Tech

The new 27-inch iMac is awesome and has everything you need if you're working from home

Key Points
  • I've been toying around with Apple's new 27-inch iMac, which was announced earlier this week.
  • Apple bumped up a bunch of the hardware inside but also focused on a few things that I think are really important for people and families who are stuck working at home during quarantine. 
  • It looks the same as the 27-inch 5K iMac from 2014, so Apple could stand to update the way it looks, but I'm still digging it so far.
The 2020 27-inch iMac.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I've been toying around with Apple's new 27-inch iMac, which was announced earlier this week and starts at $1,799. Apple bumped up a bunch of the hardware inside but also focused on a few things that I think are really important for people and families who are stuck working at home during quarantine. 

It has a new sharper camera, improved speaker quality (although the same physical speakers as last year's model), a TrueTone display that's more comfortable to look at in different lighting conditions and new 10th-generation Intel processors, which makes it feel super-fast compared with Mac laptops. Sure, it looks the same as the 27-inch 5K iMac from 2014, so Apple could stand to update the style, but I'm still digging it so far.

Apple's Mac sales are on a roll. Mac revenue was the best ever in Apple's fiscal third quarter, likely due to some great refreshes to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, which finally have great new keyboards. Now Apple's turning the focus to its desktop stalwart, the iMac. 

If you're like me, you may have been working from a laptop for the past few months. I ended up going out and splurging on a couple of monitors so I can work more efficiently. But, I turned on this 27-inch 5K iMac last night and realized, dang, maybe this is the sort of computer I should be using instead. I love the huge display, which is much easier to work with than scanning across two monitors, and it's noticeably faster than the Macbook Air I've been using.

But I'll let you in on a little secret: I haven't ever used a 27-inch iMac for work. Somehow, in over a decade of reviewing gadgets, it just hasn't crossed my desk. So, even though the design hasn't been updated in a long time, it's fresh to me.

Also, I'm still just getting started with this new 27-inch iMac. Due to the loss of power on the East Coast from a tropical storm, I was only able to get it up and running last night. So, think of this as a first look at the iMac. But, I figured I'd let you know what I like about it so far and where I think Apple could make improvements. I'll try to revisit for a full review after I've spent more time with it.

Here's what you need to know about it.

2020 27-inch iMac: What I like

Watching "Mad Max" on the 2020 27-inch iMac.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I love the big and sharp display. I've never worked on a monitor larger than 23 inches, so the added bump up to 27 inches feels pretty substantial to me.

I can also definitely tell the difference between this 5K screen and my 1080p screens, which aren't as sharp and look a lot more washed out than the colors on this iMac. But, if you've used a 5K iMac before, the colors and sharpness will look the same to you. The auto-white balance adjustments with TrueTone is a nice new feature that I've come to rely on on my MacBooks — it just makes the whites a bit softer to look at and matches your room environment on the fly.

The microphones are excellent. Previous iMacs had two front-facing microphones, but the new 27-inch iMac adds a third, rear-facing, one to cut down on background noise. I had a 90-minute video chat last night with folks who were also using the new 27-inch iMac, and they sounded really clear. I also heard a demo track recorded by a musician named Mary Spender who recorded herself singing and playing guitar in front of the iMac. I'm no audiophile, but it sounded really clear to me, like it was recorded in a studio.

All the ports on the back of the new iMac, including a headphone jack, card reader, four USB ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The 1080p camera is great, too. Again, I spoke with several people who were also using the new iMac, and over a relatively fast Wi-Fi connection, everyone looked really clear throughout the call. It's a nice bump from the 720p cameras Apple typically uses on its computers, which I've complained about in the past. This is a problem with many computers, by the way, not just Macs. Tech companies tend to put their best cameras in phones and tablets, so it's good to see laptops and desktops getting better cameras, especially now while we're all video chatting so much more.

Apple tweaked the camera software so that your face is always in focus, even if you move it around the screen, and it does a good job keeping you well-lit even in a relatively dark environment. That's important, say, when you're on a video chat with your team during a cloudy day and don't want it to look like you live in a cave. 

Here's a sample from the webcam I cut from FaceTime.

The speakers are pretty incredible. Again, I didn't use prior iMacs so perhaps this is standard, but they sound so much better than laptop speakers. 

Apple told me it added a new audio controller to the built-in T2 chip that improves the bass at lower volumes and helps with clarity at higher volumes. So, I turned down music and listened to bass and noticed that it's still noticeable even at 3-4 notches of volume. And when I turned it up to nearly full volume, the speakers just cranked out Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" playing without distortion. (I have a new baby at home, so days of blasting music at full volume are over for a bit.) In general, though, the speakers sound really good. 

The 2020 iMac running a bunch of programs at once, and a movie, no problem.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Finally, some performance stuff. Last night, I hopped on a call with a professional video editor, a coder and the aforementioned musician. It was set up by Apple, but it was helpful for someone like me who doesn't typically use a computer to render videos in Final Cut Pro or code in Apple Swift. So, they basically walked me through what it's like to add filters to a movie, add in different frames and then save it.

I only saved a 1080p file, but it took about a second to finish rendering on the Core i7 model of the 27-inch iMac. And I added a few lines of Swift and watched the code change in real time on an emulator of an iPhone 11 Pro right on my Mac. Anyway, the gist of all this is to say, there's enough power here for families who want to edit family videos at home, or people who want to pick up coding, or musicians who want to record music right into the iMac's microphones. If you're a professional, you still might want to jump up to the iMac Pro, which has added power.

2020 27-inch iMac: What could be changed

The design hasn't changed much, but I dig it.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I like the 27-inch iMac design, but I can see how people who've been using this design for years may want something different. The "chin" on the bottom of the screen is pretty big, and the big black borders around the screen aren't the prettiest compared to displays with barely any borders on them. But I'm new to this computer and those things really don't bug me that much. I barely recognize the borders when I'm looking directly at the screen and typing. 

Here's one thing I'd like to see: Some way to unlock the iMac, and to buy stuff, without having to type in my password. Apple's MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have a built-in TouchID fingerprint reader for this sort of stuff. But the iMac is big enough that I feel like Apple should just add in Face ID, like on iPhones. It'd be great to sit down and have the computer instantly unlock just like my iPhone. Or, imagine if you were sharing this with a family, how convenient that would be if it recognized different people and booted up their profiles.

One other final thing I can't really shake from my mind. Apple announced it's moving all of its Macs to Apple-made processors within the next two years. This model still runs on Intel chips. This is purely speculation, but I can see Apple doing a big redesign to help promote its own chips when it launches another new iMac. And I can't help but think that one may be thinner, due to lower power requirements for Apple's Arm-based chips, and sleeker. If you care about that stuff, and you don't need a new iMac right now, then heck, I'd wait and see what happens if Apple redesigns this for its new chips.

Wrap-up

There are several ports on the back, and you can kind of see a new back microphone under the power cable.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

This is where I normally do my "Should you buy it" section, but I'll save that for a full review. I'm going to use this as my work machine for the next few weeks, maybe put my laptop away for most uses and see what I learn from the iMac over time. I'm already excited for that — and I'm kind of wondering why I haven't owned one of these before. If you're on the way to buy a new iMac right now, though, I think you'll be really happy with your purchase.

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