Apple iMac M1 Review

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Apple’s all-in-one desktop just got a stunning makeover. As the company transitions its range of products from Intel processors to Apple-designed chips (Apple silicon), the iMac appears to have gotten a remarkable new design and upgrade in every aspect from the previous 21.5-inch iMac. Not only is the screen on the 24-inch iMac bigger than the previous model, but it also comes with a brilliant 4.5K (4480 x 2520) Retina display, touch sensor on the new Magic Keyboard, 1080p FaceTime HD camera, and did we mention the beautiful, slimmed-down design? At the heart of all these upgrades is the Apple M1 chip, the driving force behind all the major innovations and design changes of the new 24-inch iMac and MacBooks, right down to its really thin design.



Apple iMac M1 Review

We’ll dive into how the new 24-inch iMac has been seemingly reinvented by Apple and discuss each feature so that you can hopefully make a more informed decision. Here’s a quick overview of the tech specifications on the 24-inch iMac configurations:



What’s in the box

First up, we need to talk about what you’ll be getting with the basic configuration on the 24-inch iMac. The basic model starts at the price of $1299 and comes with a 7-core GPU on the M1 chip rather than the 8-core GPU on the higher-priced configuration. The basic model also comes with 256GB SSD storage, 8GB memory, two Thunderbolt ports, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a Magic Keyboard, a Magic Mouse, a 143W power adapter, and a USB-C to Lightning Cable. Storage on the basic model is configurable up to 1TB and memory up to 16GB. Other configurable features are the options to include the Gigabit Ethernet port and to have the Magic Keyboard include Touch ID and a numeric keypad. You can throw in a Magic Touchpad too, if you want. 

Be aware of the additional costs for configuring these features on the basic unit, and if you’re going to max it out with the basic unit, you might as well go for the higher priced models, which costs $1499 for the 256GB SSD model and $1699 for the 512GB SSD model. They come with a slightly better M1 chip and have additional USB ports, the Gigabit Ethernet port on the power adapter, and the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. The configurations for storage and memory are permanent, and you won’t be able to make future changes, so choose wisely.


Design 

Back when the original iMac made its debut in the market with its all-in-one desktop design, it significantly impacted the industry. Competitors like Microsoft and Lenovo have since caught up, and the classic iMac design was beginning to look rather stale as it was largely unchanged since 2009. The iMac was screaming for a brand new cosmetic makeover.

One look at the new 24-inch iMac, and you will see that this is unlike any other iMac that came before it. The ultra-slim profile is made possible with the Apple M1 chip, the first system on chip for Mac. A system on chip integrates the processor, graphics, memory and more onto a single chip. That means Apple was able to free up loads of space while still increasing the computer’s processing power. The result is a thickness of just 11.5 millimetres, or just under half an inch, on the new iMac. The dimensions are 21.5 inches (54.7 cm) wide, 18.1 inches (46.1 cm) in height, and 5.8 inches (14.7 cm) at the base of the stand. An overall thin and compact all-in-one desktop combined with a weight of just 4.48kg, or just under 10 pounds, makes the 24-inch iMac really convenient to transport and carry around. 

And that’s not all; the iMac’s sleek new look also comes in 7 different colors – green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and the classic silver that has long been synonymous with Macs. This color variation is reminiscent of Macs in the late 90s and early 2000s, but with a more modern feel to it. It’s a really nice design touch that puts the power of choice to match the right color to your home, room, or office. If the colors are not working out for you, there is always the good old silver look that is easy to blend in with any surrounding aesthetic. However, if you opt for the basic model, Apple limits you to just four color choices – blue, green, pink, and silver.

Apple did not neglect design on any part of the iMac and has once again lived up to its reputation for attention to detail. Overall, the 24-inch iMac was given a slightly more rectangular design to match the latest iPhones with similar designs. The power cable and adapter have been redesigned with a connector that attaches to the iMac via magnets and a color-matched cable. To top it off, the power adapter for the 24-inch iMac conveniently includes an Ethernet port as well. However, do note that this feature only comes with the higher priced configuration.

