Apple iMac 2021 review: New design and more power, but was it worth the wait?

Apple iMac 2021 review: New design and more power, but was it worth the wait?

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The iMac hasn’t seen a major change to its design in almost 10 years. Yes, Apple has tinkered with some of the internals, boosted the screen resolution, and refreshed the mouse and keyboard ….but it’s been an age since we’ve seen anything truly new from these popular all-in-one machines. Luckily, that wait is over with the fully rebooted 2021 iMac now available to pre-order from Apple stores. It will arrive with customers in the coming days but Express.co.uk has already had the new iMac placed neatly in our (home) office for the past week and here’s what we think of this brand new all-in-one PC.

iMac 2021 review: Design

The only place to start with this review is the iMac design. Gone is the silver aluminium design, replaced by a colourful new look, a new 24-inch screen size option, and thinner borders in bright white instead of black.

Even the box the iMac comes packaged in has been rebuilt with customers treated to a pretty special experience when ripping off the seal and opening up their new purchase. The packaging, which is made almost entirely from cardboard, opens like origami to reveal the iMac and all of its colourful peripherals. Unsurprisingly, Apple really has made the whole process of setting everything up for the first time pretty magical. Even the new magnetic power cable snaps neatly into place without needing to fiddle around for the correct fit.

Once you’ve popped the iMac on your desk, the first thing that’ll strike you is just how ludicrously thin this new design really is. At just 11.5 mm, it’s only slighter thicker than iPhone, which is mightily impressive for a desktop computer. Of course, anyone who owned the previous iMac design will know ludicrously thin that computer looked at the edges. But while that design was an optical illusion (it has razor-thin at the edges but then bulged in the middle to house all the chunkier components) this time around the iMac is the same thickness across the whole case.

The next thing you really can’t miss about this new design is the colour. Yes, after years of polished aluminium and – if you were lucky – a Space Grey option, Apple has brought colours back to the iMac. In total, there are seven shades – a tribute to the previous Apple logo.

We took delivery of a Green model for our review and it’s not just the Mac with colour splashed across it. All of the cables and accessories also enjoy a touch of green, so everything matches.

On the back, you’ll find a dark aluminium finish with an embossed Apple logo which looks absolutely stunning. From the front, there’s a lighter shade of the colour for the base of the screen, which is actually covered in a shiny glossy plastic – not the pricier aluminium we’ve all grown to love from Apple.

As we mentioned earlier, the screen is also now surrounded by a white border too, which is a dramatic change from the usual black that encases the older generation iMac. So, what’s this design like in the flesh?

Honestly, we have a feeling this new look is going to be pretty Marmite. Some are going to love the fruity new colours and pastel shades, while others will miss the sleek silver iMac of the last decade.

For the most part, we like the look of the new iMac and colours certainly freshen things up. However, we do have some niggles, including the large pastel chin at the bottom of the screen. It’s not as pretty as the rich aluminium colour found on the rear case. That sizeable chin doesn’t include the trademark Apple logo anymore either.

We understand the design teams in Cupertino, California probably wanted to keep things looking clean, but that Apple symbol sets it apart from its Windows-powered rivals and makes the statement that you own a Mac! If not else, it also breaks up that base, which looks pretty odd without it.

Of course, there is a large logo on the back of the iMac, but if your machine is pushed up against a wall in your home office – you’re unlikely to ever see it.

Our other gripe with the new design is the thin stand that comes with the iMac. We can’t fault the way it looks, but place your hand on the corners of the screen and the whole machine topples over. That’s not something that happens with the older (and weightier) iMac and could end up being a very expensive problem.

There’s no question the new iMac is stunningly slim and a choice of summery colours certainly liven things up after a decade of the same look. However, if you can get to your local Apple Store anytime soon, we’d recommend checking one out in the flesh before you decide whether this new style will suit your living space.

iMac 2021 review: Power

Although the new design may divide opinion, one thing that every user will love is the power of this new iMac. Tucked inside the colourful and thin chassis is Apple’s new M1 processor, which is truly fantastic.

