Apple iMac 24-inch (2021) review - main

The iMac has never been in better shape. The humpback is gone, and in its place are rock-hard abs and machine-straight lines. And the M1 chip, as per, is responsible for this change.

Elsewhere, it’s an oddly-familiar product. The 24-inch iMac doesn’t have anything new. Features like its TouchID keyboard, or studio-quality mics, or “room-filling” speakers with force-cancelling woofers and plenty of other bits and bobs that I’ll cover below in more detail, are only new to iMac. Not Apple devices.

This isn’t a bad thing, of course. The result is a wonderful all-in-one desktop computer that lots of people, with a wide range of needs, are going to love.

1-minute review ⏰

I didn’t expect to like this iMac as much as I did. Its elegance is the thing I appreciate most; my home office feels classier because of the iMac’s presence on the middle of my (almost-tidy) desk. Elsewhere, it’s a bit of a highlights package showcasing the best of Apple. This machine – powered by the versatile M1 chip, has everything a “prosumer” needs. 4.5K retina screen, sound, design, thoughtful accessories – it has it all.

I even like the colours.

Pros 

  • Thin design
  • 4.5K Retina Screen
  • 1080p camera
  • Touch ID keyboard 
  • Ethernet power cable (optional extra)
  • M1 chip

Cons

  • Chin
  • Inflexible stand

Performance

When Apple debuted the M1 chip in 2020 – MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini – it did so with a commitment to migrate all of its Macs away from Intel chips within 24 months.

And the inclusion of an unrefined M1 chip in the 24-inch iMac raised lots of eyebrows. Previous Intel-based iMacs have powered incredibly fast machines that were good enough to cater to the processing requirements of the top end of the industry.

And to be blunt, the M1 chip inside this iMac doesn’t match the raw multi-core processing power of those Intel i9-powered 27-inch iMacs from mid-2020. The single-core processing power, on the other hand, is better than anything we’ve seen from any Mac product, M1 or Intel-based.

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What does all this mean? Not a lot. We’ve known what the M1 chip is capable of for six months now, and this isn’t any different: performance is good. It’ll handle moderate-to-intensive tasks with grace, just like the M1 MacBooks and Mac Mini does. 

In the real world, this means you can run processor-hungry software without missing a beat. From my tests, the M1 iMac handled four streams of 4K video in Final Cut Pro without showing any signs of strain. 

If you’re the sort of user who needs an iMac to do more than this, you already know the M1 isn’t a chip that’s been designed for you… and, in my opinion, is the exact reason Apple is still selling more expensive Intel-powered iMacs and Mac Pros. 

For the rest of us mortals, I’d suggest this M1 iMac has more than enough oomph to handle everything we’re likely to throw at it.

Display

An iMac’s display is always an important part of the iMac for one simple reason: you’re stuck with it. 

Fortunately, and predictably, there are no issues here. The only oddity is that the 24-inch iMac actually only has a 23.5-inch screen. Other than that, there’s very little to complain about. It’s 4.5K Retina (4480 x 2520 pixels), LED-backlit, boasting 500 nits of brightness, with P3 wide colour gamut with True Tone technology. 

In short, it’s very sharp, very bright, very detailed, very pleasing to look at, and is bright enough to work in the night light-filled room in your house. 

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Audio

Apple fixed the ‘computers with terrible built-in audio’ problem when it launched the 16-inch MacBook Pro back in 2019. That “room-filling audio” technology is now inside of the iMac but it’s bigger, more refined and, you know, it sounds excellent…for a computer. Rich, smooth, clean, even powerful. There’s a lot to like here.

The sound’s not excellent-excellent, though. You’ll still get better sound by using a good external speaker via Bluetooth or the 3.5-mm headphone jack located on the side of this iMac. But it’s more than good enough to watch a movie with or listen to some music while you work. Which is all you’re ever going to need.

The studio-quality three-mic array that also launched in 2019’s 16-inch MacBook Pro have found their way over to the iMac too. And they’re still excellent. Your voice will boom through on audio calls with this.

Design

There’s a lot to like about the redesigned iMac. Apple’s return to selling colourful iMacs is long overdue. It’s also an easy win for both legacy iMac users and Apple alike. But it’s not a talking point with any real depth.

The overall design of the new M1 iMac is much more worthy of our time. And it’s that well-known attention grabber, the M1 chip, that deserves the credit for making the new-look iMac possible.

The M1 chip, as you probably know, is a SoC (system on a chip). This is important here as it allows Apple to free up the iMac’s internal real estate. Real estate that used to house several separate components and a big fan – to keep these bulky components cool. 

