(Pocket-lint) - Apple introduced the world to a 5K-resolution version of the 27-inch iMac last year and, well, it was an absolutely fantastic workhorse that not only looked the part, but performed it too.
For 2015, the Cupertino company has not only made the 5,120 x 2,880 pixel display a standard across all 27-inch models, but it upped its game by adding a new panel technology, as well as new processing power and graphics performance.
The naked eye might not be able to tell the difference between 2014 and 2015 models, but this year's 5K iMac is yet another force to be reckoned with. Here's why.
The new Apple 5K iMac is an excellent all-in-one. It not only looks beautiful, but it performs impeccably too. It is the machine for professionals; those who need a computer that won't let them down when it comes to editing 4K video or crunching through several large raw images at pace. But the Average Joe will love it too, even if it potentially offers more in both power and display terms than needed.
We still have a few small quibbles like we did with the 2014 model, such as the rear-positioned ports, the cost of extra RAM from Apple itself, and the fact that some apps don't make proper use of the resolution - but those points don't fully detract from the overall brilliance of the 2015 model.
Just make sure you select the right drive, as the 1TB Fusion Drive's flash storage section has dropped from 128GB to 24GB in 2015. We're reviewing the 2TB Fusion Drive, though, which maintains a 128GB flash section, so power users will avert any potential issues by following the same path. Besides, the top-spec 2015 model is cheaper than the entry 2014 model was, so while not cheap, it's accessible.
Upgrading from the 2014 model to the 2015 model probably isn't justifiable, though, unless you are all about the wider colour gamut from the new P3 display - not that many will notice a huge difference here. But as an upgrade from any other machine and you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner. If you are in the market for an all-in-one or desktop-replacement machine with a fantastic screen and a beautiful design, there are few, if any, that will stand up against the new iMac.
Apple iMac with Retina 5K display (2015)
- Beautiful and slim design
- Stunning and improved display
- Plenty of power
- New Magic Keyboard is lovely
- Upgradeable RAM port
- Lower price than predecessor
- Ports on the rear difficult to access
- Extra RAM from Apple is pricey
- 1TB Fusion Drive drop in SSD portion (no issue for 2TB)
- Not all applications will render resolution optimised
Apple iMac with Retina 5K display (2015) review: Design
There is no question about it: the iMac is a beautiful looking all-in-one computer. There's always been something a little special about this range, ever since its beginning way back in 2008, but the design has significantly evolved over the years and, in its 2014 form, Apple nailed it.
Sporting Apple's signature all-aluminium body, a minimal finish and an all-round excellent look, the 2015 model is exactly the same by design. Is it a bad thing that nothing has changed in terms of design? No, we challenge you to find a better-looking standalone.
Its slender side-on appeal looks fabulous on our desk and it attracts more attention from visitors than our exceptionally cute cats. It measures around 6mm at its slimmest point, expanding to around 55mm in the centre in order to house the components that make this all-in-one more than just something to look at. If you take the non-adjustable, single foot stand into consideration too, the 2015 iMac extends up to 203mm deep.
The stand offers smooth, rounded edges with a vertical hinge that will allow you to move the display up and down to an angle that suits, but the height can't be adjusted, which some might find frustrating as it means the bottom of the display sits 167mm off the desk.
There is a hole in the centre of the stand that the power cord slips through in order to keep things looking good even at the rear and you'll also find the fan and the removable module for adding extra RAM hidden behind the stand too. This do-it-yourself expansion is something the smaller-scale 4K iMac lacks.
One of the reasons the iMac looks so good is also one of our biggest bugbears: all the ports are situated at the back, hidden out of view, meaning the whole unit has to be turned in order to access them.
The usual suspects are on board including four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, SD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There is no sign of USB Type-C which is interesting given it was present on the MacBook, and no Thunderbolt 3.0 - so it's still not possible to use the new iMac as a 5K display monitor for your MacBook Air, for example.
We wouldn't mind a slightly thicker profile for a few side-mounted ports, or if Apple really wants to keep the screen ultra-slim, then a stand that would allow the display to rotate horizontally wouldn't go amiss. We're being picky though because in reality, the iMac was and continues to be a very sexy desktop computer.
Apple iMac with Retina 5K display (2015) review: Display
Like its predecessor, the 2015 iMac is all about the display. If your budget will stretch to the 27-inch models, there is no contest. Besides, these are the more customisable models in the range now anyway, due to the RAM port.
A big screen is fantastic and not just for professionals, but for everyday work too. Website widths can be shown in full with plenty of leftover space to launch other programmes, such as Tweetdeck or Word. For professionals, you get the flexibility to open several videos at once without any overlapping, or stitch together huge 36-megapixel raw files into a giant panorama, for example.
Some might think the 5K resolution is a little over the top, given the world is only just wrapping its head around 4K UHD, but there are plenty of uses and probably more than you'd realise. Firstly, it is stunning to look at. Compared to our three-year old iMac, the sharpness of the dock and top bar is immediately apparent and once you've noticed it, it's frustrating to then go back. Images and text are clear and crisp, while watching 4K content via YouTube is an exceptional experience, as is upscaled 1080p video.
For video editors, you'll be able to work your magic on native 4K content in Adobe Premiere with the tools surrounding the frame on one screen, or watch four Full HD videos in different corners of your display all at once in their native resolution.
