Price When Reviewed: 1695 . 3095
For now, I'll focus on what's new (and really, really good) in this laptop. Four things stand out: the screen, the integrated battery, the 256GB SSD, and the screen. (OK, I'm counting the screen twice; it's beyond anything I've ever seen anywhere else except maybe an IMAX cinema.)
I've long been a fan of screen real estate. The bigger the screen and the higher the resolution, the happier I am. After spending some time staring at this glossy display -- LED backlit, of course -- I couldn't be happier. It appears to be just as bright as my second-generation MacBook Air, meaning you can use it in bright sunlight and have no problem seeing what's on the screen. More important for users who plan on doing a lot of Photoshop or video work, the display offers a wider gamut of colours than before, according to Apple officials. That translates into even richer colour saturation and deeper blacks.
Not surprisingly, you do get some reflection from the glossy finish, and if you think that's going to be a problem -- or if you simply prefer Apple's matte-finish screen -- you can get the antiglare screen for £30/$50 -- but only on the 17-inch model. All other Apple laptops are now glossy-only.
In addition to the 250-nit brightness and truly deep color saturation, the high pixel count delivers razor-sharp text and true high-definition capabilities for anyone working with -- and needing to preview -- hi-def video. For those keeping track, the pixels-per-inch count is 133; that's high, and might make some on-screen elements such as menus or text look a little small. To my 47-year-old eyes, everything looked fine.
Pushing those pixels are two nVidia graphics processors. This is the same setup that debuted in October with the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The nVidia 9400M is an integrated chip that uses up to 256MB of video RAM; this is the option to choose to save juice when on battery life. It's the same chip that powers the 13.3-inch screens in the MacBook Air and both MacBook models. The fact that it's powering more pixels on a larger screen doesn't seem to make any difference in this case. I detected no problems viewing videos, for instance.
This MacBook Pro also has a discrete nVidia 9600M GT chip that offers a luscious 512MB of video RAM. I'm not a gamer, but if I were, this would make me a happy camper. If you're into games, or find yourself doing things like 3D modeling, character animation or anything that's going to tax the video subsystem, this is a welcome inclusion.
The 9600M GT does use more power, so battery life will be reduced by about an hour, according to Apple. (You toggle between the two graphics chips using the Energy Saver system preference: Better Battery Life uses the integrated processor; Better Performance uses the 9600M GT. You have to log out and log back in when making the change.)
Given all this video firepower, it's unfortunate that the optical drive doesn't play Blu-ray DVDs -- nor is there an option to add a Blu-ray drive, even if you wanted one. I have to assume that Apple wants you to get your hi-def movies and TV shows through its own AppleTV or through iTunes. But I can say that 30 Rock in hi-def -- I bought the current season through iTunes -- looks phenomenal in full-screen mode. It's very film-like, with rich colors and no digital artifacts. In fact, it looks as good as hi-def video does on my 46-in. Sony Bravia LCD TV.