Apple iMac 2012 Review Round-Up: Critics Hail Sexy Redesign, Fast Performance

 @redletterdave
on December 03 2012 12:12 PM

The iMac has always been about interesting designs: From the very first iMac in 1998, the transparent "Bondi Blue" G3, to the swiveling "Sunflower" iMac G4 in 2002, Apple has always seen the desktop computer as an opportunity to wow consumers with bold and interesting designs.

After not seeing a redesign in years, Apple finally announced a new iMac makeover in October: Not only is the newest iMac computer 80 percent thinner than the previous generation at its thinnest point, but the entire system, which is significantly faster and more power efficient, takes up 40 percent less volume than the previous model. It's the first iMac to discard the optical drive, but Apple's stepped up on the display and processor ends, endowing the newest iMacs with uniquely bonded LCD displays with 75 percent less glare, as well as the latest and greatest chips from Intel and NVIDIA.

After just one weekend available, a number of critics and news organizations have already submitted their official reviews of Apple's latest desktop, and most of them offer high praise for the new iMac. Here's a roundup of what they had to say:

David Pierce, The Verge (9.0 out of 10):

"This year's iMac appears to have undergone the computer version of elective cosmetic surgery – it doesn’t look different, just better. It’s still very much an iMac, with a big black bezel surrounding a big screen, an aluminum chin below with a glossy Apple logo in its center, and a tilting aluminum stand sticking out of the back. But it’s smaller, lighter, and thinner than ever. Apple’s claim of it being 5mm thin is a bit misleading — the back bulges out from the razor-thin edges almost like an old CRT television, and in the center it’s about four times as thick. It's almost an optical illusion, astonishingly thin if you look at it from the front but much fatter if you catch it at the wrong angle. It's not quite as light as the HDTV-like Vizio All-in-One PC, but it’s still thinner than most computer monitors you’ll find, and there’s, you know, a whole computer inside. It’s incredibly sleek — almost every single person who saw it on my desk started stroking it absent-mindedly. That part was weird, but it just goes to show how good-looking this thing is.

"I’ve always loved the iMac’s speakers – you rarely get integrated speakers with decent bass response and clear sound, and the iMac used to offer both — but in the newer, slimmer model, they’re actually a step backward. Mids and highs sound great, and the down-firing speakers are loud enough to fill a room, but there’s absolutely zero bass response. That makes everything sound a little tinny, and songs lose some punch. This is the first iMac in a while I’d recommend buying with a set of external speakers.

"The smaller, cheaper iMac comes with a 21.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 display; on the 27-inch behemoth, you get a 2560 x 1440 panel that's matched only by the Dell XPS 27. Both work out to just over 100ppi, and if you get close to the screen you can definitely see individual pixels, but at normal using-a-computer distances, they look crisp and sharp. The IPS panels are the same as in last year’s iMacs, but they’re better integrated now — Apple says that by laminating the display to the glass it reduced reflections up to 70 percent, and indeed the glare problems that beset so many displays are much less present here, though there's still some reflection and glare. The improved manufacturing also makes whatever’s on the screen feel closer to you, almost like things are jumping out of the panel. The display's glossy bezel, which houses its HD FaceTime camera, is actually the most reflective part of the whole machine now.

"I have to say, I was really surprised to see how much better the screen could be without a single change to the actual technology — but hey, I guess plastic surgery can work wonders. Both screens have fantastic color reproduction, are remarkably (like, blindingly) bright, and have near-180-degree viewing angles. The wide viewing angles give you another way to defeat glare, by tilting the screen forward or backward — unfortunately that's about all the iMac's stand lets you do, but it should always be possible to find a good angle for the display."

