The rise of smartphones and tablets has made it harder than ever to whip up enthusiasm for a plain old laptop computer.
But the MacBook Pro, the flagship of Apple’s line, is neither plain nor old. It’s the best combination of stylishness and power out there, though it doesn’t come cheap.
The redesigned MacBook Pro, which went on sale this week, is a bit of a hybrid. Like earlier Pros, it’s built around Intel’s most potent consumer microprocessors and it also includes a dedicated Nvidia chip to speed up graphics. But like the MacBook Air, it features fast start-up in a thin and comparatively lightweight package.
Its most striking feature, though, was borrowed from the iPad and iPhone: Apple’s Retina Display, which packs way more pixels than your flat-screen TV. The result, as when I viewed vacation pictures on the 15.4-inch screen, is spectacular -- better even than on the iPad, since I didn’t have to view them through the greasy fingerprints of a tablet touchscreen.
As for video, at this week’s launch event in San Francisco, Apple showed its Final Cut Pro editing software running a full 1080p high-definition movie in a window. The video used only 2 million pixels, leaving 3 million more for the editing tools.
Apple has also redesigned the way the screen sits in the laptop’s lid, helping reduce the Pro’s thickness and weight to .71 inches high and less than 4.5 pounds. Those are, respectively, about 25 percent and 20 percent below the previous 15-inch model (which, with a few tweaks, remains in the product lineup).
As significant as what the MacBook Pro includes is what it doesn’t. A conventional hard drive, for instance. Instead, it uses flash-memory chips for storage, which are responsible both for its rapid boot-up time and the speed with which it runs applications.
In my tests, the new Pro started up in 14 seconds, compared to 50 for an older, hard-drive-based version. Lifting the lid woke it up from sleep mode in three seconds.
Also missing is a DVD drive. Instead, as with the MacBook Air, Apple expects you to acquire and install software, watch movies and do just about everything else via the Internet.
The newly refreshed versions of the previous-generation MacBook Pros do maintain optical drives, but I wouldn’t bet on seeing them in any future models. Nor, increasingly, on other companies’ products, since Apple’s decisions tend to drive design industry-wide.
In light of the MacBook Pro’s cloud-centric approach, it’s mildly surprising that it has done away with an Ethernet port. Apple executives say most people use MacBooks with Wi-Fi and the port took up too much space. If you want to run the new one on a wired network, you’ll need an extra-cost adapter.
Apple has redone the rest of the Pro’s connectivity options as well. In addition to a pair of industry-standard USB 3.0 ports, it has two ultrafast ThunderBolt ports. There’s a new HDMI port for connecting the computer to a high-definition television set and a reader for SD cards.
MacBook Airs use lower-powered chips in part to reduce heat buildup. That’s an even bigger concern in the MacBook Pro, with its beefier processor. So Apple has added vents while re-engineering the internal fan to cut down noise. It apparently works; even holding the machine to my ear, I couldn’t hear a thing. As for the heat, after several hours of using it balanced on my knees, it was a little warm, but by no means uncomfortable.
Apple says the MacBook Pro will go seven hours between charges in normal use, but that may be conservative. I coaxed 6 1/2 hours from it even after disabling the power-savings options while writing, Web-surfing, checking e-mail and streaming a Netflix movie over Wi-Fi.
As for cost, the base model, with a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 “Ivy Bridge” processor, 8 gigabytes of memory and 256 gigabytes of flash storage, is $2,199. Bump the processor to 2.6GHZ and the storage to 512 gigabytes, and you’re looking at $2,799.
That’s a lot, especially when a 15-inch Air-inspired Windows PC like Samsung’s Series 9, less robust but still potent, can be had for $1,500. But if you need more power and storage, want to be dazzled by the most beautiful display ever or are just looking for the state of the art in laptop design, look no further.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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