Earlier this year, Apple released one of its most exciting products in years: A new iMac with a refreshed design and overhauled specs. I raved about this product at its release, even as it received a chunk of criticism in more than one 2021 iMac review over the design.
Like many of you reading this, I was eager to get my hands on this thing, and after months of saving, I was finally able to badger Apple into extending my Apple Card limit so that I could grab one of these things on installment payments.
For the past month, I’ve been using the 2021 iMac as my daily driver. I’ve been writing articles, novels, working with images, building websites, creating automations, expanding my app collection, testing all sorts of ideas, improvements, and updates. And today, I’m confident in bringing you my definitive 2021 iMac review.
I’m not going to be including any hardcore spec tests in this review. I don’t do any work that pushes my computers to the limits. And I don’t think most of the people interested in this computer need it for that, anyway. For those who are interested in that, though, you can read a breakdown of its performance here.
Instead, I’m going to be focusing on the everyman experience with this machine. We’re going to explore how it looks and feels, how it performs in everyday usage, what I love, and what I wish Apple would have done differently.
If you don’t feel like sticking around for the length of this post, I’ll be offering a brief overview at the start of the article. After that, I’ll go through all of the high points, then the “meh” points, and lastly, the low points. I’ll also be going over the configuration I picked up, why I grabbed the one I did, and which configuration I would recommend to you.
Alright – let’s get started!
- The 2021 iMac review: The basics
- Which configuration did I get?
- 2021 iMac review: Everything I’ve loved about the newest iMac so far
- The 2021 iMac review: Everything that’s been “meh”
- The 2021 iMac review: There’s room for improvement
- 2021 iMac review: My favorite computer
The 2021 iMac review: The basics
As mentioned, I’m going to kick this article off by covering the basics of this 2021 iMac review. This is for those who don’t want to read the full post!
Overall, I love this machine. Like most Apple products, it’s exciting when you open it, and then quickly it becomes boring. But this isn’t a bad thing! Apple’s devices are kind of meant to sink into the background while you do your work. It is just a computer, at the end of the day, so don’t grab one expecting anything different.
By far my favorite aspect of this machine is its design. It has stolen my heart. My favorite color is yellow, and the dual-tone yellow has brightened up my office space. I’m generally not a sucker for thinness, but there’s something about how light and sunny this device is – I am very endeared by it.
Unsurprisingly, the M1 chip crushes nearly everything you throw at it. Web pages load instantly, startup takes a few seconds, running automations with Keyboard Maestro is seamless, and there is little to no noticeable lag across the system. I’m a writer, so I would be lying if I was saying I do anything daily that comes anywhere close to pushing the limits of this chip.
That said, the M1 chip is not a magic button for fixing all performance issues. The new Safari update crashes a few times a day, though it has gotten a bit better. Other apps, like Scrivener, still crash every few days, just like they did on my old MacBook. And Messages doesn’t break this computer like it did my old MacBook, but it’s nowhere near snappy.
I’m incredibly satisfied with the purchase. It has the feel of a computer that’s going to last for years. Hopefully, with the power of the M1 and Apple’s tendency to support macOS updates on older devices, this is a computer that will last for the next 10 years. Apple will have a hard time coming out with a computer that makes me want to get rid of this one before then!
Which configuration did I get?
Alright, with that out of the way, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of this 2021 iMac review. Let’s start with my configuration!
I purchased the yellow 2021 iMac with 1TB of storage, 8GB of memory (a.k.a. RAM), and opted for the high-end model with four USB C ports and ethernet compatibility.
I went with this model for a few reasons:
First, budgetary constraints. Let’s be real – none of us, no matter how enthusiastic, are psyched to drop $2,000 on a new computer, let alone able. If you can’t afford to max things out, then you have to make compromises.
That brings me to my second reasoning, which is my needs. As a writer, I can honestly do everything my job requires on a Chromebook. I was initially planning on getting 16GB of RAM to beef up my computer, but after some reading online, I decided to stick with 8GB. Realistically, the M1 will be able to crush anything I’m working on for years without 16GB of RAM. And by the time macOS gets to a point where 8GB is no longer acceptable, an upgrade will probably be due anyway.
