New MacBook Pro: Worth every penny

June 18, 2012, 7:56 PM UTC

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. At .71 inches it’s thinner than your index finger. But is it worth the price? Photo: JP Mangalindan/Fortune

FORTUNE — Apple’s new 15-inch notebook may look thinner and lighter than older MacBook Pro models, but there’s no mistaking this for a MacBook Air. For $2,199, users get a more powerful 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel i7 processor, 8-gigabytes of RAM, a 256 GB solid state drive, two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, and a Retina Display. But is it what Apple proudly calls, “the most advanced Mac” they’ve ever made? We spent a week with a review unit to find out.

The look

From afar, it doesn’t look like much has changed. It has the same lines of MacBook Pros before it. But look closer, and you’ll notice the tweaks, like a screen that’s more flush with the rest of the computer, a shallower keyboard more in line with the MacBook Air’s, and at .71 thick, a body that’s thinner than most people’s index fingers. It’s also lost some weight. At 4.4 lbs., it’s nearly a pound less than previous 15-inch MacBook Pros and a hair lighter than even the 13-incher. That isn’t quite as impressive as say, the featherweight status of the 11-inch MacBook Air (2.2 lbs) or 13-inch MacBook Air (2.9 lbs), but because the new MacBook Pro’s weight is spread across a much larger case, it doesn’t feel quite as heavy when you’re actually lugging it around.

Long-time Apple users may want to take note: To make way for the MacBook Pro’s thinner body, the company trimmed the laptop’s power adapter. That means the power adapters from older notebooks or the standard MacBook Pros of this generation won’t power up this model without a $9.99 Tic Tac-sized converter. It’s a minor detail, but it’s something to remember for those who were hoping to use their old power cords.

That screen

Apple says the MacBook Pro’s new 15-inch Retina Display packs four times the pixels of previous screens. It shows. Everything is sharper, blacks are blacker, and the screen is a lot less reflective. (It’s still not great for using outdoors, but it’s less of a mirror than before.) Because of all those pixels, it’s possible to turn up the resolution to up to 2,880-by-1,800, even higher than that found in the 27-inch iMac. In the settings, Apple has tried to make swapping between resolutions easier to understand. So instead of relying on numbers, the company boils it down to five main settings including “Larger Text,” “Best (Retina),” and “More Space.” At the maximum setting, I found the text too small for everyday use, but others who want to maximize their screen real estate may be comfortable with it.

Not everything is perfect. Sharp as the Retina Display is, it could be brighter. Whereas images seem to have a preternatural glow or pop on the new iPad, that doesn’t quite happen on the MacBook Pro. During nearly a week of use, I kept trying to turn up the brightness, only to realize it was at the highest setting. (Recent tests run by AnandTech appear to corroborate this, proving the brightness on this year’s MacBook Pro is actually 20% lower than last year’s model.)

[cnnmoney-video vid=/video/technology/2012/06/14/t-ts-macbook-pro-retina.fortune/]

Day-to-day operations

As the owner of last year’s 13-inch MacBook Air with a 1.8 GHz i7 processor, I’ve found the laptop can run hot when you’re doing things like watching high-definition video. Sometimes, the fan may loudly kick in. The new MacBook Pro has what the company calls a new “asymmetric fan,” with small vents on either side of the notebook’s bottom, which the company says encourages quieter operations. We found that to be true.

As a writer, I don’t deal much with video editing, and my photo editing “skills” consist of fiddling around with iPhoto, so I can’t speak to the heavy processor-intensive tasks the new MacBook Pro and its quad-core processor are clearly geared for. But I do usually have multiple tasks going — the occasional Netflix video stream, Safari, Mail, Word, Spotify, and iPhoto to name a few — and tens of windows going at any given time. In our day-to-day use, our notebook didn’t skip a beat, and often hummed along for over five hours in between charges. It’s not quite the promised 7 hours, but acceptable given real-world usage and enough for a cross-country flight.

At $2,199, this new MacBook Pro clearly isn’t for everyone. It’s intended for power users and creative professionals who want uncompromising performance in a very portable notebook with an excellent display. For them, it is one of the best options around. (Indeed, the Retina Display is such an upgrade, that working on anything else afterwards feels like a step back.) But for the average consumer, it may be hard to justify the high price point when a significantly cheaper MacBook Air will probably do.