Retina Macbook Pro or Macbook Air?

over 10 years ago from

Hi everyone,

First of all, my english isn't that great so please go easy on me ;-). I've been in this position where I want to buy a new Macbook. However I'm in between choices here. Macbook Pro Retina or the Macbook Air? This choice is really important for me because I design a lot of things for the web (some of which are apps for iPhone/iPad but not much)

Why the Macbook in the first place? Well, I'm still a student and I have to carry my computer with me at all times. I'm doing an internship soon so I'll be carrying my computer with me. So the iMac (as much as I want it though) is not really the best option/solution for me right now.

The Retina Macbook Pro looks really interesting. It's a powerhouse and the retina screen is tempting. However that screen is what scares me the most. I know that for 99,6% of the web is still running on a 72dpi screen. The Retina has a 220dpi screen. Which means I'm looking at websites that looks unsharp most of the time. Specially with pictures and watching movies. Everything that's not HD or has smaller pixels is looking blurred or unsharp. As a graphic designer, I just cannot work with something that looks unsharp all the time. What are your opinions about this?

So I was wondering if anyone out here in the design community is working with the Retina Macbook Pro and how's that working for you? Did you have to change workflows and if so, what did eventually work out the best for you?

Or should I go for a Macbook Air 13 inch?



  • William Esz, over 10 years ago

    The Retina is outstanding. The very single problem you'll have after working on it for a while is looking at normal screens; or rather: every time you'll go back to the Retina, your eyes will feel relieved. I've worked with it for six months and the screen really makes a difference: I obviously design, but I also do video and audio editing, and it's almost* perfect even there.

    For your needs and the ones of most of us I believe the Retina is just the best choice on the market: Photoshop & Illustrator have been updated, and if you hate the status quo Sketch has been running great since the 2.0. Writing code or words is just a pleasure for the eye: I also code and write poetry/normal stuff, and boy, words look better than on paper; if you use iA Writer or any other app customised for writing you'll fall in love with how wonderful they look. Same experience with Sublime/TextMate/whatever.

    When I bought it Photoshop wasn't yet updated and a lot of other apps and websites weren't either, I thought it would have been a nightmare for my eyes, and yet everything turned out fine some weeks later: lots of apps got updated, and a constantly increasing number of websites started support these little beasts. After a while I stopped noticing, and in any case the modern web is CSS and words: the majority of the sites you'll go to everyday will likely look just fine.

    • It's important to highlight that while you have mobility — the machine is extremely light for what it hides under the hood — the battery is the very single setback: it will surely improve with the next models, but for the moment it's not great. I don't have an average time but as far as I recall from the first tests it doesn't last more than 4/5 hours with Sketch/Xcode+Chrome (~40 tabs)+iTunes+iA Writer+Skala running at the same time. I've come to understand that if you need to take it around you need to optimise various factors: turn off the keyboard backlight, lower the brightness as much as you can (don't hurt your eyes, though), turn off/on the wifi when you don't need it, and open/close apps as you need.

    Hope it helps.

    tl;dr Go for the Retina.

    5 points
    • Tim Blaney Davidson, over 10 years ago

      Thanks! Your comment was really helpful. Do you handle things differently now on your Retina when designing websites at 72dpi?

      0 points
      • William Esz, over 10 years ago

        I always design at 1x. Sketch is simply awesome on this side (and many others, actually); I don't know how Photoshop Retina handles the job, but Sketch doesn't downscale your canvas if you don't want to: you normally design at 1x with full Retina resolution and subsequently export at both 1x and 2x with a single click.

        It's that simple. Not to mention the fact that if you don't have an external monitor and need more space, the 15" Retina lets you work at 16801050 and 19201200 (actually doubled being Retina); not fully Retina, of course, but still great and better than a normal screen.

        1 point
  • Jason PerezJason Perez, over 10 years ago

    I've been using a Retina now for 9 months. Three different models — 2.7 16GB for 7 mos. (swapped once), 2.4 8GB for 2 mos.

    A few things:

    1) Most of the web still looks terrible. Noticeably terrible. The retina-ready web is getting better, but it's definitely not there yet.

