21.5- and 27in iMacs review (Late 2009)

Featuring bigger and better screens and shiny new mice, the physical changes to the aluminium iMac in this update are the most dramatic since it was introduced over two years ago, but the speed improvements are marginal at best.

The new iMacs are currently available in three standard configurations. The entry-level £949 iMac and the £1,199 iMac both feature 21.5in displays and 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo processors; these models replace the 20in iMac released earlier this year. Apple also announced two 27in models, one with a 3.06GHz processor for £1,349 a new 27in iMac with a 2.66GHz Intel Core i5 processor that sells for £1,599. The latter won’t be available until late November. The 27in models replace the "Early 2009" 24in iMacs.

Ratio redo

The changes with the iMac start with the screen. Replacing the previous 20- and 24in screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio are 21.5- and 27in displays at 16:9, more suitable for widescreen HDTV video. The 21.5in display has a native resolution of 1920-by-1080, while the 27in display has a resolution of 2560-by-1440. The aluminium faceplate at the bottom of the screen is narrower than before, and the aluminium border around the screen is gone. At first glance, you might mistake the new iMacs for HDTVs – in fact, the new 27in iMac has support for a VESA Mount Adapter Kit (£20) for mounting on a wall, suggesting that Apple is going after the home market with this product.

Switch on the iMacs, and you’ll notice that the LED backlit screens on both the 21.5- and 27in models are a bit brighter than their predecessors. Look even closer at the 21.5in iMac, and you’ll notice that its colours are much better than the 20in iMac. That’s because Apple thankfully now uses 8-bit displays across the iMac line – the 6-bit dithered display used in the 20in iMac is gone (we hope).

Both of the new displays use in-plane switching (IPS) technology, which is supposed to help maintain image quality when viewing the screen at extreme angles. Looking at the new iMacs at different angles, we had a difficult time noticing any colour shifting. When compared side-by-side against the previous iMacs, the 20in iMac screen looks like a mess, while the new iMac screens maintained their colour integrity.

There’s one major issue with the screen that, for many, is a deal-breaker: the glass on the display and its glossy effect. The glossy effect makes colours pop and blacks deep and rich, but you can see your reflection in the glass. When using the iMac as a desktop computer, we’ve learned how to see past the glare and reflections, but many others cannot develop such tolerance – and we're not saying you should. In fact, it is due to the issues with glare that we hesitate to recommend the iMac as a computer to be used in the workplace – especially if you are doing design work.

Glare is also a problem if you're in a group gathered around the 27in iMac that's being used as an HDTV. In fact, because of the glare, you might reconsider using the 27in iMac as a HDTV. However, it’s now been two years since the first aluminium iMac with glass was introduced, and there are no signs that Apple is interested in offering a matte screen option. Luckily there are options out there, with companies such as Photodon (www.photodon.com) offering a $54.76 (£33) 27in iMac Anti-Glare kit to turn your existing glossy screen matte.

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