t has 4K, Force Touch and lots of folks talking. The new 21.5-inch iMac from Apple brings a lot to the table, but is it worth your $1,099 (or more)? Lets find out.
In many ways, not much has changed with regard to design. Itâs still a screen sitting atop a pedestal, and Apple didnât pull any punches by stripping it of ports. The iMac is still slim, sexy and iconic.
As desktops go, anÂ iMac will provide all you need. The big, beautiful screen has a very adequate 720p FaceTime webcam, and there are dual speakers just under the front panel.
You also get a 3.5mm headphone jack, SD card slot, four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt ports and a gigabit ethernet port. Aside from the power cable input and power button, the rear is very plain.
4K and P3
Iâve openly questioned 4Kâs purpose when it comes to mobile devices, but not the desktop. Itâd be really easy to consider Apple late to the 4K game, but thereâs a trick up iMacâs sleeve: P3.
So hereâs where we get geeky. P3 brings a wider color gamut to the Retina 4K screen, and outpaces the sRGB that is fairly standard by up to 25 percent.
So what does that mean for you? As you can see in the charts below, that funny color space is what the naked eye is capable of seeing while the dottedÂ line represents what sRGB displays. P3â the solidÂ line â allows the screen to display more blues, greens and reds than many screens.Â It doesnât mean youâll see colors youâve never seen before, only that the picture you see via the Retina 4K iMac is more accurate to real life.
The change is subtle, and sadly I canât prove it to you via an article. But once you see it for yourself, the benefit becomes apparent. Itâs as if your current monitor or computer is lying to you.
Blues and greens are deeper, reds look red, and those in-between colors like orange look brilliant. If you like yellow, youâll love the Retina 4K iMac.
The screen resolution is 4096 x 2304.
Is P3 some sort of trick?
I thought it might be, but no â itâs not. Apple achieved P3 by increasing the pixel density (4K, duh) and changing the LEDs.
Instead of a white LED, the iMac Retina 4K uses a red-green phosphor LED. It explains the chart above, too; reds and greens jump 25 percent on that chart, while blue is basically even to sRGB monitors. The second set of graphs illustrate that nicely.
Casual users will like it, and if you work in visual arts â youâll love it. P3 is ahead of the curve, but itâs impressive.
With your iMac, youâll get a few refreshed input devices: the new keyboard and mouse, and an optional trackpad.
The Magic Keyboard is somewhere between a new MacBook and legacy Apple keyboard. Itâs not quite as flat and responsive as the MacBookâs, which is because Apple didnât implement itsÂ new butterfly mechanism. Instead, it reworked the scissor mechanism to be flatter. That helps it sit lower to the table, too.
AppleÂ says it provides 33 percent more key stability, which is noticeable. Function keys are also full-size.
Magic Mouse 2 has new rails underneath that provide a smoother gliding experience, and is much lighter than its predecessor. Itâs got a multi-touch surface, too, so you can scroll and such without the need for a wheel.
Magic Trackpad 2 is much sleeker, and brings in Force Touch. Apple also increased the surface area by 29 percent.
All three have rechargeable lithium ion batteries. The trackpad and keyboard work when plugged in â the charging port is around back â while the Magic Mouse needs to be idle while charging (itâs port is underneath).
The mouse will get you through the day with a two-minute charge, Apple says. Though the mouse was the only device officially tested to provide that feature, similar results can be found with the keyboard and trackpad.
Each new iMac has Appleâs Fusion Drive, which cleverly adds a small bit of Flash memory to a spinning drive.Â The aim is to let the Flash drive keep apps you use frequently on a flash drive, while others wait in the hard drive.
Apple is drawing fire for including 256GB of flash storage for the base modelâs 1TB Fusion drive. A 512GB option is only available when you upgrade to the 2TB Fusion Drive. People are also upset the spinning drive is 5,400 RPM.
In theory, Fusion Drive will make using core apps you rely on daily a snappier experience. Power users will likely want to upgrade to a 2TB Fusion Drive, which can bring more flash storage.
The upgrade conundrum
So, hereâs the thing with newer Apple hardware: you wonât be able to upgrade it later on.