    2) Photoshop isn't the speediest when it comes to certain little things... Occasionally, it chugs when hiding layers, moving through layer comps, or rotating the canvas. Once in a blue moon, it chugs when trying to pull up available typefaces from the type panel.

    3) Other Adobe products have their performance issues too... Fireworks is hideous. Plain and simple. After Effects in retina resolution seems like a good idea, but performance is often terrible. Rendering video takes twice as long as a non-retina machine with the same specs. And previewing video is a joke. Even with tweaked RAM and cache settings, frames drop at an abysmal rate.

    4) Using external displays — I've had lots of hiccups switching between my 27" display and AirPlay (working and displaying during meetings). I've had Finder glitch out and display the sidebar in 1280x800 resolution while everything else is displayed in 1920x1200. Icons in the dock and task switcher will often appear stretched 2x their intended size. Chrome has a huge issue when switching from external displays... where suddenly everything is at 1/2 size (http://cl.ly/NDzk)

    tl;dr — the high resolution display seems like a fantastic idea, but the graphics card in the current MBPr models occasionally can't keep up displaying all teh pixels.

    I love my computer, it's beautiful and super light, but I wish I had gone with a MacBook Air. Definitely can't wait until the next gen MBA.

    2 points
    • Tim Blaney Davidson, over 10 years ago

      Thanks for this. Really helpful. I think I'll be waiting for the next MBA as well. Or at least waiting for the Haswell chips. Really weird that it gives problems when you want to connect it to a 27 inch. Wondering if there are more people having trouble with this.

      0 points
  • Ryan LeFevreRyan LeFevre, over 10 years ago

    I'm on the retina and I love it. A lot more sites have become retina-friendly, and honestly you get used to seeing a few blurry images every now and then. The pure crispness of the text on the screen is worth it alone.

    2 points
  • Account deleted over 10 years ago

    Retina for sure. Dedicated graphics card is what it's all about.

    2 points
  • Jordan BorthJordan Borth, over 10 years ago

    I'd go with the Air and wait for the v2 rMBP's with Haswell chips. As some others have mentioned, the rMBP's are nice, but even with 16 GB of RAM and maxed out CPU/GPU it's not enough to push all those pixels at 60 fps. The 13" rMBP is running a slightly higher powered Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics card, the same card the MBA uses. It's just not very good, it barely makes the cut for the Air, I can't believe they shipped it in the rMBP…

    I've written about this same issue and included a few links on Branch. Feel free to check it out: http://branch.com/b/apple-s-new-13-inch-retina-display-macbook-pro?ref=sidebar#1Vc780Y-JrI

    1 point
  • KJ VogeliusKJ Vogelius, over 10 years ago

    I'd say go for the Retina. The whole industry will have to work out how to approach higher resolution screens. I figure that the sooner you get started on trying what works and what doesn't the better. It also more closely mimics the resolution of tablets/smartphones, so designing for those types of devices should be easier.

    1 point
  • Daniel HaimDaniel Haim, over 10 years ago

    As a graphic designer and an avid user: Retina, there's absolutely no question about that.

    The MacBook Air won't be able to carry the heavy load of using Adobe CS6 and the many other stuff you'd want it to do - and also, if you're a graphic designer working on such a small monitor is just a no-go.

    With Retina display you're able to see everything as if you were working on Adobe Illustrator. No pixel is left unseen.

    0 points
  • Ketan Anjaria, over 10 years ago

    Short Version Buy the 15" Retina Pro. There is no better machine for visual design. Hook it up to a 27" Thunderbolt Display.

    Long Version The machine doesn't dictate your process for design. You are striving for resolution independence in the design process and resolution specific output (1x, 2x) for production.

    As a visual designer, it helps to view your work on a variety of devices. That is just par for the course right now. The Retina MacBook Pro is just one device.

    0 points
  • alec salec s, over 10 years ago


    After a (literally) entire workday of research. I've come to my consensus. Go Retina.

    I know Tim B. is concerned about the 72dpi workflow, as am I, but I've figured it out. Here it goes:

    • Start your docs at twice the px of what they would be at 72dpi.

    • EVERYTHING must be divisible by two. This includes shape width & height, strokes, etc..

