Retina display, first impressions

I've been working a stupid number of hours over the past two or three months to accumulate funds for a computer I've had an eye on for some time: the MacBook Pro with Retina display.

I have needed a new laptop of some description for quite a while to allow me to get out of my home office and take advantage of the excellent open office space available in Edinburgh. (I do have a PC netbook but after only three years or so it is already freighted with the cares of old age.) I wanted a Retina display in particular for first hand day-to-day experience of the high resolution screens currently in the process of becoming standard across all devices from all suppliers.

I was finally able to purchase the 13-inch model last weekend. Here are one or two initial impressions:

Good typefaces and typography looks amazing

One of the first things I did was head over to Typecast to check the display of good typefaces at various sizes and weights. You'll have heard it reported, and probably seen it for yourself, but quality type looks quite sensational on Retina. For the first time I've found it quite satisfying to read long passages of text on a screen. The reading experience is not better than print, but high resolution typography has its own qualities: it has a distinctive purity and clarity that only the best printed publications can match. A few years ago I visited a traditional printing press and marvelled at the sharpness of a freshly printed page created with type blocks: Retina text has something of that pellucid quality.

I'm more convinced than ever that good typography is the most fundamental element of professional web design. There's never been an excuse for bad typography of course, but websites have traditionally been image-driven, with type shunted into designs as something of an afterthought - the 'oh-just-make-the-body-text-arial' syndrome. The availability of a wide range of excellent web fonts over the past two or three years has started to change that, and widespread adoption of high resolution displays will confirm the trend towards type-driven design further as it becomes - literally - clear just how beautiful it can be.

Vector graphics and illustration - not unamazing, also

Retina's typographic clarity is well documented, but I wasn't prepared for quite how stunning vector graphics and illustrations are rendered. I don't want to get too carried away but they have a jewel-like quality. Think of the shining colours and crystalline clarity of an illustration in a medieval book of hours. Or the detail in a Pre-Raphaelite painting. High resolution bitmaps look very fine on Retina, but I can honestly say I've seen vector graphics as if for the first time over the past week: the clarity is razor sharp. Websites combining good typography and vector illustration seem to me to be signposting the future of web design: it's just such an incredible combination on a high resolution screen.

Less glare, more calm

Finally, one other thing I've noticed is that there's something calming about a high resolution display. Traditionally, the eye has had to recalibrate when turning from the sharpness of the outside world to the lower resolution of a computer screen. With Retina the transition is less jarring. Indeed the sharpness of the display has a quality that draws the eye in. Apple's product notes say that the Retina display reduces glare by up to 75 per cent. I don't know anything about the metrics for that claim, but the high-resolution display seems stabler, less shimmering.

Overall then, I'm glad I made the extra investment. Viewing the web on Retina is a bit like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time. Everything familiar, but different, better. And after this and last week's I promise my next post won't be about Apple…

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