REVIEW: Apple's M1-powered iMac
A tech masterpiece, which can also double as modern furniture
It seems like the trend going on with Apple right now rides along the syntax of "the new Apple [insert product name here] is an updated [insert product name here again]... but on steroids".
Well, if that's the case, this is one area of life where steroids are actually good.
Apple’s newest wonder, the M1-powered iMac, kicks off a new era for its Mac line that is a fusion of past and present, innovation and style. Technically, this is the 10th-generation iMac, after four that ran on PowerPC and five that utilised Intel chips. And while that would make some of us realise how old we are right now, this new machine can liven you up with a refreshing style.
TALE OF THE TAPE
There are a lot of discrepancies in a number of areas, the most glaring of which is how far you can go with memory and storage (more on that later). Also of note and to get it out of the way right now: With the M1 iMac's base model, you only get a 7-core GPU, a Magic Keyboard without Touch ID (another first for an iMac), two Thunderbolt ports and a power adapter with no Ethernet port on it. Also a cutesy: The power adaptor and extra USB-C-to-Lightning cable have a woven finish that matches the colour you choose.
What can we say about this machine that’s like a mega-iPad with a stand slapped into it? Probably what everyone else has been thinking: How did Apple cram so much into, well, so much? The answer is its great M1 chip, which has integrated all components into one tiny bit, thus allowing a sleeker, slimmer design. That thick chin below — sans the Apple logo, for the first time — is where practically the entire CPU is sitting pretty.
More interestingly, the thinness of its display panel, at only 11.5mm, is practically as slim as an Apple Watch. Yes, it’s that thin, so Apple had to relocate the 3.5mm audio port on the left side — that jack is too long for this iMac's build — near the power button. Also on the rear are, depending on the model you’ll get, either two or four USB-C ports (two Thunderbolt or two each of Thunderbolt and USB-3). USB-As are nowhere to be found, which would be a disadvantage for those who either use that or don’t have and adaptor for it. Its power cable uses MagSafe to easily attach and detach, while the power adaptor now houses an Ethernet port.
Its 24-inch 4.5K Retina display is splashed across a 21.5-inch frame, surrounded by a fairly thin bezels on the side and on top (would’ve been excellent if they were thinner). And of course, there’s that bevy of colours available, a nod to the earliest iMacs. Blue, green, pink, silver, yellow, orange and purple are all the yummy options, but you only get to choose from all seven if you’re taking the model with an 8-core GPU. We love the way the subtle shades up front complement the striking, in-your-face finish on the rear; it’s just some sort of modern-day furniture.
We just find it amusing that removing the Apple logo up front presents some sort of dichotomy: For the uninitiated, it may seem some random generic all-in-one, but it still is unmistakably Apple. Confused? Well, so are we; maybe it's just that magic touch they have on their devices. But anyway, forget about that; with those shades and clean aesthetic, you'll be reminded of both the iMac G3 thanks to those gummy colours, and the lamp-esque G4 because you can basically blend it with your furniture collection.
Well we can’t get enough of the M1 chip, can we? To recap (again): Apple’s diminutive silicon wonder is capable of providing up to 50 per cent faster performance, up to 40 per cent quicker graphics and several other momentum-shifters from its predecessor.
The M1 silicon chip integrates, among other components, the processor, graphics and memory into a single tiny unit, which has allowed Apple to both go absolutely thin and (ironically) have more wiggle room to place more parts, all in that slim frame. That and other innovations result in enhanced power efficiency, better machine learning and blazing-fast performance — Geekbench had reported that it's 56 per cent faster than the top option of the previous 21.5-inch iMac (we know, too technical, we know).
One of the biggest selling points of the Mac line-up is that it’s well-suited for professionals. The M1 chip accelerates that offering; it makes it even easier for people engaged in, say, video editing, to perform their sworn duties on the new iMac. This makes it a compelling option for these pros that needs things done quickly (listen, the Mac Pro is an entirely different beast, okay?).
