Is it worth spending $400 more for a retina display on the latest Apple MacBook Pro? To find out, we compared the company’s new 15-inch laptops. The MacBook Pro with Retina display ($2,200) has a 2880 x 1800 display, while the MacBook Pro ($1,800) has a 1440 x 900 screen.

Here’s what we found when we tested a press sample of the MacBook Pro with Retina display along with a retail sample of the regular MacBook Pro:

The MacBook Pro with Retina display has the best color accuracy we’ve seen. The screen is also one of the crispest. Its dense pixel count makes for very smooth lines, no matter what curves or angles it’s displaying.

With its anti-glare coating, it’s not surprising that the MacBook Pro with Retina display did better in our glare test than the majority of the laptops in our current Ratings, which lack an anti-glare coating. It also did better than the new MacBook Pro, which has a very glossy screen. But for an extra $100, you can get that MacBook Pro with an anti-glare coating and higher resolution of 1680 x 1050.

Both new MacBook Pro models were very slightly above the average brightness of other current laptops. Had Apple made the maximum brightness higher than it did, both would be easier to see outdoors in bright light. That said, they are viewable outdoors in the shade.

For photographers and those who do lots of photo editing, the model with the retina display lets you view more of your image at 100 percent or a 1:1 ratio. That can be crucial if you’re making adjustments to an entire photo, such as sharpening or noise reduction. Being able to better see those changes can improve both the accuracy and speed of your workflow.

In addition, the retina display’s high resolution lets you see greater detail when viewing images and videos. For example, with a high-resolution RAW image from a digital camera, you’ll be able to zoom in to see finer details while still maintaining a crisp, clear image. On lower-resolution screens, that image would look soft and blocky.

The two models differ a bit in weight and thickness. The MacBook Pro with Retina display has a design similar to a MacBook Air. It weighs 4.5 pounds and is 0.7 inches thick; the regular MacBook Pro is 5.6 pounds and 0.95 inches thick. Both models we tested had Intel’s latest, quad-core 2.3GHz Core i7 processor. The retina display model had 256GB of flash storage and 8GB of memory, while the regular model had a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of memory.

The bottom line: If you’re a professional photographer or serious amateur, the extra $400 for the better retina display is probably worth it. But if you buy the retina version, remember to update your accessories and software to keep up with faster technologies such as the speedy flash drive in the MacBook Pro with Retina display (the other MacBook Pro comes standard with a traditional hard drive that’s slower, although flash drives are available at extra cost).

Apple Introduces All New MacBook Pro with Retina Display Apple

—Rich Fisco, Terry Sullivan, Donna Tapellini

What Microsoft’s Surface tablets promise


The Microsoft Surface tablets, announced yesterday for fall availability, promise to be more businesslike than Apple’s iPads, while seeking to replicate Apple’s tight integration of hardware and software into a user-friendly “ecosystem.”

How well might they accomplish that? Microsoft’s history in making hardware, and in creating and sustaining systems to support them, offers reasons for both optimism and skepticism.

The iPad, the newest version of which tops our tablet Ratings, has always been more about play than work, thanks to its rich and responsive screen and access to Apple’s unequaled selection of games, movies, apps, and music. The Surface tablets–both a regular and Pro model were announced–seem to tilt in the other direction, emphasizing productivity and (necessarily) downplaying entertainment.

Microsoft hasn’t provided a lot of information on apps available for the Surfaces. However, where the iPad has apps that are compatible with Microsoft Office, it seems the Surface tablets will actually run versions of that productivity suite, and thus should provide virtually seamless compatibility with Office on your other computers. The regular Surface (which will run the Windows RT OS and use an AMR processor, a type commonly used in other tablets) will run a less full-featured version of Microsoft Office, called Office Home & Student 2013RT.

The other Surface, with an OS based on Windows 8 Pro for computers and a faster, third-generation Intel Core processor, will run a more robust Office. What might be missing from the lesser version Office for RT? In Microsoft Office 2010, for example, the Home and Student version lacks the e-mail client, database tool, and publishing apps found in higher-priced Office versions.

Based on what Microsoft has shown so far, the Surface tablets, despite differing operating systems, will try to bring to computers and tablets the simple touch interface, using onscreen “tiles” that we generally praise on Windows Phone smart phones, including models from HTC, Nokia, and Samsung, in our Ratings.

