Apple iMac M1 review: The ideal portable desktop


Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Apple’s M1 processor also makes the iMac responsive in little ways. It wakes up almost instantly from sleep mode and gets to the desktop in around 25 seconds from a cold start, which is dramatically faster than any Intel Mac I’ve ever used. Basically, all of the zippiness I appreciate from the M1 MacBooks is here. The iMac also had no trouble handling any of the games on Apple Arcade, like The Pathless and The Last Campfire. But given that those games already run smoothly on the iPhone and iPad, it’s not a huge surprise to see them running well on a more powerful desktop. You’ll still hear some fan noise while playing games, by the way, but at least it’s more of a gentle whir, rather than the roar of a jet engine.

While the slim new design and powerful processor are nice, the iMac’s stunning 23.5-inch, 4.5K Retina Display is its true centerpiece. It covers the full DCI-P3 gamut, which means it can display over a billion colors. Take that together with a surprisingly high 500 nits of brightness — more than many gaming laptops — and the iMac’s screen can make just about anything pop. It’s one of those displays that makes high-resolution photos feel three-dimensional. Video also looks fantastic, especially if you’re watching something with a huge color palette. While the iMac doesn’t support HDR, its sheer brightness and color depth almost makes it seem like it does.

This isn’t visible at first glance, but Apple also finally managed to squeeze in a 1080p webcam in a Mac. It’s not quite as sharp as my Logitech Streamcam, but it’s certainly a huge upgrade over Apple’s notoriously crummy computer cameras.

Apple iMac M1 24-inch

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

And despite its thin case, the iMac sports a shockingly capable sound system. With its six speakers and force cancelling woofers, it did an admirable job of reproducing the diverse instruments and percussive beats from Flying Lotus’s Yasuke soundtrack. And it captured the dreamy melody of Thundercat’s “Fair Chance” without missing a beat. The iMac definitely won’t replace an inexpensive pair of bookshelf speakers, but it’s more than adequate for a personal jam session. It can fill a room with sound without any distortion, and it can even handle a decent amount of bass. There’s also Dolby Atmos support, which worked so well while watching John Wick, I swore there were speakers right behind me.

The iMac’s multimedia prowess was another reason I was so tempted to bring it all around my home. I put it on the kitchen counter to serve up recipes, watch videos and listen to music as I made dinner. I took it out of my basement office and into a guest bedroom because it had better natural light, which always helps me write. It’s so easy to move around, thanks to its single magnetic power cable, you probably won’t think twice about moving it into your living room to help your kid with homework. The iMac is practically built to be a communal computer, the sort of thing anyone can hop on to handle a bit of work (or play).

It’s also far easier to swap between users on this iMac, thanks to its Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. After registering your family’s fingerprints, they can get into their accounts just by touching the sensor. That’s also helpful in ways I didn’t expect on a desktop. Just like on iOS devices and MacBooks, you can use Touch ID to securely authenticate App Store purchases. Honestly, it’s surprising it took so long for Apple to bring this feature to iMacs.

Apple iMac M1 24-inch

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

When it comes to typing, though, the Magic Keyboard is still very much love-it-or-hate-it. It took me a while to get used to its shallow keys, and it’s a bit too compact for me to type comfortably. I’ve never really looked to Mac desktops for ergonomics, though. That’s particularly true for the Magic Mouse, which still feels too light and flat. Maybe I’m too spoiled by Logitech’s MX Master mouse lineup, but it feels weird to have nothing to rest my palm on. I had a better time with the Magic Trackpad, which is basically an enormous version of what you’d find on the MacBook. Using it just felt more natural than the Magic Mouse. You’ll have to shell out an additional $50 to get the Magic Trackpad, or you nab both for $129.

While I probably sound entirely head over heels, there’s still plenty to criticize with the new iMacs. For one, the port situation is messy. The $1,299 entry-level model only comes with two USB-C ports — to get four, you’ll have to step up to the $1,499 model with a more powerful 8-core GPU. That pricier model also has an Ethernet port embedded in its power brick, which the cheaper iMac lacks. I realize Apple held off on removing USB Type A ports on the iMacs for a while, but I still miss them. Now your only choice is to clutter your desk with dongles and USB hubs if you want to connect older devices. The same is true if you want to use SD cards, which irks me to no end.

Apple iMac M1 24-inch

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

If you can live with those issues, though, the M1 iMac is an incredibly compelling all-in-one computer. As usual, though, be prepared to pay a premium. If you want 512GB of storage, you’ll have to jump to the most expensive $1,699 model. Want 16GB of RAM? Slap on another $200. Need more storage? That’s an additional $200 for a 1TB drive, or $600 for a 2TB model. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many strong PC alternatives. If you’re looking for something larger, HP’s 34-inch Envy all-in-one is solid, but that’s stuck with aging Intel chips.

So really, if you’re in the market for a desktop, but don’t want to deal with the cable mess of a PC and monitor, the iMac practically stands alone. It’s faster than ever, and it can fit into almost any nook in your home. It’s basically the family computer, re-invented.

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