Apple’s new M1 chips have been making headlines in all of their new products because of the great performance and battery life. We’ve seen the M1 in devices like the MacBook Pro and even the iPad Pro, which now blows away all other “mobile” devices in benchmarks. So when Apple threw this chip into the iMac, it made Apple’s mainstream desktop immediately interesting. And after using the M1 iMac for a few months, I can easily say it’s one of my favorite computers I have ever used.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The M1 iMac has a very unconventional design for an all-in-one. The screen assembly is super thin, coming in at just 11.5mm thick. The front is all glass and mostly display, with white bezels and a chin that houses the logic board. The top has the 1080p HD FaceTime camera, which produces fantastic video quality, a long overdue step for Apple. The back has the connector for the non-removable stand, the power port, and 2 or 4 USB Type-C ports depending on your version.
Apple does have a few versions of the M1 iMac. The base model iMac comes with 2 Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, an M1 with 7 GPU cores and only has 1 fan and a heatsink. The 8 GPU core models have 2 fans and a heat pipe with 2 Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and 2 USB 3 ports. This, in theory, means you’ll get better CPU and GPU performance out of the 8 core model because the thermal headroom on the M1 chip is greater.
The iMac comes in seven colors: blue, green, pink, silver, yellow, orange, and purple. Every iMac also includes with color-matched accessories. That means your blue iMac will have a snazzy blue Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse/Trackpad. It is worth noting these are not available separately yet, so if you want a color-matched accessory, you need to get it at the time you order. All the colors are gorgeous, but I still prefer plain old silver.
The display on the iMac is fantastic. It is a 24-inch 4.5K LCD panel with a resolution of 4480 by 2520 pixels. It gets bright with a peak rating of 500 nits, but it is still hard to see in direct sunlight. Luckily, this is a desktop. Just don’t set it up in direct sunlight. The display has wide 10-bit color gamut, which means it can show up to 1 billion colors. This 10-bit panel also enables support for HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Apple opted to include True Tone, which matches the white balance of the screen to the lighting environment around you.
In the box, Apple includes the iMac, the magnetic charger, the mouse, keyboard, and the usual manuals. There’s nothing surprising here. I’m going to nitpick here… but all models of the iMac come with Apple stickers that match each color of the iMac, So, for example, the blue iMac will come with a dark blue and light blue sticker. Unfortunately, the silver only comes with a single silver Apple sticker instead of a silver and white like one might expect. I want my second sticker, Apple.
Keyboard and trackpad
Unlike most all-in-one computers, the iMac has a few different options for keyboard and mouse, depending on which version you buy. The base model iMac only comes with a standard magic keyboard but you can customize it to include a Magic Keyboard with TouchID or Magic Keyboard with Numpad and TouchID. However, this keyboard feels cheap. The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro and the Magic Keyboard for the MacBook Pro both feel more sturdy than the portable one that comes with the iMac.
Touch ID on the Magic Keyboard 2 is probably one of my favorite features. It makes signing into the computer easy and even lets you use your fingerprint to complete Apple Pay transactions or verify your auto-fill data. It’s so much easier than typing in a password and saves me a ton of time. The keyboard also makes it easy to lock the computer—just press the Touch ID button, and you can walk away without leaving your data exposed.
As for the mouse, every model of iMac comes with a Magic Mouse 2 which is color-matched to the computer chassis. You can customize the iMac to come with a Magic Trackpad 2 for an extra $50 or buy it separately for $120. These sound expensive for an input device, but the macOS of today was designed for use with trackpads. All of the gestures that make macOS feel fast and accessible with the trackpad. I’ve only used a trackpad with my iMac because it doesn’t feel right to use the Magic Mouse anymore. It’s just an un-natural way to control macOS. That extra $50 or $120 is well worth it if you want to enjoy the experience of using the iMac.
The mouse and keyboard both charge with the Apple Lightning port. The battery on the trackpad lasts about 2 weeks or so for me and the mouse is about the same. The keyboard lasts even longer, managing about 3 or 4 weeks. The charging port on the mouse is one of the worst design’s I’ve ever seen, though, with the port on the bottom of the mouse. That means you can’t use the mouse at the same time it’s charging. Mercifully, the trackpad and keyboard will both work while charging because the charging port is on the back instead of bottom.
Software and performance
macOS Big Sur is, well, macOS. It has this nice and colorful UI that Apple has refined over the years, and I like it very much. It’s a little cleaner and more elegant than Windows. I can’t think of any huge issues or annoyances with macOS, something I cannot say about Windows. From Apple Pay to Siri, macOS on the iMac supports all of Apple’s usual services, and it all works well. If you have an Apple Watch, your computer will automatically unlock if you’re wearing it—no password needed. Siri supports “Hey Siri” so you can yell at your computer from across the room. There’s also full support for iMessage and FaceTime and if your phone rings while connected to the same wireless network, so will your computer. The integration with Apple’s other software and hardware is just unparalleled in personal computing. Although, it can be hard to transition from Windows to macOS if you’re not used to it.
Now to the all-important M1 ARM chip. In my 16GB RAM version, I didn’t notice any slowdowns or stuttering whatsoever. It can run everything I need from Chrome, to Minecraft, to Microsoft Office, to Adobe apps. Most of these apps are compiled for ARM, which brings a 20% performance boost, give or take. Apps that are still compiled for x86 will run through Rosetta, which translates the app to ARM, and most apps run well even when converted. The only time the M1 chip felt challenged was when I loaded up an Excel file processing equations across around 500,000 cells. Even then, it only took about 300 seconds to process vs. the 120 seconds of my gaming PC with a Ryzen 5800X. This does seem like a pretty big difference, but something like this would have brought most other all-in-one computers to their knees. The more impressive part is the entire iMac uses 135W of power, while just the CPU in my gaming rig uses 105W.
Apple does limit the RAM to a maximum of 16GB, which is a shame. I would have liked to see 32GB or even 64GB of RAM. This is rumored to come with the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros launching later this year, but we can’t for sure.
Should you buy it?
Yes, this is a fantastic computer. I’ve never been a fan of all-in-one machines, but this iMac converted me. I’m shocked that Apple was able to fit so much great tech into this slim, beautiful chassis. I’m a huge fan of almost every aspect of it—performance, display, and design. It’s safe to say this is one of my favorite machines right now.
However, you should lookout for new Apple computers. Apple is rumored to be working on an iMac Pro and iMac with a better and larger display, newer chip, and more hardware options. It could come this year or next year—we just don’t know. If the M1 chip and the iMac’s specs aren’t doing it for you, it might be worth waiting for the new models. Or you could just pick up one of the rumored MacBook Pros later this year, and add an external monitor.
Even with the new machines rumored to be coming soon, I love the M1 iMac and think it’s worth buying. It is a bit pricey when you add all the accessories and better spec options, sure, but it’s not a gaming computer. You won’t be upgrading it every year to the latest version. To drop anywhere from $1,300 to $2,500 on it might seem like a lot, but I think it’s a very fair price for what you are getting.
Buy it if…
- You want a fast, reliable family computer.
- You have limited space for a desktop and want something that looks nice.
Don’t buy it if…
- You haven’t used macOS before and don’t want to learn a new OS.
- You prefer the Google and Microsoft ecosystems.