Apple’s refreshed desktop looks great, but goes beyond the aesthetics with this more than simple remake. What works about the 2021 M1 iMac 24?
Desktops aren’t as popular as they once were, but thanks to the whole “working from home” idea helped popularised by force during the pandemic, a centralised computer has become a thing again. It could sit in an office, but if you don’t have one of those, it may well sit in the kitchen or somewhere nearby, making it a place everyone can turn to.
You could use it for work. Your kids could use it for games. The computer can be shared, even during a time when everyone typically has a laptop plugged into a monitor.
But if you don’t want that idea — if you didn’t want to use a laptop plugged into a monitor — the desktop all-in-one still has validity. After all, it’s a relatively big screen with a computer behind it, tidying the idea all up.
Apple’s latest take on that is an evolution of the long-running iMac, and it’s an idea that reimagines how that computer would look. It’s a big screen, colourful frames, and something new under the hood. It’s entirely different from what Apple has made in the past, and something that exhibits lots of personality. Is the 2021 M1 iMac 24 a good computer, too?
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A thin design, a white frame, and a splash of colour make the 2021 iMac different from previous generations, as Apple finally does away with the curved back of the older iMac. And that’s just the start.
It’s a look that you’ll see from the beginning, and appears different enough from what Apple has been releasing for years in the previous iMac generations.
Gone is the shiny silver and body with black frame we’ve gotten so used to seeing, replaced instead with coloured metal and a white picture frame, encasing your screen and life as if it were a work of art, or something you could at least hang on the wall. Apple’s approach in the 2021 M1 iMac 24 isn’t so much to kill the bezel entirely, but rather to give you something pleasant to look at, and it definitely does that.
Look around beyond that, though, and you can see the rest of the design.
You’ll have a choice of colours, such as the pink M1 iMac we reviewed, which offers more than just a white frame, but rather a slightly darker metallic tone to the metal, with parts accented to match. In our pink review iMac 24, we had a darker rose-red back and frame, while the metallic pink came out in the stand, the keyboard, and the bottom of the Magic Mouse we dare touch.
Indeed, the 24 inch 2021 iMac is a computer that isn’t afraid to be different, and delivers a look that makes it stand out in a sea of the ordinary. Not that there are a whole heap of desktop computers left for it to say that with.
It’s not just the look that has seen changes, but what’s inside.
Much like how Apple moved on from Intel chips in its MacBook models, so too has the iMac, which replaces an Intel processor with Apple’s own processor, the Apple Silicon M1, complete with eight CPU cores, 16 Neural Engine cores, and either seven or eight GPU cores depending on how much you spend.
Apple equips the M1 iMac with 8GB RAM standard, but it can be configured to 16GB if needed, while 256GB storage is standard, configurable to 1 and 2TB if need be.
There’s a minimum of two Type C Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back that also work with USB 3 and 4, but the 8 GPU core model also gets two more USB Type C ports for USB 3.0 and a Gigabit Ethernet port, the latter of which is in the power block.
All models get a 3.5mm headset jack on the side of the computer, while the power port is a proprietary magnetic port that comes from the power block. The connections go beyond wired, with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5, as well.
Apple has also equipped six stereo speakers to the 2021 iMac, with support for Dolby Atmos, plus there three mics, as well for the voice pick-up to say “Hey Siri” and chatting via the 1080p FaceTime HD camera.
It all sits in a 24 inch display running at 4480×2520, which makes it a 4.5K screen, running at 218 pixels per inch, with True Tone colour balancing.
That screen is a fundamental part of the 2021 iMac, because it’s one of the biggest changes, and something that truly stands out.
Encased with a white frame in a remarkably thin 11.5mm body, the 24 inch iMac actually gets by with a 23.5 inch screen, but also achieves a 4.5K resolution measuring 4480×2520, making it stand out in res, and even in colour. You’ll find support for around one billion colours here (he says looking a little like Dr. Evil), helping to make the imagery just stand out so beautifully on this display.
And once you glance its way, it’s hard to turn away.
You could love your computer’s screen, or even the quality available on your TV, but The 2021 Apple iMac takes it to another level entirely.
The more we used the screen, the more we loved just how sharp and clear it was. It’s such a beautiful display, and even though it doesn’t remove the bezels like we know manufacturers can do three days, the framing makes the screen stand out, while the colour and clarity makes everything pop.
The iMac 24 has such a lovely look, you just can’t take your eyes from it.
Fortunately, you won’t need to, though you will occasionally need to glance down at your keyboard and mouse, because it’s a computer, not a touchscreen, and so needs the standard assortment of keyboard and mouse.
You don’t quite get the standard assortment
To use the 24 inch M1 iMac, you’ll find a familiar set of accessories made up of a mouse and keyboard, but with some slight design changes.
Apple’s Magic Mouse is back here, a mouse we’re still not a huge fan of, but it does the job, and there’s a new keyboard with a fingerprint sensor built in. The latest Magic Keyboard is available by itself now, but the model that comes with the M1 iMac is colour matched to your iMac specifically, and something Apple doesn’t sell by itself.
Like the previous Magic Keyboard, you get a comfortable keyboard to type on with great travel, and it now comes with a fingerprint sensor in the top right, which can be used not just to log into your Mac, but also map different profiles to different fingers, be it a different digit for a gaming desktop for you, or a profile for each of your kids.
That keyboard works with any Mac, but the fingerprint sensor only works with M1-based Macs, just in case you were thinking of nabbing the colourful version and using it for another computer in your home.
