Every year we run into the same problem: what do you call the update to Apple’s latest device? This is always going to be the case when you keep the name, but change the design and specs of a device. So here we have the Apple iMac 21.5-inch, announced in July 2010, and equipped with the Intel Core i3 3.06GHz processor.
This is currently the cheapest iMac that Apple makes: it’s the entry point for its all-in-one computer at £999. The all-in-one market is rather fragmented, with many manufacturers on the Windows side of things producing low-spec cheap AIOs, as well as a variety of touch and non-touch. The iMac is not touch, but it is powerful: with the Intel Core i3 3.06GHz processor, 4GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card offering 256MB of dedicated graphics memory; it cuts through most daily tasks with ease. As it is, this iMac handles gaming as it is on the Mac, although it isn’t a powerhouse.
There are step-up options too, with a 3.2GHz Core i3 and 3.6GHz Core i5 processors offered for extra cash. The RAM can be boosted to 8GB at the point of ordering and although this model comes with 500GB hard drive, if you opt for the faster processor models, you’ll get the 1TB drive and 2TB drive options, but at the entry-point your options are limited.
As you’d expect from Apple, the design is sensational. The precision crafted unibody aluminium design encases the iMac whilst the 21.5-inch display sees the glass go edge-to-edge, so essentially you are just looking at the screen. The screen packs in a Full HD 1920 x 1080 LED backlit display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. This is dwarfed by the 27 inches offered by its bigger brother, but at this size you have space to work or play, with side-by-side documents making it a convenient size screen for working on.
The viewing angles are fantastic and the colour reproduction is excellent thanks to the IPS technology Apple uses in its screens. It really brings your images to life and movies look fantastic with believable black levels and plenty of contrast. The graphics card handles HD video with relative ease, although if you are planning on editing large amounts of HD content, you might want to invest in one of the higher-spec models.
The stand is a simple aluminium foot that comes out of the back, offering a portal through which the power cable passes. A degree of tilt is offered where it connects to the back of the screen, so depending on the height of your desk and chair, you’ll be able to set the screen at a comfortable angle.
You’ll also need to adjust the tilt to ensure that you appear in the picture should you choose to use the on-board iSight webcam. You could accuse Apple of being scared of you adding your own cables and cluttering up the design, so you’ll find a mic and speakers built-in too, which are both capable, but to get the best sound, external speakers would give it a boost. You get Bluetooth 2.1 included as standard.
Also keeping things tidy are the wireless keyboard and the Apple Magic Mouse which come bundled in the box. Both using batteries, you might want to invest in the Apple Battery Charger, although you’ll save yourself a few quid if you look elsewhere for your rechargeable cells. The Magic Mouse might not be to all tastes, but the keyboard is set at a nice angle and the keys have a good positive response.
The remainder of the connection ports reside around the back, in a single tidy line. We can’t help thinking that Apple sees connections as something of a triviality, an inconvenience that draws attention away from their clean design. Perhaps they are right, but if you want to use the Ethernet connection rather than the b/g/n Wi-Fi, then you have that choice. You also get 4x USB 2.0 and FireWire 800. Mini DisplayPort is on offer so you could connect a second screen if you needed one.
Down the right-hand side of the iMac is the DVD drive and the SD card slot. As always, the DVD drive is slot loading, and the SD card placement beneath it makes it much easier to slip in a digital camera card than scrabbling around the back to connect to a USB. We’re starting to wish that Apple would make a Blu-ray compatible drive to accommodate all those HD movies we’ve been amassing. Apple may want to push you to download an HD movie through iTunes, but the fact is that Blu-ray movies are getting cheaper and it is an entertainment format that is entirely ignored.
These are the biggest criticisms of the iMac. It has been designed to look good – which it undoubtedly does – but if you’re the sort of person that constantly adds and removes peripheral devices, then you’ll likely resort to a USB hub as your first accessory and the lack of a Blu-ray option might make some consider some of the high-end Windows 7 AIO rivals.
Running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, you get all the benefits of that operating system, with the inclusion of the iLife software suite looking to take care of your photo and video needs, as well as offering GarageBand, which if nothing else will let you indulge in a little audio editing.
In use we found the iMac to be almost silent when running as is often the case with Apple products. The real star of the show is undoubtedly the screen which looks great from almost any angle, with the punch to really impress. It has a glossy finish, which might grate with those who want to put it by a window, although we found it had the brightness to cope in such conditions.