Where the iPad includes only a virtual keyboard that’s awkward for sustained typing, the Surface tablets will have a full physical keyboard built into one of two screen covers. The regular, 3-mm-thick, Surface Touch Cover will supposedly interpret gestures as keystrokes, with the goal of faster typing–and, perhaps, a curve to relearn how to type. The second, 5-mm-thick Type Cover will have physical keys, presumably for a more familiar typing experience.

The 10.6-inch-diagonal Surface screen is about an inch larger than the iPad’s, pushing the device close in screen size to the smallest laptops. At 9.4 mm thick, the Surface will measure a tenth of a millimeter thinner than the newest, third-generation iPad. The Windows RT-based Surface will weigh about 0.8 ounces more than the iPad, though, and have a slightly smaller battery; no battery-life figure has yet been announced. The Windows 8 Pro Surface will weigh about 30 percent more than an iPad and have a battery with about the same capacity. It’s also the first tablet we know of with the option of 128 GB of storage.

How good a device the Surface tablets are, and how well developed their ecosystem will become, may depend on which past Microsoft devices best reflect the company’s chops at creating its own devices. On the one hand, there’s Microsoft’s thriving Xbox gaming console, with its host of compelling games and well-conceived online gaming capabilities. On the other, consider the now-defunct Zune media player and Kin smart phone, which floundered for lack of content and other shortcomings and were quickly abandoned by Microsoft.

Microsoft didn’t announce pricing for the Surfaces, which will be sold at Microsoft retail stores and select online Microsoft stores.

Whatever their caliber, the Surface tablets promise to add yet another choice to a fall tablet market that will already boast bigger screens (the 13-inch Toshiba Excite, for example) and, almost certainly, tablets from other manufacturers that will run Windows RT or Windows 8 Pro.

Venturing into a screen size that was once the exclusive province of rear-projection TVs, Sharp yesterday introduced the 90-inch Aquos LC-90LE745U, an LCD TV whose $11,000 price tag is as impressively large as its screen size.

Recently, Sharp has been using larger screen sizes to help differentiate itself from competitors. The LC-90LE745U is a full-featured, 3D-capable 1080p LCD set that includes a full-array LED backlight, 240Hz anti-blur technology, built-in Wi-Fi, and Sharp’s SmartCentral Internet platform with access to apps, YouTube videos, and CinemaNow, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu streaming movies and TV shows. The LC-90LE745U also has a full Web browser and can make Skype video calls when used with an optional webcam. The TV uses active-3D technology and comes with two sets of active-3D glasses.

To put things into perspective, the LC-90LE745U, which weighs about 140 pounds, is almost 4 feet high, and at 6 feet 8 inches across is about as wide as the average height of an NBA forward. Despite its gargantuan screen size, however, Sharp says the TV costs just $28 a year in energy costs to operate, a little less than it does to use two 75-watt incandescent lightbulbs for the same period.

Like other Internet-enabled Sharp Aquos TVs, the LC-90LE745U also includes Aquos Advantage Live, a free service that lets customer-service representatives connect to the TV to remotely help with setup, make picture-quality adjustments, and diagnose problems or issues.

Sharp has definitely take the lead in larger TV screen sizes. The company has several 60- and 70-inch models, and its 80-inch sets were the largest on the market until this latest model. Sharp LCD TVs have typically done well in our TV Ratings (available to subscribers), though many have had relatively narrow viewing angles. Of course, not everyone has the room–or room in the budget–for a 90-inch set. If you’re in the market for a bigger-screen TV, let us know how big you’re looking to go, and whether this particular Sharp is among the sets being considered.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has expanded its investigation into consumer complaints of fires and “thermal event incidents” with various model years of Toyota Camry and Yaris cars and Highlander and RAV4 SUVs.

The probe by NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) now involves the 2007-2009 model Toyota Yaris, Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Camry, including the gas-electric hybrid version. Also included in the ODI probe is the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV.

As with ODI’s ongoing investigation of 2007 Toyota RAV4 and Camry vehicles, it is believed that the vehicles’ master power window door switch could be involved in the reported incidents of fires in the cars’ doors. While this switch is believed to be used in the more than 1.4 million vehicles now being investigated, neither the NHTSA nor Toyota Motors has determined if a broader vehicle recall is needed.

