13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Review (Late 2013)

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina is the best Mac computer for professionals that need a great mix of portability and power. While it cannot compete with the stationary Mac Pro or the dedicated GPU of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display in terms of raw power, it is nearly as portable as the MacBook Air, with more power, a higher resolution display and more connectivity options.

After using a 15-inch MacBook Pro (non Retina), 13-inch MacBook Air and 11-inch MacBook Air the new late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina quickly became my go to notebook for mobile work.

The 13-inch MacBook Air Apple announced earlier this year offers longer battery life, but in my use I can go a full day of real work with the screen at medium brightness and still hit the eight to nine-hour mark, which frees me up to work from practically anywhere I have a cell phone signal — instead of anywhere I can get to a power outlet.

Pros

  • Good performance
  • Great keyboard and trackpad
  • Durable build, thinner lighter design
Cons

  • SD Card sticks out significantly
  • No user upgradable storage or RAM

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 brings power and portability in one package.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 brings power and portability in one package.

Advertisement

13-inch MacBook Pro Retina | $1,299 and up

Related

Check out our 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Late 2013 video overview for a closer look at this device.

Design

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina design is familiar.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina design is familiar.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Late 2013 model comes with a new design that is thinner and lighter than the first generation, making it much more attractive for mobile professionals. The overall look of the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina remains the same with a thin black bezel surrounding the display and a black hinge that leaves room for the main vents which keep the system cool even when on a lap.

The hinge hides vents for speakers and cooling.

The hinge hides vents for speakers and cooling.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 is .03-inch thinner than the 2012 model, and .1 pounds lighter. On paper this doesn’t sound like much, but it knocks the weight to within half a pound of the MacBook Air mid-2013 model and it is just slightly thicker. If weight and battery life are more important than power the Macbook Air is still a better fit, but for users who need a mix, the new design makes the MacBook Pro Retina a more appealing option.

The 13-inch Macbook Pro doesn’t leave room for speakers on the sides of the keyboard, so Apple integrates them under the keyboard and touchpad area with small vents on the sides that allow sound to come through.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina brings more ports than the MacBook Air.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina brings more ports than the MacBook Air.

In terms of connections the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina offers more connectivity than the 13-inch MacBook Air which I replaced with this notebook. The HDMI port is an important addition as it means I can easily connect to a HDTV or monitor without carrying an adapter, it also makes a multi-monitor setup simpler.

The SD card sticks out quite far on the MacBook Pro Retina.

The SD card sticks out quite far on the MacBook Pro Retina.

There are also two ThunderBolt 2 ports on the left side that can connect to monitors and storage for high-speed data transfers and multi-monitor connectivity. The MacBook Air only offers one. There are also two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone/microphone jack, a SDXC card reader and the new MagSafe 2 connector.

For video chats Apple includes a dual array microphone, with both microphones sitting on the left side of the notebook. There is also a 720P FaceTime HD webcam mounted in the bezel above the display.

13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Review Late 2013 -  007

While there is nothing spectacularly new about the aluminum design of the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 model, it is a well designed notebook that is sturdy and portable with a classic Apple look.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Finding a notebook with a good keyboard isn’t a major issue for most notebooks in this price range, but getting one that also delivers a flawless touchpad experience is still a problem even on many high-end Windows notebooks.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina arrives with a very nice keyboard. There is no flex in the keyboard as you move to the middle keys. Also, the keys offer enough travel to keep my fingers happy through a full day of typing. The key layout is standard for an Apple notebook, though the power button sitting above the delete key as a keyboard button may be new to some users. Thankfully any errant taps are ignored so you won’t accidentally turn the computer off.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 offers a very nice keyboard and touchpad.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 offers a very nice keyboard and touchpad.

The touchpad is large at roughly 4 inches by 3 inches, which offers plenty of room for regular mousing as well as the many gestures that OS X 10.9 offers for managing windows, apps and notifications. The touchpad is flawless in discerning movements, taps, right clicks and gestures — something we can’t say for most of the Windows competition.

MacBook Pro Retina Display

If you want to buy the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina over any other notebook that Apple sells, the display is a major part of that.

Simply put the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Display is beautiful to look at.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina display is beautiful.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina display is beautiful.