These custom-designed brains have already successfully powered the latest MacBooks, Mac Mini, and are included in the latest generation of iPad Pro. And we’re pleased to report, the M1’s stunning track record continues with this desktop machine.

We’ve been running multiple programmes, including Photoshop CC, Slack, Chrome, Trello, and Safari at once and our iMac hasn’t shown a hint of a stutter. We were a little concerned that a chip that’s tucked inside a laptop might not cope when taking on desktop tasks, but that doesn’t seem to be the case – the iMac is an absolute joy to use.

It also produces all of this processing performance while staying pretty silent. We’ve been working full-time on the new iMac for a little over a week now, and we’ve not heard a hint of a fan whirring.

For our review, we took delivery of the more expensive model, which gets an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU as well. In our opinion, it’s well worth the £200 upgrade, especially if you are using the machine for video editing or hours of retouching in Photoshop. During our time with this latest iMac, we haven’t come across anything it can’t deal with and we doubt the average user will have any complaints when it comes to power.

iMac 2021 review: Screen

Although Apple continues to sell its 27-inch iMac (the M1 isn’t capable of handling any more than 16GB of RAM as well as a few other limitations, so won’t be replacing that machine quite yet), the standard 21-inch iMac has now been sent to the history books. Better yet, owners of its placement will be treated to a bigger 24-inch display.

It’s a smart move from Apple as, with the bezels around the screen reduced, the overall size of the iMac doesn’t feel that much bigger.

That expansive new panel offers loads of space to work and play without it feeling like it’s dominating your living room. Apple has crammed nearly 11.3 million pixels into the new iMac and the 4.5K “Retina Display” is very good.

Colours pop from behind the glass with content appearing pin-sharp and packed with detail. It’s not quite up there with the delights of a full OLED screen, like you’ll find on the latest iPhone models, so don’t expect those dazzling visuals but you still get a decent experience that won’t disappoint.

To help boost things there’s also True Tone technology that automatically adjusts the white point of your display to the colour temperature of your environment. And you’ll find an anti-reflective coating that stops irritating glare when working in brighter conditions.

Now, you might be wondering about those white bezels as it’s a big design change from Apple. From the MacBook to the iPad Pro, Apple has been using jet-black borders around its screen for some time – to help make what’s happening on-screen pop and make movies more immersive.

To be honest, we got used to the white border pretty quickly and it hasn’t really bothered us. In fact, day-to-day we actually quite like this update.

The only time they started to irk was when popping on a movie on the big screen. This is when you’ll really notice this change and it’s definitely not as appealing as the older black bezels which simply disappear when binging on a Netflix boxset on that huge screen.

Although white isn’t at all subtle, it does help the iMac look a little more attractive when placed in your living room, kitchen or study. We just wonder if Apple should have offered two styles to let consumers make the choice.

iMac 2021 review: Keyboard and Touch ID

Along with the actual iMac design getting some love, Apple has also turned its attention to the keyboard too. After years of waiting, iMac owners have finally been treated to a Touch ID fingerprint scanner.

This makes it easy to login to your account or authenticate purchases without a password. All you need to do is place your fingertip on the key in the top right-hand corner of the keyboard and – hey presto!

It’s clever stuff especially as Apple has made things incredibly secure despite the keyboard remaining wireless. The keyboard is also colour matched to the iMac which makes things look a little less boring on your desk.

It’s worth noting that this Touch ID accessory isn’t included in the entry-level machine. And since Apple doesn’t currently sell the Touch ID keyboard as an accessory in its Apple Stores, you won’t be able to add this upgrade at a later date. We’d recommend paying for the upgrade when you buy the iMac. You’ll also need to pay an extra £30 if you want a keyboard with a number pad – something we’d also highly recommend.