Then again, you could do all of the above on last year's model so why bother upgrading? Well, Apple has added a new technology to the 2015 iMac called P3 colour gamut technology that is said to enable you to see 25 per cent more colour. The idea is that you get richer, deeper colours with reds, greens and blues boosted.
We can see the difference compared to our older iMac, but whether this technology will be as obvious between last year's model and this year's is difficult to say. In the case of the 4K iMac we didn't think there was a staggering difference, but photographers, artists and printers may hugely appreciate the difference - especially in darkroom conditions.
The display is fabulous though and a real pleasure to work with. Viewing angles are good, everything is super sharp and colours are vibrant and punchy for an all-round beautiful screen.
Apple iMac with Retina 5K display (2015) review: Performance
There are three 27-inch models available, all of which sport the Retina 5K 5,120 x 2,880 P3 display. The base model starts at £1,449 and includes the 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz and AMD Radeon R9 M380 graphics with 2GB of video memory. There is 8GB of RAM that can be increased to 32GB (do it yourself and it'll cost a lot less than Apple prices) and it comes with a 1TB hard drive.
Jump up to the middle model and you get all the same processor but a bump in graphics to the AMD Radeon R9 M390, along with a 1TB Fusion Drive. For those who don't know, Apple's Fusion Drive is the company's way of combing SSD with a traditional hard drive. It means all the applications, programmes and files you use regularly sit on the SSD for super-quick launching, while the apps you use less often sit on the hard drive and this all happens in the background without your knowledge. This middle model jumps to £1,599.
However, something a bit cheeky has happened with the latest Fusion Drive. While in 2014 Apple gave us a huge 128GB flash drive element within the 1TB mix, now that's a far smaller at 24GB in the 2015 model for the sake of cost saving (which is reflected in the price). Obviously this has brought on criticism from many, but your point of view will come down to how much of a power user you are. And if you're buying an iMac then, well, we'd suspect that likelihood is high. The alternative? Pay to go fully SSD or, as we'll get to below, opt for the top-spec machine with the 2TB Fusion Drive as this ups the SSD section to 128GB.
It's this top-spec model on review here: featuring a 3.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz), AMD Radeon R9 M395 graphics, 8GB RAM and that 2TB Fusion Drive - priced for £1,849, which is less than the base 2014 model.
This top-spec new iMac is more than capable and runs like a dream in our experience. We've had no problems streaming, playing back and editing 4K content, alongside opening numerous raw photos and running editing software to fix them up too. Performance is smooth and quick, while apps launch swiftly and we've found ourselves more than satisfied.
Apple iMac with Retina 5K display (2015) review: Magic Mouse 2 & Magic Keyboard
The 2015 iMac comes with an all new Magic Mouse 2 and new Magic Keyboard as standard, but there's also a new Magic Trackpad available for an extra £109, which we have reviewed separately. In this latest Trackpad Apple has ditched the replaceable battery idea in favour of charging and instant pairing via Lightning connector. This in turn has led to a slimmer, flatter and much nicer keyboard, along with a not so magical mouse.
But back to the kit that comes with the iMac 5KL as standard. A few things have changed on the keyboard including flatter keys that are quieter and much more pleasing to use. That might sound silly but we have been using the old keyboard for years and we really dislike typing on it by comparison. Apple has introduced the same mechanism to the keys as the 12-inch MacBook and the keys consequently feel much softer to press and a lot less clunky.
Everything has been trimmed down around the now larger keys and the removal of the batteries means a slimmer overall design, with a subtly slanted angle. The top row of Function keys are now the same size as other keys rather than half the size too, which not only looks but functions better too.
Whether you'll like the slanted angle of the new keyboard will depend on what you're used to, as it is a lot lower than the original without the battery tube to prop it up. We're big fans.
The mouse, on the other hand, is a little less exciting but still perfectly adequate. It hasn't changed in terms of design compared to the previous model apart from the addition of the Lightning port on the underside, which of course means the batteries and removable flap have therefore disappeared. It should last around a month with normal use and with fast charge times, it will only take a couple of minutes to recharge so definitely easier than hunting down extra AA batteries. It might be a little flat by design but we don't hate it. We don't quite love it either though.
Apple iMac with Retina 5K display (2015) review: El Capitan
The new iMac runs Apple's latest operating software - OS X El Capitan - straight out of the box. This means you'll get a number of new and improved features compared to older software versions. We have reviewed El Capitan in full separately, which you can read by following the link below to get the full ins and outs as to what's new.
A quick overview for this review, then: some of the features you can expect to see include new gestures, muting audio easily, pinning sites on Safari, and more useful results on Spotlight.
One of the most useful improvements with El Capitan is the Split View feature that will position two apps side-by-side so you can answer emails while editing an image, for example. You can adjust the size of the apps too so the image editing side can be a lot larger than the Mail side. It's an especially handy feature on such a large display as it allows you to multi-task easily.
Upgrading from the 2014 model to the 2015 model probably isn't justifiable, unless you are all about a wider colour gamut, but an upgrade from any other machine and you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner. If you are in the market for a desktop machine with a fantastic screen and a beautiful design, there are few, if any, that will stand up against the new iMac. It's the definition of awesome.
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