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B&H First Look: The New Apple iMac

By David Flores

Apple's latest iMacs

It's hard to believe that Apple shipped the very first iMac over a decade ago. Renowned for its stylish, all-in-one design, simple access to the internet, and plug-and-play compatibility with peripheral devices, the computer was an instant hit. As the product line evolved, digital cameras, camcorders, and a then-unknown music player dubbed the iPod allowed the iMac to become the easy-to-manage repository for digital content. Fast forward to the present, and the product line continues its evolution at the center of the modern digital lifestyle. Apple's latest iMacs offer LED-backlit displays, all-metal construction, and a host of impressive performance enhancements.

In my hands-on look, the first stand-out feature of the new iMac is the screen. Beautiful and bright, it fills your field of view and dominates the front face of the machine. Available in 21.5 and 27" configurations, these generous panels boast 1920 x 1080 and 2560 x 1440 resolution, respectively. The first iMacs to offer true 16:9 aspect ratios, either size should perform well in creating and displaying native HD content. The black bezel appears thinner than the previous generation's and the glass covering the display goes straight to the edge. In many ways this follows the design of Apple's 24" LED Cinema Display, sans the thin aluminum frame around the screen. Without any visual interruptions on the face of the unit, the display of the new iMac appears to magically "float" in front of you.

Apple's 24" LED Cinema Display

While great for text and internet browsing, the new displays also boast some professional quality features for serious photo, graphics, and video editing. In Plane Switching (IPS) technology allows the user to view the screen from almost any angle without odd shifts in color or contrast. This is a premium feature rarely seen in an all-in-one design. LED-backlighting provides ‘instant on' at full brightness and extends life while requiring less power.

On the performance end, Apple has chosen the 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor for the standard 21.5 and 27" configurations. These chips are real screamers—and will boast even faster performance as software begins supporting Grand Central Dispatch (GCD). A new feature built into Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6), GCD optimizes multi-core CPUs for fast, efficient productivity. For uncompromising users that require the highest levels of computing power, the 27" iMac is also available with Intel's latest Core i5 or i7 processers. That's right: iMacs now offer quad-core power. The Core i7 chip features Hyper-Thread technology with 8 virtual cores available for high-end applications. Turbo Boost dynamic performance squeezes 3.2GHz performance out of a low-power 2.8GHz chip. On paper, this makes the top-tier iMac as powerful as the current quad-core Mac Pro tower—with greater energy efficiency.

The new iMac design includes a standard 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM with expansion slots for up to 16GB. Internal storage can be configured with up to 2TB of hard drive space. Wireless connectivity conforms to the 802.11N standard with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR for pairing wireless devices.

Apple's keyboard and mouse

The iMac ships with a single cable: the power cord. In a surprise move, Apple has cut the wire on the keyboard and mouse in favor of 100% wireless peripherals. The included Bluetooth keyboard is compact with a crisp, responsive feel. However, the big story is Apple's new Magic Mouse. Their first pointer with multi-touch interface, the Magic Mouse offers 360° scrolling, left and right click, and gesture support. The design is clean and sleek with the entire top surface serving as a button/touchpad. I really enjoyed the responsiveness of the new mouse. Unlike other "touch" devices, you can feel a decisive "click" when you press down. The laser tracking system handles well on a variety of surfaces and multi-touch control is natural and intuitive. Both the keyboard and mouse are powered by standard AA-size batteries. These are included with the iMac and can last for several months with regular use.

Other iMac I/O includes 4 USB 2.0 ports, Firewire 800, audio in and out mini-jacks, and Gigabit Ethernet. Matching external storage using a Western Digital My Book Studio Hard Drive is plug-and-play. Apple's slot-loading optical drive supports DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW. Blu-ray requires an external burner. Lacie's d2 Blu-ray drive is great value for the money.

Like the MacBook Pro laptops, the new iMacs now have a built-in SD card slot. Located just below the optical drive, the card reader is integrated with the system hardware. This makes downloading photos and video to the machine significantly faster than using a USB 2.0 or Firewire 800 reader. Memory cards stick out of the slot a bit—helping you remember to put them back in the camera.

This brings us to the computers Mini Display Port. On all models, this allows you to connect a second display to increase the size of your desktop space. Great for running multiple apps, editing video with an external monitor, or mirroring to a projector, this little connector offers Mac users a multitude of working and sharing options. On the 27" iMacs, this goes a step further—allowing for not only output, but video input, as well. This has a variety of cool applications. If you own a contemporary MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air with a Mini Display Port, the new iMac can be used as a monitor for the portable device. This requires a Mini Display Port-to-Mini Display Port cable. Future adapters will also allow the iMac to display content from video game systems, Blu-ray players, digital cable boxes, and just about any other device with digital output. Beware current Mini Display Port-to-HDMI cables. These operate one-way, and don't allow for input through a Mini Display Port. Hang tight for the next month or so and it should be easy to find the right adapter for playing a Microsoft Xbox 360 on an Apple iMac. Now that is cool.

In sum, the new iMac is a well-considered, highly capable machine. Pairing tower-class performance with a beautiful 21.5 or 27" display makes this Mac an excellent choice for everything from creating Power Point presentations to editing high definition feature films. Mac laptop owners will love using the 27" model as an external display. Starting at under $1200, the new iMac offers incredible power at an even more incredible price.

David Flores is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York City. He is a member of the B&H Creative Content Team.

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