Thirdly, I didn’t want to be held back by storage. On all of my devices – iPad, iPhone, and MacBook – my biggest problem isn’t performance. It’s storage. Despite how few bytes each article I write is, I still write so much that in the last three years alone I’ve created nearly 200GB of text files. I didn’t want to risk dudding this iMac in two years because I only grabbed 500GB of storage.
I know I can buy external storage for far cheaper than Apple offers pre-built storage. But, shallow as it may sound, I adore how thin this iMac is. The last thing I want to do is have it tethered to a chunky SSD at all times. So I went with the 1TB, and hopefully, it’ll be a long time before I need to stick a permanent external SSD in one of the rear ports.
Please Apple, for the love of all that is holy, make your computers upgradeable again. Right to repair matters, folks!
Which configuration should you get?
So that’s the configuration that I picked up and what my thinking behind it was. With that in mind, here’s my recommendation to you:
If you’re on a tight budget, grab the low-end M1 iMac. The $1,299 M1 iMac comes in fewer colors and doesn’t have as many color options. If it has the color option you’re looking for and you are stretching your budget by just looking at this machine, then stick with this model. It has enough power to carry you forward for years without being such a bank-breaker.
I would advise you to consider the M1 MacBook Air or M1 Mac mini instead, but I assume you’re looking at this iMac for the design. If you love the design, then I do think the $1,299 machine is worth it.
If you have moderate needs, grab the high-end model with topped-out storage. That’s right, I’m recommending that the average user grab the same model I got. I think it’s just right! The 8GB of RAM isn’t holding back any of my apps and shouldn’t for years. The biggest thing that could cause my iMac to fall behind is the storage, and I would say that’s probably the same for most of you.
Bite the bullet if you can and get as much storage as you can afford. And if you can’t afford Apple’s storage upgrade (you aren’t alone!) then just grab an external SSD from Amazon. Samsung makes great options for under $200.
If you’re a pro user, you already know you need to max out RAM. Graphic designers, video editors, animators, and 3D sculptors don’t need me to tell you that 16GB is a necessity. No matter how powerful the M1 is, it can’t create more RAM for you. If you need the extra RAM but are still on a budget, then upgrade your RAM now and grab an external SSD later. External storage can be added – external RAM can’t!
2021 iMac review: Everything I’ve loved about the newest iMac so far
Enough preamble – time to dive into the 2021 iMac review! As covered, this review is going to be broken down into three sections: The Good, The Meh, and The Not Good.
In this first section, we’re going to be going over everything I’ve loved about using the 2021 iMac. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t about to gush a bit. I’ve been writing about Apple products for years and have tested every product line Apple offers. And out of everything I’ve ever tried, the new iMac is honestly my favorite.
I’ll try to keep things technical, but this is going to be a bit of a love-fest to be sure!
The design is stunning
Sure, the performance is great, the new webcam is cool, the speakers sound good. But we all know that the real reason to grab the new iMac is for its design. And boy, is that design perfect.
People have been ragging on this design since it launched, but nearly everyone who’s had something negative to say on it has changed their mind once it hits their desk.
The two main complaints I’ve heard are that the white bezels look tacky and the chin has overstayed its welcome.
While I do generally dislike white bezels on devices, I completely disagree with the first point. It’s clear Apple was aiming for a light, springy design that harkens back to the colorful 2000 iMac. Black bezels would only serve to bring the joy of this device down. Maybe it’s tacky, but it’s also fun! And as others have pointed out, it melts into the background as you work, especially if you have white walls.
I also like the chin, but I can see how it would bother certain users. Unlike the white bezels, you might not get used to the chin. I see it as iconic and a useful way to angle the iMac up and down. To each their own, though!
Beyond that, everything else is great. I love the colors – if yellow wasn’t already my favorite color, I probably would’ve had a much harder time deciding on which model to get.
The thinness of this thing is incredible. Like most people, I don’t care about how thin an iPhone or iPad is. But having grown up with beige boxes, it’s a wonder to look at. It’s so simple, so pretty, and so fun. It makes sitting down for work infinitely more pleasant.
There’s not much else to say. If you don’t like the design, then you have no soul.
The M1 performance is top-notch (but you have to need it)
How many more times can we say it in this 2021 iMac review – the M1 kills it. I haven’t had any negative experiences with this new chip. It runs through everything I need it to do with no issues. And despite all of the concerns people had when Apple announced this chip in 2020, none of my apps have had a compatibility issue.