The new Magic Keyboard that comes with the iMac extends the color theme to your fingertips by matching the color you picked for your iMac, creating a nice color in unison for the whole desktop computer setup. The Magic Keyboard has also been redesigned to bring Touch ID to iMac for the first time. Only the higher-priced configurations have this feature, but you can still configure the basic model to include the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. It’s is an excellent security feature upgrade to the iMac, but it does raise some security concerns given that the keyboard is wireless. Apple has come out to assure consumers that the transmission of your fingerprint is done safely and securely.

iMac’s Magic Keyboard is also configurable to include a numeric keypad, but if you could live without typing digits using a Numpad, you’ll have a shorter keyboard and a more minimal, minimal look on your desk.


Display

Another significant upgrade from the iMac’s predecessor is the display. The iMac now has a 24-inch, 4.5k Retina display with minimal bezels. Thanks to brilliant engineering, Apple was able to reduce the thick borders around the edge of the iMac’s screen so that the entire body now measures only 21.5 inches wide. The 4.5K (4480 x 2520) Retina display is a step up in resolution from the previous model’s 4096 x 2304 Retina display. It includes Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the display’s colour temperature to the lighting of your surrounding environment. The display also has 500 nits brightness and supports the P3 wide color gamut, which delivers brighter, more vibrant and accurate colors to the screen. All in all, this makes the 24-inch iMac perfect for photo and video editing.

As far as monitor sizes go, 24-inches isn’t much to brag about. Most of the top external monitors out in the market are at least 27-inches or larger. Perhaps Apple has plans for a bigger iMac display in the future.

Another slight drawback to the display is the fact that the new iMac’s “perfectly poised stand” is not height adjustable. That puts a limit on positioning the screen and your viewing comfort. In any case, you can always look for an inexpensive monitor stand to fix that issue.


Webcam and Microphone

Apple claims that this is the best camera system they have ever come up with in a Mac. The 24-inch iMac has a 1080p FaceTime HD camera built-in to the top bezel, which is a much higher resolution than the 720p camera in the 21.5-inch iMac model. It also has a larger and more efficient sensor to capture more light in low light environments, as well as the advanced image signal processor (ISP) to boost image quality thanks to the M1 chip. 

The ISP is another example of how the M1 chip is taking the iMac to greater heights, as it uses computational video to enhance image quality. When capturing video, the ISP goes through a series of steps to analyze and enhance each pixel, at over a trillion operations per second. Advanced noise reduction algorithms and tone mapping help with image clarity by working with the Neural Engine in M1 to make more intelligent exposure and white balance adjustments.

As for the microphone, Apple has never disappointed in that department, and sure enough, the built-in microphone on the 24-inch iMac is superb. The studio-quality three-mic array is designed to reduce feedback, and beamforming technology helps the mics to ignore background noise to focus on your speech. So whether you’re doing a conference call, recording a podcast, live streaming, or even capturing a musical idea, the built-in three-mic array can get the job done decently without having to invest in external microphones.

The upgrades on the 24-inch iMac’s webcam and microphone are especially welcome in these times, given that most of us are working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The use of video conferencing is more crucial than ever, and you can rely on the iMac’s built-in camera and microphone to deliver image clarity and crisp audio when doing video calls for professional or social purposes.


Audio

There are some fantastic new upgrades in the audio department too. The iMac now comes with a six-speaker sound system that would make you think twice before spending more money on external speakers. The sound system is complemented with two pairs of force-cancelling woofers that give you that deep bass sound without the unwanted vibrations that can often happen on the lower-frequency audio range. Each woofer pair is balanced with a high-performance tweeter. 

Another feature is that spatial audio is now supported by the iMac when playing videos with Dolby Atmos. When you combine these new audio features on the iMac with its 4.5k Retina display, you will be in for a good experience if you decide to kick back and watch a movie. To quote Apple, “it’s like bringing the whole theater home”.


Connectivity

Let’s take a second to talk about connector ports in the iMac. Getting the basic model, which starts at the price of $1299, will give you a 3.5mm headphone jack and just two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports that can support devices with connectors running on DisplayPort, USB 4, USB 3.1 Gen 2, Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, and finally VGA. The higher-priced models in turn get you two additional USB 3 ports on top of the two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports, as well as the 3.5mm jack. Unlike the base model, the higher priced ones also come with one Gigabit Ethernet port at the adapter.

Connectors can often be an overlooked aspect when considering an all-in-one desktop, so be sure to plan out your set-up and the number or type of devices you’ll be using. Given the limited number of ports on the iMac, especially on the base model that only has two ports, a dock or dongle will be a necessity if you intend on plugging in multiple devices to the iMac. You’ll also need the necessary adapters for conversion if your device doesn’t support USB 3 or Thunderbolt connectors. So it will help you a long way if you know beforehand what devices you will be connecting to and leaving room for any future device purchases.


