaled back to the desired display res in CSS and you'll be set for all use cases (of course you'll have larger images as well, which may or may not be an issue).

    In any case, if an image looks great on the retina screen, it's going to look great on a normal screen. If it looks like garbage on the RMBP, it may or may not look good on a normal screen - but if you take a quality high res image and drop it down to the desired res in Photoshop at 72DPI, it's going to look fine on a normal computer screen. The process is exactly the same as it was before. So there is a learning curve involved here in terms of knowing what to expect, but it's a much smaller learning curve than I had originally expected.

    3. Fan noise/heat/battery life - The RMBP is whisper quiet and *just warm* most of the time, but if you do anything relatively intensive (especially when all four CPU cores or the GT650 kick in), it gets hot in certain areas and the fans are very noticable. But any laptop I've used in the last 5 years has been the same so I suppose I'm used to it. The heat is especially noticable right at the top of the keyboard by the 6 and 7 keys under which the CPU/GPU reside. My solution - just don't ever use any numbers between 4 and 8 - simple! </sarcasm>.

    Battery life is a bit of a disappointment to me - it seems very random at times. The amount of time you can squeeze out of this thing seemingly depends on the screen brightness more than anything, with CPU usage a close second. Just using video chat on Ichat with 80% brightness will net 2 hours maximum, which was a disappointment to me. Having said that, if you go down to half brightness and keep an eye on activity monitor to shut down any rogue CPU hogging apps, you can easily get 5-6 hours out of it. So in the end it's probably about the same as my 2011 Macbook Air.

    4. The speakers - I was expecting something miraculous, which certainly isn't the case. But they are damn good considering their size. I actually think the Macbook Air speakers are even more impressive considering how tiny they are and what little space they have to work with.

    5. What else? This thing is so fast.. it just gets out of the way and let's me do my work as fast as I can humanly compute. That's all I could ever ask for a computing device, and I think that was always Jobs' true goal. To that end Apple has absolutely delivered, to an extent no other product has and I suspect no product will for at least another 2-3 years. Games run incredibly well considering this form-factor, and in boot camp I'm sure performance will be at least another 30-50% better. So I'm very satisfied on this front. I had started building a Hackintosh before this system was announced and ended up selling everything to pay for this upgrade. This is now my only computer and so far I'm very happy with that decision.

    6. Side note - Gatekeeper is horrible, I disabled this immediately. I don't know if they truly want to protect users from virii or just lock down the app market to get their 30% cut (probably both), but I don't want any part of it. The day Apple forces Gatekeeper in any form is the day I stop upgrading.
  2. Rizzm macrumors 6502a

    Feb 5, 2012
  3. Tritons macrumors 6502

    Jul 12, 2011
    Thanks for review but battery life really is that bad? I mean 2h is just unacceptable.
  4. DrJohnZoidberg macrumors member

    Mar 16, 2012
    +1 just for 'hyperbole' tags (correctly executed too), the good review was just a bonus!
  5. Rizzm macrumors 6502a

    Feb 5, 2012
    Just when I think I'm getting closer to making a decision, something like this comes up to make me back off again.
  6. salmoally macrumors regular

    Jan 26, 2012
    Excellent and honest review! Much better than the crap I've been reading by so called tech "journalists".

    Just one question however, I assume you have been using photoshop/illustrator, how is pixel-doubling effect the actual image (not the UI), is it workable for now?

    Can't wait for mine now!
  7. Tritons macrumors 6502

    Jul 12, 2011
    Exactly. That's why I created this thread I hope users that already got they Retina Macbooks will post some info.
  8. wct097 macrumors 6502

    Nov 30, 2010
    Thanks for the review. I'm probably ordering one today, and I'm a little apprehensive about it. It's not like the Early 2011 where I had no doubts and coughed up the money right away without a second thought.
  9. Loge macrumors 68030


    Jun 24, 2004
    Surely you mean Carbon, not Cocoa?
  10. killmoms macrumors 68040


    Jun 23, 2003
    Washington, DC
    I was just about to post this. PEDANT POWER! :D


    I have yet to encounter it in day-to-day use of my machine, though I haven’t installed THAT much stuff on it yet. Are there really that many unsigned apps? :confused:
  11. wiseoak1 macrumors member

    Jun 20, 2012
    Thanks for the review, it was interesting.
    I'm sold at this slick new thin design and was a little worried about the retina screen. I'm a webdesigner + developer as well and I'm still curious how crisp websites will look like on the retina screen.

    One thing is a bonus for me... with the retina screen you'll start to create more retina images since you use it every day, so websites will look stunning on iPad too (though loading times will be a bit longer...).

    Any other webdesigners + developers out there who are satisfied with the retina screen?
  12. drvelocity, Jun 21, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2012

    drvelocity thread starter macrumors regular

    Oct 20, 2008
    Doh! Fixed - thanks!

    If you like a really bright screen and do anything remotely processor intensive, then yes 2-3 hours is about what you can expect unfortunately. It must take a LOT of LED's to pump enough light through this tightly packed pixelicious panel.