Perhaps the most glaring issue will be the inability to replace theÂ Fusion Drive with an SSD if you donât like what Apple has to offer. Apple also moved away from a discrete graphics card with the iMac Retina 4K, which like the Fusion Drive is probably just fine for most of us.
In that vein, you wonât be able to push the iMac beyond what Apple designed it to do. You arenât going to slip a badass graphics card in there, or crack it open to upgrade your RAM. It is what it is, so build yourself a good one upfront.
The iMac I tested
You can order the iMac to suit your needs, but here are the main specs for the model I tested:
3.1 GHz Intel Core i5 (Broadwell)
8GB DDR3 Memory
Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200
1TB Fusion Drive
For those who are a bit more casual with their needs, the 21.5-inch iMac is a fantastic computer. Aside from being gorgeous, the new input devices are a significant improvement over the older stuff. The trackpad in particular is a breath of fresh air.
Force Touch and 3D Touch are the future, and itâs really nice to have it on the desktop. Iâm sure itâll hit the Magic Mouse someday, but that probably depends on Apple figuring out Force Touch for curved surfaces. Including Force Touch on the trackpad was a brilliant move.
The Magic Keyboard is much nicer to type on, too. Itâs also flatter to my desk, which I prefer.
I did have a few letdowns early on with the iMac, which appear to have come from nowhere. At one point, the trackpad was dropping and picking up its Bluetooth connection without anything having changed. I also have someÂ issues with AirDrop, another Bluetooth feature.
Apple has had some issues with Bluetooth in the past, which were fixed with a software update. The keyboard and trackpad issues were one-off, so Iâm not that concerned itâll be an ongoing headache.
There were also a few times the iMac was justÂ too slow; growing pains that seemed to ease over time. After about five days of use, the issues ironed themselves out.
The Fusion Drive is fine for core apps you use daily, but firing up an app on your fringe isnât so fast. There was never an âoh, come on!â moment, but it just wasnât as snappy as my MacBook Pro.
For instance, I use Pixelmator often, but not daily. It takes a few more seconds (literally) to load on the iMac than it does on myÂ MacBook. Not a deal breakerÂ by any stretch, and likely only noticeable because I have a different experience elsewhere.
The 4K Retina screen is phenomenal. P3 is not something youâll notice every day, but reverting to the LG monitor I used before the iMac was a letdown â and I thought that was a very decent monitor. It even makes my MacBooks look grainy, and theyâre both Retina.
The sound from the speakers is a bit hollow, but loud enough for just about any use case. If youâre catching a YouTube video, there wonât be an issue. If youâre streaming classical music, youâll probably want some external speakers.
Who should buy this?
Appleâs 21.5-inch iMac is the little brother of the iMac lineup.Â Most people will probably enjoy the 21.5-inch footprint, and the 4K screen is so brilliant you wonât notice if itâs a touch smaller than your currentÂ display.
If youâve got a new iPhone 6s or 6s Plus or are planning to buy an iPhone 7 â and are also in the market for a desktop computer â you should definitely check the iMac Retina 4K out. I especially like it for editing 4K movies shot on my iPhone 6s Plus in iMovie (which has also been updated to support 4K). If you need a workhorse for the home or office, you wonât be let down.
For most users, this willÂ be a great purchase. Iâve done everything from edit simple 4K movies to compile simple apps without any problems. The iMac also handles several apps and desktops with relative ease.
The basic Fusion Drive is a bit limited if youâve got a lot (say, 10 or more) of apps you like to bounce between routinely. The Intel Broadwell chipset is fine, but a lack of discrete graphics means itâs a package deal. Again, upgrade at purchase time if you even think youâll need more oomph.
The new keyboard, mouse and trackpad are all great. I donât like to use a mouse, and the Magic Mouse isnât very ergonomically sound, but each was a joy to use. Again, Force Touch on the desktop is just awesome.
The real star remains the screen. Once you actually experience 4K and P3, itâs hard to revert. For its minor failings, the iMac is still a winner because of that 4K, P3Â display.
Appleâs 4K iMac is available direct from Apple, and starts at $1,099.