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The New MacBook Pro Aims for the Heart, Not the Head

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jun 14, 2012 5:00 AM PT

With a heavy heart, I have decided not to the buy the gorgeous new MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I lust after the idea of 2,880 by 1,800 pixels gloriously showing off my awesome photos of the Grand Tetons, Half Dome and small children running from the cold droplets of a sprinkler system under a hot summer sun.

The New MacBook Pro Aims for the Heart, Not the Head

These photos are the closest I can come to replicating the cool swirling zebras running on fresh green African grass that Apple is using to tout its newest MacBook Pro.

The Tough Decision

As Apple revealed its new slim-and-trim, Retina 15-inch MacBook Pro this week, I instantly wanted it. The clean lines, the way Apple design guru Jonathan Ive gushed about the painstaking care that went into every nook and cranny ... heck, even the photo of the guts of the thing -- it's a work of art.

And I like that sort of art. I appreciate it, and I enjoy using it. That sort of care creates a whole mindset of how a guy like me works on things on my Mac. I'm sure I'm just a word hack to some people, but good tools can help inspire quality work. I believe that my MacBook helps me produce a better product, whether it's an article, review, or a home movie that will only ever be seen by family and friends.

As Apple's execs were happy to point out, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display might very well be the best Mac the company has ever created.

But it's not for me. After hours of research -- and even several moments of quiet contemplation on the bed, the couch, my bike -- I reached the inevitable conclusion. With my brain.

Expense Doesn't Match the Return

Despite the asymmetrically spaced propeller blades on the super-quiet internal fans, the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display is simply too expensive for what I need and what it returns.

First and foremost, I need to buy a tool, a thing that enables me to do other things. For most of the hours of the day, I am not a hobbyist.

In reality, this new generation of MacBook Pro is not a particularly practical unit. It's just not. It appeals to your heart, not your head. I will grant the argument that it is practical for a very small set of professionals -- true graphic pros who will benefit from the display quality and/or filmmakers and video pros who need the extra pixels to let them edit 1080p high-definition video to exacting standards and quality. Of course, I would also expect the majority of these kinds of professionals to have very large and calibrated external monitors for their daily work. But hey, some of these pros travel all the time and need this kind of tool.

The US$2,199 low-end model, though, only comes with a non-upgradable 256 GB SSD drive. A media professional can blast through that piddling amount of storage space in no time at all, meaning they'll need to upgrade to the 512 GB version or the 768 GB option -- which also costs a cool $3,300, if not higher since these pros will indubitably want the 16 GB of memory soldered into the unit.

You can use Thunderbolt external hard drives for fast storage, right, but that need sort of mitigates the svelte, .71-inch-thick body and pound of weight savings the new version gives you over the old version of MacBook Pro.

The Oh-So Pretty Display

While initial reviews have gushed over the clarity of the Retina display, some people are pointing out that not all graphics turn out so fantastic. Some Web-based graphics seem to get a little jaggy as the MacBook tries to scale them into something that works with such a massive screen with so many tiny pixels, and while Apple has optimized its key applications like Safari, Mail, iCal, Address Book, iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, Aperture, and Final Cut Pro, other developers have not made similar optimizations. A new iPad-using buddy of mine recently bemoaned, "If the app hasn't been developed for the Retina iPad, it can look worse than on my old first-generation iPad."


The computing world will get there, for sure, especially with Apple leading the way and plenty of consumers, prosumers and pros shelling out for the new MacBook Pro. Apple's future is with high-resolution displays, and the apps will all eventually get there too.

The Storage Problem

Anyone wanting the fast Flash-based solid-state drives, whether it's in a MacBook Air or latest generation MacBook Pro, typically has to be willing to pay a premium price or settle for a relatively small amount of space. I need more than 256 GB of storage on my hard drive. Sure, I can buy external drives, but then that's additional cost too. My iPhoto library is already well over 80 GB. I don't want to store it on a separate external hard drive.

Having multiple external drives I have to connect to and worry about, as well as network attached storage, is the opposite of elegance and simplicity. Seriously. You want something elegant and simple? I do. And that's not a bunch of stuff attached to my MacBook cluttering up my desk that I have to worry about connecting, disconnecting, waking up, or using when I travel.

And the cloud? Expensive and slow. Totally inelegant again. Maybe if I had screaming fast Internet access, but even then, I'm at the mercy of connectivity. I like to get out and roam. And even in urban environments, you're only one backhoe away from a dug-up line and an Internet outage.

To make matters worse, my iPhoto library is growing fast, and when I get an iPhone 5 with a camera that creates larger photos and video files than my iPhone 4, it's just going to get bigger.

So the storage problem? It's not solved by iCloud, or any other cloud, or any external unit.

I realized that a single point of storage for my photos and video is important to me, as well as being mobile and astoundingly easy to use. That means I need big internal hard drives at a reasonable price.

Why can't I upgrade my hard drive later on a MacBook Pro with Retina Display? Because Apple locked down the case and is using a proprietary solution. Might I be able to break into the unit at a future date? Maybe. But it's not guaranteed. And according to iFixit's latest teardown report, I might cause significant damage if I try it myself.

Old-School Here I Come

All in all, this means I'll have to stick with the older-generation of MacBook Pro.

I'll get to keep the SuperDrive for DVDs, though I'll likely pull it out after the warranty is up and install a second hard drive. And in a couple of years, I'll be able to afford a 768 GB SSD upgrade option to slide into my new old-school MacBook Pro to eek out a performance boost ... that is, if I can stand looking at my low-res screen as Apple marches forward.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.

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