Is This The Future Of Desktop Computers?

Roben Walker

The new iMac is landing now—from Friday, May 21, to be exact. It comes with a radical new design—the first complete overhaul to the look of the desktop computer since 2012, so no wonder it felt like it was a long time coming—and with a huge emphasis on color.

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I’ve been testing the new iMac for more than a week now, and comparing it with the most recent 16in MacBook Pro, M1 MacBook Air and the most recent 27in iMac. You can read my Seven Things Nobody Told You post about the new iMac, here.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Design: Color

The look of the iMac is spectacular. Radically new but also evoking the original iMac from 1998. That computer, with its Bondi Blue case was a complete change from the beige boxes that had gone before.

Now, the seven colors of the iMac stand in contrast to what’s available elsewhere, which is usually black (especially gaming machines), silver and occasionally white.

Apple’s decided that now is the time, once again, for a brighter, more colorful computer. There are four core colors: blue, green, pink and silver. These are available at the entry price, $1,299 (£1,249 in the U.K.) which means Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM. If you fancy one of the three other shades, yellow, orange and purple—and to me, those are the three coolest colors—then you have to choose the higher-rated version of M1 chip. That has the same 8-core CPU but upgrades the GPU to 8 cores, too. This costs $1,499 (£1,449 in the U.K.) and it also brings with it a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID built in.

Each iMac is represented on the Apple website with two colors, because there’s the main color for the aluminum casing, stand and magnetic cable connector and then the secondary color, which is lighter and is found on the glass front of the computer. The exception is silver which has just the one color.

It doesn’t stop there: the woven power cable and USB-C to Lightning cable are also colored in this lighter shade, while the edging and underside of the Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard all glow with the main metallic color.

The only other color you’ll find in the new iMac is white which is the bezel around the display, as well as the upper surfaces of mouse and trackpad and the keyboard’s keys.

I’ve gone on about the colors so much because it’s a striking new element: instead of choosing a computer for its specs and quickly failing to notice what color it is after a couple of days use, with the new iMac you get to make a choice. The yellow I picked is warm, appealing and oddly comforting, every time I look at it.

Sure, most people will choose silver, but it’s the fact that you’ve got a choice that stands out.

And it’s worth saying that despite the extra color, which makes the iMac instantly approachable and friendly-feeling, this is still glamorous and attractive enough to suit the stuffiest of boardrooms and most self-important users.

The white bezel has been controversial for some, but I find it attractive, helping to make the computer look bright even if the iMac is turned off. Switched on, it doesn’t interfere with how you see the colors on screen.

Design: Thin and flat

The shape of the new iMac is as eye-catching as its colors. When Phil Schiller revealed the last big design update in 2012, the audience at the keynote cooed as they saw how thin it was. The whooping grew more subdued as it became clear that it was only the extreme edge that was thin, that there was a curved bulge in the middle of the computer’s back.

That was pretty innovative design at the time, of course.

But now, it’s completely flat. A thin slab of aluminum and glass, so thin that it can’t be more than a monitor, surely? But it is. Apple has put the power management in an external brick instead of the main unit, but everything else is there, just flat.

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Speaker grilles are on the bottom edge, headphone socket on the left side, Thunderbolt ports on the back. Ethernet capability is built into the power brick.

The elegant aluminum stand is replaced by one that’s slightly different. Still angled but no longer curved, it has a base with a backward pointing foot to keep it stable. The base is thicker than on the previous iMac and attaches to the computer itself with a clever hinge that looks like attaches in one tiny part of the circle. Don’t worry, it’s actually solid and secure with just the right amount of give for you to angle it easily.

The new iMac looks like nothing so much as a super-sized iPad Pro on a stand, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Oh, and it’s even more colorful.

Magic Keyboard

The new Magic Keyboard is very similar to the previous one for the iMac, though the keys feel ever so slightly more matte to the touch, I’d say. Key size, spacing and travel seems identical: in other words, excellent.

The curves at the corners of the keyboard are more pronounced which gives it a subliminal effect of being smaller—though typing dispels this as an illusion for the eyes only.

Building Touch ID into a wireless keyboard was doubtless an engineering challenge, but it works perfectly. This feature is something I expect rival desktop PC manufacturers to rush to copy. It feels very slightly slower than on the MacBook Pro, but that may be my imagination. In any event, it’s fast enough to feel intimate and effective.

The display

Having been used to a 27in iMac, I wondered if the smaller display would be tricky to adjust to. After all, when I’ve tested the 21.5in iMac, there was a definite and noticeable change.

Here, though, the 24in display—strictly speaking it’s 23.5in measured on the diagonal—still feels roomy and looks great. That’s not surprising, it’s the same pixel density as the bigger display, has the same brightness, wide color gamut and True Tone technology. For anyone moving up from a 21.5in iMac, the benefit will be noticeable, though.

The camera

The 1080p FaceTime HD camera on the 27in iMac which was released last year was a big step up, and ideal for video conferencing. The good news is that the camera here is even better. That’s down to the way the image signal processor of the M1 chip can improve things in lower light, and adjust the results to make you look great. I mean, it’s all relative, but better than before, anyway.

M1 performance

As anyone who’s ever lived in Britain will tell you, M1 is the name of the country’s first high-speed road. M stands for motorway. Apple may not have actually named this chip after the fastest road in the U.K., but the comparison is there.

I approached this review with some trepidation. This is the first-generation of a chip designed for laptop use. Could it really make a 24in iMac run as effectively as a 13in MacBook Air? It turns out it can.

Not surprising, given that it’s been performing brilliantly in the iMac mini and MacBook Pro for months now.

The version I’ve been testing is the model with 8-core GPU. I’m not the first person to say this, but the M1 chip is astonishing. It is blazing-fast, stable, reliable and power-efficient.

There are cooling fans in the iMac (very thin ones, obviously) but never did I hear any whirring, so they’re quiet as well or the M1 was coping without the need for them.

The M1 chip only works with up to 16GB of RAM, which might make you think it would max out its power and start stuttering. It didn’t, even with lots of programs running and scores of energy-demanding web pages open.

For most people, the power of this iMac will be way more than enough.

Verdict

The new Apple iMac is the best-looking desktop computer around, by a long and colorful mile.

This iMac is as revolutionary as the first one, with as innovative a design and a processor which is impressive and fast. It makes a head-turning statement which is simultaneously powerful and fun, businesslike and intensely personal.  

The new iMac feels like the future.

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