Review: iMac Retina 5K and Yosemite

At first sight, the new iMac Retina 5K takes your breath away. Unboxing it, like any other Apple product, is a sheer pleasure. It is heavy, and you do need someone else to manage the unboxing if you don't have the strength.

What comes out is such a beautifully made machine, only 5mm around the edges. It is amazingly thin.

I have been using the review unit for about six weeks. Friends who visited were "wowed" by this slender machine sitting on my dining table. It is not only the design that takes your breath away. The 5K display makes this 27-inch all-in-one iMac remarkable. Apple has gone directly to the 5K display. The 5120 x 2,880 resolution with support for millions of colours is simply stunning, especially when displaying high-res full-screen photos and video. There is great clarity and reality. (See photos)

The innards have remained more or less the same. It comes with a 3.5GHz quad-core Intel i5 and 8GB memory, and graphics card AMD Radeon R9 M290X with 3GB of video memory. For users who want greater speed, they can upgrade to a 4GhZ quad-core i7 microprocessor and ramp up to 16GB or 32GB of RAM.

It comes with the new OS, Yosemite, which makes it an even better machine. More on this later.

First looks

The first thing I noticed with this iMac is that you need more table space. That was why it was on the dining table as the desk in my study had not enough space for it.

The iMac had to be placed further from the edge of the table to enjoy the brilliance created by the 14 million or so pixels on the screen. It is like watching a wide-screen movie in the theatre. You would want to sit somewhere in the middle to the back of the theatre to catch the full impact of the wide-screen. I found at least 2 feet away from the screen is most suitable.

In this way, I played the London 2014 Olympics opening ceremony on YouTube and watched it again (and I still enjoyed it). It is not 5K video, still the resolution was good.

Being two feet away from the display is also good when I am working. My posture was better than the usual hunched over the keyboard position. It did take a couple of days to get used to this position.

Like the previous iMacs, it sits on a stand, connected to the screen with a vertical hinge which lets you adjust your viewing angle. Behind the screen is the opening for the power cord. Other ports are found at the rear. It keeps cables and other peripherals out of sight, but this arrangement can be a pain when it comes to plugging in peripherals.

To plug in the headphone and USB drives, I had to turn the iMac around because the hinge only moves vertically and not horizontally. It would have been useful for the ports to be mounted on the side.

Like Apple laptops, this iMac is made from a slim all-in-one unibody with the trademark all-aluminium finish which makes it a handsome machine indeed. Included with the iMac is the keyboard and a Magic Mouse. The keyboard has no number pad. I found the keyboard too small. Typing on it for a couple of hours can be painful to the shoulders.

5K Display

This iMac is all about the high resolution 5K display. Apple redesigned the display's technology to make it faster and improve viewing angles. The result: colours are gorgeous, vivid and accurate and the viewing angles are impossibly wide.

What was useful to me was the screen real estate. When I am on the computer, I have many applications open. There are probably two browser windows so that I can toggle between websites; two documents open, one to view contents of an interview or research, the other for writing and then iTunes to access my music.

I can keep everything in view without having to switch between applications just like I would have to on my laptop.

The iMac's display uses 30 per cent less energy although it is as bright as the last generation model. To get the images, sharp, brilliant and crisp, Apple used a new oxide-based TFT material and borrowed technology from the Retina iPad.

There are no jaggedness around text and icons which are usually found on conventional displays. Lines, colours and shapes all appear incredibly sharp and natural.

I was most impressed with a video I had taken of two Clown fish in a tank. It was brilliant. So was the photo of a fountain in Botanic Gardens here. The jets of water shooting into the pond were natural.

For photo editors and movie makers, this is the most suitable machine to use. There are few contenders that can stand up against the iMac for it delivers one mighty pixel-packed punch.

 

» Next: Yosemite

Yosemite

The Retina 5k iMac must be viewed in conjunction with Apple's latest desktop operating system, Yosemite. It is a free download. The iOS-inspired design is very neat and clean which complements the 5K resolution. Everything is tidier and flatter. It has a more modern look. Gone are the 3D shadings or skeuomorphic details.

There are many features and a complete review will take many pages. I would like to highlight those features that allow Macs to better integrate with iOS and the iPhones. It makes working with Apple devices so much more productive.

To me Continuity is the most important feature of Yosemite. It lets you receive calls on your Mac, or to start reading an article on your iPad and finish it on your laptop. Neat isn't it?

The ability to send and receive calls and texts from your Mac is perhaps the flashiest feature. I like it because I can just click to answer without touching my phone. To start, just sign on into FaceTime on your phone and Mac. For texting, I have to set it up once. It involves sending a six-digit verification code to the Mac which is then entered into the phone. Calls and texts will now appear on both your phone and the Mac. On the computer, they appear as notifications that slides out on the top right corner of the screen. I can make calls from the Mac my clicking on a phone number anywhere in the operating system. It is best to use a headphone if you want to do this especially if the Mac is in the living room. It keeps the noise level down and the conversations private. To send a text, I use Messages. Or I can go to Contacts, Calendar or Safari, click on the phone numbers to send the texts.

Best of all, I can send and receive messages from not only Apple mobile devices but Android, Windows, Blackberry and other brands. Handoff is another useful feature. It lets you start something like looking at a map on one device and then continue with it on another. If I use the iPhone to look at the map, a pop-up notification in the dock will appear.

Naturally both devices must be turned on for Handoff to work. This feature also works only with one device at a time. I have my iPhone and iPad with me when I am working. The latest handoff will show up on the Mac.

Handoff works only with Apple's products like Mail, Maps, Reminders, Calendars, Keynote and others. However, Apple has developed a software letting third party developers include it in their apps. This would be worth waiting for.

Conclusion

Apple has made the Apple ecosystem "stickier" for users. Hardware aside, the ability to "hand-off" work from one Apple device to another makes it a great productivity tool. So the combo of the iMac - for that matter, any Mac computer - with Yosemite makes the machine very good to use.

Apple is the first with a 5K all-in-one computer. No other computer vendor offers one. However, Dell does offer a 5K monitor. Content creators especially movie makers and photographers will love being able to see more of their work at native resolution, and will benefit from the additional real-estate.

The iMac is awesome. Yosemite makes it better with its key features. If you do not want to get one, then do not even look at it.

I could have been poorer by $3,388 if I could use it as a secondary computer monitor. But the iMac needs all its power to process the 14 million plus pixels and has none left to power a secondary monitor. If I could hook up my MacBook Air to it, I would have gladly exchanged my current 27-inch HD and IPS-enabled monitor for the Retina 5K iMac.

Grace Chng is a senior correspondent for The Straits Times.

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