Dana Wollman, Engadget:

"If you're thinking of buying the new iMac, this is your single best reason to take the plunge. That and, well, the screaming performance. Though the screens have the same resolution as the last generation (1,920 x 1,080 for the 21-inch model and 2,550 x 1,440 for the 27-incher), they promise 75 percent less glare, thanks to a full lamination manufacturing process that eliminates the gap between the LCD and the glass. In principle, it's not unlike the optical bonding technique used in the Surface, iPhone 5 and other devices; we've just never seen it done on a screen quite this large. Additionally, Apple used a process called plasma deposition to apply an anti-reflective coating at an atomic level, instead of just blanketing the screen with the stuff. The goal there was to reduce reflections on that glass layer without dulling the quality of the colors coming from underneath.

"We'd say it was a success. Even with the screens turned off, the new iMac is noticeably less reflective than last year's model. Turn the two systems on, though, and the difference just speaks for itself. In our unboxing, we already described the display as a wall of color, and that still feels like the most apt description. There really are very few reflections standing in between you and those vibrant tones. True, you'd never mistake this for a matte display (there's still a little glare, as you can see in some of our product shots), but it's still a huge improvement over last year's model, not to mention competing all-in-ones. In fact, with the brightness turned up far enough, you'll struggle to even make out your own reflection. As you can imagine, the screen is easily viewable from off-angles, too, which should come in handy the next time it's movie night and there's not enough room for everyone to have a front row seat. You can also adjust the screen angle by tilting it forward and back, but given the lack of glare, we rarely felt the need to.

"All told, the new design is eye-catching, and will probably earn you bragging rights the next time you give someone a tour of the home office. But how often are you going to be staring at your computer edge-on? And how many stares can a desktop draw if you never take it out in public? As you'll see, we ultimately recommend the iMac for several reasons -- namely, speed, display quality and graphics might. Thinness counts, too, but it feels more like a nice bonus than anything else."

Rich Brown, CNET (8.5 out of 10):

"I won't say that the iMac walks away with the high-end all-in-one application performance crown, especially with the lurking specter of the higher-end Dell. Suffice it to say that this is the fastest iMac yet, and one of, if not the, fastest all-in-ones available.

"On the graphics side, the iMac GeForce GTX 680 MX is the top-tier mobile graphics chip, and the most powerful GPU available in any all-in-one that isn't the HP Z1. I tested with Borderlands 2 at full 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution and maximum image quality and experienced no difficulty. I also tried the Witcher 2, one of the most demanding games available for OS X. I won't say it hit 60 frames per second, but it was more than playable, at full resolution and with ultra quality settings. For every other game on the Mac, and even most titles in a virtualized Windows environment, you should be able to play anything you come across with sufficient image quality.

"You might be alarmed by the fact that the design is the most interesting thing about the new iMac. A thin bezel is nice to look at, but it doesn't improve processing speed, workflow, or overall utility. Fortunately for Apple, it evolved that design from a computer with a strong technical foundation. It is the updates to that foundation, and a few points of polish along the way, that keep this iMac on elite footing. I'll suggest you line up behind the Blu-ray fans to those of you hoping Apple will someday add touch-screen input to the iMac. Instead, this is a computer for serious, performance-driven users, particularly those who need a high-resolution display, and fast graphics and disk performance."

Joanna Stern, ABC News (reviewing a 27-inch iMac coming in December):

"While this may be the prettiest all-in-one you can keep on the desk at your house or your cubicle or store (I see a lot of iMacs at small stores), it will actually be the display that you spend the most time looking at. Let me rephrase that: It will actually be the display you don't STOP looking at. The 27-inch 2560 x 1440 display is more eye-pleasing than ever before (the 21.5-inch version has a 1920 x 1080 resolution). While the resolution is still the same on both, Apple has gone to the lengths to apply a new lamination process, bonding the screen and a new coating in a way that reduces reflection by 75 percent.

"The result is a uniform viewing experience with much less glare. Even with the sun pouring in from my windows this morning I didn't have to adjust the angle of the display to see all my open programs.

"Whether Apple will ever make its own TV remains to be seen, but with the 27-inch iMac with its silver aluminum frame sitting in my apartment, I was consistently drawn away from my 40-inch 1080p TV. Maybe that says something about my TV, but it also says something about Apple's ability to make stunning displays. Looking at photos and HD video on this screen is an immersive experience -- colors are rich and in some images it actually looked as if objects were popping out because of the level of detail. It's not considered a Retina Display (perhaps one day it will get one), but it's hard to imagine it getting even sharper.