Apple offers a choice of a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad. The latter includes all of the amazing swipes and shortcuts found on the latest MacBooks, while the former is – despite the new colours – identical to its predecessor. That means it has the ridiculous Lightning charging port on its underbelly and has to be flipped like the beached turtle to be juiced-up (leaving you unable to use your computer while it’s charging).

iMac 2021 review: Extras

Apple has boosted the FaceTime camera to help improve the back-to-back Zoom calls we’re all dealing with right now. It’s a solid update from Apple and certainly makes your face look more crisp and bright.

Along with this snapper being better during the day, things are also improved at night with improved low light performance. There’s also some impressive speakers tucked inside, which really do sound very good, and upgraded studio mics make sure everyone hears you loud and clear.

The ports on the back of the iMac have all been changed to USB-C with the new design, with no USB-A or SD card readers in sight. This is both good and bad. While it’s great that Apple now lets users plug their USB-C cables into their desktop PCs, there’s nowhere to put all those USB-A devices without a dongle sticking out the back of your beautifully designed Mac. Photographers will also need extra dongles to get photos from their cameras, and those with the entry-level model will need an adapter to use a hard-wired internet connection over Ethernet.

That’s a real problem on the entry-level iMac, which only has two USB-C ports. These could fill-up pretty fast if you want some external speakers, a wired internet connection, an SD card reader, a USB-A port to hand, or CD drive. Like the most recent USB-C-only MacBooks, you could have to add the cost of a USB-C hub with all of the connections you need into the cost of your shiny new desktop.

Of course, everything is slowly moving towards USB-C, but one of these older ports on the rear case certainly would have been appreciated.

Two other changes we really like is that Apple has placed the headphone port on the side of the iMac which makes it far easier to find and plug in your cans (it was on the back on previous iMac designs). On the pricier model, there’s also an ethernet port is tucked into the power brick, which can sit under your desk. That means fewer cables cluttering up your table.

iMac 2021 review: Price

The new iMac starts from £1,249, which is more expensive than the £1,099 entry-level price of its predecessor. Sadly, things can get worse for your bank account as we wouldn’t really recommend anyone buying the cheapest model as it doesn’t come with the Touch ID keyboard, you only get two USB-C ports on the back, there’s no in-built ethernet in the power adapter, and it includes a 7-core GPU rather than the 8-cores on the more premium options (even the £749 iPad Pro has the M1 with the full 8-cores tucked inside it!)

That means spending at least £1,449 on the 256GB version or £1,649 for the variant with 512GB. As soon as you start adding more memory, additional storage, paying extra to get a Magic Trackpad over the standard Magic Mouse… you could find yourself with a bill of well over £2,500.

Of course, like all Macs, these new models should power you through four to five years of life. Apple has a good track record of ensuring five-year-old models still get the latest features and security updates too. But, there’s no getting around it – this is a really expensive machine.

iMac 2021 review: Verdict

PROS  Great screen • Plenty of power • Touch ID comes to the Mac • Solid web camera
CONS • Design will divide opinion • No USB-A • Can get very expensive

After years of waiting, we finally have an iMac that looks very different from before. The bright colours are certainly a big change from the silver aluminium that has graced this PC for over 10 years and it’s going to be interesting to see what true iMac fans make of it.

The more we’ve used this PC the more we’ve grown to like the new styling (although we wish the famous Apple logo wasn’t only reserved for the back) but there’s no question that it will divide opinion and that’s not something its predecessor ever did.

But while the new look might not be to everyone tastes, the other upgrades will be welcomed by all. Apple’s custom-designed M1 processor is blisteringly quick and plenty of apps now support this Intel alternative, the 24-inch screen is a perfect size, the new keyboard with Touch ID makes logging in a breeze. There’s also that better FaceTime camera and the iMac finally gets USB-C, although it’s a real shame that it’s at the expense of every USB-A port. Apple has an expansive collection of dongles and adapters available, which you’ll need to splash out for if you have plenty of old USB hard drives, SD card readers, and more.

This is clearly a new beginning for the iMac and it’s off to a pretty good start.

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