How my Macbook Pro with retina display has ruined my (online) life

I must admit I’m a bit of a tech junkie. I like computers and TVs. My second ever job was working on the help desk of a major ISP. I was staff writer on New Zealand MacGuide Magazine for its first year of publication. My first computer was an Amstrad CPC464 (colour display, tape drive) in 1985, and I have never looked back.

Which means getting a new computer is a major event. Not just because of the cost involved, but because it’s a new piece of kit and – because that’s the whole idea – a significant upgrade from what I already have.

On New Year’s Eve, I took delivery of a 13″ MacBook Pro with retina display, replacing my 11″ MacBook Air. The Air wasn’t that old, but after about two years of continual use I found it just a fraction to small to work on comfortably.

I’ve also lusted after the retina displays since they were announced by Apple, at a suitably ferocious price point, but it wasn’t until the latest update to the MacBook Pro range that the 13″ model came within my budget.

So, after a week or more or use, what’s it been like?


Actually, pretty darned great. In fact, more than that – this is the best piece of computer kit I’ve ever used. Apple’s laptop line have immaculate build quality, being carved out of a single lump of aluminium (well, two lumps – lid and base). The design is minimal, elegant and beautiful. There is nothing in the design that is out of place – I recall with horror a high-end, creaky plastic Lenovo laptop I once had for a week on a work trip, and I can still remember the row of 24 different coloured lights that ran under the screen, notifying me of various uninteresting functions (Wow, the hard drive is being accessed? I should hope so! Say, I’m plugged into the mains power? I was wondering what that big cable was!) that actually woke me up in the middle of the night in my pitch-black hotel room.

But forget all that (and I’m sure some PC laptops are pretty nice too). The killer feature of this Macbook Pro is the retina display. It is wonderful. So good, in fact, it has basically spoiled me for anything else.


According to the tech specs, the retina display is a 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology, with a native resolution of 2560 x 1600, running at 227 pixels per inch. It uses supersampled pixel doubling to produce a 1280 x 800 display, making everything pin sharp. Individual pixels cannot be seen, even with your nose against the display, giving a computer experience that is really pretty amazing. Mac OS X has ultra smooth rendering anyway, thanks to the Quartz graphics layer of the operating system (one bugbear I have with Windows – which I actually really like [there’s a big PC gaming rig sitting behind me as I type this] is that its rendering is spectacularly awful). On the retina display, the results are incredible. It’s the same tech used on the iPad and iPhone – the Macbook Pro’s screen is as clear and sharp as those devices.

This gives rise to two problems.

Firstly, after using a retina display constantly for more than a week, every other computer display looks terrible. Even my 27″ Thunderbolt display, which runs at 2560 x 1440, looks fuzzy.

Secondly, a lot of the internet is low res – text and 2D design is fine, as these are rendered by the OS. But images are a problem. Because the retina display uses pixel doubling, any image is really displayed at twice the size. Take any image on a computer and blow it up to 200%, and it looks bad.

It is easy to fix – websites just need to use images at twice the regular resolution, then scale them down. I spent a couple of hours working my way through my own site to address this, swapping out all my book covers for double-sized versions, hacking the fixed-size slider on the front page to accept larger images which WordPress then scales to fit. Now my site looks sharp whether viewed on a retina display or a regular one. There are other way of doing it – there are plugins and code that can be used to detect the display and render either the regular images or the high-res, retina-ready ones.

High-density displays like Apple’s retina ones are still in the minority, but they’re only going to increase in use over time. It makes sense, then, to future-proof your own site to ensure that all visitors get the best experience. And it doesn’t take too long.


If anyone has been looking at the retina Macbook Pros, I can heartily recommend them – even if the internet still has a little catching up to do.