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The New IMac Is Great If You Want a Beautiful Desktop Computer to Show Off in Your Home Or Office

Todd Haselton | CNBC
  • Apple's new iMac with M1 has a great screen, strong speakers, a good camera and is powerful enough for most tasks.
  • It's also crazy thin and beautiful. But you have to be sure you want a desktop — the portability of a laptop like the MacBook Air is awfully convenient.
  • CNBC's Todd Haselton has everything you need to know about it in this review of the new iMac with M1.

Apple just gave the iMac its the first major redesign since 2012, and I've been testing one out for a week.

It's insanely thin. Like the 1999 iMac, it ships in a bunch of colors. But most notably, this the first time Apple's all-in-one desktop computer is using the same M1 chip as the iPad, following the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini, which received the processor last year.

It's a heck of a time to launch a new Mac. Apple's Mac sales have continued to grow through the pandemic and were up 70% year over year in its fiscal Q2 as people worked, learned and played at home. That growth may slow as people continue to get vaccinated and head back to our commutes (and our clunky work-issued computers), but the iMac is so nice it may help push Mac sales for people who still need a computer at home.

Here's what you need to know about it.

What's good

Source: Apple Inc.

The iMac is just crazy, crazy thin. It's sort of like a giant iPad with a big bottom chin sitting on a metal stand. It's also surprisingly light, which means you can easily move it from room to room if you need to, so long as there's an outlet nearby.

Apple iMac M1 2021
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple iMac M1 2021

I love the variety of colors. Apple sent me the blue model, which has a deeper hue on the back than the sort of sky blue below the display on the front. It really looks and feels as if Apple is trying to make this the Mac that people show off around their house again, and I think some people actually will.

The screen is another highlight. It's now 24 inches diagonally, a notable improvement from the 21.5-inch display on the model it replaces. It's also nice and sharp with a 4.5K resolution and support for HDR content, which more clearly shows the deep darks and bright parts of a movie or TV show. I used the iMac as a computer in my office and also as a TV in my bedroom. I liked that the screen was big enough that I could watch stuff from bed as I would on a TV.

Apple iMac M1 2021
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple iMac M1 2021

The iMac is fast and all the apps I use for work and play are supported. Most people who are casually editing photos and videos will find there's enough power. Pros who want to edit and render video, however, will naturally gravitate toward Apple's Pro machines, since there isn't a big beefy graphics card in here. The same goes for games — you're fine playing games that are a few years old, or any of the popular iPad or iPhone games that run on M1, like everything in Apple Arcade. But don't expect to play something like Call of Duty: Warzone.

Apple iMac M1 2021
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple iMac M1 2021

The speakers are also surprisingly good for how thin it is. I normally use a pair of $50 speakers on my desktop PC and this blows them away. There's also a headphone jack in case you ever want to add a different set of speakers, or you can always use Bluetooth to pair up with a headset or AirPods.

Apple iMac M1 2021
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple iMac M1 2021

There are two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports on the back of the entry-level $1,299 model, and the $1,499 version I tested has an additional two USB 3 ports (this is true for all more expensive models, too). That was enough for me to drop a few cables on the back for charging my iPhone, AirPods and more at my desk, while also using one of the Thunderbolt ports to add a second display. If you want to avoid dongles, consider getting the model with the additional ports. Speaking of ports, the charger uses a magnet, though it's not branded MagSafe like the older MacBook and current iPhone 12 chargers. It's just a power port that's a bit safer since it'll pop out if you trip on the cable.

Apple iMac M1 2021 Magic Keyboard with Touch ID.
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple iMac M1 2021 Magic Keyboard with Touch ID.

The new Magic Keyboard, which matches the color of the computer you buy (as does the mouse) can be configured with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor for $50 more. You should do that while buying the iMac. It's really convenient for making purchases (like you would on Apple's laptops), for logging in in a split second, or for sharing a computer. Each family member just registers their fingerprints and then they can tap it to log in to their account when they jump on the computer.

Finally, the camera quality is noticeably better. Apple's M1 chip offers better quality even compared with the 27-inch iMac it launched last summer, which uses the same camera hardware. It did a good job keeping my image clear and bright, even if the room was a little dark. But I'd love to see Apple add some of the smart tracking so that the camera could follow me around the room — if I'm pacing while talking to my editor over FaceTime. It's a feature Apple introduced in the new iPad Pros this year, so maybe that will make its way over in future models.

All of this comes together to form a really capable desktop computer for the price. But there are still a few things I think could be improved.

What's bad

Apple iMac M1 2021
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple iMac M1 2021

The thing that stands out to me most here is the lack of a touchscreen. Apple has said Macs serve one purpose and iPads serve another. But I think a touchscreen would work well here. If you're flipping through recipes, for example, you might want to touch the screen instead of using a mouse. Also, the iMac's M1 chip lets you run iPhone and iPad apps if they're supported by the developer. A lot of the ones you might want, like Netflix and YouTube TV (or any of Google's apps for that matter) aren't there. But many are designed to be used with touch. 

Maybe I'm crazy, but I'd love to see an option in macOS that lets you flip to the iPadOS for when you want to use it like a touchscreen, and then switch back to regular macOS when you don't. Imagine just walking up and tapping Netflix and tapping a TV show. (I'd like to see macOS on an iPad Pro, too.) I can dream.

It's kind of a bummer it doesn't have an older regular USB 2.0 port. I know it's old technology, but there are still tons of chargers and accessories that use that type without an adapter, including the Apple Watch.

Apple iMac M1 2021
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Apple iMac M1 2021

I also wish the display supported more angles. You can adjust the vertical angle by tilting it back or forward, but you can't raise or lower the display or turn it left to right. It's just locked onto the stand. Normally this works fine, but if you have a shorter desk or sit up higher on your chair, you might want to know you can't really adjust it to match your height unless you prop it up on some books.

My guess is most people are going to use the iMac with just the built-in screen, since it's pretty big. But the M1 chip only supports one additional monitor, the same as with the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. So if you're like me and normally use three separate displays, you're going to be limited. I found I was able to get up to three screens by using an iPad Pro with the Side Car app, however. But you won't get three big screens over HDMI or Thunderbolt.

Lastly, it has a big chin under the screen. It doesn't bug me at all, but I think people who are used to big screens without much of a border might find it a turn-off. That's just a personal preference thing.

Should you buy it?

Apple launches new iMac with new colors.
Source: Apple Inc.
Apple launches new iMac with new colors.

The new iMac is a fantastic desktop computer and worth buying if you need a desktop computer for you or the family. It will make a great home school computer for your kids, or an office desktop. 

But I also think you should consider buying a MacBook Air, my current favorite computer on the market given its power, battery life and price. Then, you can add a big screen at your desk, like this $400 one from LG, or something more expensive like this from Dell, and just plug the Air in when you want a big, bright display.

The catch is that a quality 4K display with the colors, brightness and accuracy of the iMac is going to set you back several hundred dollars or more. You'll also miss out on the good built-in speakers, added ports and webcam. But you gain portability, since you can take your MacBook Air everywhere you go.

It's a toss-up, but worth considering both options if you're shopping for a new computer now.

Overall, I think Apple has a winner here with an all-around solid computer that checks most boxes for most people. I can't help but wonder how many of these Apple would have sold if it launched at the beginning of the pandemic.

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