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Technology

Apple 24in iMac M1 review: faster, bigger screen and brilliant bold colours

First big redesign since 2012 gives all-in-one Mac super-thin design, 4.5K display and top M1 chip performance

Samuel Gibbs

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editorTue 18 May 2021 14.00 BST

Apple’s iMac has had its first big redesign since 2012 with a bigger screen, bold colours, remarkably thin body and the power of the M1 chip.

The 24in iMac costs from £1,249 and replaces the outgoing 21.5in Intel iMac model, which remains on sale in the short term.

The new machine looks very different but familiar. The screen is bigger than its predecessor, measuring 23.5in on the diagonal (which Apple rounds up for the name) but the computer is just 19mm wider and 11mm taller with a smaller footprint.

The 4.5K resolution screen is super crisp and very bright for a non-professional monitor. You have to pay a significant sum to get a display as good as this on its own. It is also big enough to have two full-size documents or websites on display at any one time, making it easier to get work done. But the iMac still does not have any height adjustment, just tilt, meaning you’ll still need a book or ream of paper if you want to raise it.

apple 24in iMac M1 review
The iMac is available in seven different colours (including grey) that are reminiscent of the first iMacs and are refreshing, here shown in orange. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The display has a slimmer white bezel around it, instead of the previous generation’s black border, and a pastel-coloured chin below it, which contains the guts of the computer but no longer has an Apple logo emblazoned on it. Otherwise the iMac looks very familiar from the front.

Turn it to the side and you realise the body is just 11.5mm thick, which makes it look like a giant iPad Pro mounted on a stand. The fans and speakers project out of the bottom edge, while a headphone socket is in the left edge and the power button, Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports and power socket are in the back.

The iMac also comes with a colour-matched keyboard, mouse and/or trackpad. The keyboard is available with a Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which makes logging into the iMac and switching users extremely fast and convenient, similar to Apple’s laptops. It is a bit of a shame Apple didn’t equip the iMac with its excellent Face ID face recognition from the iPhone and iPad Pro, though.

apple 24in iMac M1 review
The iMac is super thin and has a small footprint on a desk making it easier to fit into your home or office. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Specifications

  • Screen: 23.5in 4.5K LCD (4480×2520; 218 ppi; 500nits) True Tone
  • Processor: Apple M1 with seven or eight-core GPU
  • RAM: 8 or 16GB
  • Storage: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB or 2TB SSD
  • Operating system: macOS 11 Big Sur
  • Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD camera
  • Connectivity: wifi 6, Bluetooth 5, 2x USB 4/Thunderbolt 3 (+ 2x USB-C and ethernet), 3.5mm headphones
  • Dimensions: 547 x 461 x 147mm
  • Weight: 4.46kg or 4.48kg

All-in-M1

apple 24in iMac M1 review
All the machines have two USB4/Thunderbolt 3 ports, but the more expensive version has an additional pair of USB3 (USB-C) ports in the back and a gigabit ethernet port in the power plug. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The iMac has the same Apple-made M1 chip that is currently available in the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and the new iPad Pro lines.

It replaces the Intel chips uses in previous iMacs and continues Apple’s wholesale switch over from traditional “x86” processors used in most PCs to ARM chips of its own design, similar to those used in smartphones.

It is available in two versions. Both have an eight-core processor (CPU), but a cheaper version has a seven-core graphics processor (GPU), while a more expensive version has an eight-core GPU for slightly more power.

The iMac lacks USB-A ports and an SD card reader, which is not unexpected but still slightly disappointing.

The machine was tested with an eight-core GPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Its performance is very good indeed, matching that of the M1 chip in Apple’s other computers in both real-world use and benchmarks, making it a significant upgrade to the previous 21.5in iMac. The computer runs practically silently with only a very faint roar of the fans audible with my ear right up against the bottom of the machine. Only when playing a graphically intensive game, such as XCOM 2, do the fans periodically become noticeable with a low roar.

apple 24in iMac M1 review
The power connector snaps into place on the back with magnets and has a braided fabric wrap that matches the colour of the iMac. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It is worth noting that while the M1 chip beats most Intel mobile rivals and is therefore very capable indeed, it falls slightly short of the power of some high-end desktop processors and can’t compete with discrete graphics cards. Apple is expected to release a more powerful version of the M1 chip in the future for the larger 27in iMac and Mac Pro replacements.

Sustainability

The iMac uses 100% recycled tin in the solder of its logic board, 99% recycled rare earth elements and at least 35% recycled plastic used in multiple components. Apple is also using renewable energy for the final assembly of the machine, and breaks down the computer’s environmental impact in its report.

The computer is generally repairable. Apple offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

macOS Big Sur

apple 24in iMac M1 review
The power button is recessed into the the left-hand side of the back as you look at the screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The iMac ships with the same macOS Big Sur as other Macs, including the ability to run some iPhone and iPad apps as well as traditional Mac apps.

Apple’s impressive Rosetta 2 system allows apps written for Intel Macs to run on the M1 chip with at least the same performance, meaning most programs just work. The number of apps coded to run natively on “Apple silicon” is also expanding at a rapid rate.

Observations

apple 24in iMac M1 review
The power brick is fairly small and can be bought with a gigabit ethernet socket in it for a wired connection to your router. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The 1080p FaceTime HD camera is one of the better built-in webcams and the microphones are great, making for excellent video calls.
  • The speakers are pretty loud, providing a surprising amount of stereo separation and more bass than you’d expect, but are still bested by dedicated desktop speakers.
  • The iMac does not support Spatial Audio with the AirPod Pro or Max headphones, which is available with the iPad and iPhone.

Price

The Apple 24in iMac with M1 chip costs £1,249 with a seven-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage and two USB 4/Thunderbolt 3 ports and ships from Friday.

The model with an eight-core GPU, two additional USB 3 (USB-C) ports, gigabit ethernet and Touch ID fingerprint scanner on its Magic Keyboard costs £1,449 or £1,649 with 512GB of storage.

Configuring the iMac with 16GB of RAM costs an additional £200.

In comparison, the Intel 21.5in iMac costs from £1,099 and the Intel 27in iMac costs from £1,799. Dell’s Inspiron 24 5000 costs from £639 and the HP 24 All-in-One costs from £500.

Verdict

The bold new 24in iMac is a big upgrade in almost every way from its predecessor. The burst of colour is refreshing, the screen is bigger and very good indeed, and the M1 chip is powerful and efficient, meaning it runs more or less silently.

There’s no doubt this is the best 24in all-in-one computer available and one of the very best Macs you can buy. But it is not perfect. The lack of USB-A ports and an SD card slot will mean users require adapters for older gear, but it is the fact that Apple still hasn’t made the iMac height adjustable that is the most irritating. You can buy the 24in iMac with a universal VESA mount so you can add your own adjustable stand. iMacs balanced on third-party height risers, books or reams of paper will remain a common sight for years to come.

Pros: fantastic screen, top-performance, silent operation, good speakers, good web cam and mics, bold colours, super-slim and compact design, optional Touch ID keyboard, Thunderbolt 3/USB-4.

Cons: no USB-A ports, no SD card reader, screen height not adjustable, storage and RAM not user upgradable.

apple 24in iMac M1 review
The standard 3.5mm headphone socket is in the left edge of the iMac. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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