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June 25, 2012 • Editorials

MacBook Pro with Retina Display; Why We Bit

Dan: In last week’s newsletter, Judie and I began to address our first impressions of the new MacBook Pro with Retina display. I sat down to flesh out a more in-depth post but soon realized that what might be more compelling was why we both felt this computer was worth the price of admission in the first place.

I certainly won’t speak for Judie, but I thought I would lay out my reasons for buying the MBPr and why, after  using it for a week and a half, I realize they were spot on. In order to fully explain why this computer is the right machine for me at this point for me I need to go back and share a bit of my desktop/notebook computing history.

My first Mac was purchased in the fall after the iPhone came out. Yes, for me, the iPhone was a gateway Apple device. That first Mac was a black MacBook and, despite having some significant issues with it early on, I love it. For the first few months it replaced my tablet PC, but I continued to use a Dell desktop. After a time I realized it made sense for me to go all in with Apple. I got rid of the Dell and purchased an iMac.

The next few years, I always had an Apple desktop and an Apple notebook, although the specific machines tended to change every nine months to a year. I was particularly thankful to have an Apple desktop when I purchased the very first MacBook air, since it was so anemic both in terms of power and storage. The notebook was for portability. The desktop was my primary computing device.

Judie: There have been quite a few times over the past 12 years that I had a laptop-only or Tablet PC-only setup; the most recent stretch ended last year, when I had a 2009 MacBook Pro 17″. I thought I had the best of both worlds because that laptop had a huge screen, yet it was about as portable as the typical 15″ laptop. I also had a 2010 MacBook air for when I traveled, so toting “the beast” was never really an issue. If I was going on a short trip, it was a no-brainer to bring along the air; longer trips would see me toting the 17″, because I would inevitably want access to “everything” at some point while gone.

Dan: When the 2011 MacBook air was released, I purchased a 13″ version with 4 GB of RAM and a 256 GB solid-state drive. It quickly became my primary computer, and my 24″ iMac made its way down to Texas.

Judie: Which was when I flip-flopped; instead of using the MBP 17″ as my primary computer, I began to use the iMac, keeping the air as my travel laptop. This setup seemed to work pretty well, but there were a few “issues”.

The biggest problem was that in 2009, Kev and I had downsized into a 1350 square foot home; I no longer had a dedicated desk or workspace beyond my seat at the dining room table. While this spot worked just fine with a laptop that could be closed and moved every night before dinner, it was not the ideal setting for the largest all-in-one Apple. I bought the iGo desk by Rain Design, and would roll it up to the edge of the table so I could sit sideways in my chair and look at it.  When we had people over for dinner, I could roll my computer right into the bedroom. I sat like this for over a year, and while I knew it wasn’t quite ergonomically ideal, I didn’t pay much attention to how it might be screwing up my back — which of course it was. =P

*Bear in mind that the non-ergonomic setup was totally my fault, not the iGo Desk’s. I’m the one who put it in this wonky-angled impossible situation.

Dan: I was quite happy using the MacBook air only, but this past winter I had decided to finally jump back into having a desktop. The reason was quite simple: despite the fact that the 13″ MacBook air had the same resolution as a 15″ MacBook Pro, I was finding it to be a little bit too constraining when working on the synagogue’s website.

I bought another 27″ iMac, and I loved it. When the 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina display was announced, it seemed fairly clear that this could replace both a laptop and a desktop.

Judie: I knew that new MacBooks were coming, and I had already made plans to give my air away. I was now considering purchasing another MBP 17″ (2011 model) because I had heard enough to believe that they really were about to be discontinued. I held off though; the Apple laptop announcements were coming soon, and I wanted to see what the newest options would be.

When I realized the features that the new 15″ MBP with Retina display would have, I knew that this was likely to be my next computer. But first I had to get over its price! With the faster processor (2.6 GHz), it started at $2799; upping that to 2.7 GHz added $250. Then the was the $200 16GB RAM, the external digital drive for $79, and the biggie — a 768GB SSD (add $500) that I had originally intended to buy, I was looking at a bit over $4,000.

Cough. Cough. Cough.

I argued with Dan about how I figured I’d keep the laptop for at least two years, and then it would ultimately go to Kev (as my 17″ had). I am a master justifier, but I was still choking on the total.

Then I learned that if I got the 768GB SSD, I’d have to wait until July to get it. And because I knew I would be second-guessing myself the entire time until it arrived, and because I needed something sooner rather than later, I chose the 512GB option. Then I rethought how badly I really needed the extra point in processing speed, and I backed down a level there, too. Even without every bell and whistle, the grand total with the optical drive and tax was still just over $3K.


Dan: Uhm … there was actually a serious conversation about what to order. You were pushing bigger and faster, while I was arguing for slightly smaller and slower base MBPr, which is no slouch in its own right.

Judie: Hey, I was thinking about resale values … and I was looking out for you!

Dan: We both settled in the middle, but still, the pricing does roughly translate to “Ouch.” Had the super-sized MBPr been available however, it would have moved into the realm of “OUCH!!!!!”

Judie: Yeah, because then we both would have probably bit the bullet and got the silly things.

