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iMac with Retina 5K display review

If price doesn't matter, the iMac with Retina 5k is a fantastic unit

The term ‘Retina display’ is much more than just marketing spin. It’s one of those technological advancements that changes the way we use our devices every day. The jump is pretty huge, too – we take a Retina display for granted in iPhones and iPads nowadays, but try going back to the old-style screen and… well, it’s not a good experience.

That’s why the new iMac with Retina 5K display is such a big deal. While it’s aimed squarely at photographers and professional video editors, it clearly marks the future of the Mac and shows us what that super-high-resolution future looks like. And let us tell you, it looks good.

In fact, use this Mac for even a couple of hours and going back to a standard display will be a torturous experience. We’ve been spoilt by what might be the best display we’ve ever used. The screen uses a whole host of new technologies to improve on last year’s model, so you get better colour representation, deeper blacks, better viewing angles and reduced reflections in the glass panel.

DSC_9709 as Smart Object-1_2

The colours really pop out of the screen, and the pixels are so close to the front glass that your content feels closer than ever. What’s most impressive is that Apple has managed to contain
all of this in the same case as the standard iMac casing. The edge of the machine is still just 5mm thin, with a bulging rear containing all the components that make this Mac tick. The screen itself is just 1.4mm thin, and actually uses 30 per cent less power than a standard iMac display. And that’s despite powering 14.7 million pixels.

And let’s talk about those pixels, because that’s the big news. We’ve talked about Retina displays in past reviews, but never has one been as impressive as this. Perhaps it’s the 300 square inches of screen on offer, or perhaps it’s the fact that you’ll only see a pixel with your nose inches from the screen. Either way, this is the best display Apple has ever made.

First off, we opened up iPhoto. The screen is amazing for viewing your photos in full-screen mode, but more impressive is that thumbnails in the iPhoto interface are of such a high quality that small details can be picked out. And, as this screen has 14.7 million pixels, you can view an entire 14-megapixel image at actual size without losing any details.

It’s the same with video – we dropped a few 4K videos into Final Cut to test. Setting the preview window to show the video at 100% size, we still had space for a timeline and our library panels on the screen. That’s 4K video being edited at full resolution, with editing tools on screen at the same time. It’s going to revolutionise how video editors work. Of course, for other users it’s all a bit of overkill. If you’re someone who uses a Mac for web browsing, email and perhaps a few online videos, the iMac may not be worth the cost. Don’t get us wrong, these all look fantastic on the new screen; text is especially crisp, making reading on this iMac a pleasure.
But it’s an expensive tool if this is all you’ll be using it for.

And it may not be all that inexpensive for pro users, either. We reviewed the basic model, which featured a quad-core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and the AMD Radeon R9 M290X – offering only a small step up from the higher- end non-Retina iMac. It handled all the editing we were doing pretty well, and renders were quite fast, but we weren’t blown away by the performance. For those users
who need to edit large amounts of video, especially in 4K or 5K resolution, it’s likely that a more powerful graphics card will be required, and that can only be done at the point of sale.
One odd thing we noticed is that despite all the power in the iMac, it sometimes stuttered when performing basic tasks.

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For example, with a few Finder windows open, the App Store and Safari running, we hit the Mission Control button and rather than sliding smoothly back to reveal all our windows, there was an obvious judder. This happened in other animations too. Perhaps it’s just a case of Apple needing to optimise OS X Yosemite for the new display, as we saw a similar issue when we reviewed the first Retina MacBook Pro. Still, it’s a shame.

But hey, we’re nitpicking here. The stunning display and impressive performance make this new iMac a brilliant machine for pro users. And while it’s not essential for every user, be careful – one look at the screen and you might find yourself reaching for your credit card…