MacBook Pro Retina -v- MacBook Air: Decision time

Posted on by Mike Evans

Ever since last Tuesday evening I’ve been agonising over the difficult choice between the new retina-display MacBook Pro and the latest version of the 11in MacBook Air. Either would provide a decided boost in performance over my 2010 Air. But I do love the size and weight of the Air; as a portable computer it is not far short of perfect in my book. Then again, that glorious retina display is so, so tempting.

This morning I finally got the opportunity to view both of my target models at the White City Apple Store in West London. First off, I was totally blown away by the ThinBook Pro and that tantalisingly delicious screen.

What surprised me most is that it is so light for its size. It made the nearby FatBook Pro from last year feel like a bag of bricks. Even though I know it to be nearly twice the weight of the 11in Air, picking it up is a surprisingly positive experience. It’s only when you heft the Air that you realise it is, in fact, a lot heavier.

Out of stock

Of course, none of the retina models were in stock. So I meandered over to the Air display and there wasn’t much to see. The new machine looks identical to my 2010 model and, although I know it is much faster, there are no overt indications of this. There are no bells and whisles, give or take the odd Thunderbolt or USB 3 port, to tell you this is the latest model. 

I certainly did not intend to buy today. Only on Friday I had come to the decision that I should sit on my current Air and wait for a revised retina-display Air to be announced. I had some doubts over the weekend when I loaded a bunch of 18MB RAW photo files and found Aperture grinding exceeding slow. This is perhaps the only time in two years of ownership when I have adversely noticed the speed. For general work it seems to fly along, but I now realise that the chance of a much faster Air will be a constant nag. 

Despite the renewed temptations of the MacBook Pro once I had held it and played with it for ten minutes, I felt that my earlier decision not to buy it had been right. Surely, once the gloss had worn off, I would regret having to carry the extra weight and put up with the more generous dimensions.

The answer was to walk away and order a cappuccino. Once the froth had settled I weighed up all my options. Basically, I had three choices. The first one, to order the range-topping MacBook Pro with 16GB memory and faster processor (£2,699) I had already ruled out. I was left with the simple choice between a new 2GHz 11in Air with 8GB RAM and 256GB disk (£1,380) or soldier on with my 2010 Air (£0) in the hope that a retina display Air is announced within the next twelve months. 

Decision made

At last I had made a decision. I went back to the Apple Store and asked about the top-of-the-line 11in Air, fully expecting it to be on back order. I was surprised to find one sitting in the stock room. By this time it had my name on it, so I gave in gracefully.

I’m feeling good about the decision, particularly in my being able to resist the blandishments of the ThinBook Pro. I think it is the sensible choice for me, particularly bearing in mind that I have a fast iMac as an office machine.

I have the same convenient package as before, plus double the memory and double the disk space, not to mention a very healthy injection of speed. At the moment Mid-2012 it is sitting next to its seemingly identical Late-2010 ancestor engaged in migration via an ethernet cable. Later I will give you my first impressions.


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