Apple iMac

Apple 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display review: My god, it's full of pixels

Apple's largest iMac gets an upgraded Retina 5K display and faster hardware – it remains the best all-in-one PC by far

5
Price when reviewed 
1,599

There are no two ways about it, the iMac’s Retina 5K display has a lot of pixels. Let’s do the maths: the 5,120 x 2,880 resolution means that there are 14.7 million of the things. Enough that, if you counted every single one, at a rate of one per second, it would take you 170 days non-stop.

But, there’s really only one thing you need to know about the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display – it is, quite categorically, the best-looking all-in-one computer ever made, both in terms of its design and its display. And here's why.

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Apple 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display: Design

First, I have a challenge for you. Find the prettiest, most astonishingly handsome monitor you can. Take your time, I’ll wait. Done? Ah, well, sorry to waste your time – the iMac is substantially prettier.

“If we lived in the 14th century, frankly, Jony Ive would have been burned as a witch.”

The physical design of the 27-inch iMac hasn’t changed a jot since 2014, and that’s because it’s already really, really, ridiculously good looking. It’s Derek Zoolander’s “Blue Steel” hewn from metal, glass and Jony Ive’s tears. It’s dramatically sleeker and more attractive than any 27in monitor I’ve had on my desk in the last ten years, and yet somehow Apple has also managed to pack in a fully functioning computer, too. If we lived in the 14th century, frankly, Jony Ive would have been burned as a witch.

In fact, my only gripe with the iMac (and one that stretches way back to when Steve Jobs was still doing his thing) is that there’s no height adjustability – you can only tilt the iMac back and forth. And, let’s be honest, sticking a pile of books under your brand-new iMac is hardly the done thing. It absolutely ruins the feng shui.

What this isn’t, however, is the most revolutionary iMac upgrade. Since last year’s model was the first to debut the new 5K Retina display, this late-2015 iMac is all about the incremental improvements – think of it rather like the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, in that most of the improvements are invisible to the naked eye. Not that this new model is boring – that it most certainly is not. Unless you think computers are inherently boring, in which case you probably stopped reading ages ago. Anyway. iMacs.

Apple 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display: Image quality 

"In layman’s terms, that means you can expect greener greens, bluer blues and pinkier pinks than you’ve ever seen before."

First things first – the Retina display on last year’s model was already superb. There are still very few 5K monitors that you can go out and buy right this minute, and the ones that are available all cost well over £1,000. Not to be outdone, though, Apple has gone and given the iMac an all-new 5K panel that reproduces a wider range of colour than the previous model. In layman’s terms, that means you can expect greener greens, bluer blues and pinker pinks than you’ve ever seen before. In professional parlance, you can expect to see 99% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut – which sounds far, far more boring.

Forget about the geeky intricacies, though, and you can summarise the iMac’s display like this: it’s bright, insanely crisp and whether you’re dabbling in Photoshop, Final Cut Pro or just shooting everything in sight in BioShock Infinite, it looks stupendous. Black is really very black; white is very, very white. Cute kittens look very, very cute. I simply haven’t seen many better displays than you’ll find here, and for most people, it’s the pinnacle of display performance.

Let’s do some numbers. Our X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter is a harsh mistress, capable of revealing the shortcomings that all but the best-trained eyes would struggle to see, but the Retina display puts up quite the fight. For instance, brightness reaches right up to a slightly silly 466cd/m² – that’s the kind of figure I’d expect from a top-notch TV, not a desktop monitor – and contrast hits a ratio of 1,166:1, which is very good indeed. 

“Flick between the iMac’s various preinstalled colour modes – sRGB, Adobe RGB, DCI-P3 – and you can expect a finely honed, colour-accurate performance whatever application you’re working in.”

Colour accuracy is much improved on last year’s model, too. While the 2014 iMac achieved a Delta E of 1.8, this year sees that figure drop to 0.7. Flick between the iMac’s various preinstalled colour modes – sRGB, Adobe RGB, DCI-P3 – and you can expect a finely honed, colour-accurate performance whatever application you’re working in. The panel whips up 99.9% of the sRGB gamut, 86.1% of the Adobe RGB gamut and every corner of the DCI-P3 gamut, bar the most intense shades of blue and cyan. This is all very good news, if you understand what it means – and, trust me, it really is, even if you don’t have a clue what I’m on about.

Is there a downside? Well, if you’re a professional for whom only the very best will do, then the 27-inch iMac’s backlighting still isn’t up to the standards of pro-monitors. While the backlighting of money-no-object displays is designed to be consistent from corner to corner, deviating by as little as a handful of percent, the iMac is less rigorous – in my testing, it was between 10% and 16% dimmer in the bottom-left corner, and around 10% dimmer in the right. If you absolutely need a display that is consistent across the whole panel, then this isn’t it (it is worth mentioning that the 21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K display is much, much better than its larger stablemate in this regard), but you’ll need good eyes – and some serious experience – to notice the problems in the first place.

Oh, and by the way, if you fancy plugging in your MacBook and using the iMac as a 5K monitor, well, tough – you can't. Apple still doesn't support Target Display mode on the 27-inch iMac. Theoretically, Apple could have added Thunderbolt 3 to make that a possibility, but it didn't bother. Boo, hiss, etc. You can bet your bottom dollar that they'll add that feature next year, just to give you a nagging reason to upgrade, though. 

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