Apple iMac 24″ 2021 Review: The Everyday iMac?
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Apple’s newly unveiled iMacs are a major throwback to the iMac G3, with six colour options in addition to the standard silver, but they also feature the powerful new M1 chip, a 4.5K Retina display, an upgraded 1080p webcam and more. So, is this the iMac for you? Yes, but only if you’re a typical consumer and not a prosumer.
Let’s start with the design. The iMac is absolutely gorgeous, and we got our hands on the 8-core CPU / 8-core GPU model in blue with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which has a deep, dark metallic blue on the back and a lighter, pastel blue on the front chin of the display. The aluminium stand is also a light shade of blue, and all in all, it looks stunning. Apple’s products always look incredibly refined, and the iMac is no exception.
Apple has slimmed the new iMac down considerably to a uniform thickness of 11.5mm, which is quite the feat. Even if your work table is on the smaller side, there’s definitely enough space to fit this computer in.
On the rear, you get a power button, the power port as well as some USB-C ports. The exact amount you get is dependent on the model you purchase. If you get the 8-core CPU / 7-core GPU model, you will only get two USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt / USB 4. But if you go for the 8-core CPU / 8-core GPU variant, you get a total of four ports, with an additional two USB 3 ports. While I love USB-C and I’m a big proponent of everything moving to USB-C as a standard, it’s pretty difficult to do so for computer peripherals since a lot of stuff still come with USB-A plugs. You’ll definitely end up needing adapters or even a hub that has more ports or other I/O that you might want, like an SD card reader and the likes.
You get all the necessary peripherals in the box, of course, in the form of the Magic Mouse as well as the Magic Keyboard. There’s another difference here depending on which model you purchase.
The 8-core / 7-core variant comes with the standard Magic Keyboard while the 8-core / 8-core offers the Magic Keyboard with the Touch ID sensor at the top right. Personally, I think the addition of Touch ID here is fantastic. You get to quickly authenticate payments with Apple Pay when purchasing stuff online, and if you have more than one user on the iMac, the computer will detect and log in to the appropriate account depending on the user’s fingerprint. It’s a very convenient feature, but it only works with M1 macs, so if you’re an older iMac user and looking to change your keyboard, you’re out of luck.
One nice touch though, is that the keyboard and mouse are now colour-coordinated with the colour of the iMac. The metal enclosure of the keyboard and the metal underside of the mouse are both made with the same shade of coloured aluminium used for the iMac stand. It’s a wonderfully thought-out design, and I reckon this will make the new iMac very popular with the younger audience who want an Apple computer, but with more personality than the standard Silver or Space Grey colours.
This colour matching also extends to the other accessories in the box. The charging cable for the keyboard and mouse also comes with a pastel blue woven fabric sleeve, while the power cable has the same pastel blue sheath that culminates in a metal plug that plugs in magnetically, like the MagSafe connectors on older MacBooks, that matches the dark blue of the sides and back of the iMac. I’m a bit conflicted on the design choice for the power cable, simply because it’s the cable that’s most likely to touch the ground and pick up dirt, which will definitely show on the woven sheath since it’s such a pale blue.
Apple has also integrated the Ethernet port into the power adapter itself so that both power and an internet connection is supplied to the iMac via just one cable. It’s definitely nice to simplify the back of the iMac, and by moving the electronics into the power adapter, Apple has managed to slim down the iMac’s profile.
Something that made me scratch my head was the introduction of the magnetic attachment. Sure, it makes it super easy to connect and plug in the iMac, but the magnet is so strong that it takes a lot to pull the plug out. This means that one of the major benefits of MagSafe, automatically detaching when the cable is yanked to prevent your computer from crashing to the ground, is gone. If you trip over the cable, the magnet is strong enough to hold onto the iMac and pull the computer along with it. I assume that this might be less of an issue with an iMac than a MacBook since the iMac will stay put in one place with the power cable (presumably) neatly arranged and not left lying on the ground, but it’s still a possibility.
