MacBook Pro 15: Is the Higher Resolution Screen Worth It?

With the newest version of the 15" MacBook comes a new option: a 1680 x 1050 screen—about 30% more pixel-y than the original 1440 x 900 unit. But how does it look? Do you need the extra dots?

I pitted a high res MBP against a regular res model, and the difference is striking, but not for the reasons you might expect. (My testing criteria were admittedly subjective, but it's tough to quantify this kind of stuff. So, please accept this judgment, from my eyeballs to yours! Thanks. Photos are for illustration more than anything else. Higher res model is on the right.)

• The newer screen is actually dimmer than the old one—at the lowest and highest brightness settings, the older screen seemed to emit more light. Interesting, given that both are LED-based, and more importantly, the older screen is broken in, so all things equal, we'd expect it to be dimmer, not the new screen.

MacBook Pro 15: Is the Higher Resolution Screen Worth It?


• That slightly subdued brightness pays off in deeper blacks. The newer screen's blacks were obviously inkier, though darker grays tended to be represented as black, while the older screen resolved dark gradients a bit more finely.

• Colors were more vivid on the new screen, though as with the pitch-dark blacks, bright colors could almost seem too saturated. This was only noticeable in side-by-side comparisons, though—it didn't stand out on its own, and the effect was generally preferable to the light-bled colors of the prior model.

• Whites are equally pure on each. The prior model's increased brightness wasn't evident here, strangely enough.

MacBook Pro 15: Is the Higher Resolution Screen Worth It?


• Vertical and horizontal viewing angles seem to be about the same, which is to say satisfactory and fantastic, respectively. Minor point: Viewed from the side, the older model was tinted green, and the newer one red. Green is the less distracting of the two, I find.

My overall impression, despite the slight decrease in brightness (which isn't in and of itself a good or bad thing), is that the newer screen just looks better—sharper, richer, and without the slightly washed-out colors of its predecessor.

MacBook Pro 15: Is the Higher Resolution Screen Worth It?


The increased pixel density is actually subtler than I had expected. The OS X interface displays smaller, obviously, and web pages tend to render with plenty of white space, not having been designed for a 1680 pixel screen width. There's just enough horizontal room here to tile a browser and, say, an email app horizontally, and the extra pixels come in handy when using panel-heavy apps like Photoshop, but really, I can't tell you guys anything about the basics of screen resolution that you don't already know. More pixels=more stuff! Magic!

What I can do say is that the added resolution isn't too much, and that it's appropriate for the display's size—that jump from 1440 x 900 to 1680 x 1050 is pure benefit. Granted, this could depend on your usage habits. If you sit closer to your screen, or are an avid and literal lap-topper, the smaller text and icons will likely be fine; if you sit further from your screen, you could find yourself squinting. Anyway, caveats aside, if your MacBook is your primary machine, and its display your primary display, it's probably worth the $100 (or $150 for anti-glare) premium.