Apple 24in iMac (2021) M1 full review
You can't talk about the 24in iMac without mentioning the attention-grabbing colours, so that's where I'll start. Apple sent me the pink/red option to review. The back is a deep red, the front pale pink and white.
A lot of people are disappointed that Apple hasn't stuck with the same colour on the front of the iMac as the back. I don't think it's so much the pink front that is disappointing as the fact that it looks plastic. I miss the metallic chin of the older iMacs, and seeing the metallic rose gold stand just below the iMac just makes me wish the chin was also metallic rose gold.
The white rim has been another source of complaint, but it isn't unpleasant, and since I have white walls it does have the effect of blending with the wall a bit better than the usual black rimmed monitors and laptop that adorn my desk. It makes everything seem much brighter.
I love the way that the colour of the iMac influences the interface, so you'll find that tool boxes, tabs and menu buttons abide by the same colour theme as your iMac. It's a nice touch. You can of course change it.
My main criticism is that the iMac is no more ergonomic than the older model - and that was my main criticism of the old design. Ergonomically the screen should be positioned so that when your back is straight your eye level is about a fifth of the way down the screen. If you have to bend your neck to look down the screen that's not great. Back in the days of working in the office I had an iMac positioned on a hard back book. A ream of paper might also do the job. But a better solution would be an adjustable arm on the back of the Mac. I might have forgotten to write this bit if it hadn't been for the fact that my back and shoulder started to ache while I was writing this review. Raising the screen a few inches solved that problem.
The other problem is the lack of portability - at least if portability is important to you. If you are used to using a laptop switching to an iMac can be a bit of a struggle. After a couple of weeks of carting the iMac up and down the stairs because I wanted to use it in the living room for FaceTime calls with family, but have it in the office for work, the impracticality of the iMac became quite clear. It's light enough to move it around, but the difficulty of finding a plug and somewhere safe to put it really complicates things. The iMac is a Mac that stays put.
Of course, if you want a Mac that stays put then the iMac isn't a bad choice.
The M1 iMac's screen is 24in according to Apple's marketing. Actually, according to the small print, and a tape measure, it is 23.5in measured diagonally. Maybe I'm just being pedantic, but this annoys me: If Apple could describe the 21.5in iMac as having a 21.5in display why can't it be honest about the iMac?
Perhaps it's because 24in is a common screen size for displays and anything less would look poor by comparison?
24in monitors are plentiful and inexpensive - there are many options that cost less than £150. Apple's 24in iMac display is in a different league to these cheap 24in motors though. It's a 4.5K Retina display with 4,480 x 2,520 resolution at 218 pixels per inch with support for 1 billion colours, 500 nits brightness and Apple's True Tone technology (which adjusts the colour and brightness to suit the ambient light). In contract these cheap 24in displays tend to be Full HD (1920 x 1080p).
There is no doubt that the 24in iMac display is a beautiful display, but how does it compare with the Dell P2421DC that adorns my Home Office desk? The Dell's RRP is about £399, but you can get it from Amazon for much less. The iMac beats the Dell in almost every respect: it has 4,480 x 2,520 vs 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, 500 vs 300 nits brightness, and a better contract ratio. Apple's so called 24in monitor is actually 23.5in while the Dell is 23.8in. Side by side the iMac display is clearly better, everything it just a bit clearer and the colours brighter.
You can of course get a better monitor than the Dell I have: there are 4K monitors that cost from about £250 and offer 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. But of course, Apple's display is 4.5K, which means it still trumps these options when it comes to resolution. If you want even more pixels then 5K displays cost a lot more.
We mention the competition because, when the screen is the main thing that sets the iMac aside from the other M1 Macs (especially the Mac mini which has no screen), you need to consider what the alternatives are. If you were thinking that the 24in iMac would be a better choice than the MacBook Air because of the big screen, consider the fact that you could pay £200 more and get a screen to plug in and use with your MacBook while you are at your desk. In fact, because the iMac price is so much higher than the price of the other M1 Macs, you could buy two or more screens and still have cash to spare.
The only problem with that would be the fact that M1 Macs - aside from the Mac mini - only power one additional display (the mini can power two displays thanks to the addition of an HDMI port). I'm used to having two external displays attached to my laptop when I am at my desk, which meant that I always felt cramped with just the 24in iMac display.
