MacBook Pro Retina Cases: Long-Term Road Tests

Flawless.
Flawless.

After nearly three years, the original MacBook Pro with Retina Display’s aluminum finish is flawless.  That’s no accident.  It’s accidentally slammed against doorknobs, brushed against brick walls and slid off a coffee table or two — but thankfully it hasn’t experienced a full-on drop.  The first slim case/cover available was the Kuzy case, and the top half of that case is still doing its job.  The bottom half lost its cheap foot pads in no time.  Eventually the hold tabs broke off, and when it started falling off completely, the Kuzy bottom was replaced by the clear bottom section of the iPearl case.  There are a few minor scuffs and nicks — evidence it’s done its job.

The updated “ultra slim” description on some of the newer cases prompted some curiosity about whether the newly manufactured cases use thinner material, so in what will hopefully be the last case purchase before it’s time to upgrade, the Speck SmartShell two-tone blue/black version is now in rotation.  As it turns out, it is not appreciably thinner or lighter than the original Kuzy or iPearl cases after all.  Though I can’t judge the long-term durability of the Speck, all three cases are made of very similar material and feature very similar designs with the exceptions noted below.

MacBook Pro Retina Cases Long-Term Update

Case Durability  Overall
Kuzy Low Good.  Very nice finish.  Cheap foot pads and an okay fit.  Good value.
iPearl High Good.  Unique matte hard plastic finish with okay fit.  Useful flip-up feet.
Speck * Best.  Noticeably better fit.  Nice rubberized or clear finish.  More expensive.

Slip of the Lip

There aren’t too many differentiators between these cases, but the front palm rest area is where wetware meets hardware and design flaws are felt.  The Speck front bottom lip was perfect out the box.  The iPearl has a couple of curious tabs protruding slightly from the palm rest that tactilely remind you of their existence too often.  The Kuzy’s scratchy front lip had to be sanded down, but after that was fine.

Fit and I’m Finished

Among all three finishes, the matte rubberized coating is my top pick.  It looks and feels nice.  The inevitable smudges are easy enough to clean, but the easiest to clean is the iPearl.  It’s hard matte is the most practical, but it but might not please the discerning aesthete because of the soft blur look and plastic feel.  The clear Speck clear cover looks great when new, but probably won’t hold up well against scuffs and scratches, and shows dust immediately.

If price were no object, the Speck would be the likely choice if it holds up as well as the others.  Silicone nubs inside the top Speck cover keep it from pressing up against the aluminum directly, and the bottom has nice contoured pads similar to the original MacBook pads.  The iPearl uses two grippy pads in the front, and the back has two feet that flip up to elevate the angle.  Handy.

Finally, attaching and detaching the Speck top cover was challenging — more difficult than the other two.  Has anybody ever broken a Retina display trying to pry and ply it into place?  I used a heat gun to warm up the plastic and make it more pliable.  Another fit issue is the Kuzy’s tight fit around the USB and Thunderbolt ports.  That presented a minor problem for some cables which don’t plug in all the way.  In practice it hasn’t presented any functional issues.

If you’ve read this far, you’re as devoted to the minutia of Macs as I am, so go get a case!  All of these cases perform their task well enough, and will typically last a year or two with normal use.  After you have one, then ask yourself, how effective is an economic system that devotes such inordinate resources toward myriad variations of a molded plastic case for expensive computers?  On one hand, it’s an aspirational representation of abundance, but on the other, how many variations of toaster ovens and minute differences in plastic cases are reasonable?  There has to be a better way.  Time to revisit the Worldly Philosophers, that is, after I finish polishing my one, my MacBook, my precious…

Does anyone have a 3D printed MacBook case yet?  This one for the iPad Mini is a start.

 

OWC Aura Pro 6G 480GB vs. Stock Apple 256GB SSD

Solid State Drive upgrade options for the MacBook Pro with Retina Display have finally come down in price enough to make them a reasonably good value.  Here’s a performance comparison between the stock Apple drive and the OWC Aura Pro 6G:

According to Blackmagic, the OWC Aura Pro 6G 480GB meets the advertised specification, but the stock 256GB Apple/Samsung MZ-DPC2560/0A2 writes significantly faster. This snapshot was taken on a Mid-2012 MacBook Pro with Retina Display running a clean install of Yosemite 10.10.2.  In typical use, there isn’t much of a discernible difference in performance. The MacBook was no slouch to start with, so this upgrade was all about the extra storage space.

I’ll take OWC’s word that the need for TRIM has been obviated due to built-in garbage collection. There are several bad reviews of this drive on Amazon, but OWC has a 5-year warranty, and Time Machine works. With typical use, this drive should easily last 15 years  — longer than the useful life of a MacBook.

Update 2016:  With my own OWC SSD, there was no such luck.

2.5″ Desk Grommet Outlet w/ USB Charger

You can spend a lot of time searching in vain for a 2.5″ desk grommet power outlet to fit firmly in the wire-routing hole of your desk.  After painstaking googling, here’s the best solution I found by far with 5/5 stars on Amazon.  It comes with hardware for edge mount and through-hole mount from 2.0″ (maybe slightly smaller) to 3.0″ holes.  I ended up buying it locally at Home Depot and it’s high quality.  Recommended.