"The price aside, if you're in need of an iMac upgrade or you are considering a new desktop for the home or office, the new iMacs are worth a very long, hard stare. This isn't just another "eh" upgrade. This is a desktop with as much sex appeal as the iPad and iPhone."

About The 2012 iMac

The 21.5-inch iMac is roughly 18 inches tall, 21 inches wide and weighs just 12.5 pounds. But the computer's main showcase is the beautiful display, which takes up 40 percent less volume than the previous generation with a stunning edge thinness of just 5 mm -- this is 80 percent thinner than the previous generation's thinnest point.

The 21.5-inch iMac features a 1920 x 1080 display resolution, and, with a new process called plasma deposition, the screen is 75 percent less reflective than in the previous iMac generation -- something many Mac fans will certainly appreciate.

The display is the next best thing to a Retina Display -- with LED backlighting providing instant-on, uniform brightness, as well as a technology called in-plane switching, or IPS, viewers get brilliant colors and brightness at any angle. 

"Everything you see on the big, glossy display -- from skin tones and dark shadows to bright blue skies and green fields -- is rich and vibrant," Apple says on its website. "And the colors are more true to life, too. That’s because every iMac display is individually color-calibrated using state-of-the-art spectroradiometers to match color standards recognized around the world."

As far as storage goes, the iMac can be configured with up to 3TB of storage with a Core i5 or i7 processor, but before they make their purchase, Apple will ask customers to choose between three new storage options: a hard drive for more storage, an SSD for speedy storage or a third, brand-new option called the Apple Fusion Drive.

Apple’s new Fusion Drive contains 128 GB of flash storage with 1TB or 3TB HDD, which is fused into a single volume. With access to storage, the new Fusion Drive performs almost as well as Flash, but it keeps documents significantly more secure on the HDD.

“Apple has some logic which figures out which apps you use the most and will shift those to the SDD,” explained Apple's SVP of marketing Phil Schiller at the company's Oct. 23 unveiling.

The 21-inch iMac features the third-generation processor from Intel, a 2.7GHz quad-core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM, which tops out at 3.2 GHz (also known as Turbo Boost). For an extra $200, Apple will endow your 21.5-inch iMac with a beefier 2.9 GHz i7 processor from Intel with a 3.4 GHz Turbo Boost -- as noted in the Geekbench results, this processor is noticeably faster and is highly recommended for anyone investing their money on this particular iMac model.

As far as graphics go, Apple has endowed the 2012 iMac with a GeForce GT 640M, which delivers a 60 percent greater performance for graphics-intensive tasks, from video games to video or photo editing.

The 21.5-inch iMac also comes with two speakers on the bottom sides of the "chin," a 720p HD FaceTime camera and dual microphones and runs on OS X Mountain Lion.

As far as connectivity goes, the new iMac has an SDXC card slot, ports for USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet, as well as two Thunderbolt ports for ultra-fast connections. The 2012 iMac is also supported by the latest 802.11n Wi-Fi technology and also supports Bluetooth 4.0 (also known as Smart Bluetooth) for near-instantaneous connections with accessories and peripherals such as the Magic Mouse and Wireless Keyboard.

The 21.5-inch iMac sells for $1,299 at its most basic model; for better Intel processors, Apple sells the 2012 iMac for $1,499.

If you want to own a new iMac today, your best chance is to call your local Apple Store and ask if they have any in stock. If that doesn't work, you can still order one online: As of Monday 12 p.m. EST, for any configuration of 21.5-inch iMac, Apple is listing 7-10 days for shipping.

Apple will sell a larger version of this iMac model; the 27-inch iMac will arrive in December, which comes with faster processors and more screen space for anything and everything you do. That computer will start selling at $1,799, with a similar choice to upgrade for an extra $200 to have some faster processors.

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