That said, macOS still stutters occasionally. This is due to optimization issues rather than the M1, though. I had these same issues in Safari, Messages, Scrivener, etc., on my Intel MacBook. New hardware can’t solve a software problem!
It’s also worth pointing out that if you aren’t a power user, the upgrade to M1 might be less shocking. After all of the hype, I expected to feel like this was the chip of the future. Instead, I’m left knowing it rather than feeling it. Everything is snappier and startup is super quick. But beyond that, the system just feels less laggy for me.
This is certainly because of my light computing needs, but it’s still deserves noting – if you aren’t a power user, don’t expect to feel the full power of M1.
The screen is just the right size in this 2021 iMac review’s opinion
While I’ve been a Mac user for years, I’ve only ever owned a MacBook. This is my first iMac computer, and the display is twice the size of my MacBook.
Needless to say, when I pulled it out of the box, it seemed enormous.
I thought for a while that I would never get used to how big the screen is. For the first week, I was using all of my apps in split view just to make it feel like I was using all of the available space.
After a month, though, I’ve adjusted. Now, it’s my MacBook that feels tiny.
In my opinion, the 24″ display is just the right size. I can see some users wishing it was a little bigger, especially if you’re used to the 27″ display. But overall, it’s a happy medium. Plenty of space without dominating your desk.
And of course, it’s crystal clear. It’s not noticeably better than any other iMac or MacBook Retina display to my eyes. A designer or editor may notice an improvement, but for the average user, this is the same pixel-less screen you’re used to.
Listening to music on the new iMac is a great experience
Apple made a point of mentioning the upgraded speakers on this iMac when it debuted. At the time, I mostly overlooked this, as Apple always brags on its speakers, and yet I never feel they’re really of note.
Well, that isn’t the case here. These speakers are seriously great. They get plenty loud without buzzing, sound crisp and clear, and provide a surprisingly robust sound for how thin this computer is.
It won’t be as great as a HomePod and AirPods Max will always offer a tighter sound. But I have started playing music out loud on my computer while I go throughout my day, something I never did on my MacBook.
It feels like a computer that will chug along for years
The last highlight I want to cover in this 2021 iMac review is the longevity of this machine. There’s no way to know for sure how long this iMac will last since it dropped less than a year ago.
Even still, this has the feel of a device that is going to be around for a long time. The only moving parts are the speakers and fans, and the SSD should last up to 10 years before needing to be replaced.
Assuming you get an SSD replacement around the 7 to 8-year mark, I can see this computer lasting ten to fifteen years for the average user. That may sound like a stretch, but macOS Monterey is still supporting iMacs from 2013 – that’s eight years of usage.
Factor in the M1 chip and the lack of a battery, and it’s hard to see this machine failing. Apple has been stretching the length of time it supports older devices with new software for the last few years, and since Apple is making the M1, supporting it for even longer feels plausible.
If you’re a power user, then you probably aren’t thinking about keeping any computer for more than five years. But light users like myself probably won’t encounter anything over the next ten years, beyond advancements in on-device machine learning, that this iMac won’t be able to accomplish. I’d love to keep using this device up until 2030, and it doesn’t seem far off to imagine it making it that far!
The 2021 iMac review: Everything that’s been “meh”
Alright, that’s all of the good stuff! Now, we’re going to move on to the boring (and later, the not good) stuff.
To be clear, I still think this is an incredible computer. I realize that there are more negative points in this post than positive points, but that’s mostly because there isn’t much to say about the good stuff. The problems, on the other hand, I haven’t seen talked about elsewhere. So I’m going to talk about them!
This portion of the 2021 iMac review shouldn’t dissuade most of you from purchasing this computer. Instead, it’s just here to set reasonable expectations.
Running iOS and iPadOS apps isn’t quite there yet
First, I wanted to cover a feature that I was super excited about: The ability to run iOS and iPadOS apps on a Mac. This is made possible by the fact that the M1 chip and the A-Series chips in the iPad and iPhone all use the ARM architecture. This allows them to speak the same language, as it were, and by extension run the same apps.
