Apple 27in iMac with Retina 5K display review
Processor: Intel Core i5-4690, RAM: 8GB, Front USB ports : 0, Rear USB ports: 4, Total storage: 1TB, Graphics card: AMD Radeon R9 M290x, Display: 27in IPS LCD, Operating system: Apple OS X 10.10 Yosemite
Apple customers have been keeping their fingers crossed for a retina iMac ever since the screen concept was first introduced alongside the iPhone 4. Now, two years on from the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the company finally delivered this month, but in a way that goes far beyond anything we’ve seen from a display before. The retina iMac has an astounding 5,120x2,880, 5K resolution.
To put those numbers into context, the retina iMac has over 14 million individual pixels - 7.35 times more than a full HD display and 1.67 times more than a 4K screen. It’s above and beyond every other monitor available to buy today, and creates an unprecedented amount of detail.
All those pixels are put to best use when editing photos or video. There’s enough room to play 4K video clips at their native resolution without obscuring the Final Cut Pro editing interface. With every bit of fine detail visible in still images, it’s a screen that photographers are going to lust over as well.
As you would expect given Apple’s previous high resolution efforts, OS X scales beautifully; text is super-sharp and desktop icons are sensibly sized, unlike Windows when running on a 4K screen. For day-to-day use, there are no major differences between using the retina screen and any previous iMac.
Even without taking the resolution into account, the 27in panel impressed us with superb image quality. Out of the box, it achieved a 99.5% colour accuracy rating and a contrast ratio of 1,166:1. The backlight was exceptionally even across the panel, producing a very high peak brightness of 449.1cd/m2 and a white point of 419.4cd/m2. Black levels of 0.38cd/m2 were marginally worse than last year’s iMac, but this is still one of the best LCD panels we’ve ever seen - even if the glossy finish won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
DESIGN & CONNECTIVITY
Looking past the screen, the retina iMac isn’t all that different from last year’s model. It might need a more powerful graphics processor to handle all those extra pixels, but Apple has managed to squeeze it into an identical chassis that’s barely 5mm thick at the edges, and takes up no more room on a desk than a standard computer monitor.
That does mean connectivity stays the same, with four USB3 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, an SD card reader and an Ethernet port, plus 802.11ac Wi-Fi. There’s also a 3.5mm audio jack which doubles as an optical s/PDIF input, but as with previous models these are all located on the back of the machine. You have to scrabble to plug in a USB flash drive or physically turn it to one side in order to connect something first time.
From the front, though, the iMac is just as sleek and minimal as its predecessors thanks to the aluminium and glass construction, lack of visible ports and slim dimensions. The Bluetooth keyboard and laser mouse included in the box eliminate unsightly wires too, though obviously you'll need to change the batteries from time-to-time.
The compact keyboard doesn’t have a numeric keypad, and the flat, Chiclet-style keys have very little tactile feedback, but the battery compartment raises the keyboard for a comfortable typing angle and includes OS X-specific shortcut keys in place of the function keys. The low profile mouse takes time to adjust to, especially if you’re coming from a Windows PC, but it’s worth adapting to for the multi-touch gestures that form a big part of the operating system.
Apple hasn’t compromised on performance in order to achieve those small proportions, either. Our review unit arrived with a 3.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and an AMD Radeon R9 M290x graphics chip. Although Intel’s Broadwell processors weren’t ready for launch, the current Haswell chips are no slouch; the iMac scored an impressive 91 overall in our multimedia benchmarks, so will be able to handle all but the most intensive tasks.
Beyond regular desktop duties and 4K video editing, the dedicated graphics card is comfortably powerful enough to play games. Our normal gaming benchmarks don't run on OS X, so we had to fall back to our old Call of Duty 4 test, but it still managed a silky smooth 87fps at 1080p. We could even play at the preposterous native 5,120x2,880 resolution once we’d dropped the anti-aliasing, and newer games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive were playable at 2,160x1,440.
The 1TB Fusion Drive, which uses a combination of solid state and traditional hard disk storage, helped speed up boot times to a little under 15 seconds. It intelligently moves files between the smaller flash storage and larger hard disk so your most frequently used files and programs open quickly; we noticed a difference after only a few days of use, with regularly used video projects and large photoshop files opening a second or so faster.
The model we reviewed was ‘only’ the basic specification; Apple will let you add up to 32GB of RAM, a faster CPU, beefier graphics card and up to 1TB of SSD storage if you need even more power.
OS X YOSEMITE
The retina iMac runs OS X 10.10 Yosemite out of the box. Apple’s latest operating system has received a minor visual overhaul from last year’s Mavericks, but also gains greater integration with Apple’s iCloud web storage service and cross-platform Continuity with iOS devices.
As long as the iMac is on the same network as your iPhone, it will ‘ring’ when a phone call comes through and you can answer from your desktop, using the machine’s microphone and speakers. You can also can start writing an email on your iPad, then finish writing it on your Mac - the file appears automatically in the OS X dock. Although you can do similar things on Windows and Android with third party software, it’s a gloriously simple system that works brilliantly if you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem.
As ever, OS X can feel like a big departure if you're used to Windows, but the operating system has rapidly matured over the past few years and is ideal for professionals and home users alike. Beyond Apple's pre-installed iLife and iWork productivity suites, most major applications have Mac versions, Valve's Steam platform has added a huge number of games and the Mac App store has virtually everything else you'll need for day-to-day work.
When we last reviewed an iMac, an increasing number of Windows machines were starting to give Apple’s all-in-one a run for its money. That’s no longer the case, as right now, the retina iMac 5K is in a class of its own. The incredibly high resolution display makes it the ideal machine for photographers, 4K video editors and design professionals, yet it only costs £100 more than the 2013 model. At £2,000 for the base model it's still prohibitively expensive for many, but it's impossible to build a Windows PC with a similar resolution screen for less.
We're used to seeing iterative improvements from companies that launch products on a yearly cycle, but it's rare to see a genuine and obvious massive improvement as Apple has done here. With no Windows alternative able to match it for pixel count or display quality, the iMac is once again the ultimate all-in-one.