27-inch Apple iMac (late 2009) review
Apple’s iMac has gone from the bulbous fruit-coloured models to a glorious large flat screen with a computer bolted on to it over the last 10 years. But should you think about adorning your desk with one? We did just that to find out.
The new 27-inch model sits at the top of four standard out-of-the-box options. Two 21-inch models and two 27-inch versions and improves on the computer's first outing earlier this year.
Across the 27-inchers there are three processor options, Intel's Core 2 Duo chip, Intel's Core i5 chip and the Core i7 chip. An array of memory options accompany the available setups and we will address what you get and what you don't in a moment.
This review is based on the 2.66GHz Intel Core i5 version with 4GB ram, 1TB of storage and an ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card with 512MB of GDDR3 memory. Off the shelf with zero customisation it costs £1599 in the UK and $1999 in the US.
The focus of the iMac, whether today or 10 years ago has always been the screen. As an all-in-one computer the display - the main course, the real deal - is the gateway to your desktop and because of that, it has to be good.
Here you get 27-inches of LED-powered screen with a glass design that, like the company's MacBook Pro models, runs edge-to-edge. It will dominate your desk space, light up your office or spare room without the need to have the lights on and means, thanks to the equally impressive resolution (2560 x 1440) that you can have two full webpages open and room to do other things. In short, it's big, damn big.
Aspect ratio is now 16:9 rather than 16:10 as on previous models and this means, combined with the anti-glare reflective screen (it's not really) that watching movies is a joy. The contrast and brightness at start-up is a bit on the strong side, however this is easily changed with a quick toggle of the settings.
Underneath that massive screen, is a aluminium panel (again with the same finish as the unibody MacBooks) that gives the monitor a more proportioned depth and a place for Apple to slap a silver Apple logo, so even if you’ve dual-installed Windows 7 on it you aren’t going to forget where you’ve got it from. Luckily Jonathan Ive, lead designer at Apple, hasn’t decided to make the thing glow, so it's fairly unobtrusive.
The whole device rests on a slim but sturdy stand that pivots on a horizontal axis to allow you to position the screen accordingly. It’s handy as the glossy screen is very reflective so it allows you to combat any lights that are causing you issues. Disappointingly, the curved back doesn’t allow for a wall mounting option - a trick that we think Apple have missed.
Ports, slots and other connectors are kept to a minimum. The right-hand side features the slot-loading 8x SuperDrive that supports DVD+-R DL/DVD+-RW and CD-RW formats. There is also a SD card slot as well - handy as with no front facing USB slots it saves you rummaging around the back to connect your digital camera. The connections you get are one FireWire 800 port, four USB 2.0, Ethernet, Mini DisplayPort, headphones and Line in.
Those interested can, with the right cable (not supplied), use the iMac as a screen for another computer. Of course you lose functionality of the iMac itself but you could use this approach to give your laptop a bigger screen if need be, perhaps if a visiting friend really wants to use their laptop, or if you have an old desktop Windows PC for occasional use.
Connectivity is further boosted by a built-in Wireless 802.11n connection and Bluetooth, so you shouldn’t have an issue getting the iMac connected to something.
Bundled in the box is Apple’s Bluetooth wireless keyboard and the new Apple Magic Mouse that has a touch sensitive panel on top rather than a scroll wheel enabling you to swipe your way around the screen rather than scroll. Both are wireless meaning from a design point of view your desk is completely wire free. It's a small detail, but one that makes a lot of sense and certainly from a working perspective one that we like.
As for performance both do the job they've been tasked with. If you are ordering online you get the ability to swap out the keyboard for one with a number pad, which does help, and the Apple Magic Mouse offers you some elements of touch control. Either way neither are going to have you complaining.
Aesthetically the design is very impressive. This is a machine that oozes class. It has the standard wow factor Apple bring to their hardware and no one that we’ve shown in the office has looked and not commented (in a good way) on the looks.
Plug it in, there is just one cable to connect, and you’ll be presented with Snow Leopard, Apple's latest OS. Simple and easy to use, it's aimed at getting you enjoying the Web or your digital content straight away.
Apple bundle its multimedia package iLife (the iPhoto a photo album package, iMovie a video editing package, and GarageBand music editing package) in the box. You also get Apple's attempt at office software - Pages and Numbers. They are basic, not fantastic. Keynote however is very good.
With plenty of processing power, RAM, graphics capabilities and storage, the machine flies in tasks you set it to do. In our tests we were easily able to edit multiple photoshop files, edit video quickly and easily with iMovie and of course watch HD movies at 1080p. In fact we were able to play six 1080p movie trailers at the same time without any issue, as well as do other tasks without a drop in performance, more than enough power for even the heavy user.
That doesn’t mean to say you’ll be able to do everything you might want to do, if you are a heavy video editor for example, but we can’t see it giving the average consumer any problems for the moment.
As for games, while the machine works well, the main problem you will experience is a lack of choice, certainly in terms of anything that will push the system. We tested Bioshock and Tomb Raider on the iMac and were impressed with the results. While we acknowledge that both are rather old games that don't exactly push the machine to the boundaries of what is possible, with such limited choice on the Mac you aren’t buying the iMac as a secondary games console. That’s what your PS3 or Xbox 360 are for.
So what's not to like? Well a couple of things really, and ones that aren’t necessarily wrong with the device, but that we would have liked. There is no Blu-Ray drive for watching your HD movies or a wall mount so you can get this bad boy off your desk.
Additionally the screen is so good that watching anything other than HD quality footage looks incredibly poor. We watched an SD version of Moon bought in the Apple iTunes store and were disappointed by the quality of the video.
The iMac 27-inch is a stunning computer that is only let down by how good it actually is. That crystal clear and clean screen performs beautifully, however that means that unless you are watching or working in HD, everything will look, well, just not up to par. It's a shame that there is no nod to Blu-ray for watching glorious HD content right from the off.
If you’re looking to use this as an office or home computer then you'll find an all-in-one computer packing real power, able to handle intensive operations without slowing down, rivalling many standard desktop computers.