24in iMac (2021) Review: Power & Performance For Home Use

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When Apple introduced its M1 processor in the MacBook and Mac mini in 2020 Apple touched on top performance. Now it’s the turn of the iMac. With its thin screen, eye-catching (and in some cases controversial) colour choices, the new iMac has stirred many emotions among Apple fans. Is it a disappointment or a misunderstood triumph?

Design and construction

The first impression we get when unpacking the new iMac is that there must be something wrong. This can’t be an iMac, it is obviously a giant iPad that someone sent us for fun. But no, it really is an 11.5mm thin screen in which Apple has somehow fit a computer as well.

Our second reaction is to the blue colour of our test specimen. One of seven different colour choices on offer, including pink, green, orange, yellow and silver. The iMac colour scheme has certainly turned heads – some in admiration and others in dismay. When our German Macworld colleagues polled their readers the most popular colour choices were silver, blue and space grey (the latter isn’t even an option for the 24in iMac).

Some people clearly think a computer should only be available in grayscale. However, they may well be wrong: with the bright colour options this is a return to the fun iMac models that were immensely popular as the first Mac for ordinary people.

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New iMac 24in blue

We think that there is a place for fun colours in the home, and this does seem to be the location that Apple intends the new iMac for. If you are buying a iMac for the office then by all means opt for the safe silver option.

Around the screen is a white frame. The move from black bezels to white has attracted criticism. Why is it not black, or the same colour as the rest of the computer? We wonder if it’s because in the setting that most people will be using their iMac the wall in the background will be white, so the iMac will sort of disappear into the background, allowing you to focus on the image on the screen. It also has a retro feel, recalling the first iMac models that had a white frame.

iMac chin

Under the screen there is still the so called “chin”. This block of colour was a source of irritation among many owners of the previous model. That’s probably an unfair criticism: sure Apple could move the components that are housed there behind the iMac, but in doing so it would either move the base of the screen down so it was even less ergonomic than it is right now, or it would have to make the stand taller. People just like to have something to complain about. We’d say that the one thing the ‘chin’ does is make this instantly recognisable as an iMac. That said, we do miss the Apple logo that used to sit here. The empty space looks strange.

Another criticism some people have is that the screen isn’t touch sensitive. Many years ago Steve Jobs dismissed the idea of a touch screen iMac, suggesting it would give us arm ache to use it. He probably had a point, but a generation that is growing up with touch screens is starting to expect touch screens. Maybe that’s something for the future, for now in order to offer such technology Apple would have needed a much thicker screen.

Models and accessories

In Apple’s store it looks like there are three models of iMac to choose from, which is not really true. Since the latter two only differ in the amount of storage, which you can still change during the buying process, it is actually the same model. Buy a Mac from Apple.

Here’s how the different models shape up:

8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 256GB SSD, 4.5K Retina display, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, Magic Keyboard £1,249 / $1,299/ AU$1,899
8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 256GB SSD, 4.5K Retina display, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID £1,449 / $1,499/ AU$2,199
8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 512GB SSD, 4.5K Retina display, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID £1,649 / $1,699/ AU$2,499

You might be attracted by the cheapest model, which is £200/$200 less than the next model up at £1,249/$1,299. However, you do not get ethernet (that costs an extra £30/$30), there is no fingerprint reader on the keyboard (that’s another £50/$50). You also only have two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports on the back (while the more expensive models offer four) and it’s not possible to update to 2TB SSD as you can with the other models.

You also can not get away from the fact that the graphics one fewer core in this model. All these additional features are well worth the £200/$200 extra (although we’d suggest that you also compare the features to those offered by the other M1 Macs, such as the Mac mini which offers better value for money).

iMac and keyboard

All the new iMacs ship with a wireless Magic Keyboard and a Magic Mouse in the same colour as the computer. The mouse and its strange charging port are unchanged from before, so we do not need to talk about it.

The keyboard, on the other hand, now has a fingerprint reader at the top right – but only on the two more expensive iMacs, the entry level model offers only a Lock Key, which will lock your Mac, but does nothing else. Touch ID is a helpful addition that makes it quick and easy to log on to your Mac and can be used for various services or when paying with Apple Pay. Fingerprint recognition is fast and works really well, but we would have preferred Face ID instead.

You can update to a larger numeric keyboard for an additional £30/$30 (more if you are upgrading from the Lock Key version).

Before you spend money on a new iMac do check our round up of the best iMac deals.

Screen and sound

Although the new iMac is not much bigger than the old 21.5in iMac, Apple has managed to squeeze in a 24in screen (well, actually a 23.5in screen, but Apple’s decided to round up this time). If that screen isn’t big enough for you the 27in iMac is still on sale – but we’d advise that you wait before buying that since we anticipate a 30-32in iMac could be in the works.

For many though the 4.5K resolution screen will offer more than enough pixels for its size – in fact such a high-res screen is really superfluous for home use, which seems to be the setting Apple intends for this device. This screen will certainly be well suited to showing off Apple’s TV+ content – the only likely criticism there being that it’s much smaller than your typical TV screen.

Watching shows on iMac

If you are going to use the iMac for colour-critical work, however, you should calibrate it as we found that the colours were a little warm directly out of the box. It supports P3 colour space and according to our Xrite measuring instrument, the colour deviation is very low and different parts of the screen have no major variations in brightness.

At the top of the screen is an updated webcam – about time! Not only does it offer twice as high a resolution as the old one, it also benefits from the image processing in the M1 chip for a more natural result. We tried it out for video conferencing and found that the quality was more like an external camera than a built-in one, which is an excellent result.

iMac screen

The iMac has also been given three microphones that can capture your voice without background noise. It works better than many other computers’ built-in microphones, but we think that many will still choose to use AirPods for calls or external microphones to record podcasts.

It is an impressive feat to fit these speakers into such a thin case. The surrounding sound is more realistic than expected. The quality is really good for listening to music, but you should not expect heavy bass and the treble will be sharp at high volume.

Performance and overall impression

As expected, the M1 processor in the 24in iMac gives a real performance boost compared to the old model. According to Geekbench, it is 54 percent faster than a 21.5in iMac with an Intel processor if it uses a processor core. And 26 percent faster with all cores connected.

The built-in graphics are 50-100 percent faster than previous MacBooks. It can of course not be compared to desktops with real graphics cards. But this isn’t a machine for that market – that machine will hopefully arrive later this year.

Verdict

The overall impression is that this new iMac is fast. All the parts work together to give a really good experience, both in measurable ways and more emotional. The 24in iMac’s biggest problem is probably the fact that you can get so much more for your money if you look at the Mac mini, which while it lacks the 4.5K display, does offer practically the same features for almost half the price.

This review is adapted from the iMac review by Macworld Sweden. Macworld UK’s full review is coming!

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