M1 iMac review roundup: Fast, thin and oh-so-cool

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24-inch iMac with M1 processor released in 2021
A stunner of a computer.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s debut M1 iMac is a winner, according to the first wave of reviews that arrived Tuesday. The first iMac redesign since 2012 earns praise for its ultra-thin looks, its gorgeous 4.5K display and its M1-powered performance.

T3 hails it as “the world’s coolest desktop.” While it seems likely that other, better M1 Macs will follow — especially for power users who need a bit more oomph — the new 24-inch iMac certainly lives up to the hype.

The 24-inch iMac display

The new display receives heavy praise. The Guardian notes that, at just 11.5mm thick, it resembles a “giant iPad Pro mounted on a stand.” T3 says it’s “maybe the most exciting Mac in years, and with its seven jaunty colors, it feels less like a new electronic appliance and more like a computer from the days when getting a new PC was cool and thrilling.”

While the color options are a blast from the past, so is the 24-inch screen size. Apple hasn’t made a 24-inch iMac since 2009. Don’t think this is a throwback, though: The 4480 x 2520 display, 500 nits of typical brightness, and P3 wide color gamut make this a stunning screen.

One minor criticism? The display lacks height adjustment (as is the case with previous Macs). That means you’ll need to place it on an object, such as a stack of books, if you want to raise the display, rather than just tilt it.

M1 power, but not yet for the pros

This is the first iMac powered by Apple’s proprietary M1 chip. CNET pointed out the new iMac’s similarity to the other M1 Macs.

“In a lot of ways, the current MacBook Air, Mac Mini, 13-inch MacBook Pro and 24-inch iMac are all the same computer,” CNET wrote. “They all use the new M1 processor, the same OS and have similar RAM and storage configurations.”

CNBC described the 24-inch iMac as plenty powerful for everyday computing needs:

“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.”

Making lacking a connection

With longtime designer Jony Ive out the door, Apple’s obsession with making devices thinner at the cost of everything else seemed to be over. But not necessarily — as evidenced by the new iMac. Here’s T3:

“Other than the RAM, this is where you might think that things have gone backwards. Whichever version of the iMac you get (we detailed the main differences in the price section), you only get USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports, plus a 3.5mm headphones jack. No regular USB, no SD card reader, no regular HDMI port. You do get an Ethernet port on the more expensive model.”

Speakers sound good, man

Multiple reviewers praised the iMac’s audio capabilities.

“In terms of audio, there’s a triple mic array on top and behind the display (as per the last iMac) and this makes for crystal clear calls,” wrote PocketLint. “The speakers are very clear and crisp for voice and there’s decent bass for most music or video too. There are six speakers in all — two pairs of woofers and an accompanying tweeter — and it’s a pretty engaging setup that also supports spatial audio when listening in Dolby Atmos.”

The Verge called the iMac’s six-speaker sound system “easily on par with a good external speaker.”

“I played some music in my kitchen, and it was audible all over the house,” wrote reviewer Monica Chin. “Percussion and bass were strong, and I felt very immersed in the songs. It also supports spatial audio when playing video with Dolby Atmos.”

Nice additions, but things are missing

The Guardian noted that the keyboard’s optional Touch ID scanner makes logging in and switching users very quick, but lamented the lack of Face ID as “a bit of a shame.”

Similarly, the FaceTime HD camera won praise in comparison to the 720p cameras of yesteryear. “In side-by-side tests with my MacBook Pro and iPhone 12’s front-facing camera, the iMac won nearly every time,” wrote The Wall Street Journal.

But, for all Apple’s pride in this addition, PocketLint called it “bizarre that Apple hasn’t brought Center Stage to the iMac.” (Center Stage is iPad tech that keeps the subject centered in the video frame during calls.)

The shape of things to come

Like the original Macintosh or iMac G3, the 2021 iMac isn’t the most powerful computer of its class. What it is, however, is a preview of what’s to come. And, in the meantime, it’s powerful enough for most average users.

“Could Apple have done more with this iMac?” wrote The Verge. “Of course. I was hoping to see a 30-inch, 6K iMac with a powerhouse 12-core workstation chip this month as much as the next person. But I have faith that we’ll get one in the future — and in the meantime, I’m glad Apple released this. It’s not earth-shattering in its design; it doesn’t redefine its category. But it’s fun.”

Coming to Apple Stores this Friday

The 24-inch iMac will be available — along with the new iPad Pro and Apple TV 4K — this Friday, May 21. The new iMac starts at $1,299. However, if you want the yellow, orange or purple option — or the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID — you’ll need to spend at least $1,499 to pick up a high-end, faster model.