Review Price £1,250.00
Apple iMac 21.5in - Connectivity, Screen and Speakers
Along with the upgraded internals, connectivity is another area where things have taken a significant step forward. Along the right edge, Apple has incorporated the usual memory card reader and slot-loading DVD-rewriter. The card reader takes SDXC, so it's well up to the latest standard. However, for those hoping that - this time around - they would finally get in on the high-definition movie action with a Blu-ray drive, dream on.
Frankly, this is one of the iMac's major remaining failings. After all, it's all very well for Steve Jobs to decide Apple users don't need or want Blu-ray in their machines, but we're sure there are quite a few who disagree – especially since its IPS-panel screen makes for nicer viewing than most rivals (excepting the aforementioned HP TouchSmart 610, which also uses IPS).
At the back, there are 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks (doing double duty as optical digital audio in and out), four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire connector, Gigabit Ethernet jack and that magical Thunderbolt port, here in the shape of a mini DisplayPort connector. Thunderbolt (formerly known as Light Peak) can use a connector that's physically identical to that of this graphics standard, but in addition to DisplayPort's impressive video capabilities it also gives you an independent data link, making it a USB 3.0 alternative.
For more on USB 3.0, read our article: What is USB 3.0 and do you want it?. The advantage to Thunderbolt is that it offers a whopping 10Gb/s bi-directional transfer rate, but USB 3.0 is – for now and the near future – far more prevalent, and backwards compatible with USB 2.0. However, for the first time since FireWire's glory days, we can now finally say that Apple offers a fast connectivity standard for external storage, even if there are very few compatible devices as yet.
On the wireless front, we're given both Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 2.1 EDR.
The screen is a 21.5in affair with the Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution you would expect from this size, giving you plenty of desktop real estate and letting you watch 1080p videos in all their detail. It features the almost-flawless viewing angles, accurate colours and decent contrast an IPS panel provides, making for an excellent overall viewing experience if you can get past the reflective glass layer. However, the competition is catching up here, with the TouchSmart 610 once again providing an apt comparison with its larger, 23in IPS panel.
If you want more resolution and an even larger screen, Apple's 27in iMac remains unmatched. Essentially the Apple Cinema Display 27in with a computer built-in, its 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution will give you more pixels than your computer might be able to handle. If the screen is your primary concern, it's also worth noting that the first-generation 27in iMac (with a Core 2 Duo processor) can now be had for under £900, £100 less than the cheapest current 21.5in iMac.
Another area where iMacs have always been strong is on the audio front, something the latest update certainly doesn't change. Quite how Apple manages to squeeze so much volume and bass from the iMac's thin frame and 17watt, down-facing stereo speakers is beyond us, and though clarity is a little lacking, for general entertainment you don't really need external alternatives.