To appreciate Apple's new iMac, to truly appreciate it, it helps to have known the despair and horror of the 1995 Compaq Presario. Abecedarian and entirely lacking in appeal, the Presario had a form factor like a hotel wastebasket and ran an operating system that belonged in one — Microsoft Windows 95. It was my first true "work" computer and it probably did as much to hamper my productivity as help it. It was a ferocious piece of shit.
The Presario had a form factor like a hotel wastebasket and ran an operating system that belonged in one.
I mention this because the Presario is a touchstone for me when it comes to thinking about today's tech products. It was my work desktop, and the last one I used before switching to the first iMac. When Apple debuted the first iMac in 1998, it revealed the Presario desktop to be the anvil of plastic and error messages it always was. For me, that first iMac has long been Apple's best simply because it so dramatically improved my work life. It was friendly and intuitive, and it just worked. It made a part of my daily life immediately better in a number of tangible ways and probably a few intangible ones as well. These days, "it just works" is near truism. But it wasn't always so. Back in the day, it often didn't just work at all — and if it did, you were lucky.
Which brings us to today. The new iMac is available for purchase now and will be arriving to customers beginning this Friday, May 21. It succeeds the 21.5-inch iMac and features a 24-inch 4.5K Retina display with nearly 11.3 million pixels and, in a nod to the original iMac, comes in an array of colors — colors — green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and silver. Pricing starts at $1,299.
I will not go so far as to say that the latest iMac makes the 2015 iMac I've been working on since the beginning of the pandemic look like that execrable old Presario, but it brings with it a similar thrill of progress, my work life made better by jumping from one to the other. Both machines are running the latest version of Apple’s macOS Big Sur operating system, and they run it well. But things like Handoff, which allows you to, say, start composing an email on your iPhone and finish it on your Mac, seem a bit more seamless on the 2021 machine; So too is the entire experience of using it.
Your experience may well be different on a more recent machine. But for the purposes of this review, the defining comparison is that now-hulking 2015 iMac squatting on my desk. Given the cadence of computer upgrade cycles, which are typically quite a bit longer than those of smartphones, this seems reasonable — six years between desktops. Truthfully, if I actually owned that 2015 iMac, I would very likely be trying to rationalize an upgrade to the 2021 version. If you're a Mac person with a dusty old desktop and you need a new one, this is a no-brainer.
There was a time when this review would have run two to three thousand words, recounting different demo scenario anecdotes and dutifully checking performance benchmarks to arrive at its inevitable conclusion: This is easily the best iMac Apple has ever made. Using this thing is like checking into a swank and luxurious hotel — familiar and expected amenities, but every care has been taken.
So what do you need to know?
Well, the new colors are playful and fun, albeit a little precious — there are seven in various pastel shades. The green one I've been testing is a bit too Sebring-rental-car green for my tastes (I wish I’d requested prison-scrubs orange). But it is a fucking handsome piece of hardware — clean lines and as thin as a high school yearbook. You could definitely see it in the lobby of some twee LA-area cannabis dispensary.
It is a fucking handsome piece of hardware.
The 24-inch 4.5K Retina display is frankly just stunning. I don’t know whether it's the gazillion pixels Apple says it has, but it makes the screen of the 2015 iMac look like a dimly lit oil painting. This is worth noting because I have legitimately loved and appreciated that 2015 iMac screen for well over a year now.
The new iMac is FAST. It’s the first to run the Apple-designed M1 chip, which really makes it a full realization of Steve Jobs's "whole enchilada" vision for Apple products — Apple hardware running Apple software, finally, on Apple silicon. You can tell. The machine is peppy as all hell — particularly with Safari and marquee third-party apps like Photoshop. I am running every single app in my dock right now (including Chrome 🐷 with 50 open tabs) and you'd never know it.
It's outfitted with two USB-C and two USB 4 / Thunderbolt ports. This seems unnecessarily stingy for such an expensive machine. I would have preferred three of each, but honestly it hasn't yet been an issue.
Other things: The speakers on the new iMac sound legitimately great — clear and with good separation. They’re not going to replace my stereo, but I've largely stopped using headphones since it arrived. Logging in with Touch ID is fast and super convenient. The keyboard is, thankfully, not a butterfly keyboard, so no complaints; typing feels easy enough that you don't even really think about it. The magnetic power cord adapter is great if your home office is the dining room table and you have large rambunctious dogs. It has already saved me at least one painful call to Apple. These cords really should be standard across the Mac line.
Apple is pitching this newest iMac as a more pervasive presence in the home. It imagines one in your home office, but asks if maybe there's a second one in the kitchen the way some folks might have a TV. Perhaps the new color options give it the design appeal that will help some visualize this. But it seems a lot to ask. It is very "Apple Man.”
The new iMac starts at $1,299 and can set you back as much as $2,500 if you trick it out with additional memory and storage. That's double the price of HP’s 24-inch All-in-One, Wirecutter's current top pick for desktops. Which is hardly surprising. Apple has long commanded a premium because it can. That said, this is definitely a you-get-what-you-pay-for scenario; the new iMac thoroughly kicks the All-in-One's ass on performance, display, and pretty much anything else that matters. If you’re looking for an inexpensive workhorse of a desktop, you really should have stopped reading at the headline. If you need something more, and you’ve got the cash on hand, this is a sweet piece of hardware and one satisfying enchilada.