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Tuesday, June 19, 2012, 10:30 am PT (01:30 pm ET)

Review: Apple's next-gen MacBook Pro with 15" Retina display




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Retina display



The Nvidia graphics card is put to good use in powering the high-resolution Retina display, which packs in the most pixels of any laptop screen ever. The difference is immediately noticeable. Once you boot up your new MacBook Pro and begin the setup process, you'll immediately see how the crisp, high-resolution fonts make reading text a much more enjoyable experience.

At 220 pixels per inch, this screen doesn't pack in quite as many pixels as the iPhone 4S, or even the new third-generation iPad. But Apple says the use of its "Retina" branding remains appropriate, given the distance from which users typically view the screen of a 15-inch notebook.

Any debate over the validity of "Retina display" branding notwithstanding, this screen is in every way the best we've seen on a notebook, period. The extra pixels make text and images look fantastic, the colors on the LCD are bright and vivid, and viewing angles are also worthy of considerable praise.

MacBook Pro


Apple has also said that a new glass-less design on the MacBook Pro screen has helped to reduce glare by 75 percent. This may be true, but glare on the display still remains noticeable in sunlight or near an open window. There is no matte option for the new Retina display, meaning you'll just have to deal with the glare.

To take advantage of the Retina display, Apple's native OS X applications have been updated, and they look great. Apple also issued updates for iMovie and iPhoto to ensure they make the most of the new high-resolution screen. Even Final Cut Pro was given a Retina update at launch.

iPhoto


It's Pro users that will get the most out of the new Retina display. With this many pixels available on the screen, native 1080p video will no longer take up your entire screen. That means you can see every single pixel of a video being edited while having adequate additional room to get work done. The same benefits can be seen for photographers editing super-high resolution images.

The main problem with the Retina display is the same issue previously seen when the iPhone and iPad platforms made the jump to ultra-high resolution: lack of application support. Some legacy applications that don't use fonts built in to OS X look downright horrible on the new Retina display, with jaggy text often accompanies by low-resolution images.

Two applications in particular are sorely in need of an update for the Retina display are the Google Chrome browser and Steam, Valve's digital storefront and launch center for games. Presumably, this and most other software will get the necessary update in due time.

Retina text

Above: Text as seen in Google Chrome. Below: Text optimized for Retina display in Safari.


But for professional users, particularly those who work in graphic design, the lack of Retina support for third-party applications is a glaring problem. It's a big enough issue that some professionals might want to hold off on buying a new MacBook Pro until the software they use most — Adobe Photoshop, for one prominent example — is updated to appear correctly on Apple's next-generation notebook.

Another downside to the Retina display is many sites on the Web look worse because they do not push enough pixels in their images. Any low-resolution content on the new MacBook Pro immediately stands out as an eyesore.

Chrome


But these issues are temporary matters that will be forgotten quickly as Retina display support becomes the norm. Just as native iPad applications appeared blurry and poor on the third-generation iPad, in just a matter of weeks Retina display support had come to many of the most popular applications on the App Store. Here's hoping the same will happen with the Mac.