Fluidity is the name of the game when it comes to this iMac. There's just no lag, and even if it does take some certain tasks to load up, you won't experience any of those stuttering movements anywhere.
Students will also find this a great option for learning the ropes, whether for garden-variety virtual classroom instruction or practising their wares in, for example, photo editing. Speaking of learning, it's also a nice way to learn coding, and if you've been following Apple, you know that their A-list of coders are getting younger.
Its FaceTime camera, meanwhile, has double the resolution and a larger sensor to gather more light. To get even geekier, it uses seven layers — from auto white balance to noise reduction — to process images for crisp, vibrant results. Sadly, it doesn't have Center Stage, the neat trick being used by the latest M1 iPad Pro in which the camera uses machine learning to keep you in focus when on a video call. Oh well, maybe next time.
And it also has six speakers. Seriously, even with its volume halfway through, it's already enough to fill a room, so imagine going full throttle. Too bad it doesn't have an EQ so amp up its bass.
Those last two points mean that the M1 iMac isn't just for 'serious' endeavours; it also is an entertainment and multimedia hub. With its slim and light frame (it clocks in at almost 4.5kg, so that's more than acceptable for an all-in-one), it can be easily relocated anywhere for movies in the attic, video calls in the garden, following an online recipe in the kitchen... well, you get the point.
BEFORE YOU ORDER…
You’ll need to make some decisions, including whether to get a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, or both. We have to point out that the former is still a pain to charge, because its USB-C port is located on its base — which means you can’t use it when it’s charging. Really? This still hasn't been rectified despite the clamour on it; there is a provision on either side of the mouse to slot in a USB-C port, and while indeed it may feel somewhat awkward to use it while it's charging, that won't eliminate its functionality (unless, of course, Apple comes up with a mousepad with wireless charging; not a bad idea, huh?).
The Magic Trackpad, meanwhile, is an oversized version of what you see on MacBooks, and lets your fingers glide smoothly. Getting both isn't a bad idea, since there are those who either have that urge or simply want to switch between both of them. If you end up with only one, fear not since you can always buy the one you've forsaken after ordering the M1 iMac.
The trickier part is on how much storage and RAM you’ll get. Unlike its predecessors, M1 Macs now have their components soldered together, so what you order will be with you the rest of the way.
Teardowns of the M1 iMac show how intricately the components have been fused together, which screams "only Apple can mess with this". (If you've got lots of cash to spare and considering a teardown yourself, good luck trying to pry it open since there are no screws.) There are reports that say it is possible to upgrade these, but this move, as rightly pointed out, is both dangerous as it could brick the entire machine and breaches the warranty you have with Apple.
Ergo, choose wisely. If you're a professional and you know you've got tonnes of work waiting for you, go ahead and max out. Anything below the 16GB/2TB combo will then be a toss-up. In any case, this is a high-calibre machine; iMacs from the late-2000s and early-2010s still function very well to this day, so these M1 iMacs should have no reason not to do better.
If it’s an investment into a PC you’re going to make, the Apple iMac with the M1 chip is, by far, top of the line, and will make as your good, solid productivity and entertainment partner for several years. Its base model starts off at a decent price, and even that option is worthy and more than capable to handle your tasks.
But as with its predecessors, repairability can be an issue. That will compel you to make the decision at the time of purchase; the maxed-out version costs more than double the base one (you'll have to shell out more if you want Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro), so you need to prepare that cash.
Still, it's a sound investment if you're looking, say, three to five years down the line, maybe even more (remember what we mentioned above?). There are indeed peers and even laptops that play around at this price range, so the best — and slimmest and most stylish — of Apple by far is more than fair game.
GOODIES: It looks really cool and is great for doing anything
GOOFIES: Can’t be upgraded after purchase, base model has very limited ports, charging the Magic Mouse makes it useless
EDITOR RATING: It’s borderline perfect. Borderline. That’s all we can say. 4.5/5
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