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(Pocket-lint) - After Steve Jobs introduced the iMac in 1998 it changed Apple, providing the catalyst for the reinvention of the company from a niche PC maker into the conglomerate of today. The iMac was highly unconventional, brilliantly colourful and had that Apple hallmark of binning tech that some considered essential but would actually become obsolete (in that case, it said hello to USB and DVD and goodbye to floppy disks).
Some 23 years on and Apple has returned to that form book in the all-new iMac (2021) - as with the recent colour burst iPhones - to reinvent the iMac for the ARM-based Apple Silicon era. Not only is there colour galore, the screen is now 24-inches - so clearly a replacement for the bygone 21.5-inch model of old - which helps position this Mac as one of the hottest desktop machines money can buy.
In terms of a redesign of its venerable all-in-one desktop, Apple has really pulled it out of the bag in the 2021 iMac.
The super performance is no surprise because of what we already knew about the M1 chip's capabilities. But it's the fresh design that's the real story, stepping things up a level compared to other Intel-based all-in-ones.
The colours and the associated design details are a nice touch, but it's really about the size reduction and larger 24-inch display over the larger format but smaller-screen 21.5-inch iMac that it replaces.
Apple iMac 24-inch (2021)
- Striking redesign
- Powerful Apple M1 processor
- Touch ID keyboard
- Punchy 24-inch display
- Non-adjustable stand
- No discrete graphics option
- No touchscreen
- Limited colours for base model
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- Colours available: Blue, Green, Pink, Silver, Yellow, Orange, Purple
- Colour-coded Magic Keyboard (with Touch ID on top models)
- Magic Mouse included, Magic Trackpad (optional)
- Power cord with incorporated Ethernet
- Dimensions: 46.1 x 54.7 x 11.5mm
- Stand adds 14.7mm depth
- Weight: 4.48kg total
This new 24-inch iMac isn't quite at the 27-inch equivalent's 'Pro' level as there are no dedicated graphics options and memory is limited to 16GB. But we certainly expect Apple to launch a 27-inch iMac replacement later in 2021 (as the iMac Pro is now discontinued) - so if you're looking for larger and even more powerful then we'd suggest waiting out on that.
But back to the new 24-inch iMac. As the first iMac powered by Apple's own chipset it does continue a tradition of sorts - that Apple has never been afraid to tear up a previous iMac design - and so here we have a new uniform and thinner design.
It does share some design language with the outgoing Intel version - such as the strip of coloured body underneath the screen and similar-looking hinge - but the basic look is largely dictated by the display; there aren't many ways to get away from the fact you're presenting people with a large slab of glass (albeit one with the internals of the MacBook Air inside the back).
As you can no doubt see from our pictures, the iMac is now colourful. Our review unit is a yellow one - but the colour is two-tone. You get a plain yellow underneath the screen which is made of the same material as the screen surround, but then all the other elements - stand, back and sides, plus keyboard and mouse bases - are all more metallic. So on this yellow version, it's actually more like gold.
Don't worry if it's all too much for your eyes, though, as you can still get the iMac in more standard silver. Or, if you're feeling more individual, there are a further five hues to choose from (though the basic model only has four options - blue, green, pink, silver - as there are some differences with that model as we'll discuss below).
Your colour choice brings a corresponding matching desktop colour, too, while even the box has a colour handle and there's an appropriately coloured Apple sticker. The Magic Trackpad - which remains an optional extra - also comes in the correct matching colour as well.
The power cord between the power brick and the Mac is also colour-coded and attaches magnetically, so if it's pulled it'll detach without pulling your Mac off the table.
The L-shaped stand from the old iMac remains, but it is lower and it now accommodates a larger Apple logo on the back which reflects the light so it looks like it illuminates (it actually doesn't light up, it just fooled us at first).
Notice that the logo has disappeared from the front, which we still think is a little bit of an odd choice, but then there's no Apple logo in front of you when you're using a MacBook, iPad or iPhone (yes, we know, there's one in the top corner on macOS).
The iMac's stand isn't height adjustable, which is a downside. We ended up standing our review model on top of a book to raise it up slightly on our desk.
Rather than thick black bezels around the screen, there are now thinner white ones on all models. They aren't as thin as many bezels we see around monitors and laptop displays nowadays and we're a little surprised that Apple hasn't pushed the envelope further here. That said, they're a huge improvement on the previous version.
The whole device is very compact and has a uniform 11.5mm thickness, so around 50 per cent less than the older model and a kilo lighter too - despite embodying a larger display. There are no bulges or any exit points for air aside from the grille along the bottom, but heat is not a problem - it's warm to the touch like any other display, but it never gets too hot.
We don't yet know as teardowns haven't appeared, but it very looks like the iMac is a sealed unit with no clear way to take it apart - we reckon the screen probably has to come off to get to the components inside and therefore repairability will probably be very difficult and expensive.
Display and media
- 24-inch 4.5K Retina Display, 4480 x 2520 resolution (218ppi)
- 500 nits max brightness, Apple TrueTone, P3 wide colour
- Six-speaker system, triple microphones
- 1080p Full HD FaceTime camera
The so-called 24-inch display is actually 23.5-inches, but as with all displays of this size that's pretty standard. It's 4.5K resolution, so plenty resolute with 218 pixels per inch. It's an excellent display with consistent colours (with support for the full P3 wide colour gamut) and brightness.
While it's not HDR (high dynamic range) certified, it's still very bright at 500 nits - you won't need to use it at maximum brightness all the time - and Apple's TrueTone tech to react to ambient conditions.