Performance

As mentioned, the M1 is at the heart of the new iMac. It uses a hybrid configuration, which is basically having four high-speed cores and four lower-powered, high-efficiency cores. What that means is that the M1 is not the most powerful chip out there (though it is still quite powerful), but it does make it one of the best performance-per-watt chip in the market, or to put it simply: highly efficient. 

When you combine the power and efficiency of the M1 chip with the macOS BigSur, using the iMac will feel like a smooth and fluid experience. Apps are launched in a flash, and browsing hundreds of tabs on Safari will cause no strain to the system. Apple also claims that the M1 24-inch iMac has 85 percent faster CPU performance and up to two times faster graphics performance than the 21.5‑inch iMac that came before it. The result is an increased capacity to handle more intense workloads such as photo editing in real-time smoothly without creating any noise.

The new iMac’s overall performance matches that of the other M1-powered Macs, and you can also get similar processing power from the much cheaper Mac Mini. So do consider how you plan on utilizing your computer before settling for an all-in-one desktop.



Is the iMac for you?

Macs have almost always been traditionally associated with creative types who produce content, podcasters, designers, musicians, and video editors. However, the all-in-one iMac caters to a much broader target market and is used by all kinds of people, from students to professionals. This iMac, in particular, seems to have struck a nice balance to give the most consumer appeal out of all the Macs that came before it, so it’s easier to see which crowd this new iMac isn’t targeted toward.

If you’re not a fan of having to use dongles or docks on your desktop, the iMac is going to be an issue. It’s rare these days for a user to be satisfied with just two (or four ports, depending on your configuration) connecting ports for the numerous devices that the user most likely wants to plug into the iMac.

It’s also not for users that demand serious high performance from their rigs, such as gaming enthusiasts. Users who already own the non-M1 chip 27-inch iMac, which is still available in the market, will find themselves in a downgrade if they were to swap it for this newer model. The 27-inch iMac still has an edge in terms of connecting port selection, internal hardware upgradability, processing power, and the obvious bigger screen with a better quality display.

Whichever configuration you choose for the 24-inch iMac, there’s no changing or upgrading the computer’s internal storage or memory. Tech enthusiasts who are likely to tear down the machine to make self modifications will be disappointed, so this rules out another category of potential iMac users.

Let’s not forget that the all-in-one desktop was designed and engineered with the fuss-free consumer in mind. If you’re the type of person who just wants to start using the computer straight out of the box, then you’re looking at one of the most straightforward setups for a desktop with the iMac. Furthermore, you won’t need to spend hours and more money on external accessories such as speakers, webcams, monitors, keyboard, and other accessories required on a regular desktop. You could even forget about any upgrades to your desktop for the next 5 years or so, given the efficiency and power that the M1 chip provides. The iMac is great for users who like to consolidate everything in one spot while being able to carry out light load tasks with smoothness and ease. 

Last but not least, many existing Apple users are known as some of the most loyal consumers of the company’s products. And for a good reason, given Apple’s synchronicity and seamless interchange between Apple devices. The new iMac allows you to pair and use your iPhone on it, including the mobile version of certain apps. If you own an iPhone and looking to get a desktop, there’s no doubt you should be getting the iMac as they both work great together.



Verdict

So is the price of the new 24-inch iMac worth it? With the most basic model starting at $1299, it’s certainly not a price most would pay for a desktop, nor is it completely value for money. The base Mac Mini is about half the price of the basic iMac model, and it offers the same M1 chip performance. Of course, the catch is that you will have to invest time and money in all the other accessories necessary to have a working desktop. The more value for money choice in terms of performance would be to opt for the Mac Mini. But if performance isn’t such an issue, then it does come down to the factors of design aesthetics as well as the all-in-one convenience.

Value for money is subjective to individuals. On the one hand, consumers are paying for the iMac’s simplicity, gorgeous modern design, Apple’s brand assurance, and a fuss-free setup of the all-in-one desktop concept, which has been elevated to another level with the possibilities made by the M1 chip. On the other hand, it’s a premium price to pay for a desktop even when you could substitute that for a device with similar performance or build a more powerful computer for that price if you have high-performance needs.

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