That means that iOS and iPadOS developers have the option to make their apps available on Macs using Apple Silicon. As you could imagine, I was very excited to try this feature out! I was going to be able to run my favorite games, interact with my mobile-exclusive work apps, and do way more from the comfort of my desktop.
Sadly, though, this feature feels far more like an afterthought than I expected. I played with it for about thirty minutes when I first got my iMac, and I haven’t touched it again since.
There are a few reasons for this.
For one thing, the number of apps that have enabled this feature is way slimmer than I expected. Little to none of my favorite apps work on my iMac.
The other reason that this feature underwhelms is a lack of cross-platform interactivity. Sure, I can use my dieting app on my Mac or my iPhone. If these apps aren’t syncing in real-time, though, then it’s not useful, is it?
The result is that this feels more like a gimmick than anything else. Playing Angry Birds on an iMac is fun, sure, but the platforms need to be more interoperable to make this feature seriously compelling. Right now, it’s not there, so this falls into the “meh” category of this 2021 iMac review.
The ports on the back of the machine give me mixed feelings
This next point is something that didn’t surprise me and shouldn’t surprise you. The new iMac’s ports are on the back of the display, keeping them out of sight. This has been a staple of iMacs for a long time, so I’m in no way pretending that this is a new decision from Apple or anything like that.
However, this is my first time using an iMac, and I have to say, putting the ports on the back of the machine is pretty annoying.
Cables hang awkwardly from the back of my iMac, plugging cables in requires pulling my iMac out and fiddling behind it, and it’s overall a constant (albeit minor) inconvenience.
The only benefit (at least as far as I can tell) of putting the ports on the back is that it’s more visually pleasing. While I do think this is the case, it’s so inconvenient that I almost don’t care that it looks better. Couldn’t the ports have been placed on the sides of the display, or at the bottom of the stand?
That said, this is in no way a terrible feature. Moving my iMac around to access the ports isn’t a struggle by any means. It just makes it slightly annoying every time I need to access a port, and as such, it’s landing in this portion of the 2021 iMac review.
The keyboard and trackpad have a disappointing battery life
The last and most surprising “meh” feature of this 2021 iMac review is the battery life of the included accessories. I’ve had a Magic Mouse since 2019 never once noticed any issues with its battery life. I charge it once every three or four months for thirty minutes, and it’s good to go for another few months.
So you can see why I was surprised to find that the yellow Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad that came with my iMac need to be charged about every two weeks. Even as I write that, I feel like I’m exaggerating. Honestly, though, they each reach a 50% charge by the end of a week of use.
My Magic Mouse sits next to these accessories, also connected to my iMac, in use almost as much as they are. And yet, its battery life is as reliable as ever. So I don’t think there’s anything specific to the iMac that is draining these batteries faster than they would be if they were connected to my MacBook.
Like the other “meh” issues in this 2021 iMac review, this isn’t a serious problem. I have a Lightning cable plugged into my iMac at all times, and I move it between my accessories periodically. Keeping them charged isn’t an issue. However, the battery life of these accessories is no longer an afterthought like it was with my Magic Mouse.
The 2021 iMac review: There’s room for improvement
And that brings us to the “not so good” portion of this 2021 iMac review. As you’ll see, these issues are just as minor as the “meh” issues. The only difference is that I’m less neutral on these – I have legitimately been disappointed by each of these features, even if none of them are even remotely close to being dealbreakers.
The new webcam hasn’t impressed me
We’re going to kick this section off with a controversial point: I am not at all wowed by the webcam on this iMac.
I heard so many good things about this webcam, and it makes me think that iMac owners have been abused by the subpar webcams Apple has been including on iMac for years. For a computer coming out in 2021, this webcam is what I would consider being the bare minimum.
The picture quality is just fine. It can’t handle even a bit of low-light conditions without looking grainy, so you need to have all of your indoor lights on when using it.
When you’re well-lit, the webcam footage looks pretty good. That’s it – it’s inoffensive. I expected this feature to be as surprisingly good as the speakers based on how people discussed this webcam in reviews. But, again, it just feels like how the webcam should have looked for years now.
And don’t even get me started on the built-in mic quality – it sounds about as good as the EarPods microphone. It does intelligently follow you as you move around the room, so you can step away from your iMac without your voice trailing off. But that doesn’t change the audio from sounding compressed.