Much like the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the M1 iMac runs pretty much everything you’ll want to throw at it because — shock horror — it comes with a smashingly good chip.
It’s something that was announced in the middle of last year, and while there’s a newer model dedicated to high-end performance, the standard is still pretty solid overall, especially for what you might want an iMac for.
While app makers are still gradually shifting their stuff to work better with Apple Silicon — thereby taking full advantage of Apple’s hardware — Apple’s Rosetta2 emulation layer does a pretty solid job of handling everything else, meaning anything you presently use a Mac for should more or less work without problems or frustrations on the iMac.
On the benchmark side, you won’t see a huge amount of difference between the 2021 iMac and the 2020 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, and the reason is pretty clear: the hardware is the same. Minor differences in benchmarks aside, the chips and technology are largely the same, so you’re getting the same performance as the 2020 M1 MacBook Pro in the 2021 M1 iMac.
That’s not a bad thing. The iMac has long been very similar to a laptop, but prettied up to look like a desktop, and this isn’t really all that much different. It’s just a whole lot prettier now thanks to the new design and colour.
Essentially, you’ll find the same smashing M1 Mac performance in a bigger screen and colourful new body.
It’s not just the body, screen, and chip that sees a change, but also the sound. A side of the 2021 iMac you mightn’t think too much, it’s an area Apple has been doing some work in.
You’ll find six speakers here and a sound system capable of handling Dolby Atmos quite well. Granted, it’s not the version of Atmos that fires sound up and around your person, and sits more in line with the psychoacoustic concept we saw in the Sonos Beam Gen 2, but it’s still solid all the same.
Watching Toy Story 4 and listening to the excellent soundtrack, the detailed sound of a world of talking toys seemingly happened all around us, and even as we moved throughout the home, we could actually hear some of that dimensional sound in nearby rooms.
To say it was impressive was an understatement; we’ve never heard computer sound like this before.
Pump up the music and you’ll see what we mean: great highs, solid mids, and a nice thwack of the bass leaves the 2021 iMac speakers in a prime position to be a main sound system if you have no speakers to plug it into. Hell, it just might be better than most of the computer speakers you can find.
Priced at $2199, you’d kind of want it to be, though.
For the price, you get a reasonable amount, giving you something that’s basically a MacBook Pro under a big screen, but without the battery.
Essentially, for $300 more than the cost of the 13 inch MBP, you’re getting a large screen and two more ports, plus the inability to walk around with your Mac, a price that feels like it can be justified simply if you need a bigger MacBook that looks great in the home.
What needs work?
We’ve loved the M1 Macs so far, and so it should come as no surprise that our feelings on the M1 iMac are more or less on par.
But there are things that won’t appeal to everyone, and one of those is the lack of an SD card slot. Call us old fashioned (we’re not), but we’re not entirely sure this is one of those things Apple should have removed.
You’ll also only find the Ethernet port on the model that isn’t entry level, a decision that is a little annoying, but not a total deal breaker. Including it on the power brick of the 2021 iMac is surprising, because it means the mostly port-less iMac doesn’t have to go without a hard-wired network port, but it’s not something that comes with every iMac.
Specifically, if you get the entry-level option with an eight-core CPU and seven-core GPU, you’ll find only two Thunderbolt ports and no Gigabit Ethernet port. Upgrade to the eight-core GPU edition, and you’ll find that hard-wired Gigabit Ethernet thrown into the power brick, a cute addition that means you have a way of keeping your network connected with a cable, handy if that still matters to you.
Essentially, you’ll need to spend at least $2199 to get that Ethernet port, though you’re not just paying for the port, but a couple of extra USB ports and the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID.
Outside of this quibble, there aren’t really many complaints about the M1 iMac. While it definitely could do with a few more ports, we get why Type C USB and Thunderbolt are all that’s here: it’s inline with what Apple does on most of its other computers, so why change it here?
However the Magic Mouse still bothers us. Now twelve years old, the Magic Mouse is like any other pre-teen: giving us lots of questions and making us expect trouble. Truth be told, we’ve never been big fans of this flat touch-based mouse, and over a decade past the first release, we still don’t like it much, either.
We’re sure it has its fans, but it’s the one part of the package that desperately needed a revised look, particularly given it still has the strangest place for the Lightning charge port: the bottom, where you can’t use the mouse when it’s plugged in.
Yes, you get the mouse and keyboard in the colour of choice that you Mac comes in, but the mouse is still the weaker part of the package. We’d upgrade to something else, like Apple’s Magic TrackPad — which doesn’t come in the same colour — or the Logitech MX Master 3.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Despite the Magic Mouse not being our favourite, the 2021 iMac is close to being a favourite computer of ours. It’s a brilliant desktop with a lot to offer and a design that really treats the eyes and desk.
The design is lovely, the screen is great, the performance is solid, and the sound system is top notch. It’s about everything you could possibly want in a desktop computer, and it comes in colours.
When the four year old screamed “I want to watch Ariel on the pink computer”, you knew the iMac had made a connection, which is kind of the point: while laptop computers are almost completely utilitarian, the snazzy design of the 2021 iMac feels more familiar and friendly, and is easy for anyone to connect to.
It really is a lovely computer, and one that feels like an evolutionary point for Apple’s long-established desktop, marrying great looks and a substantial set of tech to an excellent product all round. This is a brilliant computer. It makes desktops worth owning once again. Highly recommended.