The display isn’t perfect, even the less glossy material Apple uses will catch reflections near a window and the black bezels can throw reflections as well, but overall this display is gorgeous to look at.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina resolution is 2560 x 1,600 which is about 227 pixels per inch. This makes it nearly impossible to see pixels on the screen, which means sharper text, better looking images and if you still watch movies on your MacBook Pro they will also look very nice.

The glare is not as bad as some notebook,s but there are times a matte display would be nice.

The glare is not as bad as some notebook,s but there are times a matte display would be nice.

This resolution isn’t the actual resolution you see on the screen in terms of room for windows. In that regard it is equivalent to 1280 x 800 like the non Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro. When I am focused on one project or working in multiple windows I will keep the standard Retina Resolution, but if I need to look at two windows side by side for a project, I will go into the settings and bump the resolution to deliver the same screen space as the 13-inch MacBook Air. This is easy to toggle from settings and I think many users will go back and forth between these options.

Text is sharp and easy to read.

Text is sharp and easy to read.

The screen is very bright at the highest setting, and in most indoor environments I work with the brightness set between 40-60% for a good mix of battery life and usability.

Performance and Graphics

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 model comes with fourth generation Intel Haswell processors and Iris Graphics which offer improved battery life over the previous models without cutting the power of the processor.

The small form factor packs a lot of power under the lid.

The small form factor packs a lot of power under the lid.

This 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 review is for the mid-range model which includes a 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Apple offers an option to configure the notebook with up to a 2.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7, up to 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, but this is the model that many users will look at, as it offers more value than the base model with only 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM.

The new fourth generation Intel Haswell processors offer good performance and the Iris Graphics are powerful enough to handle video the video editing projects I do for Gotta Be Mobile which includes 1080P and 720P source videos and Final Cut Pro. Most of my projects are under 10 minutes in finished length and I can comfortably work on then with this notebook. Processing and exporting a six minute  720P video for YouTube takes about 14 minutes.

13-inch MacBook Pro late 2013 benchmarks.

13-inch MacBook Pro late 2013 benchmarks.

The Geekbench 3 scores above show the performance of this machine compared to the 13-inch MacBook Air mid-2013 model. The image above shows the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 benchmarks and the image below shows the same from a 13-inch MacBook Air mid-2013 with a 1.3Ghz Intel Core i5 processor and 4 GB RAM.

MacBook Air mid-2013 benchmarks.

MacBook Air mid-2013 benchmarks.

In the simplest terms, the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 model delivers all the power I need to edit photos and videos for the web, but users who edit longer projects or deal with higher resolution source may want to look at the 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina with Iris Pro Graphics for more power.

The speakers deliver clear sound but little low end, so if you want to watch movies or run a party off of the MacBook Pro Retina you should get headphones or some decent external speakers.

13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Battery Life

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 battery life is one of my favorite features. Apple promises up to 9 hours of wireless web usage, which is a target I routinely hit. Using Chrome will deliver a small hit to battery life, but it does not put the 9 hour mark completely out of reach.

I upgraded from a 13-inch MacBook Pro 2011 model which required me to look for a power outlet after about 4.5 to 5 hours depending on usage. With the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 with Intel Haswell processors I don’t need to plan my mobile workday around power outlets.

Early battery life tests on the 13-inch Macbook Pro Retina with Intel Haswell are promising.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Late 2013 battery life is impressive.

I routinely get more than 9 hours of usage with the screen at about 50%, hitting above 10 hours while using Safari and avoiding power-hungry photo or video editing apps. While crunching video the battery life takes a hit, dropping to the 4-7 hour mark depending on what I am doing. With a mix of web and video editing I can still get a full day of battery life out of the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 model.

The Bottom Line

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 is the perfect notebook for my mobile work needs. Though I have access to a variety of notebooks on a daily basis, the power, long battery life and great display lead me to pick this notebook. If I could only own one notebook for the next two years, it would definitely be the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina.

By giving up a few hours of battery life from the 13-inch MacBook Air mid-2013 model, and opting for a slightly thicker and heavier notebook I get a more powerful machine that offers more connectivity options when I am in the office and plenty of portable productivity when I am mobile.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina starts at $1,299 with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but many users will want to go for the next level up with a faster processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB hard drive. Students can find this notebook for $100 off through the education store and deals through the holidays will offer $100 to $200 off at select retailers.

Gallery

  

Leave a Reply