Overall, this feature gets the job done – which is not the kind of compliment I want to be paying a $2,000 machine.
Poor optimization is the weakest point of this 2021 iMac review
The next complaint in this 2021 iMac review is by far the worst aspect of this computer. It’s just not optimized as well as it could be.
My Messages app doesn’t lag as much as it does on my 2017 MacBook (it’s become unusable on that machine), but it’s bogged down.
Safari 15, which was recently updated across all of Apple’s devices, crashes multiple times each day.
There are little bugs and lags scattered throughout the system, and while throwing the immensely impressive M1 chip at these problems has helped a bit, but no amount of hardware can solve a software issue.
I’m hopeful that time will be the answer to this. macOS Monterey will likely be out by the time this review is up, and it might resolve some of the problems I’ve mentioned.
The M1 chip is fast – but it’s only as fast as macOS allows it to be.
I regret not getting the numpad Magic Keyboard
The blame for this next point falls on me, but I figured it was worth mentioning anyway.
I should have gotten the numpad Magic Keyboard. For the past few years, I’ve been using Bluetooth keyboards with my 2017 MacBook to compensate for the disaster that is the butterfly keyboard. So I guess I took for granted how much I relied on the numpad attached to these keyboards.
Now that I don’t have a numpad, I miss it. It’s so much faster, more accessible, and it makes the keyboard feel “full”.
The standard Magic Keyboard I ordered with my iMac feels cramped, and despite writing on my keyboard every day, I still have to check my finger positions when typing numbers. And if I decide to upgrade to the numpad Magic Keyboard in the future, I won’t be able to get the matching yellow version that I have now.
It’s not the end of the world, but it’s one of those things that, in hindsight, I wish I would’ve shelled a little extra cash for.
It’s not quite as light as I was expecting
Alright, admittedly, this is the nitpickiest point on this 2021 iMac review. But hey, it’s my review!
This iMac is just as thin and stunning as I expected it to be. It is not, however, as light as I expected. From reviews and ads, it looked like this computer would be something you can casually pick up and move around the house. Want to work in the kitchen for the day? Just grab your cable and carry your iMac to the countertop.
Well, that is not at all true! This thing is lighter than a typical iMac, sure, but it’s nowhere near light. Even just lifting it a few inches off of my desk feels precarious. Based on what I was seeing and hearing about this computer, I had it in my head that I’d be able to pick this thing up with one hand and move my office wherever I wanted to.
Not only does the weight of this thing prevent that from being possible, but the cables and accessories do as well. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I can’t be the only person who had this impression? Right..?
Apple is still charging far too much for storage and RAM
The last point I wanted to touch on in this 2021 iMac review shouldn’t be a surprise to any long-time Apple customers. The price for storage and RAM on this computer is absurd.
Granted, it’s not any more absurd than it is on the rest of Apple’s lineup. But that doesn’t change the fact that Apple’s prices make no sense. You can buy 32GB of quality RAM for less than what Apple charges for 16GB. And don’t even get me started on storage – Apple is charging 3x the competition.
The storage is also starting too low in my opinion. The starting point should be 512GB, not 256GB.
Also, this is ONLY an issue because of a lack of Right To Repair. Apple has stopped making the majority of its devices upgradeable over the last ten years, which means that you have no choice but to submit to Apple’s prices. $200 for 16GB of RAM in a desktop is absurd, sure, but you don’t have any other options, do you?
You can learn more about Right To Repair by clicking that link – it’s an important issue and, if implemented, would make all of your Apple products more long-lasting, affordable, upgradeable, and fixable. Until then, prepare to compromise your budget or your performance!
2021 iMac review: My favorite computer
Even with all of the negative points of this 2021 iMac review, I am still in love with this thing. Even after more than a month, it still feels exciting and fun to use. It reignited an old passion for design and hardware and put to rest any fears that Apple has forgotten about its desktop computers.
I highly recommend this iMac to anyone whose been on the fence about it. Just make sure you get a configuration you’re happy with. You can pay for it in monthly installments with Apple Card, which gives your purchase a little more flexibility. I look forward to writing many articles for you from this iMac over the years.
For more insights, news, and guides on all things Apple, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.
See you next time!