I like my Retina MacBook Pro, in part because I have the option to switch to extremely high-resolution display modes when I’m way from my home Thunderbolt monitor and want as much screen real estate as I can get. But Apple did a curious thing in OS X Mountain Lion: They removed the option to put a display preferences item in the OS X menu bar. Luckily, third-party developers have stepped up and created a couple of fixes that actually go above and beyond the call of duty.
Display Menu is available in the Mac App Store, which should help those wary of installing OS tweaks feel a little more at ease, since it means this has at least passed a basic quality review by Apple, which isn’t true of all utilities that fiddle with OS X system settings. And what it provides is a menu that lets you change the display resolution of your Mac, and any attached external displays, without having to open System Preferences and click through to Display Preferences itself, a process made overly elaborate ever since Mountain Lion’s introduction.
Display Menu is neat, and helps in a number of ways, but it is also limited in a couple of areas. For one thing, it doesn’t support the 15-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro’s native Retina display resolution in HiDPI mode. What that means is that you can’t quickly switch back to the “Best for Retina” option. But for attached displays, it’s absolutely perfect, and it’s free.
If you want the native Retina resolution option, there’s a paid App Store alternative to Display Menu called “Display Modes – Resolution Menu” that provides it – but only for the 15-inch Retina Pro for now. For the 13-inch, the native HiDPI or Retina modes aren’t yet supported, and the app costs $2.99. It’s possible an update will fully support the 13-inch, but judging by Display Modes’ developer’s website, which is pretty sparse, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Despite the limitations of both these apps, they do provide complete control over third-party displays, and they offer another trick owners of any Retina MacBook Pro might appreciate: the ability to change your resolution to a mind-boggling max of 2880 x1800 on the 15-inch, or 2560 x 1600 on the 13-inch version. Font is small at that extreme, but you also have a ton of desktop space to work with, which is perfect if you need to edit print resolution photos or run a number of applications at once and keep an eye on each.
Retina or no, if you’re reading this article you likely miss the Display Preferences menu bar option that Apple inexplicably removed in the interest of ‘progress.’ These apps bring it back, with some added superpowers depending on what kind of Mac you’re using, affordably and without requiring any mucking about in Terminal.