The display really comes into its own when it comes to playing video, whether it's your home movies or Apple TV+ content (which you can get for free for one year with a purchase of an Apple product such as an iMac).
Speakers and camera
This if where the excellent speakers come in. Apple uses a lot of jargon to describe the speakers: High-fidelity six-speaker system with force-cancelling woofers; Wide stereo sound; Support for spatial audio. What it all means is that the speakers in the iMac are going to be superior to the speakers in any other Mac, which is great whether you are watching a Hollywood blockbuster or a video recorded on your iPhone.
The screen and speakers also combine to make FaceTime a far superior experience compared to any other Mac, but there's more than screen and sound quality at work here. The FaceTime camera itself has been improved and is now 1080p - that's the same as the 27in iMac, but double that of all other Macs. It also has a larger sensor that captures more light and the M1 itself has an advanced image signal processor that improves image quality, and the Neural Engine in the M1 uses AI to adjust exposure and white balance depending on the light. So at least the people you are calling will see a better image of you, in theory at least.
I investigated how the FaceTime camera would affect FaceTime calls and calls using other video conferencing apps. Obviously the large and superb quality screen is a benefit to the iMac user, but the benefit to those you are calling is also significant. I compared the FaceTime video from the 24in iMac with that from an older MacBook Pro. Even on an iPhone it was clear that the new FaceTime camera did a better job.
Apple's also given attention to the microphones, popping a studio-quality three-mic array inside the iMac. This is another benefit for FaceTime as beamforming technology should help reduce background noise.
Mouse and keyboard
The review unit came with a mouse, keyboard and track pad. I've never used a Magic TrackPad and I didn't really take to it to be honest. Coming from a two button mouse I found the Apple mouse to be limiting due to the lack of a right-click option. This option does actually exist however, it's just that it is a hidden setting in System Preferences. You have to go to System Preferences > Mouse and tick the box for Secondary Click, which will allow you to click on the right side. It's a game changer and I'm not sure why Apple doesn't make it the default.
You can swipe up and down on the back of the mouse to scroll up and down the pages, and from side to side to scroll across.
The trackpad offers a two finger click to replace a right click/control click, and the three finger click for Look Up options. I found it hard to swipe the curser to the spot I wanted on the screen, it felt like it moved too slowly. Luckily you can increase tracking speed in System Preferences > Trackpad. System Preferences > Trackpad is a great place to go for an overview of the gestures you can use for the TrackPad. Here you will find videos of the different clicks, scroll and zoom gestures and swipes. I think that there are a lot of people who are unaware of the existence of these gestures - which are of course available on any MacBook with a trackpad.
I don't think that the mouse and trackpad combo is any better than my two button, scroll wheel adorned Kensington mouse (which is probably more than ten years old). Of course, I can't plug said mouse into the iMac because the necessary USB A port is missing.
I do like the Magic Keyboard, it's pretty similar to the Apple Magic Keyboard I already use, with the addition of the Touch ID key of course and if you are a fan of emoji you might like the easy access to the emoji keyboard (press the Globe key beside the space bar).
Using Touch ID
Speaking of Touch ID, this is a feature that comes as standard with two of the new iMacs, but is a build to order option for the entry-level model. We explain how to get the Touch ID keyboard here: How to buy the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. You may also like to read Why you should get the Touch ID keyboard with the new 24in iMac.
Touch ID is easy to set up, You can do so while initially setting up your Mac, or you can leave it until later.
You can choose what you will use Touch ID for, including: Unlocking your Mac, Apple Pay, iTunes/App Store and Password AutoFill. Once you add your fingerprint all of these will be automatically selected, you can of course deselect them.
You can set up more than one user and you can also use the Touch ID for fast user switching, which beats logging out and in again.
Set up is a simple process:
- Go to System Preferences > Touch ID.
- Click on Add Fingerprint.
- Add the password you set up for the Mac.
- Place your finger on the Touch ID button.
- Lift it and replace it a few times - initially it will capture the central part of your finger, moving to the edges later.
Once the fingerprint is recorded you can add another. Unlike with the iPhone and iPad, where you might use a number of different fingers to unlock, when it comes to the Mac keyboard it's likely you will just use your pointing finger, so the other Fingerprints can be the rest of your family, or colleagues who will also use the iMac.