    It only happened once and that was more than enough to make me despise the entire idea, at least the way Apple implements it. There was literally no way to install the app without disabling Gatekeeper, and OSX didn't even tell me why the program couldn't run. It just told me that the program was "damaged" - after downloading the same program three times I finally figured out that the issue was Gatekeeper. If they simply told me that the app wasn't blessed by the Apple Gods, and gave me an option to install anyway, I suppose I could deal with that. But that probably doesn't go far enough to pushing developers to hand over 30% of their sales to Apple.

    For everything I've done so far it hasn't been an issue at all - in fact I really can't even tell there's pixel-doubling going on at all. The interface is a bit blurry but the actual images I'm working on look absolutely as they should.
  13. Mike07335i macrumors member

    Jan 10, 2009
  14. wiseoak1 macrumors member

    Jun 20, 2012

    How blurry is it?
    The interface for example, would it be less sharp than a Macbook Pro 15" 1440 normal screen?
  15. Tritons macrumors 6502

    Jul 12, 2011
    What model do you have and you get 7+ hours doing what? (also wifi on)? Thanks.
  16. drvelocity thread starter macrumors regular

    Oct 20, 2008
    It's very minor - yes, it looks worse than on a normal 1440 LCD just because pure pixel-doubling tends to overemphasize the anti-aliased nature of the original 72dpi image, at least that's how I'd explain it. Honestly after a couple of hours doing real work the distinction just goes away - it's a non-issue, trust me. Note that I'm using the pseudo 1920x1200 mode - the issue is slightly more pronounced at the default "Best (Retina)" setting - but even then I'd contend it's a minor, minor problem. And it's a problem that will go away with a few future updates (that will happen sooner rather than later IMO).
  17. wiseoak1 macrumors member

    Jun 20, 2012
    Thanks for the reply, I appreciate it.
    Still some questions popping up:
    — What programs do you use if I can ask?
    — How do you know this problem will go away? You think this re-scaling code/algorythm will be updated and fixed? Hmmm.. sounds a little unlikely to me.
    — Is it possible to make a pixel perfect design in Photoshop with this Retina screen + scale mode on 1920 or 1680?
  18. zeraien macrumors newbie

    Mar 9, 2011
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Thanks for the excellent and unbiased review. I'm tired of seeing all these "it's so fast and pretty" reviews.

    Seems that the 2 hour battery thing is the new standard at apple, I never got more than 2 hours out of my 2011 MBP, unless I didn't touch it at all and just ran one app or something... I think the keyboard uses too much energy ;)

    I truly hope you are right about the graphics issues being Lion-specific, I'm currently thinking about getting a new MBP and if Mission Control or the UI lags in any way, I'm skipping it. I can't stand laggy UI, had enough of it in my old Black Macbook and mac mini. I want silky smooth mission control, even if I have 50 apps open. Because I got that with my 2011 MBP and anything less than that is just folly.
  19. rudyrudell macrumors newbie

    Dec 18, 2011
    Thankyou for giving a constructive and informative review, these so called tech websites reviews have just been absolutely awful I need more info other then "ohh pretty" or "thin and fast".

    Just curious, what are the specs on your rMBP? I wonder if the current UI lag is less with the 2.7gHz I'm currently on order for.

    I hope that lag is taken care of by the time my new one gets here (July 3-10th).

    How bad are non-hd videos currently on it? I wonder if the newest VLC builds will be ready soon.
  20. kate-willbury macrumors 6502a

    Feb 14, 2009
    the UI lag is not a hardware issue and certainly shouldn't be fixed by jumping onto the 2.7ghz version. reports are its fixed with mountain lion. this isn't android where they force you to upgrade hardware to 'fix' software :)
  21. nicklasmp macrumors member

    Jun 21, 2012
    Thank you for your review, this was exactly what i was looking for - however the part i found most interesting was the one above. You wrote that you periodically had to check your work on a external monitor which i'm pretty used to aswell when it comes to designing websites - however MY concern is what about small tasks such as a poster, random image editting or similar - in other words work that you do on the run which only takes between a couple of minutes to a few hours. Let's go with this example, you get a small task to make a poster that has to be done in a few hours and then shown afterwards to the rest of your collegues/classmates. Would you be able to produce that and be confident that it looks great on a normal screen the first time you put it on? i mean ofcourse it will look great if it looks great on the retina, but you may be forced to use lower quality images, and thats my concern is it possible to judge those images and be confident that they look okay on a normal monitor?

    You write that if it looks "bad" on the retina display it may or may not look bad on a normal monitor, thats my concern - can you make an image on the retina with lower quality images and be sure that it looks okay on a normal monitor. Would a software update be able to fix that?

    I'm sorry for the rather large wall of text to explain that :<
  22. AVonGauss macrumors regular

    Oct 6, 2006
    Boynton Beach, FL
    If you're not already, I'd try running gfxCardStatus even if only to know when its switching from the Intel to Discrete. There may be differences between which applications trigger the discrete GPU between 10.7 and 10.8 as well.
  23. Pared3s macrumors regular

    May 14, 2010
    Unfortunately gfxCardStatus doesn't support the Retina MBP yet. That was one of the first things I tried to install.

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