For more information, check out our post: How to write a NHTSA complaint—and make it useful.

ODI Investigation – 2007-09 Toyota Camry/Camry HV/RAV4/Yaris 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid – Electrical fires Action #: EA12006 NHTSA

Several consumer-, privacy-, health-, and child-advocacy groups are calling on Facebook to provide privacy and marketing safeguards if it opens the social-networking service to children under 13.

Our recent survey projected that more than 5.6 million children under the age of 13 already have Facebook accounts, in violation of Facebook’s current policy of barring preteens. Once children have registered for accounts with false birthdays, the site treats them as teens or adults, depending on their stated age, and subjects them to the same data collection and marketing practices used to target older users. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the social network may be looking for ways to turn these children into legitimate users.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the groups said that any potential Facebook platform for preteens should be parent-supervised and parent-controlled, with no advertising and no collection of personal information for marketing purposes.

In addition to Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, the letter was signed by the Center for Digital Democracy, the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Media Justice, Center for Science in the Public Interest, ChangeLab Solutions/Public Health Law & Policy, Children Now, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy Times, Public Citizen, and World Privacy Forum.

The letter to Facebook recommended a list of safeguards to be incorporated if preteens are allowed on the site. For example, preteens whose parents are on Facebook accounts should be required to link their accounts to their parents’ accounts, and parents without Facebook accounts must be provided simple tools to monitor and preapprove their child’s activities.

Read Facebook & your privacy for details on who sees the data you share on the biggest social network.

Facebook may let children under age 13 use the site

Consumer, privacy, health, child groups: Facebook space for preteens must protect privacy, be ad-free and marketing-free Consumers Union

It looks like Microsoft will take another step into the mobile space today with an expected joint announcement with Barnes & Noble. Among the speculation: Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet will get a connection to Microsoft’s Xbox Live portal for digital entertainment.

Access to the Xbox Live portal would give the Nook Tablet an edge over a key rival, the Amazon Kindle Fire, by bolstering the amount of digital content and games available to it. The Nook Tablet has done well in our Ratings.

What’s more, the pending announcement could lead to a much more expansive relationship. Other websites, such as TechCrunch, which reported on the news yesterday, are speculating that a full-blown tablet using Microsoft Windows 8 instead of a proprietary version of Google Android could be in the works.

We’ll have more details after today’s announcement, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET.

Sources: Microsoft And Barnes & Noble To Announce Tablet With Xbox Live Streaming Tomorrow Tech Crunch
Barnes & Noble deal hints at possible new Microsoft tablet today Computer World
Microsoft: Barnes & Noble Spikes; Cooking Up A Windows Nook? Forbes

Nearly identical to the Subaru BRZ sport coupe, the rear-drive Scion FR-S offers the same sporty handling and energetic acceleration. The suspension has slightly different tuning, giving it an ever-so-slightly more compliant ride. But other than that—and a different nose job and trim—the two cars are just about interchangeable.

Sold as the Toyota GT-86 in other markets, the Scion FR-S uses the same Subaru four-cylinder, 2.0-liter boxer engine found in the BRZ that’s good for 200 hp. Transmission choices are the same six-speed manual or automatic; we opted for the slick-shifting manual in ours.

Other than that, the Scion is even simpler to buy than the Subaru, with only one trim level and no options other than the transmission choice. The interior is snug but roomy enough for two, with well-bolstered seats and a basic-but-solid look and feel. The climate control knobs will be familiar to anyone who has spent some time in any Toyota, and like other Scions, the cheesy radio looks like something from a discount electronics store. (Unfortunately for Subaru fans, the BRZ gets a similar radio.)

While factory options may be limited, the FR-S is offered with a long list of accessories available through the dealer, and more are likely to be coming soon.

Our FR-S rang in at $25,025 including a $730 delivery charge, slightly less than our BRZ. Some upscale options, like a leather interior, aren’t available to Scion buyers. But the fun-to-drive factor is yours, either way. Our full report will be coming soon, after a few more grin-inducing break-in miles, some of them experienced—no doubt—on our track.

New Subaru BRZ breaks tradition, proves really fun to drive

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