Now if you wanted to download an app from the Mac App Store all you need do is tap on the Touch ID button. When you buy your next app you will see a message that Touch ID Is trying to authenticate user, at which point you can tap on the Touch ID button. Don't press Touch ID key though, you might assume that you could press the button to buy, but you still need to click the mouse before tapping Touch ID.
Because this is an M1 Mac the Mac App Store includes a selection of iPad and iPhone apps for Mac with M1. This was one of the things that Apple bragged about when it introduced the M1 Macs in November 2020. Prepare to be disappointed: the selection is miniscule. Probably the only ones that will appeal to you are eBay and Airbnb. There are 47 apps that have been ported across so far. It suggests that the ease of porting iOS and iPadOS apps to the Mac wasn't the issue. More than seven months later developers just aren't bothered.
A few years ago Apple revamped the Mac App Store to make it easier to discover apps. Sadly it doesn't entice downloads, but rather serves to illustrate the lack of options. But apps are one of those things you download when you need them, and you usually know what you are looking for. The thing that really matters is that the apps you need are probably there, you can download all the Microsoft Office apps for example, as are various Adobe apps. If you know what you are looking for you will probably find it. If you don't then you can at least download it from the developer website - which is not something you can do on iOS.
When the M1 Macs launched one of the key concerns was that the apps we rely on weren't ready for the M1 chip. Apple does provide Rosetta, which translates the app's code for the ARM-based M1 from Intel, but this could cause apps to run more slowly, at least at start up. Seven months later this isn't an issue. The vast majority of popular apps are now M1 ready. Read our round up of Apps that work on the M1 chip.
The other concern was that if you wanted to run Windows on your Mac the move from Intel to the M1 meant this wouldn't be possible. The issue is more with Windows - the ARM version of Windows is still in its infancy. Parallels will now run the ARM version of Windows on the Mac, but because the ARM Windows isn't yet publicly available you will have to sign up for the beta as a Windows Insider. We explain what you need to do in New Parallels Desktop brings Windows to M1 Macs.
There was a time when if you wanted a powerful Mac you had to choose a desktop. Laptops were for portability, but their compact nature meant that you had to make sacrifices when it came to processor speed and graphics. Hence it was the case that the iMac was generally more powerful than Apple's laptops and a good choice if you needed a Mac for processor and graphics intensive work. Not that long ago the 21.5in iMac had very similar specs to the 27in iMac, with fast processors, faster RAM and discrete graphics that were missing from most Apple laptops. The 27in iMac had a better display, and could have its specs boosted much further, but in general, if you didn't need the 27in screen, the 21.5in iMac was good enough.
With the arrival of the 24in iMac Apple has turned the smaller iMac into a consumer-focused machine. There are now two very different categories of iMac, with this new 24in model being more at home in a living room, kids bedroom, home office, or office reception than in a design studio. In fact, when Apple introduced us to the new iMac it seemed to be selling it as a 24in iPad, suggesting that it would be as happy situated in the kitchen where it could be used to view recipes, as in a bedroom where you might choose to watch Apple TV+ content on the screen.
Further emphasising that this is a consumer-focused Mac for general use is the fact that it comes equipped with the same specs as all the M1 Macs that were introduced in November 2020, rather than a souped-up M1X as had been rumoured.
It is therefore no surprise that when I ran our usual collection of benchmarks on the 24in iMac the performance was on a par with the other M1 Macs. I did expect some improvements based on the fact that the iMac is larger and therefore there is space for more cooling, which should mean it can be pushed a little bit further. This was indeed true when the iMac was compared to the MacBook Air (which doesn't even have a fan) and the MacBook Pro. As for the Mac mini, that actually beat the iMac in our tests, which probably shouldn't be surprising given the fact that there is a lot of space inside the Mac mini unit for cooling.
As you can see from the chart above, the iMac beat both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro in single- and multi-core Geekbench tests, but the Mac mini beat all the M1 Macs.
Here the Mac mini beats the iMac again in the CInebench test. Unfortunately we don't have the benchmarks for the Mac mini in this instance.
The important thing to note though, is that in graphics tests the iMac beats older Intel Macs, with the exception of the 16in MacBook Pro, which has a discrete graphics card.
