15-inch Retina MacBook Pro Mid-2014 Review
Apple recently refreshed the Retina MacBook Pro lineup with modest enhancements. The latest high-resolution MacBook Pro’s include Intel’s latest processors, boosting the CPU speed by a mere 0.2 GHz and 15 inch model with 256GB SSD now comes with standard 16GB RAM.
I bought the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro with 512GB SSD, 2.5GHz i7 quad-core processor and 16GB RAM on August 15th, the day it was launched in India. This is my second Mac the first was a 27-inch mid 2010 iMac. I recently published the story behind me switching from an iMac to MacBook Pro, if you’re interested you can find it here.
It’s been almost 10 days since I’ve been using the new Retina MacBook Pro and this review will be focusing on real-world use, general observations and experiences. If you’re looking for a more technical review focusing on speed tests and tech specs, you may want to visit AnandTech for the most comprehensive hardware reviews.
Over the last 10 days my workflow has drastically changed. I was using a windows laptop before I purchased the iMac, and over the last 4 years working on a large 27-inch screen made me feel that going back to a laptop would be a challenge. However, I was prepared for the tradeoff between modern computing speed and screen space.
As I started working on the new Retina MacBook Pro I was pleasantly surprised with the fact that I was being more efficient in my workflow and obviously could get the work done much faster than ever before. Before I get into the details about how the MacBook Pro changed my workflow I should talk about how I work.
A typical day would see me browsing through hundreds of webpages, lots of email, working on Pages, creating presentations on Keynote, producing wireframes for apps, web design etc. With the luxury of 27 inch screen I mostly had everything open on a single desktop area. This allowed me to always have a bird’s eye view of everything that was open and gave me a feeling of being in control over everything. I rarely ever used ‘Spaces’ (creating multiple desktop spaces in OS X) as I just liked everything at one space. Even though this allowed me to view more at once, it could easily be too distracting at times.
With the MacBook Pro going from 27-inch to 15.4 inch screen required me to adjust the way I worked. From having lots of windows open at once I instantly switched to a more organised workflow by creating multiple spaces. Also, using full screen apps now made more sense, having mail open full screen on a 27 inch screen is not the same as it being open full screen on 15.4 inch screen. Full screen apps such as Mail, Pages or Safari make more sense on laptop when compared to a desktop. So, even though now I would see less at once but this increased my focus on the task at hand. Over the last 10 days I’ve noticed that having less to view at once actually made more sense and one could be more productive this way. It’s worth mentioning that I do miss the large screen space when it comes to wire framing apps, websites or editing a movie, but retina display surely makes up for that.
The first thing I ever noticed about the new MacBook Pro was its flawless high-resolution screen. The text is crisp, photos look stunning and it’s a complete visual treat. It suddenly makes you wonder why on Earth would you ever work on anything that does not have a retina screen. So, it was love at first sight with the new screen.
Once you come to terms with how excellent the screen is you start noticing that everything is just swift. Thanks to the SSD launching applications, booting-up, waking from sleep, reading & writing data is very fast. I can’t stress enough on how ‘fast’ especially if you’re moving from HDD to SSD for the first time on a computing machine. I would never turn off the iMac as it would take about 3-4 minutes to boot-up and that often felt like a lot. Apple’s iOS devices ‘always on’ usage behaviour has certainly changed the way we expect the way modern computers should work. MacBook Pro takes only a few seconds (less than 15) to boot-up so turning it off when not using it can help you save some energy. Although, there are no major benefits of turning off your computer when not using it, however occasionally it will make it more responsive as it will clear the RAM being hogged by kernel tasks.
The next aspect about the Retina MacBook Pro that I want to highlight is 16GB RAM. For the last four years I had been working with 4GB RAM on my iMac. For the modern-day browsing and general computing activities 4GB just isn’t enough although it does depend on how you use your computer. Since, I love having 15-25 tabs open in Safari when I’m researching on some topic having access to lots of RAM is a huge advantage.
I’ve put the new MacBook Pro under extreme work load by having lots of safari tabs open, playing SimCity, working on a Pages document, importing photos to iPhoto and even working on Final Cut Pro and Aperture, but the MacBook Pro just keeps taking it all and doesn’t lag one bit. I would refer to myself as a “power” user, so working on a portable machine that can take all that load is extremely satisfying.
I was a bit concerned about the battery life of my new Retina MacBook Pro. I had considered holding off my purchase for another year in anticipation of Intel’s Broadwell chips that are expected to be much more power efficient. However, so far the battery life on the MacBook Pro has been very reasonable. Keeping the screen brightness low and keyboard backlight off while not activating the dedicated graphics chip the MacBook Pro has exceeded Apple’s battery guidelines. Switching from iMac to a MacBook Pro also gave me the freedom from being tied to my desk. This freedom to work from anywhere without sacrificing on power or battery is a huge benefit.
The last aspect I want to cover is the overall build quality. Apple’s Retina MacBook Pro is undoubtedly the best looking machine you can buy in the market. The unibody construction feels extremely solid and it doesn’t feel that heavy when compared with the older generation models.
When working for long durations the system does heat up and sometimes it can get a bit uncomfortable. The fans have rarely kicked in at full speed during normal use. In my daily use the fans kicked in at full speed only while playing SimCity as the game requires the use of dedicated graphics card.
The Retina MacBook Pro might be costly but it scores highly in all aspects you can think of. However, it may still not meet everyone’s requirement. If you’re into high-end gaming and love running games at highest graphics settings then this may not be for you. If you prefer having more than 1TB storage then you’d have to look elsewhere. Upgrading the machine after purchasing is not possible; 16GB RAM will always remain 16GB. The device has been rated low in repairability. If you want to play DVD’s you would need to buy a SuperDrive.
Other benefits of a MacBook Pro include iCloud, access to some of the best softwares from the Mac App Store, less susceptible to malware, extremely responsive multi-touch trackpad and the best customer support service.
Apple’s Retina MacBook Pro is the gold standard in laptops and OS X Yosemite will only put it further in the lead. If you’ve waited all this while to switch to the MacBook Pro lineup there was never a better time than today.