Dan: In terms of replacing my 27″ iMac, the MacBook Pro has a significant amount of screen resolution and, with a little bit of tweaking, offers even more screen real estate, although you lose the retina display sharpness.

Judie: I’d have to wear reading glasses to even see the screen on its highest resolution, so it seems silly to go there.

Dan: In the event that I need more screen real estate, I can either place my iPad next to my notebook and use it for e-mail, or I can grab one of the many programs that allow me to extend my desktop and gain a little more space that way. In other words, I don’t feel like going to the MacBook Pro is a compromise when compared to the iMac.

Judie: I’ve found that other than the psychological comfort that having 1TB gave me, I haven’t really given anything up by switching from the iMac to the MBP retina. I have both the  ioSafe 500GB Rugged Portable drive and the 500GB Seagate GoFlex, so I have more than enough memory for anything I might need to save. My laptop is wirelessly backed up to a 1TB Apple Time Capsule, so I don’t even need to give up space on my portable drives for backups (unless I want to while traveling).

Dan: The MBPr has 16 GB of RAM, which is the same amount as my iMac. And while it only has 512 GB of storage, I wasn’t using the full terabyte in the iMac anyway. And yes, the MacBook Pro is significantly faster than the desktop.

Judie: My iMac had 8GB RAM, which always seemed sufficient. Having 16GB on the MBP coupled with the inherent speed of an SSD makes for a laptop that is at once both quiet and yet freakishly fast..

Where it used to take about a minute to boot into OSX before, it now takes seconds, and the same is true for booting into Windows 7 through VMWare. What I used to regard as a chore has now become no big deal at all to do. Because I am only running Microsoft Money when in Windows, it doesn’t even take that much memory on my harddrive.

Dan: It’s a similar experience with regard to going from the MacBook air to the MacBook Pro. Sure, the MacBook Pro is larger and heavier than the MacBook air, but it certainly isn’t “too heavy”. It is exceptionally portable, and it promises the same battery life as the 13 inch MacBook air and far better than the battery life on the anemic 11 inch MacBook air.

Judie: I haven’t yet traveled with the MBP, but I’ve had chances to unplug and use it, and I seem to be averaging a bit over xx hours use before the low battery warnings get obnoxious. That’s acceptable to me.

Dan: My MacBook air had 4 GB of RAM while the MacBook Pro has 16 GB of RAM. The MacBook air had 256 GB of storage while this computer has 512 GB of storage. In other words, by trading off a little bit of portability I gained a tremendous amount in every other regard. Add in the fact that, in those rare cases when I need extreme portability, my iPad and keyboard will serve me just fine, and it’s a no-brainer so long as the dollars make sense.

Judie: Plus we still have your 13″ air that we can share when needed — the same one I still need to format and return to you! =)

Dan: Many people have gone to simply having a notebook only, but in many cases doing so requires more of a compromise than they realize. The MacBook Pro with retina display is, to a large degree, the first notebook that is both a notebook and a desktop replacement with little or no compromise in either direction.

Judie: It is all about figuring out where you can compromise, actually. If you travel a lot, having everything you might ever need with you (data, media, favorite programs, whatever!) at all times is a great reason to use a laptop as your main computer.

Dan: The MBP with Retina display has the best screen I have ever used, far better speakers than most other laptops (although they still stink), and the dual array mics make using programs such as Dragon Express when the upcoming global voice recognition in OS X Mountain Lion a huge productivity asset. In fact, my portion of this post has been written using Dragon Express without wearing a headset and with someone blowing leaves in the background.

Judie: But that’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of errors to catch. I blame that on the user, though. 😉

Dan: In his own defense, the user wants it known that typing by hand produces an equal number of errors.  :) 

4 Responses to " MacBook Pro with Retina Display; Why We Bit "

  1. David Min says:

    I am still undecided on the MBPr, but darn it, this article has me leaning toward purchasing a new computer.

    As an Apple nerd, I’ll probably get the loaded $4k+ model, although with USB 3.0 support, the extra SDD space will likely be superfluous.

    Must… resist… the… upgrade… bug…

    • dancohen says:

      David… seriously, it is just okay. Not really worth the cost or the expense of moving to a new computer.
      Oh, who am I kidding. The thing is amazing. Stop thinking and just do it. :)

  2. […] The laptops came in at more than 3K each. It is the most expensive computer I have ever purchased. It is also the best. And while I miss the portability of the MacBook Air I cannot say enough about how fast, how powerful and how generally awesome the MBPr is. I surprised myself in that, after the MBPr came, I sold off my other computers. They just couldn’t compare. The 15″ MBPr is now my only computer and I could not be happier. You can read Judie’s and my post on it here. […]

  3. […] The laptops came in at more than 3K each. It is the most expensive computer I have ever purchased. It is also the best. And while I miss the portability of the MacBook Air I cannot say enough about how fast, how powerful and how generally awesome the MBPr is. I surprised myself in that, after the MBPr came, I sold off my other computers. They just couldn’t compare. The 15″ MBPr is now my only computer and I could not be happier. You can read Judie’s and my post on it here. […]