Apple's summer surprise is not the first ARM-based Mac. It's not a new Mac Mini, nor the return of the 12-inch MacBook. It's a new 27-inch iMac. Yes, it looks the same as the last 27-inch iMac, and the one before that, and so on. It even keeps the same starting prices as before, with base models at $1,799, $1,999 and $2,299. (International prices start at £1,799 or AU$2,799.)
And yet, almost everything under its shell is new, making this one of the most comprehensive Mac makeovers since the 2018 MacBook Air.
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Those new specs include 10th-gen Intel CPUs (up to a 10-core Core i9!) and even newer AMD Radeon 5000-series graphics cards. If you're editing 4K or 8K video or high-res photos, or working in CAD programs, you probably already know if you need an upgrade like that. But frankly what I was most excited about, at least during my first 24 hours with the new 27-inch iMac, is one of the oldest, most-ignored pieces of computer tech, the humble webcam.
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Video calls have become the new norm, and now we're all turning into webcam experts. We've also discovered that even high-end machines such as the MacBook Pro (and previous iMacs) have webcams that are merely OK. Join the corporate masses in all-day, every day Zoom meetings (or Skype, WebEx, etc.) and all of a sudden these lower-res 720p cameras aren't doing us any favors. Six months ago, few of us gave much thought to webcam audio and video quality. Now it's an obsession that's spawned endless articles full of tips on improving your virtual meeting presence.
That's why, after I turned on the new iMac, I immediately jumped into a Zoom call, did a live TV hit and later recorded the video accompanying this article, all from the built-in webcam. Normally, I capture video in 4K via a phone, and with an external mic. Since even the mics are upgraded here, using the same better-than-average set found on the excellent 16-inch MacBook Pro, I just used those.
The video quality was impressive for a computer webcam. The audio was …ok. Good enough for a webcam call, but no really for a talking-head style video. If I had to do it all over again, I would have hooked up my external mic instead.
Using Apple's T2 chip, the company says the iMac webcam can also spot faces in the frame and optimize for them. That seems to mean adjusting exposure to flatter faces over backgrounds. With that kind of ability, I'd expect to have facial recognition login features (such as Face ID on the iPhone) or at least the ability to track faces and follow them. It doesn't do either of those things, but the improvement over a standard Mac webcam was immediately obvious. Until now, you had to get an iMac Pro for a 1080p FaceTime camera.
The speakers are physically unchanged since the 2014 version of the iMac, according to Apple. But new variable EQ software (non-user adjustable, however) adds some audio tweaks, especially at low volumes. Lots of computer-makers rely on software EQ systems to tweak audio: Actually putting bigger speakers in a computer requires a bigger computer, after all, and that's not the direction computer design generally goes in.
Big news for nano-texture
There's another high-end feature for the new iMac, but unlike the webcam and mics, it doesn't come standard on any of the base model 27-inch iMacs. For an additional $500, you can add the nano-texture glass option, designed to minimize screen glare. Having seen and used an Apple Pro Display without the nano-texture, and now seeing this new 27-inch iMac with the nano-texture, I'm sold. If you're making a big investment in a long-term work tool, it might be worth splurging on, much as it pains me to say that.
Unlike matte screen coatings, which can cause dull, washed-out images, the nano-texture is etched right into the glass (at the nanometer level, Apple says, hence the name).
I live (and now work) in an apartment that gets a lot of afternoon sun from its westward-facing windows, so I know all about screen glare. I'm always moving out of the way of the light, and my TV is unwatchable for a big chunk of the day because of it. The matte-like nano-texture screen, however, was nearly glare-proof. At extreme angles, I still caught some reflection, but it's a big improvement over what I'm used to.
I've just started digging into the new 27-inch iMac, so stay tuned for benchmark scores and more hands-on impressions, as well as a full review. In the meantime, the biggest changes to note over the previous model are below.
Biggest changes to the 27-inch iMac
- A jump to 10th-gen Intel CPUs, up to a 10-core Core i9
- Radeon Pro 5000-series graphics from AMD
- Standard SSDs across the line (no more hybrid drives) — up to 8TB (doubling the previous top capacity)
- Up to 128GB of DDR4 RAM
- Adds Apple's T2 security chip, which enables "Hey, Siri" and a host of camera functionality improvements
- True Tone display
- The same improved studio mics as in the 16-inch MacBook Pro
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