    • It also includes (IMPORTANT NOTE HERE) the distance from that element to the top, bottom, right and left edge of the doc. (i.e. the shape must be 300px from left edge, not 301px).

    • You can do all of this easily via the trust INFO panel in photoshop.

    TL;DR: If every measurement is divisible by 2, you're going to be fine in 72dpi. GO RETINA.

    0 points
  • Paul MederosPaul Mederos, over 10 years ago

    I have both. Get Retina.

    The only reason to get the Air is if you literally have your laptop with you all the time, everywhere you go, and need to work on it constantly. The weight difference feels slight at first, but it stacks up overtime.

    Don't worry about low-DPI stuff. It will catch up soon. It has to :)

    0 points
  • Tim SchillerTim Schiller, over 10 years ago


    0 points
  • Evan KimiaEvan Kimia, over 10 years ago

    I've had 3 Airs, and the screen in the retina is amazing. If you have the money go for it.

    0 points
  • alec salec s, over 10 years ago

    I'm wondering the same thing as the OP. I love the LOOK of the screen on Retina, but my concern lies in the area of "Presenting to Clients". If I design something on my Retina display, but my client isn't on Retina, I can either show them a GIANT comp, or one that has been reduced by 50%. Does reducing a comp by 50% mess up some of the minor pixel details? I know there is a bjango plug-in for this, but I'm still in the dark. Here's a scenario to be extra clear:

    • I want to design a comp that is 960px wide on 72dpi screens. So, I take my rMBP and create a file that is double that width (1920px).

    • I typically use vector shapes & smart objects in my work, and knowing I will be downsizing by 50%, everything in my layer styles is at an even number.

    • When it's time to present to the client, I reduce the comp in size by 50%, bringing it down the the correct size for 72dpi displays.

    Will it still be clear and crisp? OR will I have to do some minor retouching to get it be as clean as I'd like.

    0 points
  • Jim SilvermanJim Silverman, over 10 years ago

    you're a still student? save your money!

    0 points
  • Christian DalonzoChristian Dalonzo, over 10 years ago

    I'm going 15" retina.

    0 points
  • Tim Blaney Davidson, over 10 years ago

    Thanks for all the positive reactions. :-)

    However, I am still curious if anyone changed their workflows when working in 72dpi mode for a website for example.

    0 points
    • Connor Tomas O'BrienConnor Tomas O'Brien, over 10 years ago

      If possible, and seeing your work at 72dpi is very important, I'd try to either keep an old Mac for testing or grab a cheap 27" display you can occasionally hook your MBP into.

      After grabbing a Retina MBP, I've switched my web design workflow to make things as resolution-independent as possible. You don't want to be designing assets for one particular pixel density anymore. Seeing how terrible sites I designed previously look on the Retina screen, I want to avoid that ever happening in the future. It's best to avoid thinking of 72dpi as the web's "default" pixel density - in three or four years, it's a pretty sure bet at least a very sizeable minority of web users will be on devices with hiDPI screens.

      0 points
    • Account deleted over 10 years ago

      There isn't a workflow to change. Your eyes adjust, and then you are done.

      0 points
  • Eduardo Ramirez HolguinEduardo Ramirez Holguin, over 10 years ago

    I have the retina mac. The web looks fine most of the time, it's just smaller so it doesn't look like shit.

    Apps/software that has not been optimized is what makes me feel like punching the screen so I'd highly advise to check if what you use was updated already. Photoshop is updated but Indesign isn't and I don't think that's coming anytime soon. Skype is updated but the official twitter app for example hasn't.

    Otherwise the computer is great, lightweight, USB ports on opposite sides, doesn't overheat like crazy (does get hot as expected), and can run games like Starcraft at high res w/no issues.

    0 points
  • Ari SawyersAri Sawyers, over 10 years ago

    I have the base model Retina MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM, and it's amazing. I highly recommend it.

    0 points
  • Oskar LevinsonOskar Levinson, over 10 years ago

    If you go for Retina you have to get the 15" since the 13" doesn't have a GPU included so it doesn't have the power to handle all the pixels the screen provides in a good manner.

    0 points