Apple iMac 27-inch (2019) review

A new powerhouse atop Apple’s consumer all-in-one range

Apple iMac (2019)

Our Verdict

The 27-inch Apple iMac’s 5K display remains a gorgeous standout feature, and if you need top-notch performance, the high-end CPU and GPU options are justifiable extras. We only wish every buyer got to enjoy a responsive iMac with an SSD.

For

  • Stunning 5K display with wide color gamut
  • Vega 48 outperforms even high-end eGPUs
  • Remains quiet with heavy workload

Against

  • Costly ample SSD storage
  • 8GB RAM to start throughout models
  • Mouse remains annoying to charge

Apple didn’t really celebrate the 20th birthday of the iMac in 2018, skipping any kind of hardware update or special anniversary edition of one of its best Macs. However, the iMac 2019 has arrived, and it’s better than ever with new high-end configurations.

This new iMac has a 9th-generation Intel Coffee Lake Refresh processor, up to an AMD Radeon Pro Vega 48 graphics, plus super-fast 512GB SSD, rather than the typical hybrid SSHD in previous iMacs. 

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However, if you put the iMac 2019 alongside the 2017 model, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without turning it on. It’s the same tapered body design Apple has been using with the iMac since late 2012 – the longest it’s stuck with any particular look for the all-in-one, if you ignore minor changes to port selection and keyboards.

There may be an element of “if it ain’t broke…” to that lack of evolution. With talk of Apple moving the Mac to ARM-based processors, we have a sneaking suspicion that a radical redesign hinges around that.  

Spec sheet

Here is the 27-inch Apple iMac configuration sent to TechRadar for review

CPU: 3.6GHz Intel Core i9-9900K (eight-core, 16MB cache, up to 5.0GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro Vega 48 (8GB VRAM)
RAM: 16GB DDR4 (2,666MHz)
Screen: 27-inch 5K (5,120 x 2,880) Retina display (P3 wide color)
Storage: 512GB SSD
Ports: 4x USB 3 (Type-A), 2x Thunderbolt 3 (Type-C), SDXC card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, Gigabit Ethernet, Kensington lock slot
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system: macOS 10.14.4 Mojave
Camera: FaceTime HD
Weight: 20.8 pounds (9.42kg)
Size: 25.6 x 8 x 20.3 inches (65 x 20.3 x 51.6cm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

Let’s ignore our revved-up review model’s specs for a moment, which send the price north of three grand, and first talk about what you get in the three more affordable, off-the-shelf 27-inch iMac starting points.

Each of the entry-level ($1,799/£1,749/AU$2,799) and the mid-range ($1,999/£1,949/AU$3,099) models comes with an eighth-generation, six-core Intel Core i5 processor. The rival Dell Inspiron 27 7000 range also uses eighth-gen CPUs, although the nearest price ($1,688.99/£1618.99/AU$2,999) to Apple’s most affordable 27-inch iMac is also equipped with a six-core processor, it has a lower clock speed of 2.4GHz, whereas the iMac’s is 3.0GHz.

At the top of the 27-inch iMac line-up is a model that includes a ninth-gen, six-core i5 as standard. That’ll set you back $2,299/£2,249/AU$3,549, which is actually the most affordable way to get a ninth-gen CPU in an iMac.

It’s not the only way, but the other – adding the more powerful eight-core i9 that was in our review unit – adds $500/£450/AU$770 to the mid-range spec or $400/£360/AU$640 to the highest standard config. Before you balk at that, read about its impact in our HandBrake test, as it might be the way to go if you expect your all-in-one to do heavy lifting often.

Design

As noted earlier, Apple has been using this look for the iMac for more than six years now. Make of that what you will, but there’s not much to complain about.

The one obnoxious thing is right in your face, though: the display’s thick black bezel and the aluminium chin beneath it look increasingly old-fashioned.

Apple has managed to trim some of that fat from all of its MacBooks, on which doing so must have been more of a challenge, but disappointingly Apple doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to do the same for its all-in-one desktop.

Changing the overall good look isn’t urgent, though. This particular iteration has aged gracefully, and continues to be elegant where the thicker models from 2011 and earlier didn’t. That is, when you see it from any angle other than head-on. The back’s gentle curve helps even a computer this big to appear low-key among its surroundings.

We’re pleased with the iMac’s heat management, too, even when putting the high-end components in our review unit through a tough test. Our HEVC video conversion in HandBrake comes close to maxing out all 16 virtual processing cores.

Despite that, the iMac’s fan was quiet enough not to be distracting, even while chucking a good amount of heat out of the rear vent.

Mousing around

You get a wireless mouse and keyboard with the iMac. We wish Apple would allow customers to reject them to save money; you may simply not get on with the mouse’s shape and lack of key travel.

Though Apple sells the Mac mini that way, that initiative dates back to the aughts, when it wanted Windows defectors to keep using their existing mouse and keyboard. It was an implicit acknowledgement that you were probably happy enough with those accessories.

Apple iMac (2019)

Apple’s Magic Mouse 2 continues to raise eyebrows over its Lightning charging port being on the bottom, which prevents simultaneous charging and use.

Some people don’t get on with that mouse, either due to its low profile or because they accidentally trigger features, thanks to the touch-sensitive surface. The ability to turn off gestures helps with the latter issue, and you can tell the right side to act as a right click, rather than having to hold the Ctrl key.

One option is to swap the mouse for a Magic Trackpad 2 ($50/£50/AU$60 at checkout). You might find it easier not to trigger gestures when the device used to move the pointer doesn’t slip around under your fingers.

The laptop-size Magic Keyboard can also be swapped out, for a version with a numeric keypad that is also wireless ($30/£30/AU$30 at checkout). But, key travel on Apple’s keyboards is generally low, which you may find uncomfortable enough to warrant adding a third-party alternative.

Apple iMac (2019)

Picture this

If 8GB of RAM by default on the 27-inch iMac seems stingy, look at rivals’ specs in full to see where else they might have compromised. With the Inspiron 7000, you only have to look as far as the display.

Though also 27 inches diagonally, it has a 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) panel. That’s slightly lower resolution than even the 21.5-inch iMac’s truly 4K, 4,096 x 2,304 screen. That means bigger pixels and a less-sharp image than you get with either size of iMac.

There’s nothing to worry about with the entry-level, 27-inch iMac’s display like there is on the 21.5-inch models, where Apple still uses a plain HD panel on the cheapest model. Every 27-inch iMac display supports a wide (P3) color gamut.

Whichever 27-inch model you buy, you get a brilliant screen that excels in highlighting extra detail when editing photos – provided you have a similarly capable camera.

Even if tasks like photo editing don’t apply, you’ll benefit from macOS Mojave looking super-sharp on displays with a high pixel density. It has done so for years, so throughout the operating system, Apple’s apps and many third-party offerings, the iMac’s display is delightful to look at.

First reviewed April 2019

  • Images Credit: TechRadar