The slim, sleek 21-inch iMac is more than just a pretty case. The lightweight all-in-one computer is up to heavyweight multimedia tasks. Though it costs a pretty penny, it delivers strong performance and adds a touch of class to wherever it's displayed.
It packs plenty of punch. Tucked inside its tapering torso, the 21-inch iMac boasts a quad-core 2.7 GHz Core i5 Intel Ivy Bridge processor, discrete Nvidia Geforce GT 640M graphics, 1 TB of hard drive storage and a healthy 8 GB of RAM. While professionals may gravitate to the larger screen of the 27-inch iMac (*Est. $1,800 and up), this smaller, less pricey model is a robust performer that comfortably manages strenuous design and photography needs. All but the most demanding games are playable at medium settings.
If you've got some cash to splash, most experts recommend springing for Apple's Fusion Drive. That adds 128 GB of flash storage for a seamless boost in speed. You may also want to consider opting for more RAM (the iMac can accommodate up to 16 MB) right away. Typical users can't upgrade drives or RAM themselves in entry models or step-ups (*Est. $1,500 and up), so it's a good idea to configure things now with an eye to future needs.
The display doesn't feature Retina resolution, as you'd find on the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (*Est. $2,200 and up). Yet reviewers have no complaints about the quality and are impressed with a new anti-reflective coating that doesn't darken the screen or dull the sharp, rich colors. "Full-screen images appear so real you can almost reach out and touch them," says Techradar.com's Ian Osborne. The display is not touch-sensitive, but "for the time being, touch screens on a Mac are totally superfluous," says Joel Santo Domingo at PCMag.com.
Many positives, a few negatives. Though it weighs only 12.5 pounds, the 21-inch iMac is a solidly built, dependably cool and quiet system. It comes with your choice of a wireless Bluetooth keyboard or a full-size USB keyboard with numeric keypad. You also get a choice of either a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad. A few experts recommend the trackpad to users who want a full range of multitouch gestures. If you want both mouse and trackpad, that's an extra $70.
Four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, Ethernet, a Mini DisplayPort, a headphone jack and SDXC memory card slot are all on the back of the slim aluminum shell. But nowhere is there a built-in optical drive or a Firewire port. If you need either of these, you'll have to purchase an adapter for each and connect through a Thunderbolt port. A few critics find the SDXC slot inconveniently placed for easy access.
On the front, there's a built-in camera (720p) and a dual microphone setup that cancels noise while chatting. It also improves clarity when using the Dictation feature in Apple's Mountain Lion software.
Sound quality is generally regarded as excellent. The speakers "deliver a much broader sound stage than you dare expect from an all-in-one computer's built-in speakers," says Osborne.
Cutting-edge design that makes a statement. "There's nothing that looks or feels cheap," says ArsTechnica.com's Andrew Cunningham. The brushed aluminum finish and sinuous design of the smoothly contoured 21-inch iMac wins reviewers' praise hands down. "Many curious co-workers came by Macworld Lab to admire the new iMac's svelte profile and run their fingers down the super-thin edge," says James Galbraith.
Although only 5 mm at the narrow edge, the back of the 21-inch iMac does bow out toward the middle to hold all the components that need to fit inside an all-in-one. One complaint voiced by experts is that they wish the stand could swivel, pivot and adjust for height.
Apple backs up its well-built products. Despite offering only 90 days of free telephone support, Apple solves more user problems and has a better repair rate than other manufacturers, user satisfaction surveys tell us. There's a one-year warranty on parts and hardware repairs as well as person-to-person tech support at Genius Bars in every Apple store.
An optional AppleCare plan adds two more years to the tech support and parts warranty. Though experts say the plan can be pricey, you may find it worth considering. As iFixit.com reports, disassembling and repairing this relatively light but still sizable desktop is well beyond the ability of ordinary users.
Pricey but plenty of value. You can find less expensive all-in-ones, including some equipped with a built-in optical drive and touch-sensitive Windows 8 technology. However, they won't offer an equivalent package of power, graphics, display, design and a Fusion Drive option. Those features make the 21-inch iMac a good value despite its higher price.
Review Credibility: Excellent "A desktop to do real work on," the 21-inch iMac earns 4 stars and is an Editors' Choice winner for midrange all-in-one desktops. Even without any upgrades, it still "comes out ahead of similarly priced systems on multimedia tasks," as seen in the furnished benchmark numbers.
Review: Apple iMac 21.5-Inch (Late 2012), Joel Santo Domingo, Dec. 14, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent The 21-inch iMac is given only 3.5 stars (out of 5), a Very Good rather than Excellent rating. It fails to nab an Editors' Choice award. A "fine computer, but its comparatively lower price puts it in more competitive waters," says Rich Brown. However, "Apple's design lead over the rest of the PC industry remains healthy."
Review: Apple iMac 21.5-inch (December 2012) review: The smaller iMac Windows PCs can pick on, Rich Brown, Jan. 16, 2013
Review Credibility: Excellent A step-up version of the 21-inch iMac merits a 9.0 rating. That's very high for TheVerge.com. The Fusion Drive feels "blisteringly fast," says David Pierce. He adds, "it's light and thin enough to almost be movable, and the screen is so good I'd never want to game on anything else if I could avoid it."
Review: Apple iMac and Mac Mini Review (Late 2012), David Pierce, Nov. 30, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent Performance, speakers and display are given high marks in this thorough appraisal of the 21-inch iMac. James Galbraith acknowledges the "step into the future" design. But he questions "the benefits" of dropping the Firewire 800 port and an optical drive "in order to have a thinner and lighter" desktop computer.
Review: Review: Thin is in with new 21.5-inch iMacs but user upgrades, SuperDrive are out, James Galbraith, Dec. 7, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent Andrew Cunningham praises the display's "excellent IPS panel with great color and viewing angles." But he's put off by the loss of user-upgradeable RAM and the SDXC memory card slot being placed on the back. Getting past these negatives, he concludes the 21-inch iMac is "well-rounded" and "competitive on price."
Review: Review: 21.5-inch 2012 iMac takes two steps forward, one step back, Andrew Cunningham, Dec. 7, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Ian Osborne assigns a glowing 4.5 stars to the "absolutely gorgeous" 21-inch iMac. He says the standard 1 TB hard drive is too slow, but he's impressed by Fusion Drive. Unlike several other reviewers, he doesn't think "lack of user access to the memory card slots" is particularly important.
Review: Apple iMac review: Apple's new 21-inch 2012 iMac is the thinnest yet, Ian Osborne, Dec. 19, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good The 21-inch iMac should satisfy most computing needs "even with the default configuration," says Darrell Etherington. It "somehow feels faster than you'd expect from just reading a stat sheet." He adds that the omission of a built-in DVD drive is "not even noteworthy in my book."
Review: 2012 21.5-Inch Apple iMac Review: Slim, Sleek, And Stylish, But Far From Shallow, Darrell Etherington, Dec. 4, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good The 21-inch iMac nets 5 stars from most of the more than 25 Amazon.com users who have posted reviews here to date. Many who offer high praise still regret the lack of a built-in optical drive. A few contributors mention they chose to buy from Apple rather than Amazon, as Amazon doesn't offer the Fusion Drive.
Review: Apple iMac MD093LL/A 21.5-Inch Desktop (NEWEST VERSION), Contributors to Amazon.com, As of February 2013