Anyway, let’s move on to the performance of the computer itself. With the introduction of the M1 chip, many were expecting this iMac to perform, and while I would say that the iMac is fast and snappy, the intended target audience is still the everyday consumer. Professional photo editors, video editors and the likes will most likely skip this model and wait for the 27″ instead.
Why? Simply because this 24″ iMac can only be specced out to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. Now, the amount of internal storage is less of an issue because external hard drives are super cheap nowadays. But limiting the 24″ iMac to just 16GB of RAM makes a tough sell for people who need to run really intensive tasks on their computers. The worst part is that the iMacs all only come with 8GB of RAM, and if you want 16GB of RAM, you’ll have to fork out another S$300 for that additional 8GB of RAM. Sure, perhaps software that is optimised for the M1 would be fine running on 8GB of RAM, but what about software that isn’t?
I performed a simple stress test: importing and editing 25GB of photos taken with the Hasselblad 907X 50C on Hasselblad’s Phocus software, which has been updated for native support for M1 Macs. It’s a medium format camera and the average photo size was around 70-80MB per image. It took four minutes and 14 seconds to finish importing, which is pretty decent, but the problems started when we were previewing the images. Pulling up the preview thumbnail bar at the bottom took four seconds for the preview thumbnails to show up, and selecting an image from preview view and waiting for it to fully render took five seconds.
To be clear though, the issue is only with the preview thumbnails and when waiting for images to render. When editing, there was basically no lag at all.
We compared it with a fully specced out MacBook Pro 16″ with 64GB of RAM and 2TB of storage, and the difference in loading time when pulling up previews was pretty obvious. With the iMac, we had to wait 1.5 minutes to simply get all the preview thumbnails of the imported photos to show up. Entering slideshow mode took 17 seconds for the first image to show up. Granted, this is a pretty extreme test and the iMac we had only had 8GB of RAM. Not many people will have 70MB photos or 25GB of photos to edit, but it makes a good point in the argument that this iMac (at least the model with only 8GB of RAM) is not for the professional photographer or content creator.
Apple’s website states that you can “fly through edits in Adobe Lightroom and easily work with 100-megapixel images” and that might be true, but I would take it with just a pinch of salt since you’ll most likely need the full 16GB of RAM for that.
But what if you just want an iMac for web browsing, Netflix, watching videos on YouTube or light work? Then, by all means, this is a great option. Opening over 40 tabs in Google Chrome and Safari posed no issue at all even though we had the model with only 8GB of RAM, and if you watch videos on the regular, the 4.5K Retina display is a joy. We compared the same 4K video side by side on the iMac and the MacBook Pro 16″, and despite Apple stating both have a max brightness of 500 nits, the iMac’s display was noticeably brighter.
The speakers on the iMac are pretty good as well, they get very loud and the bass is definitely present and impactful. The microphones are decent as well, my voice got picked up clearly during calls.
Speaking of calls, the new 1080p webcam on the iMac is great. While it’s not as sharp as the iPhone 12 during FaceTime calls for some reason, the auto white balance and auto exposure feature is great. I tested it in a room with very warm lights, and it took the iMac just under half a second to set the correct exposure and white balance when the lights were turned off and on. If you need to video call a lot for work, this will definitely be a very helpful feature.
And of course, there are all the Continuity features if you’re using other Apple devices like an iPhone or iPad. You get Handoff so you can browse stuff on Safari on your iPhone and pick it up on your iMac, or you can opt to automatically unlock your iMac with an Apple Watch and more. As always, Apple’s products work best when you’re already enmeshed in the ecosystem, and there’s no friction at all when you’re jumping from iPhone to iMac to iPad, which makes the overall experience fantastic.
If you’re looking for a fun, colourful, all-in-one desktop that works well for general productivity and media consumption, the 24″ iMac is a great choice, especially if you’re already using other Apple products. But if you’re looking to get a desktop for photo/video editing, intensive coding, graphics work or the likes, you might want to hold out for a possible 27″ iMac refresh with Apple Silicon.
Written by Cheryl Tan