Apple hardware isn’t cheap. We’ll admit this isn’t 100 per cent breaking news, but let’s put our appraisal of this new iMac in context. Apple doesn’t make low-end machines, but when you balance the build quality, reliability and mix of design and specs, they’re not insanely overpriced. You may not want the kind of computers that Apple sells, but if you do, their cost is largely on a par with competitors. Except this new, low-end iMac, which simply costs too much.
What Apple has essentially done is take its existing 21.5-inch mid-range iMac and swap out its decent quad-core CPU/ Iris Pro guts for the MacBook Air’s. You end up with a desktop computer running a weedy 1.4GHz Core i5-4260U processor, yet that costs £899. Worse, its 500GB hard drive is a slow 5,400rpm spinner, meaning that it actually feels slower than a MacBook Air, which has an SSD to keep it nippy. The iMac has 8GB of (non-upgradeable) RAM, at least, but that’s hardly mind-blowing for £900.
Apple has only skimped on the core specs of this iMac rather than the other features. The display is a fantastic 1080p IPS panel, offering brilliant colours and few reflections, despite its glass coating. There’s a reasonable range of connections, including two Thunderbolt ports, which offer loads of flexibility, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Apple’s wireless keyboard is still one of the best out there for typing, too (though its mouse remains quite possibly the single worst for gaming). And though not everyone cares about a desktop being slim, the blade-like iMac is a hell of a sight – stark aluminium and glass, just a few millimeters thick at the edges, and taking up a tiny desktop footprint.
And, unsurprisingly, it runs perfectly well for light use – music, movies, web browsing and documents. OS X is designed to be smooth and light on low-power machines, and Windows 8.1 is perfectly snappy in Boot Camp too. But it is a £900 machine, and one that lacks the headroom to go beyond these tasks (try doing photo or movie editing and the lack of speed will be apparent) and zero opportunities for upgrades. It’s a similar story with games: 8GB of RAM and an Intel HD 5000 GPU mean that 2D games and low-end 3D stuff generally run fine, but playing anything reasonably intensive at the screen’s native 1080p is a tall order (even on Windows, where games perform better than on OS X)
Ultimately, Apple’s newest iMac isn’t a bad computer, it’s just a bad deal. You could buy a MacBook Air (which would actually perform better) and a separate 22-inch IPS screen for £850 – some £50 less than this iMac – or a Mac mini and a screen for £600. If you want an all-in-one, look at Dell’s XPS 18, which is more powerful, with an SSD boot drive and a similar high-quality 1080p screen. It’s also a couple of hundred quid cheaper, and is portable too. The iMac has a few extra features going for it, but just not enough to make it any more than a nice PC at the wrong price.