Having a SoC doing all those jobs instead – with a much smaller fan – has allowed Apple’s designers to create an iMac with a slimmer profile. 

The result is a beautifully-thin computer with straight and flat lines that replace the once humped back of the old iMac design. And it’s better for it.

The bezels have been taken in a notch too. The result is a much more immersive experience. And while a lot of noise has been made about the new iMac’s logoless chin, it’s a bit of a non-story, as the chin disappears into the background when the 4.5K Retina display is on – regardless of how bright or dim you have your screen.

My one gripe with the design is the stand. It’s largely fine, but it’s not as flexible as it could be. The bulky stand goes up and down and tilts a bit. But that’s it. There’s no rotation, meaning you have to rotate the whole thing if you want to adjust the angle of your screen a little (or a lot).

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Gigabit Ethernet moved to the power brick!

One of my favourite things about the 24-inch iMac is its power cord. Well, its power brick, to be more specific. It houses a Gigabit Ethernet port! The benefit this brings is purely aesthetic as it keeps wires away from your work surface. A design feature that will appeal to a lot of creatives, I suspect.

Note that the entry-level iMac doesn’t come with this power cable as standard, though – it’ll cost an extra $50 when configuring your order on Apple.com.

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Keyboard and mouse

The M1 iMac also features a new colour-matched Magic Keyboard. It’s the same travel technology as you get in the new MacBook keyboards, but the layout is (a lot) more compact. And while compact design can often be a good thing, I’m not convinced it’s warranted here. It produces out-of-whack ergonomics, forcing my elbows and shoulders inwards. For reference, I’m 6’2″ and 80kg – so there’s a good chance the smaller keyboard might be a better fit for normal-sized people.

Aside from its miniature design, the keyboard introduces some novel new keys. The biggest addition is the TouchID key – the same technology you’d find on an older iPhone – that lets you unlock the iMac and load your personal user account with your fingerprint. It’s a very cool feature if you share your iMac with other users in the same house (or office.)

The keyboard also features dedicated Spotlight, Dictation, Do Not Disturb and emoji keys. And like I said, it’s colour-matched with your iMac. The whole thing is cute.

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1080p Camera

The iMac’s front-facing camera is one of the biggest points of difference from the M1 MacBooks with their 1080p camera. This, of course, is the same as the 27-inch iMac that launch in 2020, but it bucks the trend of Apple telling us a 720p camera is fine (like it does in its MacBooks)

1080p cameras, by the way, have twice as many pixels as 720p cameras, despite what your brain might be telling you.

The extra pixels make a big difference too. Where video calls on the MacBook always produced a touch of graininess, this 1080p camera exudes confidence and clarity.

This, Apple tells us, is a combination of the 1080p with the ISP (image signal processing) engine in the M1 chip. The main benefit this marriage of hardware and software brings to the iMac is the ability to detect a face and correct the focus and exposure accordingly. 

The iMac has quickly become my video-calling computer of choice thanks to these features.

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Should we care about durability?

This is a lightweight iMac, weighing just 4.46kg. And because there’s (potentially) only one cord, it’s super easy to move around your home/office and change where you use it. 

Moving it from my office to my kitchen, for example, takes just a few seconds. Unplugging one cable – that’s not nested with several other cables – is a really quick task. And because of its semi-portability, I found myself using the new iMac a lot more than I thought I would. 

This does bring the iMac’s durability into question. After all, the front is just one big piece of glass. The bad news here is that Apple hasn’t got much to say regarding its durability credentials – which suggests to me that it has none. The glass on the front isn’t reinforced glass as you get on iPhones and iPads. There’s no Corning Gorilla Glass technology here.

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Pricing

iMac with a 7-core GPU starts at RRP NZ$2149 inc. GST and RRP NZ$2069 inc. GST for education, and is available in green, pink, blue, and silver. It features an 8-core CPU, 8GB of unified memory, 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt ports, Magic Keyboard, and Magic Mouse.

iMac with an 8-core GPU starts at RRP NZ$2499 inc. GST and NZ$2329 inc. GST for education, and is available in green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and silver. It features an 8-core CPU, 8GB of unified memory, 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt ports, two additional USB 3 ports, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, Magic Mouse, and Ethernet.

Verdict

The 24-inch iMac is a collection of Apple’s greatest hits neatly packed into a computer that’s as thick as your thumb. M1, 4.5K Retina screen, great-sounding speakers, studio-quality mics, Magic Keyboard, webcam. Basically, a lot of technology that you know and love from other Apple products are now available in the iMac. And in different colour cases.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Design
Features
Performance
Camera

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