It’s hard not to be in awe of the gigantic screen that captivates my retinas as I bang this review out.
The iMac is familiar yet new, in the same way as a new flavour of Pringles is. You know what to expect but the first bite is always filled with cautious curiosity. For 2020, the design has remained unchanged but the under-the-hood changes of the 27in model, in particular, warrant our attention and frankly, it’s still an all-in-one that deserves respect even after 8 years of its initial introduction. Jony Ive and team really flexed Apple’s lead over the rest of the computer hardware world back in 2012 with this iteration of the iMac was first shown at their keynote. Honestly, not much has changed if you consider the all-in-one desktop space and if anything, like with the MacBook Air, the competition keeps playing catch up. Sure, in terms of pure numbers and specs, Apple often gets beaten but if we’ve learnt anything from IT history, it’s that the performance merit for Apple lies in the optimisation of the sum of their parts.
Screen time is good time
Visually unchanged, the 27in iMac still cuts a pretty picture, both on-screen and off. The incredibly slim chassis, floating screen and the iconic stand design have stood the test of time but the thick black borders and chin seem to bother many on the internet. Personally, I don’t mind it so much since it makes it look like a pretty frame, especially when the art inside is painted on a 5K canvas. There’s no denying the absolute superiority of this display in terms of colour accuracy, saturation and viewing angles. On the 27in version, the true magnitude of a billion colours and 500nits can be seen and appreciated, whether you’re on-axis or off-axis and that itself asserts its dominance over almost every other monitor I’ve seen. Even when you’re standing at 80 degrees off-axis, the colours still remain consistent and there is hardly any drop in contrast or brightness either, making the iMac a great machine to work or even to assist someone on. Particularly in my use case scenario which involves magazine design and layouts, sitting beside the Art Editor meant both he and me were not fighting over colours like usual. What You See is What You Get for more than the primary handler of the machine. True Tone tech makes an appearance on the 27in iMac too, making it easier to work for longer periods of time, under all sorts of lighting conditions. Thankfully, it is switchable in case you need absolute whites.
Another new inclusion is the T2 chip that handles a lot of secondary functions, freeing up the main CPU for more hardcore tasks. In this scenario the T2 chip handles face detection and auto white balance/exposure for the new 1080p FaceTime camera, so you can move around in a relatively narrow field of view in front of the iMac during a video call and your face will always be in focus and perfectly exposed. Other functions riding on the T2’s shoulders include faster HEVC transcoding, Siri voice commands and even a new variable EQ for enhancing the speaker’s bass response. For a chassis, this thin and sleek, the sound does have an impressive amount of heft and clarity, but Apple sound engineers have always worked wonders with small acoustic spaces. Case in point, the MacBook Pro.
Coming to the meat, our test sample seemed to be a light lunch sandwich. With 10th-gen 8-core Intel Core i7, clocked at 3.8GHz, it’s also capable of turbo boost up to 5.0GHz and what is impressive here is the thermal management. The fans hardly ever kicked in even during an intense session of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Lightroom working in parallel along with a myriad of everyday apps in the background. Even when they did, they were hardly audible and it was impossible to break the iMac into a sweat. The 8GB of DDR4 memory can be expanded via the easily accessible slot and if you tend to take up freelance work for Industrial Light & Magic, you can go all the way to 128GB of memory. Couple that with the available Intel Core i9 processor and the optional 8TB of SSD storage, your computer will be writing checks faster than you can cash. Of course, all this power will cost you money but at least Apple is now allowing customers to configure their iMac, just not online. The service is available via an APR (Apple Premium Reseller) like Imagine, Unicorn, Maple etc. and the machine can be configured either over the phone or in-store. Graphics are handled by AMD Radeon Pro 5500XT with 8GB of GDDR6 memory and can be had with 16GB too if you opt for the 5700XT GPU. For my amateur level video editing, it had absolutely nothing to worry about but Apple claims it’s 55% faster compared to the Pro Vega series of the earlier generations. In terms of actual performance, whether I played Code of War 2, Mad Max or Asphalt, none of them had an issue with frame dropping or stuttering of any kind. Large Adobe InDesign files opened fractionally faster than my 2019 16in MacBook Pro and once seated in front of the iMac, it’s hard to peel yourself off, whether it’s for work or play!
Glass is class
The most significant upgrade for most people has to be the nanotexture glass though, an ₹42,300 upgrade if you choose to configure. Not a mere coating, but actually an etching that happens at a nanometer level on the screen glass itself, the 27in iMac can become the ultimate no-reflection, no-gloss and no-colour loss personal computer ever. Our test sample wasn’t lavished with this attention but even in its glossy form, the reflections didn’t bother and the screen was absolutely gorgeous and accurate. But in terms of workflow, the sheer real estate that the 27in offers is also great for multiple windows being open simultaneously without reducing text or icons to mere dots. Up to four windows tiled across the screen gives you a quick glance of all your tasks at hand and there are still some crevices left to wedge in a chat window or Apple Music in its minimised form. For me personally, it made a world of difference as I could view PDF and Adobe InDesign files at 100% size, without compression or reduction. This is valuable because it emulates the actual size of the print version of Stuff (India), making design and layout a more creative and foolproof process.
The keyboard/Magic Mouse 2 combo both work well once you wrap your head around the bizarreness of not having backlight and Touch ID integrated into them. Even the new iPad Pro has a backlit keyboard but in 2020, the bundled keyboard with a flagship iMac doesn’t. Sure, you have third-party options as a workaround but do you really want a black keyboard spooling the aluminium artwork of the screen?
Even the Magic Mouse 2, while is great for touch controls and swipe gestures, doesn’t get Touch ID embedded in it. The inclusion of the T2 chip would’ve just made it easier for Apple to integrate it into the mouse itself and keep the data safer in the security enclave. Neither do we get Face ID despite the thick bezels around the screen that would presumably accommodate the TrueDepth camera system easily, making this final iMac an accomplished but somewhat incomplete all-in-one. If you happen to strap an Apple Watch around your wrist, you’ll get some of the perks of logging in without entering a screensaver password but not every iMac user may own an Apple Watch.
Connectivity is largely unchanged, with 4 USB-A ports, a couple of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, a high-speed SDXC (UHS-II) card reader, a headphone jack, and an Ethernet port. I was never left wanting for more ports with my kind of workflow but if you feel the need to, there are tons of third-party USB-C expansion adapters available out there. The iMac then is a perfectly formed family machine or a workhorse that can take plenty of abuse and perform quietly.
It’s no secret that Apple will be transitioning to its own silicon next year and the iMac will see a big design and architectural overhaul. So should you procrastinate your purchase then? I wouldn’t think so. The 27in 5K Retina display is going to be impossible to beat this year or maybe even next and that forms a very solid backbone of any work PC. Even in its base configuration, it handles every task thrown at it, and waiting for the next-generation might only bring you too little too late in terms of an incremental performance upgrade. The design still turns heads and everything that you’d need on a daily basis has been improved, like the 1080p camera that genuinely makes a huge difference to FaceTime (or any WebEX or Zoom) calls, the speakers are astonishingly better than the competitors and the screen is simply unbeatable. Sure, it can do with a backlit keyboard and Face ID like, yesterday. But besides those niggles, this 2020 iMac will outperform and outlast its competition in usage terms.