The read an write speed for the iMac was also better than that for the M1 MacBooks.
Like the other M1 Macs the iMac has the same limitations: you can only configure 16GB RAM, no more, and there is no longer a discrete graphics option. Luckily Apple's graphics are proving themselves to be superior to Intel's integrated graphics and some older AMD options. If you plan to do graphics intensive operations on your Mac though then you will probably want to wait for Apple's next update: the M1X or the M2 is expected to offer many more graphics cores.
The M1 has proven itself already: Apple's first attempt at combining processor, graphics and RAM on a system on a chip for a Mac has been a great success. But people still have concerns. If you are struggling with 8GB RAM in your current Mac you will no doubt be thinking you need 16GB RAM, and maybe even concerned that there isn't an option to add any more than that. As we've explained elsewhere, the RAM in the M1 Mac can't really be compared to the RAM in the older Macs. Essentially because RAM, processor and graphics are all on the same chip its really easy for the Mac to move things around.
Another thing that makes a big difference is the eight-cores of the processor. Not just because there are eight of them (you'll mostly be replacing four, or maybe six core Macs) but because of the way they work. We had the Activity Monitor app open a lot of the time to get feel for the way the work is distributed across the different cores. You'll see that most of the time the four efficient cores are working, dealing with the day to day things, while if you were to start doing something a bit more taxing the performance cores kick in. The benefit of separating these tasks so that different cores deal with different processes means that if your Mac is busy indexing for Spotlight, or importing your iPhotos in the background, it won't affect the day to day running of your Mac. Basically Pages won't slow down because Time Machine is running a backup.
Here's how the different models shape up:
|8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 256GB SSD, 4.5K Retina display, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, Magic Keyboard||£1,249 / $1,299/ AU$1,899|
|8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 256GB SSD, 4.5K Retina display, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID||£1,449 / $1,499/ AU$2,199|
|8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 512GB SSD, 4.5K Retina display, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID||£1,649 / $1,699/ AU$2,499|
You might be attracted by the cheapest model, which is £200/$200 less than the next model up at £1,249/$1,299. However, you do not get ethernet (that costs an extra £30/$30), there is no fingerprint reader on the keyboard (that's another £50/$50). You also only have two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports on the back (while the more expensive models offer four) and it's not possible to update to 2TB SSD as you can with the other models.
You also can not get away from the fact that the graphics one fewer core in this model. All these additional features are well worth the £200/$200 extra (although we'd suggest that you also compare the features to those offered by the other M1 Macs, such as the Mac mini which offers better value for money).
We've already mentioned that the spec is pretty much the same as the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and the Mac mini, but all of those Macs cost less than the iMac for the equivalent specs. Apple obviously feels that the 4.5K screen, the superior speakers and camera and the design of the new iMac justifies the extra expense. We're not sure. It just seems such a big leap from a £949 MacBook Air to a £1,249 iMac with the same processor and graphics, and the leap from the £699 Mac mini to the equivalent iMac (which in that case costs £1,449) is, like we said, enough to buy a second Mac mini.
You will really need to want an iMac to be prepared to spend so much when you could get the same (give or take a screen) for so much less.
If it's an iMac you want you can order from Apple, but we's suggest you check to see if there is a better deal. We have a round up of iMac deals, plus you can see the best price on the entry level model at the top of this article and the £1,149/$1,499/AU$2,199 model below:
Verdict: Should you buy the iMac?
If you are suited to a desktop Mac, as in you aren't likely to want to drag it from room to room like we found ourselves doing, then the M1 iMac is a great option. The screen is bigger and has more pixels than the one it replaces - and the image is superb. The speakers sound excellent. The FaceTime camera is 1080p, highlighting the fact that almost all alternative Macs still have terrible 720p cameras.
The main thing that holds us back from whole heartedly recommending the 24in iMac is the price. Sure it includes an excellent 24in 4.5K display, which does go some way to justify the price, but you can't escape the fact that the specs are almost identical to the other M1 Macs and they are considerably cheaper. You could basically buy two Mac mini for the price of a 24in iMac, while all you're actually going to need to buy is a display. Or you could buy two Mac mini and have one upstairs and one downstairs, now, maybe that would suit us.