If you need an ultraportable laptop with lots of power -- and especially if you want one of the best screens available -- experts say the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display is your best bet. It's a little chunkier than the 13-inch MacBook Air (Est. $1,050 and up) , but not much, and the Air can't match its display quality or performance. Most Windows Ultraportables, including some that cost more, also fall behind in testing.
Lots of speed and muscle. It's not as brawny as the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (Est. $2,000 and up) , but most testers find the 13-incher plenty powerful for even heavy multi-tasking. The lack of discrete graphics is a bummer for hard-core gamers, but the integrated Iris graphics take a back seat only to the Iris Pro version found in the step-up 15-inch Pro, and are a measurable step above any other integrated graphics solution. That means that the 13-inch Pro can handle pretty much anything most people will throw at it and is up to the job with advanced games as long as settings are dialed back. The move to Haswell technology Core processors brings with it the expected increase in battery life -- more than 10 hours in testing at Macworld. Speed is enhanced by the PCIe flash storage, which tests say helps the 13-inch Mac Pro with Retina Display boot up in under 12 seconds and access stored data in a, well, flash.
Slimmer, lighter. Apple has slimmed down its 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display yet again, making it smaller than many Ultrabooks. At a hair under 3.5 pounds, it outweighs the 13-inch MacBook Air by a half-pound, but the Pro still feels extremely travel-friendly. As usual for MacBooks, it packs a superb keyboard and multi-touchpad. It has an HDMI jack that's missing from the Air, but no optical drive or Ethernet jack; if you need wired networking, an Ethernet adapter (Est. $30) is sold separately.
Just like its predecessor, which is a very good thing. Nearly all of the upgrades in this latest refresh are under the hood, which means that all of the things that testers and owners like so much about the design of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display are unchanged. Though it's been passed by some Windows Ultraportables in the pixel race -- the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (Est. $1,400) , for example, which sports a QuadHD+ (3,200 by 1,800 pixels) screen -- the Retina display still looks gorgeous. Sound is excellent as well. "The stereo speakers beneath the MacBook Pro's keyboard pumped out loud, powerful and accurate sound," says Laptop Magazine. The aluminum unibody chassis is classy and solid, and overall build quality is first rate.
Head and shoulders above the rest. Every year, Apple outshines all other computer brands in PCMag.com's owner satisfaction survey. Its laptops and desktops rarely break, users report, and if they do, Apple repair is friendly and capable. Tech support is just as superb, with free in-person help available for any Apple owner at Genius Bars nationwide. Laptop Magazine staffers get excellent results from Apple's web and phone tech support, too.
A premium value. The latest refresh of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display brought with it a fresh price cut. According to CNET, it's now "pretty close to what competitors charge for thin 13-inch laptops with super-high-res screens." That holds true for the step-up version, as Macworld says that "the high-end model's higher price seems to be justified by its faster CPU, standard 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of superfast flash." If the extra weight of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is too much, the 13-inch MacBook Air is cheaper and a decent performer. Though it's heavier and bigger still, for even more power and a better screen, consider the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
1. Laptop Magazine
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display is called "one of the best ultraportables on the market" and earns an Editors' Choice award. The only "con" listed is that the "SD card sticks out."
Review: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina Display (2013) Review, Michael A. Prospero, Oct. 28, 2013
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display earns another Editors' Choice pick here. Cost is still a concern, but the performance, display and battery life make it one of the best high-resolution laptops available.
Review: Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, 2013): Not a Retina MacBook Air, but Awfully Close, Scott Stein, Oct. 29, 2013
3. The Verge
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display earns a strong score of 8.9 out of 10. Pierce says that for him, it's a tough call between the lighter weight of the Air and the nicer screen of the Pro. However, he suspects that after glancing at the screens, most will be leaving the store with a MacBook Pro.
Review: 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review (2013), David Pierce, Oct. 30, 2013
Macworld looks at both the entry level and high-end 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display. Regardless of configuration, Galbraith says that when you consider the increased battery life and better graphics, "you have a laptop you can love."
Review: 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro Review: Thinner, Lighter, and Faster Never Hurts, James Galbraith, Oct. 30, 2013
Wired rates the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display a 9 ("Nearly flawless; buy it now"). Bonnington writes that while the Pro isn't the "most portable" laptop available, "the combination of a capable processor, an amazing display, a light and slender form factor, and respectable battery life, secure the MacBook Pro's position as one of the top notebooks on the market right now."
Review: Apple Macbook Pro with Retina Display: Pixel Perfect, Christina Bonnington, Nov. 1, 2013
The 13-inch Pro gets an Editors' Choice award here. Value and battery life are key positives. "Ultimately, the late-2013 MacBook Pro 13 with Retina is a notebook that flirts with perfection," Smith writes.
Review: Apple MacBook Pro 13-Inch (2013) Review, Matt Smith, Oct. 25, 2013
Yet again, Apple far outshines all other laptop brands in PCMag.com's owner satisfaction survey. It wins every category: tech support, reliability and overall satisfaction.
Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2013 Winners: Laptops and Desktops, Ben Gottesman, Feb. 20, 2013