While the display is glossy, it has an anti-reflective coating that's rather efficient. We didn't find problems with reflections even in a super-bright room. The brightness factor will further aid that.
It's clear from Apple's own messaging that it sees the iMac as a home or home office computer, and once again we must bemoan the lack of touch on the display. This is a well-worn argument, of course, but Apple itself has conditioned us to touch large displays and, well, with iPad apps now able to run on M1 Macs, it seems a little counterintuitive to then have to use a keyboard and mouse to control them.
The FaceTime HD camera is the same Full HD camera that we first saw in the 27-inch iMac from 2020, a welcome addition over the sub-par 720p cameras of before. Apple Silicon Macs have also improved in terms of their image processing because of the image signal processor (ISP) on the M1 chip. Our only criticism is that colours from this camera often seem a bit hyper-real.
It's bizarre that Apple hasn't brought Center Stage to the iMac - the iPad Pro technology that keeps you in the frame as you move around. Perhaps it'll arrive in the next big update to macOS due later in the year. Although, seeing as it's somewhat dizzying, you might only turn it off anyway.
In terms of audio, there's a triple mic array on top and behind the display (as per the last iMac) and this makes for crystal clear calls. The speakers are very clear and crisp for voice and there's decent bass for most music or video too. There are six speakers in all - two pairs of woofers and an accompanying tweeter - and it's a pretty engaging setup that also supports spatial audio when listening in Dolby Atmos. However, turning it up to maximum volume is a little jarring and if you need really high volume you're better off connecting up external speakers or using Bluetooth or AirPlay.
- Ports (standard model): 2x Thunderbolt/USB ports, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack
- Ports (top two models only): 2x USB-C, Gigabit Ethernet (in power brick)
- Wireless tech: 802.11ax Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0
- Memory: 8GB (configurable to 16GB)
- Storage: 256GB or 512GB (to 2TB)
There are three models of 24-inch iMac. All come with Apple's own M1 processor, the same as the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro from November 2020.
That means an 8 core processor inside each model - and each comes with 8GB RAM as well, upgradeable to 16GB (for an extra $200/£200). Currently, Apple M1 Macs are limited to 16GB maximum, a restriction that should change with a new processor later in the year.
The key difference is in the storage and graphics. The base model has 256GB of storage and an 7-core GPU, while the next model up has 256GB of storage and an 8-core GPU. The top model comes with 512GB storage instead. You can upgrade any of the models to 512GB of storage for an extra $200/£200 with an extra $200/£200 on top of that for 1TB.
Note there is no discrete graphics option on this Mac, but we'd expect that to change with a future 27-inch launch. Again, that's a restriction of the Apple M1 chip.
The selection of ports is slimmed down from older iMacs - you now get four USB-C connectors, two of which are Thunderbolt - you can of course use these with adapters to connect to HDMI, VGA, DVI or DisplayPort monitors. A single external display is supported on the M1 chip, but it can run up to a whopping 6K display at 60Hz.
There are no older USB-A ports now. The base iMac only has the two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports (enabling you to shift up to 40GB per second as usual), without the USB 3 ones.
The SD card slot has gone - presumably due to the thickness of the iMac's frame and also because Apple probably believes that few will buy this and use it with a digital camera.
Ethernet, too, has disappeared from the body of the iMac. But it's still here for the top two models only, inside a new power brick that'll mean you can still connect to wired networks. We're surprised this has stuck around but Apple presumably believes it would be a problem to sell into corporate environments without it.
The headphone jack remains, but it has now moved to the side of the display, which is a welcome relocation for those who need it.
The iMac keyboard now comes with a Touch ID wake button, but bizarrely only if you buy one of the top two models. The base iMac comes with a standard Magic Keyboard.
- CPU & GPU: ARM-based Apple Apple M1 with 7- or 8-core graphics
- Operating system: macOS Big Sur (macOS 11)
- Many apps are now native to Apple Silicon
- Rosetta 2 emulation for those that aren't
The performance of this iMac is strikingly similar to the other M1 Macs we've looked at. After all, it's the same processor with the same 8-core graphics we've seen previously.
On single-core performance, the 3.2Ghz M1 outpaces even the Mac Pro, while on multi-core performance it's outpaced by Intel Xeon Macs (Mac Pro or iMac Pro) and the high-end 27-inch iMac from the middle of 2020 (with either the Intel Core i7-10700K or i9-9900K).
Everything absolutely zips along and with macOS Big Sur being designed for Apple Silicon chips first and foremost, things are generally optimised, especially for Mac App Store apps.
Many other apps we've tried have either been prepared for native Apple Silicon support with a separate download (an ever-growing number) or work fine under emulation using Apple's Rosetta 2 emulation technology.
As with any big system change, there are some apps that get left behind or don't work initially. These tend to be more specialist apps. If you often use unusual software then you need to check compatibility if you make the leap to M1.
Even so, Apple has done more with the transition to ARM-based apps in 7 months than Microsoft has managed since it first introduced the ARM-based Windows RT in 2012.
And although Windows on ARM is a vastly different beast nowadays from that failure, Windows Store apps still aren't that great in terms of choice and ability.
Big Sur as an operating system is great and really comes into its own when you're using other Apple devices, so you can move tasks easily between your Mac and iPhone or iPad and even copy and paste between them - a feature that we use a lot.
Apple has really pulled it out of the bag with this striking redesign of its venerable all-in-one, which performs at the high level we've come to expect from an M1-based Mac.