Apple iMac M1 2021 Review: Colour me impressed with Apple’s all-in-(M)1
The new iMacs serve up a platter of nostalgia and personality that feels as comfortable in the study as it does in the living room
There’s a new lineup of colorful iMacs, and they intend to change desktop computing as we know it. Sounds familiar? For folks who’ve been around a while, the new 2021 iMacs will serve as an instant throwback to the colorful iMac G3, Apple’s original all-in-one family computer that launched exactly 23 years ago and revitalized the company’s fortunes. A welcome departure from the well-worn silver and white industrial design of iMacs from recent years, the new iMacs serve up a platter of nostalgia and personality that feels as comfortable in the study as it does in the living room. This, while still delivering the performance one has come to expect from Apple’s M1 chip, glimpses of which I saw back in the M1 MacBook Air. This time though, we get to see a product that has been designed from the ground up around the M1 chip.
But before we dive into what is arguably the most significant overhaul to the Mac lineup in years, a word about the almost playful and particularly welcoming experience that is the unboxing of the new iMac. It’s all about those colors – blue, green, pink, silver on the base variant and yellow, orange, and purple additionally on the higher variants – emblazoned across the outer box. Start unpacking it, and you’re presented with a color-matched power and Lightning cable, the latter to charge the color coordinated keyboard and mouse. Boot it up and the whimsical attention to detail continues with the matching user interface accents and intro screens, rounding out what is most thoroughly enjoyable unboxing experiences in recent times. Apple’s sweated out the little details, and it’s hard not to notice.
When you’re done with setting it up, the iMac sits less a reminder of work emails and work to be done, and more a piece of décor that injects a burst of color (and life) into the dullest of monsoon days. Just be sure to place it where the bolder metallic colors on the rear are visible – be a shame to not be able to see them every now and then. The front chin has a more muted, pastel palette (which I liked), and I thought the somewhat polarizing white bezels matched better with these lighter colors and helped them blend into a room better, but if it’s black bezels that you want, you’ll want to hold out for the pro-grade iMac when it launches.
If the colors baited you into looking at it once, wait till you spin this baby a ninety-degrees and look at the incredibly thin profile the M1 chip affords the new iMac. At 11.5mm, the iMac is thinner than most standalone monitors, leave alone all-in-one desktops. It’s so thin and lacking in physical depth that the headphone jack had to be accommodated on the side! The svelte design also means that the iMac is super light (under 5kgs) – while this allows you to quickly pick up the machine and carry it to another location in the home (or along with you on a road trip, not judging) in a pinch, I caught myself wishing ever so often that the stand was a bit more weighted to keep the iMac from shifting position unnecessarily when one plugged in/disconnected a peripheral around the rear. Speaking of, the rear is expectedly clean, with a power button, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports (and two extra USB 3 ports, based on the model you choose) and a magnetic power adapter port. Of course, if you have anything by way of peripherals, you’ll need a Type-C dongle or hub for any devices to plug in, though the mid- and top-end models ship with an Ethernet port in the power-brick, should you still do the Internet wire-style.
Now, Apple displays have always been good, but my lord this 23.5-inch number on the new iMacs is downright gorgeous. With a “4.5K” 4480x2520-pixel resolution, it’s pixel rich and great for content consumption, photo/video editing and having a ton of work windows strewn across this expansive display, without the physical footprint of a much larger computer.
It nails the color coverage too, with 100% in sRGB and 90% in Adobe RGB, matching the older 27-inch 5K iMac and among the best color coverage you’ll find on a big screen. Bear in mind, the display maxes out at 500 nits of brightness, so it doesn’t play too well with glare from direct sunlight (no “nano-texture glass” matte upgrade) and HDR content. Above the screen is an upgraded 1080p FaceTime HD camera, which benefits from the M1’s image signal processor to turn out significantly improved video calls especially in low-light or high-contrast backlighting, a feature I cannot wait to roll out to more Macs. Three mics capture audio better on the video calls or impromptu voice notes, but what really impressed was the six-speaker setup, with downward-firing sound being pushed out below the screen. They’re loud and crisp, with a clear sense of stereo separation and a surprising amount of bass given the iMac’s slim profile. Whether you’re watching a move or listening to some music, you should be able to get by without picking up an external pair of speakers or headphones.
Performance was almost a given with the M1, seeing how it has blazed the performance charts compared to other Intel-based devices on the Macbook Pro, the MacBook Air, the Mac mini and even the iPad Pro. This is a fast, power-efficient chip that runs multiple apps well simultaneously and should be plenty performance to satisfy the vast majority of users. M1 in the iMac is also what has allowed the iMac to go this thin without sacrificing performance.
Know your purchase options though – the 8-core CPU is the same across all the configurations, but the difference is in the graphics, storage and the peripherals that come along. Spending an additional Rs. 20,000 gets you the mid-tier variant with an added graphics core (8-core vs a 7-core on the base variant) with a beefed-up cooling solution with two fans instead of the one on the base variant for better sustained performance. Not that you can ever hear the fans spin up – the iMac is silent throughout every day usage, except if you’re adding particularly CPU-intensive tasks just to hear the fans kick in. On the base variant I had in for testing, I threw my regular cocktail of 50+ browser tabs, 4K video edits and streaming music, and never heard a peep. Even gaming with a bunch of iOS racing games or indie games on Arcade are fun, and you can even manage a session of Fortnite at Medium settings with decent frame rates. The benefit of bumping up to mid-tier variant (Rs. 20,000 extra) is the included Magic Keyboard with Touch ID for authentication - the first on a desktop Mac after all these years - but you could also add that one peripheral separately later, albeit minus the benefit of color-matched hardware. The Magic Mouse is still, well, the Magic Mouse – a good peripheral that can’t be used and charged at the same time. Another Rs. 20,000 bumps up the storage on the base variant to 512GB (up from 256GB), and of course, if you want, you could configure the base memory (8GB) to 16GB and storage all the way up to 2TB by going the CTO (configure to order) route.
As someone who has been using this machine for the better part of a month for everyday work and play, the new 24-inch iMac checks off almost every single box for a family computer. For most, there’s a lot to like – the burst of colors, the excellent screen, the near-silent computing and the fuss-free performance of the M1 chip – this is an excellent all-in-one desktop computer for you or the family, and the biggest challenge you’ll likely face is where you place it (ergo, who gets to hog it the most!). One can’t help but wonder how many of these Apple could have sold if it had launched earlier in the pandemic.
Apple iMac 24” (M1, 2021)
Pros: slick new design, excellent screen, top-tier performance, good speakers, good webcam and mics, Touch ID on keyboard, low-footprint design fits anywhere
Cons: Goodies start at the mid-tier level, Magic Mouse remains unchanged, limited ports
Price: Rs. 1,19,900 onwards
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar