Apple iMac

12 Apr 2006

It wasn’t so long ago that computer buyers would excitedly bring their new purchase home, take it out of the box, set it up and… well, that was it really.

It’s pleasing to report that we’re finally seeing progress on that front, as the technology industry has grasped the idea of what a computer needs to be if it’s to be a true home entertainment system and not just a beige box in the corner.

Apple’s latest iMac doesn’t disappoint, with a raft of preloaded applications, such as an instant messaging client, web browser, music player, email application and tools for taking, using and manipulating digital photos, even those taken with the built-in camera housed just above the screen.

In other words, there’s plenty to hold the interest from the moment it’s switched on.

Fashionistas won’t be disappointed with the new look either, a pristine white machine that frankly would be wasted if hidden away in a bedroom or study; its clean design practically demands equal status with the TV or stereo.

Another difference with the new iMac is the engine, although for all Apple’s crowing about the speed improvements resulting from the new Intel Core Due processor, the fact is there’s no appreciable difference with most of the regular applications.

Where the chip will really fly is with very media-intensive software for sound recording or graphic design. That’s not to say that the computer’s slow — anything but; this iMac zips along. The response is as you would expect from any other piece of consumer electronics.

Which brings us to the great home entertainment debate: having promised for years that computers were going to make the leap into the living room, the industry appears to be getting it right at last. Just as the latest PCs come with Microsoft Windows Media Center, Apple’s response is Front Row, which is a separate interface to the iMac’s operating system. It effectively turns the computer into an entertainment system for navigating between playing music, watching content on a DVD or video footage, or scrolling through a library of digital photos.

The iMac’s widescreen display owes much to the latest consumer TV trends and, at 20 inches, the screen on our review model is large enough to warrant watching DVDs on it at distances of more than three feet. (The new iMac is also available with a 17-inch screen.)

Keeping the TV analogy, Front Row is operated via a small wireless remote control that resembles the iPod Shuffle and attaches magnetically to the side of the computer when not in use. This is arguably the killer application for the new iMac, as it lets you look at content without being so close to the screen that you’ll go blind. The interface borrows liberally from Apple’s iTunes so it’s extremely easy to use and to see even from the other side of the room.

As a total package the iMac’s also easy on the pocket — I expected it to cost upwards of €2,000 but it comes in at just over €1,800. In a word: impressive.

Handling *****
Features *****
Performance ****
Value for money ****

By Gordon Smith